The Difference Between SEO and SEM

By admin, 3 September, 2019

If you're new to the digital marketing scene, you may not yet know the difference between the many similar terms - SEO and SEM, for example. People often mistake these terms and think they can be used interchangeably. However, while SEO and SEM are closely related, they're used and implemented completely differently.

In this article, I will explain the differences between the two and make sure you'll have a full grasp of them so there will be no more confusion. Let's start learning!

What is SEO?

SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the most important elements of digital marketing. When it's done correctly, it boosts the visibility of your site's pages and ranks them higher on SERPs (search engine result pages).

Getting the most out of SEO on your site usually involves using various practice, most of which are set into two categories - on-page and off-page SEO. On-page SEO is internal optimization of the website that involves speed maintenance and keyword optimization, while off-page SEO refers to external processes like link building and social media marketing.

Both methods work hand in hand to attract more traffic and gradually elevate your ranking. So, make sure not to neglect either one!

As simple as it sounds though, SEO can be quite tricky for beginners. It involves understanding many different dynamics, practices, and tools. Plus, it generally takes a while to rank and get recognized if you're just starting out.

No need to worry though! These days, there are many digital marketing services that can help you solve that problem by hiring SEO experts to optimize your website.

What is SEM?

SEM or search engine marketing is paid advertising that places your website on the first page of a search engine result page. Your ad, will, of course, be marked as one. Google AdWords and Bing Ads are among the most popular brands that offer this type of internet marketing.

These kinds of ads are considered PPC (pay-per-click) ads and appear above the top results on the result page and charge the ad buyer a certain amount for every user's click. You'll be able to set a maximum budget before you start the ad campaign so don't worry about going broke thanks to high traffic.

In terms of brand recognition, SEM is a great choice as you'll be at the top of the list when someone searches for a keyword that you chose to advertise on. However, once your campaign stops, that position may be taken up by a competitor. That said, it's important to pay attention to SEO while using SEM.

SEO VS SEM: A Deeper Look

Now that we've learned what SEO and SEM are in general, let's take it a bit further and explore their differences!

Search Engine Result Placement

The first and most glaring difference between the two can be seen in the search engine results. As you type in a keyword, the first page loads up and shows a paid advertisement. This is what SEM is.

with the Ad indicator

And if you scroll down a bit more, you will find the actual top results without the Ad indicator. That's what SEO is all about.

without the Ad indicator


Even though SEO is definitely harder to work on, when it comes to sustainability, it is arguably the better choice. It attracts organic traffic to your website based on its quality, authority and a few other aspects. So, the traffic won't be fluctuating massively as long as you keep up quality.

Conversely, SEM gains traffic from being on top of result pages for a certain period of time. So, there's really no guarantee the traffic will stay when the campaign stops.


When it comes to showing off your content, SEO and SEM have different approaches. SEM results show up to a target audience that searches for specific queries. It gives its users a broad selection of targeting options before they start a campaign.

Reaching the right audience through SEO is similar, but a bit more difficult. To rank for specific keywords you'll not only need to do a lot of research. You can't choose what age demographic will view your content, or what regions you'll rank for.


If you want to see quick results and improvements for website traffic, SEM would be the perfect option. It makes an almost instant impact – your ads will immediately start showing up on the SERPs as soon as the campaign starts.

On the other hand, SEO takes time to generate results. It's something that you have to work on and maintain over a long period of time.

Promote your Brand and Website

As the name implies, SEM works better when it comes to marketing and getting your brand name out there. You can run an SEM campaign to have people notice your brand name first, then work on SEO, so it's easier for visitors to find you themselves.

It works similarly to advertising products on television, even though the advertisement only runs for a period of time, you'd still be getting a great amount of exposure, and those interested can later seek you out.


There you have it. Now, that you've learned the differences between SEO and SEM, make the most out of both, and improve your site's reach!

Author: Mary is a passionate blogger and the chief editor at her own content marketing company PRable. Since college, she's been interested in break-through technology and technical writing about innovative products and services that change our everyday lives for the better. She's also interested in web design and photography.