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The Difference Between SEO and SEM

When it comes to Digital Marketing Strategies to grow your business, two is better than one. You’re probably familiar with Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing. Both are effective marketing strategies to boost and increase sales online. What more if you combine the two in marketing your brand online? What could be its possible outcome? Before diving into the potential outcome of combining the two strategies, you must first know the difference between SEO and SEM.

search engine optimization and search engine marketing

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization refers to the marketing strategy that aims to optimize websites to make them more visible on Search Engine Results Pages, thus gaining increased website traffic. As a result, SEO can make content appear on the top spot of Search Engine Results Pages during a search query. Businesses can use various SEO Strategies to maximize their online visibility. So, an SEO campaign allows brands to engage with organic methods to rank in the Search Engine Results Pages with over 1.14 billion websites around the world. Additionally, there are three categories of SEO tricks and techniques, as grouped by experts. 

Technical SEO 

This involves strategies to help enhance your website’s technical aspects to optimize the backend structure and foundation. In addition, Technical SEO aims to improve the user and search engine experience. The technical elements referred to by this strategy are:

  • page speed;
  • mobile-friendliness;
  • indexing;
  • structured data;
  • crawlability;
  • site architecture; and 
  • security. 
difference between seo and sem

On-Page SEO

This SEO category refers to all your activities to improve your website’s searchability. Of course, implementing a high-quality On-Page SEO strategy gives your business better online visibility with higher SERP rankings in various search engines. For instance, marketers should follow the E-A-T Principle to ensure that their content gains higher SEO rankings. Moreover, appearing on the first page of search results gives your website a higher chance of getting a click from over 3.65 billion searches daily. The strategies in this category include:

  • content creation;
  • HTML source code optimization;
  • heading optimization;
  • strategic keyword choice and placement;
  • meta descriptions; and 
  • title tags. 

Off-Page SEO

This SEO category aims to build your website’s reputation in various search engines. By having reputable website connections, your website can be considered a trustworthy, reliable, and dependable site, making it favorable for your website during a search query of internet users. Off-Page SEO activities that you can do for your website include:

  • guest blogging;
  • influencer outreach;
  • social networking;
  • brand mentions; and 
  • link building. 

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Before diving deeper into the difference between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing, let’s start with what SEM is all about. Firstly, it’s a strategy that involves paying money to place your ads on top of search engine results. Applying an SEM Strategy can help your website rapidly gain online visibility on various search engines. In addition, SEM allows you to control your audience, keywords, and landing pages. SEO is part of the multiple strategies of Search Engine Marketing. So aside from SEO, these are the four other SEM Strategies you can do to market your products online:

  • Display Marketing – This strategy uses Social Media Techniques involving videos, images, and text-based advertisements to convince Social Network users to take specific actions. 
  • Remarketing – This is a strategy that involves showing and posting ads to internet users who previously visited your website or those who use your application. This strategy is excellent for increasing brand awareness and marketing your service or product online. 
  • Product Advertising – This strategy is utilized to establish and maintain your service or product online awareness with potential clients and customers. 
  • Pay-Per-Click – The PPC SEM Strategy is associated with paying a certain amount whenever you get clicks from an Internet user on a website or Google’s platforms. 
search engine optimization and search engine marketing

Similarities and Differences Between SEO and SEM

Similar Features

  • Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization require you to study and know your target audience’s needs, wants, and behavior to succeed. After all, learning your audience’s personality can help you create compelling content to persuade them. It’s critical to let people know that your service or product can meet their wants and needs. 
  • Also, they both utilize keywords to increase your website’s online visibility on search engine results. You can use various tools to find your campaigns’ best and most effective keywords or phrases. Fortunately, you can use tools like UberSuggest, Alexa Keyword Difficulty, or SemRush to find relevant keywords to optimize your website. 
  • Lastly, both intend to boost and increase your website visitors by making your business appear at the top of SERPs. After all, Internet users are likelier to click on the top half of the page results than the bottom half. 

The Difference between SEO and SEM


SEO – SEO is an organic approach to attracting traffic and leads to your website. It can help your website with minimal costs and a high Return on Investment (ROI).

SEM – On the other hand, it is a paid scheme wherein businesses pay whenever their ads get clicks. It works well with businesses that are willing and prepared to pay for specific amounts. 

Search Result 

SEO – SEO can take a while before you can see tangible results, as it naturally attracts traffic to your website. Moreover, in order to build brand awareness and loyalty and establish a connection with your market, you’ll need to produce and publish high-quality content.

SEM – As SEM is a paid marketing strategy, you can immediately see results in your website’s SERP ranking and web traffic. If you’re new in the business or advertising arena, SEM can provide instant results for your campaigns or change of strategies. Though it might be pricey, SEM is excellent for testing or identifying what tactics work well with your business. 

Return on Investment

SEO – One difference between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing is that an excellent SEO strategy can significantly strengthen your website traffic in the long run. It has an advantage as your spending is minimal. Once you establish your ranking in SERPs, you’ll need to post content regularly and update existing content to get results. Additionally, it is said that 72% of marketers have enhanced their online engagement rates because of content marketing. 

SEM – As SEM involves investing money to get instant results, your business is at risk of losses if you don’t do SEM correctly. Therefore, you’ll need to monitor your ads’ performance constantly to determine if your SEM Strategies are working right. 

difference between seo and sem

Final Thoughts 

And that’s it for the similarities and distinctions between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing. You must know that investing in both SEO and SEM can create a more effective and aligned Digital Marketing Strategy. Business owners can handle website SEO with the right tools and guides, but for those who want to talk to experts, they need to know about required skills for SEO Professionals.

Combining the data and insights of both methods for greater online visibility toward your audience can produce excellent results. Thus, the most concrete results of using both tactics would be:

  • Landing your website on the top spot of SERPs; and 
  • Increasing your brand’s online visibility through ad campaigns. 

Working with both SEO and SEM is an excellent strategy for growing your website’s traffic. Let SEO do the work of driving top-of-funnel leads while SEM generates the bottom-funnel leads. But, of course, the results would then depend on whether you do both the right way.  

Alex Belen

Alex Belen

If anyone loves a good laugh, it's Alex. She enjoys video games, anime and manga, and webcomics. Alex is also a lover of writing (and memes)! In addition, Digital Marketing is her new pastime, so she seeks out ways to inject fun into her articles on related subjects.

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