As with most new technologies and “fads” there comes with it the spectre of the acronym. It almost seems that those who are first to catch hold of these new trends decide that they’re going to make them their own and develop a whole new language of terms and acronyms in an attempt to obfuscate the subject and confuse newcomers.Abbreviations such as ‘SEO’ have been around for a while and whilst many in the industry understand it as ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ there are still those outside the web world who haven’t got a clue what it means. This hasn’t stopped those in the know from changing the goalposts though and other terms are banded about too such as ‘SEM’ or ‘Search Engine Marketing’. This last one has even got professionals confused to the point where even seasoned IT and web people don’t really know the difference and that’s not surprising really, because they mean pretty much the same.In fact, ‘SEM’ is probably a preferable term to use because it encapsulates the subject in a more rounded manner, it’s also probably has more relevance to others outside the industry too because nearly everyone understands the concept of ‘marketing’ even if they don’t quite know what goes on within the industry.
The impression a term gives is extremely important and ‘search engine optimisation’ seems to imply that you simply ‘optimise’ a site and it’s done. This is certainly what I hear from many people who have had this service performed on their own site and they are under the impression that they don’t need to do anything else. Unfortunately, this is not the case – search engine optimisation is a long-term process that needs a lot of work doing constantly and one-off hits can be next to pointless.Where ‘SEO’ as a term does work is if you’re talking about just the one website and it does need work on it to make sure it’s as ‘optimised’ as possible, that is, it doesn’t stop search engines from doing their thing and indexing it. This term then becomes more about a site’s structure rather than any kind of campaign and there are a certain set of rules that need to be adhered to.For example, a site can be seen to be ‘search engine optimised’ if it has a good set of ‘title’ tags that have been optimised for the keywords being used and also has a good description tag, decent copy and structured, easy to use headings.Very often this does indeed only have to be done once and then maybe whenever new pages are added, but that’s all. However this doesn’t mean you’ll get great rankings, there is a lot more work involved before that will happen.This is where ‘search engine marketing’ takes over. You essentially need to market your website and as we all know, marketing is a set of actions that will get your product in front of more people and it’s the same with the web.The marketing, then, can be seen as a set of actions that will enable you to get your website found in the search engines and this involves a set of actions that is a little bit more complex than just changing a bit of text on a page.
Marketing, by its very nature, is an on-going affair and it requires a lot more effort over a longer period of time and when people talk about their ‘SEO’ campaign, they are actually talking about ‘SEM’.The methods by which Google ranks any particular site above another is a pretty closely guarded secret but one thing is known – the more links your site has going to it, the more apparently popular it is and therefore the higher it will rank. Therefore most people’s campaign will centre around building these links. As your competitors will probably be doing the same, you’ll find that you need to keep up to date with it too and this is where the differences in SEM and SEO can really be appreciated.So there you go. The differences between SEO and SEM are subtle, but important however you’ll find the terms used to explained exactly the same thing and at the end of the day, it’s all just about making sure your website is found at the top of the search engines.