Thursday, November 10, 2005


Which should you focus on, SEO or SEM?

SEO is Search Engine Optimization. This is what helps your web site to show up in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

SEM is Search Engine Marketing. This is leads visitors to act in the desired way in response to your search listings, advertising and web pages.

SEO uses search engines to let people know your web site exists. If they can't find you, your web site is wasted. SEM gets the desired response. If they come to your web site, but don't respond, your SEO effort is wasted. You need both SEO and SEM. You can't do one without the other.

For many web sites neither SEO nor SEM is done at all. The site is created by a very talented web designer who produces a beautiful web site. The business owner is in awe over how impressive looking their web site is. However, it is only by chance, not design, that it shows up in search engine results or brings in additional sales.

Here is where I can hear all the SEO experts jumping up and yelling that the web site needs some key word research, pages rewritten to focus on specific key words and phrases, link building and submission to directories like DMOZ.

And the SEM experts are all screaming that page titles need to be written using compelling text, landing pages need to be optimized, and there must be a call to action on every page.

But to listen to either of these would be skipping a very important step. We must always first ask, what is the purpose of the web site? What does the business owner want to accomplish with this web site?

I've created web sites for some high-end, exclusive local businesses. They don't want the international visibility that a highly SEO'd web site brings. They don't want phone calls from people who are not going to become customers. What they want is a classy, expensive looking web site to which they can refer customers who need to look at product or design options. This is a web site that needs SEM (focused on site design), but not SEO.

Although the answer to the question: SEO or SEM? is most often, "Both", the first step is always to understand the needs of the web site owner and their customers.


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