SEO and SEM: Understanding Their Differences and Strengths

by Dharmik Babariya SEO Analyst

With the evolution of the internet, the marketing trends have changed and so has the language used to define those trends. We use a lot of acronyms and jargons in our daily lives that relate to our business. Some of them baffle our clients and even ourselves as a there is a lot of air revolving around these terms. In this article, we shall clear the air around two such terms: SEO and SEM.

Firstly, Internet marketing defined SEO as a part of SEM but now a distinction has been made between SEO and SEM. SEM is the paid search while SEO means organic or non-paid search. Let us understand these terms in detail to know their differences and strengths:

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It calls for optimizing your website to make it ‘discoverable' for search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Let us understand it the other way. The user types in particular ‘keyword’ pertaining to your business in the search engine. It is due to SEO that your visitors get attracted towards your website and further explore it. Broadly, SEO can be categorized into the following two categories:

1. On-Page SEO:

The on-page SEO refers to the optimization of content on your website. It involves the following tactics:

  • Content optimized with the right set of keywords. This type of content includes titles, headings, subheadings, and body copy
  • The speed of loading pages for optimum performance of the website
  • Optimization of meta-data, meta-titles, meta-description, heading tags, images, video and alt tags.
  • Optimization of URLs

2. Off-page SEO:

The off-page SEO refers to the optimization of content pertaining to your business outside your website. This involves the following set of tactics:

  • Link building to drive more traffic towards your website and receive quality backlinks
  • Sharing relevant content on social media platforms so as to direct visitors to your website’s landing page or blogs

The steady SEO efforts can generate organic traffic for your website and help in conversions and sales lead. It is important to perform SEO on a regular basis as it is responsible for your search rankings.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. Earlier, this term was used to define the whole internet marketing efforts but these days it calls out for gaining search visibility through paid advertising.

Search engines allow businesses to display their ads for particular keywords. These ads are displayed on the browser of a user whenever they search for something using that engine. For example, you might have come across a few ads on the top of a Google page while searching for a product. Those first three to four ad links are PPC (pay per click) ads. And whenever you click on that ad link, that business pays for it. The cost of pay is determined according to CPC (cost per click).

SEM Platforms:

The most popular platform for SEM is Google AdWords. It is followed by Bing Ads and Yahoo search ads come last. Irrelevant of the popularity, these search engines have their own set of tools and methods for advertising.

These platforms guide you throughout your advertising process by giving metrics such as:

  • Click through rate (CTR)
  • Average cost per click
  • Number of clicks
  • Number of impressions

They also allow you to specify target location, create keyword driven variation in ad groups, set your ad budget, and write content with selected keywords.

SEO and SEM: The Difference

SEO can help you gain organic traffic but it demands time and consistent efforts to achieve it. Thoughtfully created content and sharing it on different platforms via blogging or any other means help you boost your SEO efforts. Also, it demands regular SEO audits to reframe the tactics that are not working well for your website. So, it is a long-term procedure and you have to be patient to taste its sweet fruits. However, the organic traffic driven by SEO stays for a long time.

On the other hand, SEM does not require you to wait for the results. You can see immediate results once the ad campaign starts. However, the traffic you are driving is paid and you cannot rely solely on such traffic for a long-term goal. You also require a fixed budget for active participation in ads campaign. So, if money is not an issue then this works out best for your business.

It is advisable not to ignore SEO practices while actively carrying out SEM because as discussed earlier, paid search will be beneficial only for a short duration of time. But the traffic generated through organic search shall stay forever.


SEO and SEM are two different terms often thought of having similar meaning and practices. They are often misinterpreted as a single thing.  However, they are two different concepts with different benefits. Businesses need to balance between SEO and SEM for a steady growth. It brings in ROI (return on investment) for a business when both of them are working hand in hand.

What are your thoughts on SEO and SEM practices? Which one do you favor the most? Mention your thoughts in the comment section.

About Dharmik Babariya Innovator   SEO Analyst

20 connections, 0 recommendations, 58 honor points.
Joined APSense since, July 24th, 2018, From Surat, India.

Created on Aug 20th 2018 04:56. Viewed 124 times.


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