SEO vs SEM – Differences between SEO and SEM

Posted by Flytonic on March 30, 2020 in News

Search engine marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are two highly popular advertising buzzwords in the marketing world. In regards to SEM vs SEO, it is easy to confuse these two and what differentiates them.

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seo vs sem

While there are numerous acronyms in the online marketing space, SEM and SEO are the most common words and those which are commonly confused. One of the most common questions that many people ask is whether these words are interchangeable. What do the words stand for? Which is the right one for your business? The following are some of the most common questions asked by business owners that are looking into digital marketing.

Difference Between SEO vs SEM

The difference between SEM and SEO is quite subtle. Although our SEO service largely focuses on ranking on top in the organic search results utilizing strategies such as off-page and on-page SEO, SEM utilizes paid advertising and other known marketing strategies to increases a site’s visibility and position in the search results.

Essentially, SEO is the process of refining your site to improve its performance in search engines such as Google. On the other hand, SEM is the marketing activities that involve search engines such as pay per click (PPC) and SEO, local listings on the search engines and much more.

What is SEO?

Generally, SEO refers to the practice of improving your website to make it much easier to use.

If you succeed in doing that, search engines like google will also realize that your website gives value to all your visitors. Technically, they will start to rank you on top of your competitors in the search engine results.

The promotion in your search results ranking will ultimately attract more users that will have a better experience and demonstrate to the search engines that you are a helpful and valuable resource in your industry. This will keep happening if you continue working on your website, especially after you chose to follow the best SEO practices.

SEO Techniques or Strategies

SEO entails different activities, both on your website and the internet. Technically, the activities fall into different categories including the off-page SEO and on-page SEO.

On-page SEO: this includes the optimization efforts which happen on your site, such as improve the page speed, publishing the new blog post or updating the title tag. You will have total control regarding the on-page SEO.

Off-Page SEO: this entails the optimization efforts which happens off your site such as sharing content, optimizing social media profiles and conducting outreach. Essentially, you will have some level of control about the off-page SEO.

Some of the most important SEO action items include:

  • Content optimization and creation
  • Server and site optimization
  • Keyword research and assessment
  • Optimization of meta descriptions and page titles

These are some of the practices that will tell the search engines exactly what you expect your web page to achieve and thereafter deliver with your multimedia, body text, and other important elements.

This will show your visitors that the business is savvy and in line with what your target audience wants.

Technically, this helps in demonstrating your organization’s value to those that had not known about you previously. In other words, if the target customers did not know much about you, this will be enough to prove that you are a perfect resource on the exact question they have in your market.

This plays a major role when it comes to establishing trust and it is this trust which makes it easier for the website visitors to become full paying customers.

SEO might sound easier said than done. The most important thing is trying to maintain your ranking, particularly as new competitors emerge and try to get in the top in the search engine results.

Also, it is always important for you to try and find new ways to grow your SEO strategies over time to help you build off the progress you had established over the years.

Putting this into consideration, SEO can be described as a process, which takes hard work and patience, but the most important thing is that the results are worthwhile.

Now that you understand exactly what SEO is all about, let’s move onto SEM.

SEO vs SEM: What is SEM?

SEM is a basic term that includes SEO alongside different paid advertising strategies carried out within the search engines.

Some of the most popular SEM approaches include:

  • Remarketing
  • Product/shopping advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Local SEO
  • PPC

Many are the times that organizations opt for the SEM strategies that they want to use to meet their unique needs. A business that started its site might opt to focus on the branded PPC and search advertisements to get the best foothold online, while an organization that has been online for over a decade might choose to focus on converting the existing traffic with the CRO.

Benefits of SEM


One main benefit of the paid strategies in SEO is that they can have an instant impact. Technically, you are always in total control of the PPC campaigns: when you adverts are displayed, the cost of your ads and who gets to see your ads.

Many SEM strategies are great for businesses that want highly targeted campaigns to a wider audience. The best thing you can do is to try and design unique advertising messages to various groups across different mediums.

Many organizations will be perfectly fine only making use of a few strategies. However, many large, medium and small companies don’t typically need to use all these SEM strategies at once.

However, you will be glad to know that the payoff is quite fascinating. The good news is that the payoff can also be tracked by using the analytics software.

This gives the SEM a bigger advantage over old fashioned marketing. SEM is more trackable, cost-effective and affordable as compared to things such as television and billboard commercial.

Although you can continue to use traditional advertising with the SEM, most companies realize that they can still use SEM and become successful.

For companies that want to grow with their marketing endeavors, the best option is to combine both traditional and SEM advertising.

Which is Better, SEM or SEO?

SEM and SEO each provide benefits that the business should not ignore.

However, if you have to pick one, then you should opt for SEO.

SEO offers an effective and reliable and effective strategy for earning the business better traffic, generate more leads and more revenue. Furthermore, SEO has also been found to be cost-effective as compared to SEM that mostly utilizes paid advertising. While digital advertising is affordable in terms of costs, it can become quite expensive when it becomes the sole resource for generating better traffic, leads and more sales.

For better results, you should create an SEM approach which includes SEO, this is the type of strategy that gives your company a comprehensive and diverse strategy to marketing your business online that can result in improved traffic, better leads and more sales from different channels including social paid and search.

SEO and SEM work better together.

Is SEM or SEO Right for You?

Wondering whether SEM or SEO is right for your business? The right answer to such a question is largely based on the goals of your marketing campaign.

In the right context, you will have a high performing, fantastic strategy for your site that is part of the larger SEM campaign.

Also, you would have the PPC campaigns that target many important demographics, with better focused local’s ads that reach people closer to your physical locations. Furthermore, you will have a highly advanced remarketing campaign that serves personalized product suggestions to visitors who come to your website from the search.

You can have a perfectly customized digital marketing campaign which includes SEM elements [1].

While this might not be quite realistic for all organizations, getting started with many of the highly common SEM channels such as PPC and SEO would be an ideal place to get started. You can start reaching the market via paid and unpaid channels in search and then start to reel in the new business and ultimately grow your enterprise.

Wondering where you will start with SEO vs SEM? Worry no more! Give Flytonic SEO and SEM experts a call and we are always ready to help.

Our SEO experts have been in this industry for over 2 decades in SEO and SEM and we have a team of the web started experts who will be more than happy to learn about your company.

Contact us today by phone or online to plan your company’s SEO vs SEM campaigns.


[1] – Wikipedia

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  1. About Author: Flytonic
    Published by Flytonic's editorial team, specializes in wordpress, affiliate marketing and SEO related topics.