How to Use SEO and SEM to Boost Your Business

SEO and SEM go hand-in-hand when it comes to getting your page to rank higher on Google. We’ll show you how and when to use both techniques for your business.

Keyword(s): SEO and SEM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years or so, you understand the importance of digital marketing in your business strategy.

But did you know that sites on Google’s first page of results generate a 91.5% traffic share?

Suddenly, it makes sense why SEO and SEM are so vital to your business success, whether you’re an international corporation or a local flower shop. Here, we’re breaking down what SEO and SEM are, which one you need to succeed, and a few key strategies to help your business get ahead.

What is SEO?

First, let’s start with the one you’re probably familiar with.

SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to the various practices websites use in order to rank their web pages higher in the search results of Google, Bing, and other search engines.

In particular, SEO focuses on the organic aspects of search engine marketing, which means that you don’t pay for your site to rank in the first three slots of Google with an Ad label.

What is SEM?

Then, there’s SEM, which is the grandfather of SEO.

SEM, or search engine marketing, is generally defined as the process of gaining web traffic through paid and unpaid efforts on search engines. In fact, SEM used to be an umbrella term that encompassed SEO.

That said, most SEO and SEM experts separate SEO and SEM into two different categories based on one key difference: paid or unpaid marketing.


With that in mind, let’s talk about the key differences between SEO and SEM so that you can better understand which one is best suited to your business.

As we noted, SEO and SEM used to be viewed as the same thing, since they are based on the same foundational idea: using marketing techniques to make websites rank better in search engines.

However, the biggest difference between SEO and SEM these days is the difference between organic and paid search marketing.

To be clear: though SEO is technically “free”, you may still pay to make sure your site ranks well, whether you pay an SEO agency to handle the technical details or you pay for an SEO tool to make your life a little easier.

Organic vs. Paid Search

Open up a new Google search tab. Type in any search–let’s say, “SEO,” for example.

You’re going to get a list of results. The first two or three results, the ones you usually ignore, are labeled Ads, and they’re clearly a site that’s selling something.

Below them are the results Google could infer from your search, listed in order of relevance.

It all comes back to web crawlers.

Think of the Internet like a giant library with no central filing system. Before you complete a search, web crawlers trawl for information across hundreds of billions of web pages and organize it into Google’s Search Index.

This is a lot like the index at the back of a textbook. When a crawler goes through a site, it will take note of certain key signals and organize those pages into corresponding sections of Google’s Search Index.

When you complete a search, Google’s algorithm uses this index to find the most relevant answer to your question as quickly as possible.

Value of SEO

So, in simple terms, Google’s algorithm decides where your website ranks for a given search based on a number of factors known only to Google.

The basic goal of SEO is to shape a website according to those factors so that Google’s algorithm will rank you higher. The exact details of the algorithm is a secret, but SEO experts have a pretty good idea of the important factors.

So when you use SEO, you’re making your site more readable to search engine algorithms, which will, in turn, make your site more visible to potential customers–which is good for your bottom line.

Value of SEM

That said, a big part of SEO is domain authority, which is a measure of the website’s relative strength, quality, and authority in its area of choice. Think of it like measure the quality of a news source on a scale from Wikipedia to the New York Times.

Domain authority is heavily based on the quality of your links (how many good backlinks you have and how many authoritative sites link to you). As you might guess, this can be difficult to achieve when you’re a site that’s brand new to the game.

This is where SEM can help you. By paying a certain amount to have your ad rank in the first slot on page one of SERPs, you’re guaranteeing visibility, even if you’re a relative newcomer. This helps boost your traffic, which will, in turn, boost your reach and, indirectly, your rankings.

Which Do You Need?

There are many arguments on the Internet over whether SEO or SEM is the magic pill your site needs to soar to the #1 ranking spot.

The truth is, you need both.

It’s a matter of their respective timeframes. SEO is a long-game tool, and it takes many months to see a good SEO strategy come to fruition. So it’s easy for newcomers to turn to SEM in the beginning. That said, if you want your site to have staying power, you need SEO if you want to stay well-ranked.

SEO and SEM Strategies

With this in mind, let’s cover a few essential SEO and SEM strategies that your business could try to implement.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list by any means–there are many technical and advanced SEO tactics you could try.

Think of this list as your desert island of SEM and SEO. If you could only implement a handful of tactics, these are the ones you absolutely need.


The variety of available SEO methods under the sun are almost as diverse as the algorithms they’re designed to overcome. That said, there are some techniques you should strive to avoid.

You see, there’s a difference between white hat SEO and black hat SEO. Black hat SEO techniques are the ones that promise you skyrocketing traffic in a few weeks and include questionable methods like keyword stuffing and other cheap gimmicks.

Essentially, black hat SEO is a way of gaming the system in order to artificially inflate your SEO ranking. It might work temporarily, but the truth is, search engines are getting smarter at spotting black hat SEO, and if they catch you doing it, they’ll blackball you.

So, stick to the white hat techniques we’ve outlined here.

SEO Audit

One of the first things you should do for your SEO is to pay a visit to your (least) favorite word from tax season: audit.

An SEO audit works a lot like its Tax Day cousin. Essentially, you use various tools to check whether your SEO is working and, if it’s not, figure out how to fix it.

This can encompass almost anything. For example, Screaming Frog’s SEO Spider is a crawling tool that simulates how a search engine crawler will go through your site. This will help you streamline the process (good news for your SEO).

Of course, you can also just ask the Wizard of Oz (i.e. the almighty Google) by using Google Webmaster. They won’t let you peek at the man behind the curtain, but they will offer a series of diagnostic tools to help you improve your site. Most other major search engines offer similar tools.

Google My Business

You also need to get down to business. Google My Business, that is.

Remember last time you Googled a pizza place and there was a handy box on the side that listed the business name, address, phone number, website, and other useful information?

That’s a product of Google My Business, and it will give you a serious boost in local search results.

All you need to do is create an account, claim your business listing, and add any relevant information that might be missing. Make sure to claim your physical address on Google Maps, as well–this is what makes your business pop up on Google Maps for relevant searches.

Content is King

Search masters may argue about whether “content is king,” is the greatest lie ever told in SEO. Here’s the thing.

Google’s algorithm is about 20 miles of code. And they update it often to make the search engine better.

That means that when Google does a major update, your old tried and true techniques may not work anymore (does anyone remember the good old days of keyword stuffing?) Which means that your SEO needs to be Google-proof.

The best way to do this is by creating evergreen content. What is evergreen content, you ask?

Much like pine trees that never show their age, evergreen content is content that will always remain useful to readers without needing updates.

One of the best ways to do this is by answering the questions your users are asking in the most thorough way possible.

Master Link Building

Finally, to throw back to our old friend domain authority, you need to master your link building. Specifically, so that you can earn quality backlinks.

Picture a website (like Buzzfeed) with a listicle of recipes, each with a link to the blog that houses the original recipe post. For those original sites, the links in Buzzfeed’s listicle are backlinks (when someone else links back to your content).

Backlinks are SEO gold because they’re hard evidence of domain authority.

But keep in mind the operative word here: earn quality backlinks, not buy quality backlinks. Earning great backlinks can take time, but it is possible, even if you’re a relative nobody.

If you need somewhere to start, read this post.


With all of this in mind, let’s turn to SEO’s cousin, SEM.

The important thing to remember about SEM is that, in the long run, your SEM efforts won’t boost your SEO score. Search engines analyze those metrics differently.

However, SEM can give you the early boost you need to get your SEO up and running, and it can give your sales a boost even when your SEO is doing well.

So, let’s cover some basic SEM methods you should keep in your back pocket.

Keywords Aren’t Dead

Much like the many deaths of SEO, keywords have been pronounced dead on numerous occasions.

However, caution to the clever SEM specialist: keywords aren’t dead, they’re just evolving.

Where once upon a time the frequency of keywords was an indicator of a site’s relevance (keyword stuffing, anyone?) keywords these days are more about relevance, naturalness, and implication than anything else.

For example, if your keyword of choice is SEO, you should also include other relevant keywords like, say, domain authority, backlinks, SEM, long-tail keywords, and other words and phrases that are related to the topic.

This is especially important in SEM, where you target your ads based on key search terms.

Google Ads

This brings us to our last point: Google Ads, previously known as Google Adwords.

Google Ads has been a favorite tool of SEM experts for a long time. It’s free to use, it’s easy, and it’s effective.

Basically, you design an ad which you then target towards key customers. You do this by connecting the ad to certain relevant search terms, narrowing the search by a specific region, age range, and other key demographic details.

This way, you can make sure your ad shows up only for those people who are going to spend money on your site.

Maximizing SEO and SEM for Your Business

Now that you know all about SEO and SEM, are you ready to use them in your business?

If you’re still not sure where to start, no worries. You’ve come to the right place.

We provide reliable (and affordable) website optimization services to small and medium-sized businesses. Explore our site to take a closer look at our offerings, or get in touch with us to schedule a consultation today.