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One of the biggest misconceptions in the realm of digital marketing is the difference between SEO and SEM. This week, we discuss three key differences between these two very important online business practices.


Welcome back to another Wednesday Workshop from DealerOn!

There are a lot of acronyms in the digital marketing landscape. Between APIs, CTRs, NAPs and SERPs, you may think you just opened a can of alphabet soup rather than a web browser.

Today, we’re going to discuss the differences between two key concepts in the digital marketing space: SEM and SEO.

As these two acronyms are only one letter off from each other, it’s no surprise that many people get these tactics totally confused.

To help us keep track, I’ve developed a handy chart (point to corner) that will show the key differences between SEO and SEM.

The easiest and most important distinction between SEO and SEM is cost.

Search engine optimization does not require a fee for the search engines to rank pages; whereas search engine marketing requires you to pay for the results displayed.

Another key difference is they type of content.

SEO focuses on optimizing existing onsite content, but SEM focuses on drawing people to the content from offsite advertisements.

These advertisements can manifest in a number of ways: as a search result, a graphic in a targeted ad or even in a boosted social media post.

Ads are best utilized when they target branded queries at specific points in the customer’s journey; like: year make model searches or finite sales specials.

With SEO, you’re looking more at what is served up in search results; whether it be a link, a map pack result or a Google My Business listing.

Organic content focuses on branded queries as well, but these topics can be a little more main-idea; things like: Ford dealership in Denver, CO or auto repair near me are awesome terms to optimize for SEO.

Finally, here’s the most misunderstood difference: the longevity of your results.

I always use the analogy of a sprint versus a marathon.

With SEM, you get instant visibility based on your payment; but it’s important to understand that as soon as you stop paying for these results, they go away.

SEO takes more time, and it can be several months before you see concrete results; but the fruits of your labors will last much longer – even after you stop optimizing.

Either way, we recommend that you use SEO and SEM in tandem. With these two approaches used together, you’re likely to get better results than using them separately.

That’s all the time we have left for today’s video.

As always, if you have questions or comments, leave ‘em down below, and we’ll get back to you shortly.

Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next week with another Wednesday Workshop from DealerOn.

Author Kelcey Drapp

Kelcey Drapp began her career in the digital marketing field while still in college at Baylor University, where she studied Marketing and French. Since then, she has been fortunate enough to work for many great minds in SEO. Kelcey enjoys digging deep into Google Analytics to discover the 'why,' and helping clients realize their potential for success in search. In addition to her work in local SEO, Kelcey also likes to do freelance social media marketing and content writing for all types of businesses; from national home insurance companies, to local churches. When Kelcey is not working, she enjoys traveling, portrait photography and spending time with her husband & dogs.

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