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SEM vs. SEO: What’s The Difference?

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SEM vs. SEO: What’s The Difference?

CSS. HTTP. URL. HTML.

It’s possible the only field that uses more acronyms and initializations than web marketing is the military.

The military uses them to save time.

Sometimes, it seems like our industry only uses them to confuse newcomers.

And it’s not uncommon for even experienced professionals to mix them up.

Some of the most common mistakes happen when it comes to the similar and related, but distinctly different concepts of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

Once upon a time, in the halcyon days of the early internet (that is, circa 2001), SEO referred to a part of SEM.

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But, as the language and nuance of web marketing shifted, search engine marketing came to refer to a specific type of digital marketing. So, what’s the difference?

Sometimes also referred to as organic (SEO) and inorganic (SEM) search, both are focused on using Google (and to a lesser extent other search engines) to drive traffic to a specific website.

From a high-level view (and don’t worry, we’ll dive into the details a bit later), SEO is the process of improving your website to generate traffic, while SEM is using paid methods to show up in searches.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve mixed these terms up. It happens all the time.

To help you avoid any embarrassing mishaps when speaking with other digital marketers, we’ve compiled this handy guide to give you an overview of these concepts.

Confused? Don’t be, all will be made clear in the end. Now let’s get started.

PPC, Another Variable In The Mix

As we get started, just to make everything even more confusing, let’s add one more initialization into the mix: PPC or pay-per-click.

Okay, that one isn’t really fair because PPC is just another term for SEM – or at least, a part of it.

PPC is most likely a term that evolved through the Wild West days of early search engine strategies when different people used different terms to refer to the same thing.

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Eventually, pay-per-click and search engine marketing came to mean the same thing: paid digital marketing advertisements on search platforms.

Pay-per-click, regardless if it’s called PPC, CPC (that is cost-per-click), paid search, or search ads are referring to paid search marketing, typically through search engines like Google and Bing.

Other terms and tactics used in digital marketing initiatives – especially those tied to search marketing tactics (both paid and organic) – may not be so simple and clearly defined, though.

What’s The Difference Between SEO & SEM/PPC?

We know SEO is search engine optimization.

Marketers aren’t optimizing search engines, however. We’re optimizing content and websites for search engines (and humans, too), so they can better understand, access, and direct searchers to our website.

Again, initialism doesn’t always make sense. So, naturally, this is a bit illogical.

Just like other things in life that don’t always add up, there are some acronyms that will never make sense either.

Like Humvee, which doesn’t stand for any words that start with U or E in them. (It actually stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, and was spawned from the original acronym, HMMWV.)

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We’ve also determined that PPC marketing is (at least now) the same as or a very large part of SEM. Here’s where they overlap:

  • Both are paid initiatives.
  • Both need a budget.
  • Both make search engines like Google and other advertising platforms a lot of money.

But, while Wikipedia defines SEM 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,” it’s not so quick to call them the same exact thing.

In fact, pay-per-click marketing has its own Wikipedia page separate from search engine marketing (despite there being plenty of discrepancies and confusion throughout the page).

The bottom line is this:

SEO is not a component of SEM.

And, while PPC is typically the largest and most demanding component of SEM, both PPC and SEM are paid initiatives that offer real-time data, ROI, and protected data that can only be accessed by advertisers on certain platforms.

Why It Matters

Consistency is the main reason it’s important to clarify these terms.

Too many novice marketers, or marketers who aren’t specialists in maximizing value through search, have adopted these industry definitions and crossed them, combined them, confused them, or used them in a way that only further diluted their true meaning.

And even well-seasoned marketers who simply didn’t agree with or possibly even completely understand the terms themselves help contribute to the turning tide, as well.

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Conferences have set up entire segments of their educational offering around the SEM naming convention when referring to strictly paid marketing efforts, but those efforts aren’t strictly done through search engines.

SEM, at least from this perspective, includes PPC ads on search engines but also on third-party platforms like Amazon and YouTube, as well as industry-focused platforms like Houzz, Thumbtack, or Yelp. It also includes display ads and remarketing efforts.

And, as the opportunity to advertise on social media continues to grow, it is usually used to refer to paid advertising on those networks, too.

Here at Search Engine Journal, we’re doing our part. Keeping the definitions and their usage consistent is going to be the best way to keep the information organized in a way that makes sense for marketers.

It also helps us, as marketers, convey our thoughts and ideas to clients and stakeholders, peers, or a friend who is curious about just what exactly it is we do for a living.

But, you should never assume someone else knows what you’re referring to when you use these terms.

Be concise and explain exactly what you’re talking about and make sure everyone agrees on term definitions.

Before we move on, let’s recap:

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  • SEO is the organic effort that goes into marketing through search engines.
  • SEM and PPC are paid initiatives through search and other platforms.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on.

Should I Use SEO Or SEM?

Now that you hopefully have a grasp on the differences between SEO and SEM, you’re undoubtedly asking yourself a question: Which one should I be using?

Ideally, both.

But if you don’t have the bandwidth and can only choose one, here are some things to consider:

What Are Your Goals?

If you want to drive traffic quickly, whether to promote a sale, try out a new offer or just give your website more exposure, SEM is the choice for you.

SEO, on the other hand, is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes more time to show results but is good for long-term growth and compounding value.

What Is Your Budget?

Obviously, SEM campaigns are going to cost you money. After all, there’s a reason it’s called pay-per-click.

If your budgets are tight or you have low product margins, it may not make sense to run SEM.

SEO, on the other hand, is more of a time investment than a financial one. And, you can probably enlist people already on your payroll like writers, IT personnel, and marketers to help.

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How Is Your Site Currently Performing?

If your website already ranks highly for your keywords, your SEO needs will be primarily driven by changes to the Google algorithm and competition.

In this situation, SEM is a great augmentation. Conversely, if you’re not getting a lot of organic traffic, you probably need to get your SEO in order before you start spending money on paid ads.

How Much Data Do You Have Or Need About Visitors?

SEM lets you capture a lot more visitor data than organic search.

You can run your PPC campaigns through dashboards like Google Analytics, where you can see clicks, impressions, CTR, sessions, conversions, etc.

You can then use this data to track trends and attract new customers.

How Is Your Online Reputation?

SEO is a great way to control the narrative around your brand.

Using the same techniques you use to climb to the top of search rankings, you can control the way your organization is seen online.

In one famous (albeit unsuccessful) example, UC-Davis paid a consulting firm $175,000 to scrub the internet of negative postings.

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Of course, if you can swing it, you should combine SEO and SEM as complementary search strategies.

This way, you can use the data you gather from your PPC campaigns to refine your SEO campaigns. This will give you a better idea of exactly what your audience is looking for when they click your links, so you can customize your content to it.

Combining both practices also lets you create remarketing campaigns.

If your SEO work is driving visitors, but you’re not seeing the conversions you want, you can use SEM to actively reach out to those targets and bring them back to your website.

Pairing SEO and SEM can also allow you to completely dominate search engine results pages (SERPs).

If you have the top ranking on the first page of results, plus paid listings on the same page, you’ve just claimed a lot of real estate.

The downside of this, however, is that your paid listings may cannibalize your organic traffic, which costs you unnecessary money.

Conclusion

Hopefully, by this point, we’ve successfully impressed on you the difference between SEO and SEM. But just in case it wasn’t clear, here it is once more for the people in the back:

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SEO is using non-paid tactics to drive traffic to your website organically. It’s a slower process (usually three to six months) but can pay long-term dividends.

SEM, including PPC, is the use of paid search platforms to drive targeted traffic to your website. It requires a budget but can drive results very quickly.

Too many people either see these as the same thing or as completely separate initiatives and miss out on the benefits of using them together.

To get the best results, both should be a part of your digital marketing strategy.

They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but when properly united, can give you a real competitive advantage.

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Featured Image: Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock

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Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

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Top 6 Free Survey Maker Tools For Marketers

The number of online surveys has risen dramatically in the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center.

From short social media polls to lengthy feedback forms, it’s never been easier to survey your target audience and find out what exactly they’re thinking.

When it comes to free survey makers, you have plenty of options to choose from.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is you have to wade through your options to figure out the best survey tool for you.

In this article, I’ve done that dirty work for you.

Below I outline the top six free survey makers, with a simple bulleted list of their pros and cons, so you can quickly select the best one for your needs.

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But first up, the caveats.

What You’re Missing With Free Survey Makers

When something’s free, there’s usually a catch. The same goes for free survey makers.

Free survey tools, or the free plan offered by a paid survey tool, often come with the following limitations:

  • Limited export options. You may not be able to export your survey data for review in Excel or Google Sheets. There may be a PDF-only export option or no export ability at all.
  • Limited analytics. Free survey tools often skimp on the analytics. You may be left to your own pivot tables and Excel expertise if you want to create anything fancy from your survey data.
  • Limited survey functionality. This runs the gamut, from a limit on how many respondents or questions you can have per survey, to only allowing so many question types (e.g., multiple-choice, long-form, etc.).
  • Limited extra perks. By perks, I mean those other features that make software from good to great. With survey makers, that might mean easy-to-access support, the ability to embed surveys in email or webpages, multiple user accounts, or integration with other email marketing or CRM software.
  • No branding. Free survey makers give you their tools for free. In return, you provide them with free brand awareness. Don’t expect to be able to swap out their logo for your own. You’ll probably be stuck with their branding, along with a prominent link to their site throughout the survey or on the thank you page (or both).

If any of the above is a dealbreaker for you, you should plan to drop a little dough on a paid survey tool. That’s why I’ve also included the starting price for all six of the tools featured below.

In case you end up having to upgrade later, it’s easier to do so from a tool you’re already familiar with.

Top 6 Free Survey Tools

Without further ado, I present the best free survey makers you’ll find today. These are listed in no particular order.

1. Google Forms

Screenshot by author, June 2022

Do you live and die by your Google Drive?

Great news: Google also offers free survey software via Google Forms.

Alright, I know I just said these were presented in no particular order, but I’ll openly admit Google Forms is my personal favorite. Just look at all of the features they include in their free plan!

All you need is a free Google account to get started.

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Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Export to Google Sheets.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Ability to embed images and YouTube videos.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website and share to social media.
  • Survey analytics, updated in real-time.
  • Integration with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides.
  • Unlimited collaborators.
  • Customizable survey templates.
  • Free branding.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Enhanced security and collaboration options.
  • Integration with your existing Google Workplace account.

Price: Completely free. Google Workplace pricing starts at $6 per user per month.

Best for: Anyone and everyone, for business or casual use.

2. SurveyMonkey

surveymonkeyScreenshot by author, June 2022

SurveyMonkey is the online survey tool. Established in 1999, it’s still the most well-known online survey software.

Despite the limitations of its free plans, SurveyMonkey continues to be popular thanks to its intuitive interface and brand recognition. Notable clients include Allbirds, Tweezerman, and Adobe.

One nice perk is that you can test out any of the paid features with your free plan. (You just won’t be able to actually use it in your live survey until you pay up.)

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions.
  • 15 question types.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Over 250 customizable survey templates.
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Mobile app.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions, question types, and responses.
  • Data exports – this is a biggie!
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Advanced security (single sign-on, HIPAA compliance).
  • A/B testing.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $16 per month for individuals, $25 for teams.

Best for: Those who want a tried-and-true survey maker with all the features you could ask for.

3. Typeform

typeformScreenshot by author, June 2022

Many online survey tools are designed for the general public.

Readers of Search Engine Journal will be happy to hear that there’s a survey tool created just for us. Typeform was built specifically with marketers, UX researchers, and business owners like us in mind.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

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  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 10 responses per month.
  • Basic question types.
  • Basic reporting and analytics
  • Ability to embed the survey on your website.
  • Integrations with MailChimp, HubSpot, Trello, Google Sheets, Zapier, and more.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Custom thank you screen.
  • Custom branding.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Team collaboration.
  • Ability to accept payment.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Integration with Facebook pixel and Google Tag Manager.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users, UX researchers, and marketers hoping to track customer behavior.

4. Zoho Survey

zoho surveyScreenshot by author, June 2022

Zoho Survey is part of the same Zoho suite of apps that caters to sales, HR, IT, finance, and virtually any kind of business user you can think of.

Given their tenure creating SaaS software for business, their survey tool is just as robust as you might expect. Customers include big names like Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Change.org.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • 10 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website, or share to social media.
  • Export to PDF.
  • 250 survey templates.
  • Password protection and HTTPS encryption.
  • One user.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Ability to export to XLS or CSV.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Team collaboration.
  • Real-time responses.
  • Multilingual surveys.
  • Integration with Google Sheets, Tableau, Shopify, Zendesk, Eventbrite, and others.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $25 per month.

Best for: Zoho users, or anyone who needs an extra level of security for their surveys.

5. Alchemer

alchemer survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

Alchemer is an advanced survey maker developed for the enterprise client.

Paid features include custom coding so you can customize every single element of your survey, from the survey URL to the form logic.

They stand out among free survey makers for being one of the few (besides Google Forms) to offer unlimited questions and Excel exports in their free plan. Clients include Disney, Salesforce, Verizon, and The Home Depot.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Three surveys at a time.
  • Unlimited questions.
  • 100 responses.
  • 10 question types.
  • Export to Excel.
  • Customizable templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited responses.
  • Unlimited question types.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • Ability to embed surveys in websites.
  • Export to PDF, PowerPoint, or Word.
  • Ability for survey respondents to upload files.
  • Survey analytics and reporting.
  • Ability to accept payment.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $49 per month.

Best for: Enterprise users needing to create long surveys with advanced logic and question types.

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6. Jotform

jotform survey makerScreenshot by author, June 2022

With over 10,000 templates, Jotform takes the cake as the survey maker with the most form templates on our list.

Jotform also stands out for letting you accept payments with the free plan (although you’re limited to 10).

This popular survey maker includes clients as wide-ranging as AMC and Nickelodeon to Redfin and the American Medical Association.

Here’s what’s included in the free plan:

  • Five surveys.
  • 100 questions per survey.
  • 100 responses per survey.
  • Ability to embed surveys in email or website.
  • Export to PDF or Excel.
  • 10,000 survey templates.

What’s missing from the free plan:

  • Unlimited surveys.
  • Unlimited questions and responses.
  • Survey logic (ability to skip or trigger questions).
  • Custom branding.
  • HIPAA compliance.

Price: Freemium. Paid plans start at $29 per month.

Best for: Users who want a template for every kind of survey possible.

Which Survey Tool Will You Use?

There truly is a survey maker for everybody.

The above options are all solid choices. Which one works for you may depend on your organization’s needs and your personal preferences.

Take advantage of the free trials and see which one you like best.

More Resources:

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Featured Image: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock



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