SEO vs. SEM: The Difference and How Each Works

Search engine optimization and search engine marketing, or SEO and SEM, are two of the most confused terms in digital marketing.

Is there even a difference?

Though these terms are often used interchangeably, the answer to this question is yes.

There is, indeed, a difference between SEO and SEM.

Essentially, SEO is just one component of SEM, which is a much broader category of marketing.

Both SEO and SEM have similar goals, which is to make sites more visible on search engine results pages.

However, the execution, turn around time and other factors of these two strategies differ from one another in more ways than one.

At the core of it, SEO involves maximizing the number of users that visit a website by making sure the site appears high on lists of search engine results.

Some aspects of SEO include incorporating selective keywords that will increase search engine rankings into title tags, headings, etc, creating quality web content, and utilizing clean formatting.

Other key features of SEO are link building, which requires having other high quality sites linked to your own site, and social integration, or linking social media sites to your business’ website.

The SEO industry is dependent on changes made to Google’s algorithm, but some aspects, such as the ones listed above, remain fairly consistent.

Key SEO Components

Key SEO Components   C/O:

Like SEO, SEM involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility on search engine results pages through optimization and advertising.

However, while SEM does include SEO, it also includes paid search initiatives such as PPC, or pay-per-click, listings and advertisements.

The primary SEM activity aside from SEO is PPC campaigns, which involve choosing the right keywords and investing money in them. The goal of investing money in these words is for your business’ website to appear in the paid search results on search engines.

These results appear at the very top of search engine results pages, and are sometimes labeled with the word “Ad.” There is also a line on Google search results pages that separates the paid search results from the organic results.

As we mentioned in the beginning of this blog, the main difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is a component of SEM. SEM also includes PPC and social media marketing, among other paid search activities.

In terms of which one is better, this depends on what you want to achieve with your marketing initiatives, and what your personal business goals are.

SEO is generally thought to be better for inbound marketing, as it focuses on organic search results, and getting to the top of the list when your users search for certain keywords.

This generally establishes a better search credibility for your business than SEM. Though it takes more time, it is more cost-efficient, and definitely pays off in the long run.

Meanwhile, SEM and things such as PPC campaigns may work better for achieving immediate visibility.

For example, when a website is first launched, paying for certain keywords and appearing on paid search engine results may be helpful for generating some immediate traffic.

Components of Search Engine Marketing

Components of Search Engine Marketing   C/O:


Ideally, a combination of both SEO and SEM is a great way to achieve an extremely effective marketing strategy, as both paid and organic search engine results are important for generating site traffic.

However, if you must choose one or the other, the best thing to do is to evaluate your budget, needs and business goals, and make a decision accordingly.

As long as you understand the difference between SEO and SEM how each one works individually, the rest is mostly a matter of personal choice!

beams&bricksSEO vs. SEM: The Difference and How Each Works

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