Businesses around the world are now spending, combined, more than $100 billion on digital marketing strategies. But which digital marketing strategies are they choosing?

If you’re just starting to research your internet marketing options, you might have heard the terms “SEO” and “SEM” mentioned. With only one letter difference, it can be easy to confuse the two. The fact that many online marketers use the terms interchangeably doesn’t make it any easier.

But while they may sound similar, and in fact even share some traits, SEO and SEM are far from the same thing. Before you can choose which one is right for you, it’s important to learn the difference.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about SEO vs. SEM.

SEO Explained

SEO, or search engine optimization, is all about implementing marketing tactics based on search engine algorithms.

These algorithms are used by search engines to provide the most accurate results possible any time a web surfer runs a search. Google’s algorithms are perhaps the most famous, for a number of reasons. One big one is that they change often, and Google doesn’t release exactly what has changed. Another is that Google is the most-used search engine around the world. Ranking well on Google for a popular search means getting your website in front of the eyes of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of viewers each day.

Google keeps their algorithms a safely guarded secret for a reason. And their reasons are sound; they don’t want spam websites to immediately update their tactics to rank higher. This would result in non-useful search results getting provided, which would turn users away from Google.

As soon as a new algorithm is released, marketing experts descend, trying to track down exactly what has changed. Sometimes, the changes are big. A marketing tactic, like using external links, might be a big boost for a site’s ranking with one algorithm. Then a change can come along and suddenly keywords are a bigger factor. For website owners, this means constantly updating their SEO tactics.

SEO tactics are always organic. This means no PPC ads or social media ads fall under the SEO headline. Instead, tactics like keywords, backlinks, and optimizing your site for mobile viewing are considered SEO strategies. While you may pay (and should if you want to optimize your strategy) to have content created, links sourced, and keywords researched, you won’t pay directly to improve your site’s organic rate. Meaning that you can’t just fork over cash and bump your site’s ranking to a higher spot than your competitor.

SEM Explained

Now that you know what SEO is, it’s time to learn about SEM. Ironically, you already know a major part of what SEM encompasses. That’s because SEO actually falls under SEM.

SEM stands for search engine marketing. SEO is a big part of SEM. But there are also plenty of other tactics that fall under the SEM category. So while all SEO strategies are SEM strategies, not all SEM strategies are SEO strategies.

One big part of SEM, and the one that sets it apart from SEO, is inorganic marketing strategies. Inorganic strategies are those that attempt to drive visibility through paid strategies, rather than strictly through tactics targeting search engine algorithms.

This includes paid advertising, either on search engines, social media, or elsewhere on the web. It’s true that you can’t pay to boost your orgnaic ranking on a search engine. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t pay to appear on top.

The next time your run a search on Google, check out the top three to five results that appear. Now look to the left of the text for that little bubble that says “Ad.” This indicates that those websites paid to appear there. They have to include that little “Ad” bubble though, letting searchers know that the site didn’t earn its way there through inorganic strategies.

Choosing SEO or SEM

Now that you know the difference between SEO and SEM, it’s time to figure out which ones you need to be using on your website.

The truth is that both are important. While SEO strategies are great for long term success, they take a lot of time to implement, and even longer to start producing results. SEM strategies such as paid advertising, start driving traffic to your site almost immediately. But this speed is temporary; marketing experts agree that SEO and other organic strategies do far more for lead generation than any inorganic strategies do.

If you want to learn more about organic marketing strategies like SEO and how you can implement them on your own website, check out these reasons why you should consider adding a blog to your site.