SEO vs. SEM – An Infographic

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the hospitality digital marketing company, buuteeq, prior to its acquisition by in June 2014.  The opinions expressed here are specific to buuteeq, though many of the technology insights remain relevant to customers and admirers of our new business, BookingSuite, a unit of Visit for our latest thought leadership in the hospitality digital marketing space.

There are a slew of acronyms in the world, and sometimes it’s not clear what they mean. Today we tackle SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) to explain the differences and weigh the costs and benefits. Many thanks to the fine folks at Killer Infographics, who helped us produce it.

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SEO vs. SEM – Transcript

SEO vs. SEM for Hotels

When determining your hotel’s search engine strategy, how do you decide whether SEO or SEM is your best bet? And just what are they, anyway? Learn the differences between these two approaches and see which works best for you.

Hotel Search Queries Are On The Rise

  • 83% of leisure travelers plan their trips with the help of the Internet
  • 63% say search engines are their ‘go-to’ source for vacation info
  • 56% start with search engines when booking various travel
  • 96% start with search engines when researching hotels specifically

In fact, travelers use search for hotels more than any other aspect of their trip–destinations, air, car, or cruise.

  • 24% – Hotel queries on Google will rise 24% in 2013
  • 68% – Travel search queries from mobile browsers will rise 68% in 2013
  • 180% – Travel search queries from tablet browsers will rise 180% in 2013

Regardless of the device used, search is clearly here to stay as a critical tool for hotel planning and booking. Picking the right strategy and knowing it top to bottom is more important than ever.

What Are SEO & SEM?

Google chooses to display websites and ads in their search engine based on search queries, the quality of destination content, and bids.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization

Requires larger upfront investment and authoritative knowledge of content–but generates ‘free’ traffic over time.

Here’s what it takes to make it in Google’s organic rankings.

Quality of Content

  • Content length (more is often better)
  • Spelling and Grammar
  • Social Annotations & Authorship


  • Social Annotations & Authorship
  • Webpage Visits & Bounce Rate
  • Number & Quality of Webpage Backlinks
  • Social Votes (likes, tweets, +1s)


  • On-Page Keywords Optimization
  • Page Load Time (faster load correlates to higher rank on Google)
  • Robot Accessible Content to Allow Indexing
  • Domain Age (older is better)
  • Appropriate Meta Titles & Descriptions
  • Content-Specific XML & HTML Sitemaps

100% of search engine users look at organic search results. In one survey, fewer than 47% of searches could distinguish the difference between paid ads and organic search results. However, organic results only rank number 1 in 9% of searches.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

Requires sustained amounts of money–and traffic stops when the money does. For Google to display your ad, the ad needs to meet certain criteria.

Quality & Relevance

  • If AdWords detects your ad’s copy doesn’t match the content on the destination page or the keywords you’re bidding on, your quality score lowers
  • Keyword bid price goes up as quality score goes down, making it expensive to rank ads for a wide range of keywords

Bid & Budget

  • The higher the bid, the higher you’ll rank on the SERP (search engine result page)
  • The higher your budget, the more exposure your ads will get

Google once estimated that removing paid ads from Google search would reduce search engine clicks worldwide by 89%–only because paid ads completely fill the screen, blotting out organic results for 81% of all searches.

The SEO vs. SEM Checklist

Query: Does the query match the…

  • …website content? (SEO)
  • …ad copy, targeted keywords, and click-thru destination? (SEM)
  • …desire of the searcher? That is, does the content do more than exactly match the query by fulfilling the context of the query–the impetus for the query? (both SEO & SEM)

Quality: Is the content…

  • …well written? (SEO)
  • …linked to by other websites? (SEO)
  • …popular on social media? (SEO)
  • …from a trusted, established source that consistently produces quality content and has a verified online identity? (SEO)

Bid: Does the campaign…

  • …match or exceed the bids from competitors? (SEM)

To Sum Up:

SEO is a worthwhile investment for hotels seeking a long-term strategy. These hotels have the money to fund an SEO strategy that may not pay off for weeks, months or even years.

SEM is a worthwhile investment for hotels that need new visitors now. These hotels have a steady marketing budget they can allocate to SEM to keep the traffic coming.

If funds allow, hotels can use both strategies simultaneously to maximize their search engine coverage.

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