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SEM Versus SEO

As an IT professional, you've probably experienced this scenario at least once: A marketing manager appears in your office and shows you an email he or she received that reads something like this:

With "Fast Listings" we will guarantee TOP PLACEMENT in major search engines for your web site for just $29.95!

Now, you know that getting top placement in the search results of major search engines is hard work and requires a lot of professional knowledge. So you politely (I hope) take the email and say you'll look into it.

But you can't fault the marketing manager too much for thinking that anything connected to the words search engine must be an IT function. This mistake stems from confusing SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing). The two activities are very different: SEO is a programming function, while SEM is purely a marketing function. An earlier article in this series discussed the responsibility of the marketing department in giving IT the information you need to perform search engine optimization successfully. The need is even greater with SEM than with SEO; the only thing that SEO and SEM have in common is that both need diligent follow up.

Briefly, search engine marketing consists of two types:

  • Paid inclusion. For an example of paid inclusion, look at a page of Google search results. At the very top of the list, above all other search results, you probably see one or two listings with a tinted background. These organizations have paid to be listed in the top of the search results when a particular search term is used.

  • Paid placement. For an example of paid placement, look at just about any search results page from major search engines such as Yahoo!, AltaVista, AOL, or MSN. The paid placements appear near the top of any search results page above all regular search results. They usually have a designation over them such as Sponsor Matches, Sponsored Sites, or Sponsored Links. But unlike with paid inclusion systems, the advertiser doesn't pay for these link listings to appear. They only pay when the listing is clicked. This is called pay-per-click (PPC) or pay-for-performance marketing. With PPC marketing, you choose a search term and bid on the term—that is, how much you're willing to pay if someone clicks your listing. The higher your bid, the higher your listing appears in the search results of those search engines that use PPC search engine services such as Overture or Google's AdWords.

As with search engine optimization, search engine marketing requires both IT and marketing staff to work together to ascertain that the money spent delivers an adequate return on investment. Before your IT staff can execute a search engine marketing program, a lot of work has to be performed by your marketing department. They have to provide your IT staff with the following:

  • 30–60 keywords and keyword phrases

  • A listing title of the required length

  • A listing description of the required length

  • A designated web page on your site to point to from the listing

  • How the web page will be relevant to the keywords, title, and description in the listing

We'll take them one at a time.


Keep in mind that the IT staff and marketing staff of your organization speak different languages. I'm not trying to be funny here. It's true. When you ask your marketing comrades how the web page will be relevant to the keywords, title, and description in the listing, you'll probably have to explain to them what you mean. IT needs to be patient with Marketing, and vice versa. It might help to direct your marketing folks to Part 3 of this series, "e-Marketing for Search Engine Optimization."

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