SEO is often broken into the categories of onsite factors and offsite factors. Those factors are so different they shouldn’t actually both be called SEO. When writing on various blogs and forums I’ve started breaking them down into either SEO for onsite optimization factors, and SEP for offsite backlinking (promotion) factors.

Since people first started marketing on the internet, being listed in the Search Engines has been a priority. A listing in the SERP is really nothing more than a backlink to your site, but it’s a backlink served up to the users of a search engine. Since the Search Engines are the primary method people use to find relevant sites, a listing for your site in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) can be a very powerful traffic source to your site. Getting a listing on a search engine page as a main traffic generation strategy is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

There’s actually two ways of doing Search Engine Marketing. You can either just pay for advertising space on the search engine home page or the SERP, or you can get a free organic listing based on how your pages rank in the search engine index. Paid methods include things like PPC(PayPerClick), PP(Paid Placement), CA(Contextual Advertising), PI(Paid Inclusion). A paid listing is pretty much guaranteed and can bring your site massive traffic, but an organic listing in the top few positions of the SERP will usually bring even more traffic. The topic of this article is in regards to the methods of getting an organic (or free) listing in the SERPs.

From the early days of the internet through to the time when Yahoo was the predominant search engine, the way to get the best listing in the SERPs was to optimize your pages for the SE. Initially this was done by a method called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is just what the term implies; optimizing your website so it will get indexed for it’s targeted keywords. SEO was everything that could be done on the website itself to get the best ranking in the SE index. Keywords in the content, design of the pages, links between the subpages, basically the overall structure of the website itself, everything on the website would be optimized to get the best result in the SERP.

There were limitations with Search Engines using just onsite factors to determine the most relevant results for the SERPs. In 1996 a couple of grad students at Stanford, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, developed a new algorithm for determining relevance based on how websites were linking to each other. The new algorithm was called Page Rank (named for Larry Page) and was later used to build a new search engine called Google.

Once Google came into the picture it changed how websites could get a good rank in the SE indexes. It turned out that Page and Brin were right. Their method of indexing could provide more relevant results and soon most other search engines incorporated similar ranking systems in their own algorithms. The new factor Google had entered into the SEM equation was backlinks. Not only did webmasters need to optimize their websites for the search engines, now they needed to create backlinks specifically for the search engines to find.

Since SEO was already the term used for doing what you can to get in the SE indexes, the term was just extended to include building backlinks as well. Sometimes when discussing backlinks, writers will distinguish them as offsite-SEO, but technically building backlinks isn’t SEO at all. You aren’t really optimizing anything. Optimization is what you’ve done on your website and pages to make them as relevant to your keywords as possible. When you start building backlinks though, you’ve actually started promoting your website.

Now there’s actually two different reasons for promoting your website. One is to get people to see your promotions and visit your website, the other is to get the search engines to notice your website and determine its relevance based on the number and types of backlinks. When you’re building backlinks primarily for a good search engines ranking then what you’re actually doing is promoting your website to the search engines. So rather than call the effort offsite-SEO which is misleading, it would be more correct to call it SEP(Search Engine Promotion).

Also, even though you’re trying to get an organic listing in the SERPs, that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource your website creation and design SEO factors or your backlinking SEP factors. You might be paying for other people to do the work, but the actual listing in the SERP is a free organic listing.

SEP or Search Engine Promotion is much more descriptive of what you’re doing than offsite-SEO. So the next time you’re discussing SEO, remember to think in terms of SEM as your marketing method, SEO as all the onsite optimization techniques, and SEP as all the offsite promotional methods you’re using.

This is how I typically use the terms SEM, SEO, and SEP on my own blog and most of the forums I post on.


Organic SEM = SEO and SEP
Paid SEM = SE Ad Space (PPC,PP,CA,PI)



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