The Difference Between SEO and SEM

Digital Marketing Estimated Reading Time 4 mins
Updated November 30, 2023Published September 02, 2016
Author: Visibee

In marketing your business online, you surely have come across the terms SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). Most small business owners know a little something about these two terms. Indeed, marketing has evolved as well as the language we use as marketers. Similar to some clients, we as marketers are perhaps confused at times about what certain terms and acronyms mean.

SEO and SEM are examples of these terms and acronyms. Some often used them interchangeably without a clear understanding of how they're different and how they're related to each other.

What exactly is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing and getting free, organically-obtained traffic from search engines to your website. The ultimate goal of successful SEO is to attain a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines.  SEO is characteristically a customary set of "white hat" best practices that webmasters and Web content producers follow to help them achieve a better ranking in search engine results.

What components does SEO include?

SEO consists of two different activities.

On-Page SEO comprises of:

  • Optimized metadata incorporating selective keywords into title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, etc.
  • Quality and original written and optimized blog posts and articles
  • URLs that are well-formatted
  • Optimized page load speed
  • Google authorship incorporated
  • Social sharing integration within your content
  • And much more!

Off-Page SEO comprises of:

  • Link building or creating a high-quality, natural backlink profile
  • Keywords in the anchor text
  • Social sharing signals
  • Social bookmarking
  • And much more!

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing, on the other hand, is a marketing process with the goal of getting more visibility in search engines with the use of paid search results, such as pay-per-click (PPC) listings and ads. It encompasses buying advertising space on search engines that appear in front of searchers, mainly at the top or on the right-hand side of search engine results pages. These advertising links are purchased mainly from Google (Adwords). Through Google AdWords, you can get your ads to appear in the Google search results and these ads are the Pay Per Click (PPC), meaning you pay for every time someone clicks on your ad.

SEM also consists of any ad placement advertising or banner advertising at authority-interrelated sites. Traffic from these ads has a tendency to be high, but the conversion rate is arguable.

When people find for solutions and answers to their questions online, they mainly use search engines. SEM therefore is considered to be widely targeted and is well-thought-out as the most significant source of traffic. Hence, conversion happens when searchers click on a website from the search results or click on an ad. It is then the relevancy of the ads and displayed websites that make SEM traffic more valuable than any of the other sources.

The Integration of SEO and SEM

SEO is considered a subset of SEM services. Therefore, SEM is rather a broader term than SEO. SEO is a longer-term approach and utilizes many best practice web design standards that aim to be responsible for providing better organic search results, while SEM utilizes the search engines in order to advertise business or website to online customers and drive more targeted traffic to your Website. SEO and SEM are not considered competing services, in fact, they need each other for a successful business online. One couldn’t work well without the other because they’re complementary.

Depending on SEM alone to be visible on top of search results might be an expensive endeavor, and is short-term. However, no SEM campaign is complete without SEO. You may find that SEO will suffice on its own since its purpose is to make the site better for both search engines and users. However, you must do your SEO wholeheartedly for you to have a sustainable form of being visible in search engine results. If you want to conduct business on the Internet you need to be visible in both organic and advertised links, which means you need both SEO and SEM. These two, when done right, will strengthen your brand in the industry for the long haul.

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