The Glossary: SEO, SEM, and Content Marketing

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So we’ve already explored the merits of search engine optimization as a part of your marketing plan but before you jump into bed with a digital marketer, you should understand some of the terms tossed around! Today on the glossary we will be exploring the difference (or lack there of) between SEO, SEM and content marketing. Additionally, we will be touching on different terms often used within the digital marketing industry.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

This term has lost some of it’s juice in recent years. Search Engine Marketing is a broader term than SEO and includes all form of marketing through a search engine. Encompassing both SEO and paid campaigns such as Google Adwords, SEM is simply the practice of marketing your business or organization through a search engine.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

This term has changed quite a bit over the years as Google and other search engines have changed their algorithm. However, at it’s most basic level search engine optimization is the practice of organizing content and linking strategy to satisfy Google’s search result algorithm and boost rankings. True SEO often includes optimizing your onsite content to satisfy search engine metrics, building robust link networks, and (now more than ever) content creation. Today, quality up-to-date content is paramount to success, I will go over that later in this article but for now I’ll describe the technical aspects of SEO which were used for years to boost search results.

Google needs to satisfy their customers

The Google search engine’s primary directive (besides raking in ad revenue) is to provide users with the best and most relevant search results for their query. For many years Google’s algorithm determined relevancy of results by the amount of traffic from a domain, the amount/quality of links pointing to that domain, and, of course, which relevant keywords are included in the page content.  SEO firms soon caught on to these patterns and were able to manipulate the Google algorithm to boost search through some less-than-savory tactics (outlined in greater detail here). Today. Google has caught onto these tactics and will actually penalize sites for using these tactics meaning sites must focus on quality over quantity when it comes to link building and content.

Google AdWords

I am putting all keyword based paid advertisements under the header AdWords but this type of SEM comes in multiple forms depending on the search engine you hope to market on. With Google AdWords organizations and companies are essentially paying to have their site moved to the top of search results. Google AdWords allows users to set certain keywords for specific demographics and areas. Next, a user will place a “bid” for the adspace and will be entered into an auction for the top search results.

For example, let’s say that I run a company called and my main competitors are and All three companies are hoping to advertise to 18-25 male demographic in the city of Scottsdale for the keyphrase “Cheap Glitter by the Pound”.  Now let’s say that I am willing to pay $10 per click, is willing to pay $8 per click and is willing to pay $12. When a Google user (within the demographic) searches for “Cheap Glitter by the Pound”, will come up as the first result, with second, and third. However, each organization will not being paying the full amount of their bid, instead they will be paying a penny more than the next highest bid. So in actuality will pay $10.01 per click, I will pay 8.01, and will pay $8 provided there are no other lower bids.

The advantages to AdWords is that you will instantly “rank” for the demographic and keywords that you determine. Giving companies more control of their funnel. The disadvantage to AdWords is that when your budget is spent, the rankings will disappear.

It should also be noted that quality of links, domain reputation, and AdManager reputation also play factors in paid ad rankings. The aforementioned example provides that the three companies have similar domain reputations.  Google AdWords is a complex system which requires sophisticated strategy to implement effectively.  

Content Marketing

Content is king. This is a phrase that has been used in every digital marketing seminar in the past three years and while this platitude makes me cringe every time I hear it is true. You see, a couple years back Google caught onto some of the “black-hat” SEO tactics firms were using to artificially boost site rankings. Google’s resolution to this issue was to give credence to websites with original, well-written content that is regularly updated. The thought process behind this is that quality, organic content will attract traffic, third-party linking and relevancy for Google search users without any dubious practices going on behind the scenes.

In addition to the pure SEO value of quality content there is also the immediate value that you provide to customer base and market. Through blog posts, video, infographics and more you can develop a demonstrate your expertise, culture and value to customers directly. There are multiple ways to disseminate your content including social media, email marketing, and natively on your site.


Externalities: Cost of Development

Outside of the cost of design and development, the literal coding/creation of a website there are many secondary cost associated with your online presence. Most