The Difference Between SEO and SEM: A Guide for Dentists

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SEO vs SEM campaign for Dental SEO

Data from Google shows that 77% of people who need medical care do their research online before settling on a provider. What’s more, 48% do more than two weeks of research before they book an appointment. 

As a dentist, this means that the stronger your online marketing game is, the better. 

If you’re looking to improve your dental practice’s digital marketing strategy, it’s essential you know about the difference between SEO and SEM. 

SEO and SEM are two integral areas of digital marketing. They’re often used together, and both are important for successfully promoting your business online.

Ready to get clear on the difference between SEO vs SEM? Let’s jump into what they are, how they differ, and how to implement them. 


Both SEO and SEM aim to drive traffic and business. However, the way they make this happen is different. 

To understand the difference between SEO and SEM, let’s take a look at what each of these marketing strategies is and what they entail. 

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is the practice of tailoring one’s site and content so it appears in search. By targeting specific keywords, sites can climb in search rankings and garner organic traffic. 

SEO is generally a long term strategy, and you won’t see results overnight. However, it is a highly valuable marketing technique. Over time, as your site gains authority with the search engines, you can enjoy a steady flow of traffic. 

This traffic might be people looking for info on oral hygiene or oral care. It may also be people who are actively looking to find a dentist. Either way, if your site shows up in the search results, and they like what they see, there is a heightened chance they will become a patient of your practice. 

Besides gaining extra exposure, well-implemented SEO helps establish trust. If you do content marketing along with SEO, this will draw in visitors who are looking for answers. If you can provide them with these answers, they’ll be more likely to trust you than another dentist they have never heard of. 

SEO can be a very effective method for gaining new patients—because it organically attracts visitors and helps to build trust.

Statistics show that 70% to 80% of people completely ignore paid ads online. Instead of serving ads, SEO drives traffic by answering potential patient’s questions and needs. 

What Is SEM?

Now that we know what SEO is, what is SEM? SEM stands for search engine marketing. 

Broadly speaking, SEM is the practice of marketing through search engines. By this definition, SEO actually forms a part of SEM. 

SEM goes one step further than SEO in that it also targets new leads through paid ads. These are generally PPC ads through ad services such as Google Ads, Bing Ads, and Yahoo Search Ads. When someone searches for your targeted keywords, then your ad displays. 

For example, say your practice is located in Sydney Harbor. If you target keywords like “dentist in Sydney Harbor”, your ad will display above the search results when someone searches these terms. 

The advantage of paid ads is they are instant. As soon as you set up your ad campaign, your ads will start displaying in targeted searches. This means that you can enjoy the results of paid ads far sooner than with SEO. 

How to Implement Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is an involved field and not something that can be covered comprehensively in one blog post. However, if you want to start implementing SEM for your dental practice, we would recommend starting with paid search engine ads.

Google has the largest search engine market share of 93%, so it makes sense to start with Google Ads. From here, you will need to research your target keywords (Google Ads has a tool for this). Once you have nailed down what keywords you should target, you will need to create an ad budget and set up your ad campaign. 

From here, you can maintain and refine your ad strategy over time based on what results you get. 

How to Implement Search Engine Optimization

Like SEM, search engine optimization is a vast area. However, a quick road map to implementing SEO is to get your site optimized by:

  • Incorporating keywords
  • Generating and submitting a sitemap
  • Creating a Robots.txt file
  • Setting up Google Analytics
  • Optimizing for mobile
  • Increasing site speed
  • Listing your services, contact details, location, etc. 
  • Creating quality content

Besides these basic actions, you should do things like checking for crawl errors, fixing broken links, making sure your website is indexed, etc. Unless you are personally proficient in SEO, it’s generally best to hire a dental SEO service to optimize your site. 

So What Is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

If you’re wondering what the big difference between SEO and SEM is—it’s basically that SEO is designed to attract organic traffic, and the other SEM strategies mostly utilize paid ads. 

Although SEO is technically part of SEM, many marketers consider them as separate practices for simplicity’s sake.

Which Is Better for Your Dental Practice: SEO or SEM?

If you are wondering which strategy is best for your practice, the answer is both. SEO is a long-term strategy, one which will build on itself over time. It also stimulates trust and can establish you as an authority in your niche.

Other SEM methods, like paid ads, provide quicker results. However, they are typically more expensive. Although paid advertising does provide brand exposure, it doesn’t typically build on itself. 

In most cases, it makes sense to employ both of these digital marketing methods to promote your practice online. If you were to pick only one, we would probably recommend SEO. However, if you have the budget for other SEM methods such as paid ads, this can also significantly boost your reach and exposure. 

Need Help With Digital Marketing for Your Dental Practice?

Now that you know the difference between SEO and SEM, are you ready to start ramping up your digital marketing strategy?

If you would like help doing this, we are the people to call. Specializing in digital marketing for dentists, we know exactly what to do to generate the dental leads you need. 

Contact us today to get the ball rolling on your dental digital marketing campaign. 

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