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SEO Vs. SEM – Everything You Need To Know

WIn this post, we’re going to tell you all about the differences between SEO and SEM and how to use each to spur your website’s growth.

We’ll start right from the top. For starters, SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEM, on the other hand, stands for Search Engine Marketing.

You probably know this, so we’ll take things a notch higher.

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of using a variety of techniques to make your content discoverable in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

The idea is to make sure your content ranks as high as possible in SERPs. According to Google, there are over 200 ranking factors.

Why Google?

Well, because Google commands more than 79 percent of search traffic on the internet. Sure, there are others – the Yahoos, Bings, and Baidus – but these are still playing the catch-up game.

Sidenote – The term “search engine” will be referring to Google for most of this article.

Moving on.

Why Is SEO Important?

You see…

There are over 60,000 searches per second on Google. In essence, this means that for your content to appear near the top of SERPs, you have to get the SEO part correct.

While SEO is broad, your success largely depends on how well you execute these three strategies outlined below.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO focuses on optimizing individual pages on your website.

It includes things such as:

  1. Proper keyword research

  2. Creating informative, high-quality content

  3. Clever use of keywords within the content

  4. Clean and simple URLs

  5. Descriptive Meta descriptions and title tags

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO, as the name suggests, involves using tactics outside your website to boost rankings in SERPs.

These include:

  1. Acquiring high-quality backlinks

  2. Influencer outreach

  3. Blog directory submission

  4. Guest posting

Off-page SEO tells Google what others think about your website. Search engines will assume that you’ve got stellar content that offers value for users if you have tons of quality links from authority sites.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is all about optimizing the non-content elements of your website to improve rankings.

These include:

  1. Making your site mobile friendly

  2. Speeding up your website

  3. Creating an XML sitemap

  4. Adding structured data markup

SEO keeps changing. Tactics that worked a couple of years ago (such as keyword stuffing) may not yield results today. Besides, bad SEO practices can get your site penalized by Google.

As a digital marketer, you should keep up with the latest SEO trends to stay afloat.

While anyone can master the basics of SEO, the learning curve is steep. It is always helpful to hire an SEO expert if you want to stay ahead of the curve.

It takes time to see the impact of your SEO practices. But, when done correctly, it is only a matter of time before conversions start to flow.

What Is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing is the process of optimizing and advertising your website to appear high in SERPs.

More specifically, SEM involves paid search marketing strategies. In other words, you’re buying advertising space in SERPs to help your site pop up on the first page of search engines.

SEM tactics include:

  1. Pay per click (PPC)

  2. Display advertising

  3. Local SEO

  4. Mobile advertising

  5. Social media advertising

Let’s talk about PPC for a second.

PPC is a form of advertising where you pay for every click your ad gets. Why is it essential to mention this? Well, because some say SEM is PPC.

Think about it.

If you can pay for your site to appear higher in SERPs, doesn’t it mean SEM is the same as PPC?

Sure, PPC is a significant component of Search Engine Marketing, but the two are profoundly different.

Let’s explain,

SEM is broader. It is a combination of SEO strategies and paid search. Thus, if you start a PPC campaign and fail to optimize the ad to the site that links it, you won’t get the results you were hoping for.

Side note – Most of the time, SEM exclusively includes PPC campaigns.

That said, these tips can help you get the most out of your SEM efforts.

  1. Send visitors to the right page

  2. Use the right keywords for paid search

  3. Remain consistent with your ads

  4. Review your ads performance every day

SEM is ideal if you’re trying to create brand awareness. Your website will appear higher in SERPs for targeted keywords. In essence, this means your target clients will start to notice your brand and everything it stands for sooner.

Like SEO, SEM also requires some level of knowledge and tools. If you’re starting or don’t have enough expertise, consider hiring a marketing service to help set up your ad campaign.

Remember, you’re spending money on your PPC campaign and want a positive ROI.

Which Should I Use… SEO Or SEM?

The answer to these questions depends on what you want to achieve. Still, some people will tell you SEO is better than SEM and vice versa.

Irrespective of which side of the divide you fall, one thing is undeniable – SEO creates the foundation for a successful SEM campaign.

When To Use SEO

Before you start to invest your money in ads, you must make sure that you optimize your landing page, content, and individual pages for search.

Otherwise, chances are, your SEM strategies will fail. Plus, you’ll have a hard time trying to rank your site in SERPs if your game isn’t on point.

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend, SEO is the way to go. When done correctly, it will help you gain search credibility.

As stated, SEO is in constant motion, so you should always strive to know what’s working and what’s not.

On top of that, you must maintain high quality, informative, and educational content. Think of it as a way of giving your target audience a reason to hang around your site longer and, most importantly, visit again.

When To Use SEM

Here’s the thing…

Generating organic traffic isn’t the easiest of things. Plus, it takes a lot of time to create your online footprint.

SEM will come in handy if you’re after gaining visibility as soon as possible. A well-thought-out PPC campaign will help you hit the ground running.

One mistake you shouldn’t do, however, is to ignore organic SEO. Even with a budget, you have to create stellar content that visitors will want to interact with once they click through to your website.

Using SEO And SEM For Maximum Visibility In SERPs And Traffic

The primary aim of SEO and SEM is to drive traffic to your website.

Since the two interrelate, it makes perfect sense to know how to combine them to spur your site’s growth. Here are five tactics you can implement.

SEO For Consistent Results

According to an Ahrefs study involving 2 million pages, it takes 6 to 12 months for a website to appear on the top ten search results.

Indeed, that’s a long time to wait. But, once you get there through SEO, you’ll enjoy consistent traffic.

There’s a catch, though – You have to maintain a solid SEO campaign to remain on top or at least on the first page of search engines.

Further, SEO helps increase the value of your website. If you’re planning to sell your site at some point, you’ll want to generate lots of organic traffic and high pages as well as search engine ranking over time – all of which are in the realm of SEO.

SEM For Immediate Results

The fact is…

Not everyone wants to wait for 6 months to start enjoying the benefits of their SEO efforts.

SEM will deliver results pretty fast. In fact, you can start to see a spike in the number of people visiting your website in minutes!

When you get your PPC campaign approved, you’re essentially getting the ticket to place your ads in front of millions of people. The ripple effect is a rapid rise in traffic.

With such effectiveness, PPC is an excellent strategy for product launch, CPA and affiliate marketing as well as squeeze pages.

The tactic also works well for joint venture projects, high converting offers, event-focused marketing, and seasonal promotions.

Do you want to promote an offer that will end in 48 hours? No problem! PCC will generate the traffic you need in minutes!

Combine SEO And SEM To Combat Negative PR

Reviews are part of doing online business. One bad feedback can overshadow all your positive reviews and, in return, hurt your brand.

Combining SEO and PPC can provide damage control when someone says something negative about your business.

You can use both strategies to control and, by extension, guide conversion for a specific term. Take the Gulf oil spill, for instance.

To mitigate negative publicity, BP used PPCs ads targeting the keyword’ oil spill.’ The ads diverted visitors to a page highlighting what the company was doing to clean up the mess.

BP sought to make sure that it ranked number one on search engines for the keyword oil spill.

You, too, can use SEO and SEM to boost your website’s visibility in a way that allows you to counter negative feedback.

Use SEO And SEM To Dominate Search Results

In January 2020, Google introduced Featured Snippets. It is now the #1 result, appearing higher than PPC ads in search results.

Slap things such as video carousels and your PPC ads appear even lower.

You can still combine PPC and SEO to make sure your targeted keyword appears in a Featured Snippet or video carousel.

You can, for instance, optimize your videos to rank in SERPs. Plus, you can control results further by setting up an ad campaign for keywords your website already ranks for.

Use SEM When A Site Isn’t Optimized for SEO

Indeed, SEO requires high quality, easy to consume content. Moreover, you have to update your website regularly. That way, you’ll be informing search engines that your website is still relevant. It also helps ensure your site remains on top of the pile.

But, what happens when you haven’t optimized your website?

A squeeze page, for instance, isn’t meant for SEO. The page doesn’t need content that will attract Google’s attention. For such a site, running a PPC campaign will help generate traffic.

Which is More Expensive?

Organic traffic is free, so they say. But how true is this?

Can you hack SEO without spending any money or hiring someone to do it on your behalf?

Well, the truth is, even though you don’t have to pay for organic traffic, you’ll have to spend some money to get the desired results.

Sure, creating iconic content is an integral part of the game. But, did you know you’re better off hiring an expert freelance writer to help churn content for your site, especially if you don’t have insider knowledge in your industry?

What’s more?

There’s backlinking. According to Google, backlinks are one of the most crucial ranking factors. Acquiring high-quality links means that you have to promote your content using strategies such as email outreach.

You’ll also need to conduct proper keyword research using a tool(s). All of these tactics will cost you money. The long and short of it is that generating free traffic using SEO isn’t free. For this reason, you should get your SEO tactics right from the get-go to increase your ranking high in SERPs.

SEM, on the other hand, involves 100 percent spending on PPC ads.

On the upside, you’re guaranteed some results, at least for the time your ad campaign is up and running.

With such a comparison, it is correct to say that SEO is more expensive than PPC in the long term. The beauty of it is that your SEO budget reduces once you start to rank for targeted keywords.

SEO and SEM differ in terms of cost. It is, therefore, advisable that you combine both strategies to fulfill your short- and long-term goals.

Here’s a table to help you compare the pros and cons of SEO and SEM:



  1. Increases your brand’s awareness

  2. Generates high conversion from channel searches

  3. Excellent results in the long term

  4. Higher traffic share in comparison to SEM



  1. Increases your brand’s awareness

  2. Generates high conversion from channel searches

  3. Immediate results

  4. Ideal for targeted keywords

  5. Allows you track converting keywords a lot better


  1. You need some form expertise

  2. You have to keep investing money to maintain results

The Bottom Line

There’s always going to be a back and forth conservation on which one is better between SEO and SEM. As a digital marketer or business owner, the best way to go about it is to consider your short- and long-term goals.

By now, you already know that SEM will drive in remarkable results if you’re in for immediate traffic. SEO is for the long haul as you seek to establish search credibility. So, be sure to analyze your particular needs before deciding which the best strategy to use is.

One Last Thing

SEO and SEM will continue to change as long as search engines continually tweak their parameters for rankings.

While it’s difficult to tell what’s going to happen in, say 12 months, from now, the future of SEO and SEM will most likely focus on these three areas.

  1. User Experience (UX). Google will continue to rank sites that offer the best UX highly.

  2. Mobile-friendliness

  3. SEO and SEM powered by artificial intelligence.

That said, any serious digital marketer should get well acquainted with the basics of SEO and SEM and, most importantly, how to integrate the two to boost traffic and increase revenue.

If you want to learn more, contact us or visit our service page to see how our experts can help grow your business.

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