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SEO or SEM –what’s the difference?

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Although some may tell you the two terms are interchangeable, the truth is there is a difference and I am here to tell you that it really isn’t too complicated to understand.  Medical practice owners are often confused by the terms “search engine optimization” vs. “search engine marketing” and are left wondering which should take priority and how do each fit into the marketing mix.  Which has a bigger pay off and what is the right approach?

What’s the Difference?

It’s important to note that these two terms have different meanings.  Search engine optimization (SEO) is actually an import piece of search engine marketing, or a function within your overall SEM program.  SEO is the act of optimizing a website for organic or natural search engine listings.  (Google, Yahoo, Bing etc.)  Search engine optimization is arguably the most cost-effective function within a search engine marketing program, yet it is still only a piece of the puzzle.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of marketing a website through search engines; whether by improving natural organic rank or listings, paid or sponsored listings, or a combination of the two.

A comprehensive search engine marketing program should include the following:

  1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  2. Search engine and directory submission management

  3. Paid inclusion and trusted feed programs

  4. Pay-for-placement management

  5. Link popularity / reputation development

  6. ROI and performance monitoring and reporting

It is important to clearly understand the difference between SEO / SEM as you implement these campaigns within your marketing program.  Although SEO is cost-effective and produces effective organic growth, many will tell you that well conceived pay-for-placement programs can produce tremendous ROI for your practice.  The key is to understand the difference and make sure you have a well-versed marketing partner who is able to devise a strategy that leverages both correctly.

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