SEO VS SEM : difference between Search Engine Optimization & Marketing

SEO VS SEM

 The difference between Search Engine Optimization & Marketing

The last few month, i came across a couple “SEO VS SEM” info-graphics that were comparing SEO (short for Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (short for Search Engine Marketing), the definitions for SEM were contradictory, and i was confused!
Obviously, you should not believe everything you read on the internet, but after some digging, i realized that the same term “SEM” is being used differently by marketers.

Let’s start with official definitions:

Search engine optimization (SEO) is defined as the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s unpaid results — and often referred to as “natural,” “organic,” or “earned” results.
Translation into simple English: this is what you do on your website and on the web to improve your webpage ranking in search results. Website search optimization, consists of making sure that the webpage or website have the necessary data, tags and information to clearly describe what it is all about, this is often done within the code. Web SEO is the practice of linking, referring and pointing to the website throughout the web, this is a pretty complicated task, with lots of traps to avoid.

> SEO service

Search engine marketing (SEM)  is currently defined as a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) primarily through paid advertising.
Translation into simple English: this is paid advertising that appear on the search result page (usually on top and right side bar).

> SEM service

Truth be told, nowadays, no one knows exactly how to define SEM. Some people, still consider SEM as the umbrella term that groups all the activities affecting Search engines, others consider it as strictly paid search advertising (on Google Adwords, Microsoft Adcenter and Yahoo Searching Marketing ), and yet others consider it a mix to a certain degree of Content Marketing + Social Media Marketing + Paid Search Ads & Management + Reputation Management.

More about:

> Social Media Marketing
> Content Marketing
> Reputation Management


Historically SEM was the collection of strategies to increase the webpage visibility, and that included SEO + paid advertising on search engine + paid listing (back when web directories were important).

Since then the paid listing disappeared, and the paid advertising on search engine have been dominated by Google Pay per click Adwords (search engines now only offer PPC on search results).
But the real reason SEM became equivalent to paid ads, is that paid ads on search engine, are not that simple, in order no to waste your money with little to no results, it is important to optimize the ads display campaigns, and that is done by A/B testing, blocking certain keywords, defining a strict or loose match for keywords and key phrases …
In other words, the paid ads need to be well optimized, and that required continual work.


SEO being handled very briefly by marketing departments: The on site search engine optimization takes a couple days & the offsite SEO takes few weeks.

While Paid advertising was used continuously: Almost all marketing departments advertise on the search engine results, and it is a continuous activity, that never stops in normal conditions.

Thus, the paid advertising managed to squeeze SEO out of the SEM umbrella term.

A quick historical check of the evolution of some terms might shed some light on the situation:

SEM vs SEO trends
Growth of the SEM term

The Google trends graph above, show that SEM took over the PPC (pay per click advertising), PPC being most effectively used on search results, it’s no longer a mystery why many consider SEM as the on search paid advertising.
SEM also took over the growth of PPC and SEO, and that would explain why many still consider the term SEM as an umbrella term that group SEO+Paid advertising.

How PornHub is baiting media to increase website SEO ranking

11 years ago, when i started in the web development domain, i found myself in need of optimizing the websites for better ranking in search results.
Back then, the rules were simple and clear, if you followed the rules, you can count on having your website ranking high, for a specific keyword.
Since then, rules have been added, and some have been changed, and there have been a continual increase in complexity on what make websites rank higher.
These changes come because search engines no longer want the average Joe to know how to make his website rank high, instead they want him to buy ads that display “the website” on top of results, simply because it is the ads that make money for these huge search engines/corporations ….

Back then, there was a rule that every webmaster knew by heart, the rule was: avoid linking to  “porn” or “gambling” sites. Since then, this rule have never changed, and every responsible webmaster made sure he/she never linked to these categories, unless the site happen to be in these categories.
The reason behind this rule, is basically the same as any general public entertainment medium, where you are warned about adult content and in some cases the adult content have it’s own section isolated from the rest.
Same logic apply, when you link to adult or gambling content, it means -for the search engines- that you are willingly endorsing them, and that you are telling the visitor to go to these not so “ethical” websites, thus you should also be treated with cautious.
The “treated with cautious” mean that your page rank, aka “PR” will drop, the drop might not be visible at first, but you can bet that your general site ranking is taking a hit.

When the online media bloomed, especially with the advent of web2.0, the majority of the content was no longer created or crafted by the webmasters, but by the contributors and the journalists, which both have zero knowledge of SEO.
Then, the rise of the social media -Facebook & co. – sealed the deal, any attention to “SEO“,  journalists & wannabe journalist might have had, was scrapped and replaced by click-bait strategy that focused on controversial titles and on pushing readers to share the content in hope it would go viral.
In this spirit of negligence, some websites and corporation decided to take advantage of the situation, and bank on the ignorance of journalists and writers online.
One such site is PornHub, which in reality is simply just another porn video site, but with a good social media marketing team, the site, like all adult site relies mainly on SEO, to attract visitors. For porn sites, it’s not possible to advertise on search engines and they can’t count really on Facebook shares, after all who shares a porn video with his friends and family? No one!

So instead, they devised a plan to bait the media, and so far their plan have been successful, and honestly, no need to be a smart reporter to notice that they are taking advantage of you! All you have to do is take a look at their press releases to understand that “the causes” they are supporting, and their philanthropic activities are simply to create buzz, and that’s there’s no good intentions behind them!

below, I’ll show the screenshots before analyzing their campaigns ….

mediabaiting1 mediabaiting2

From the above press releases, i’ll choose a few, that show with no doubts the strategy adopted:
2016-02-05 –  Pornhub Cares Launches “Save the Whales” Fundraising Campaign in Time for World Whale Day
2016-01-20 –  Pornhub Apparel Partners With Christy Mack for Special Edition Clothing Line to Support Victims of Domestic Violence
2015-12-16 –  Pornhub Announces MaryAnn Uribe as Recipient of First-Ever $25,000 Pornhub Cares Scholarship
2015-12-02 –  Pornhub Cares’ ‘Save The Boobs’ Campaign Raises $35,000 to Support Breast Cancer Awareness
2015-10-01 –  Adult Site Announces Return of Breast Cancer Fundraising Initiative to Donate 1 Cent for Every 30 Videos Viewed
2015-09-02 –  Leading Adult Entertainment Platform to Award $25,000 Scholarship to Deserving Student Applicant

The site/ company is just gaming the media for attention and for links, for example, their above campaign of 1 cent per 30 views -on videos in big boobs and small boobs category only-, led to 104 million views for the chosen categories in that specific month. This means that they have skyrocketed their traffic, increased their SEO ranking and increased their social media followers for a mere $35k, you can’t get better than that! Furthermore, it increased their female viewers demographics.
The $25k scholarship did the same, but this time it’s improving their students demographics.
With Save the Whales campaign, they are doing the same strategy as they did with the breast cancer awareness, except, this time, they doing it site wide, thus the much lower donation per views: 1 cent for every 2000 views!!!
As for the Christy Mack collection, it is ridiculous, it’s simply a couple of sexy or naked images transferred onto standard Tshirts ….

Many big publications have fallen victim to this baiting, and that include: Thousands of respectable publications like the Washington Post, the Independent, huffingtonPost, USA today, NBC, etc etc ….

At the end of the day, the corporation that run PornHub as well as YouPorn and Redtube, is doing the best for their business, it is rather the fault of writers that aren’t.

we will soon publish : Simple SEO Steps Every Publisher Should Ask Writers to Follow