What is The Difference between SEO and SEM?

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If you’ve been researching how to bring traffic to your webpages, you might have come across the terms Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). But did you know that these are very different things?

SEM involves paying a search engine like Google or Yahoo to display your website high in their search listings.

Odds are, you’ve seen SEM in action. When you perform a search on Google, you’ll see a few results listed as paid ads at the top of the page. The owners of those websites have paid Google to get these high rankings.

SEO, however, is an organic method. You don’t pay to have your page listed – instead, you try to produce content that earns a top slot on search results based on its relevance to a particular keyword.

Both SEO and SEM are fundamental parts of a robust digital marketing strategy, and have their own pros and cons.

Google knows that, to stay competitive, it has to stay on top of what its customers are searching for. That means that it’s continually updating and fine-tuning its algorithm.

Because of this, an SEO strategy has to change over time to remain competitive.

SEM, in contrast, is more consistent. It’s a faster way to get paid traffic to your websites. But it involves a bigger financial investment, and it isn’t work-free, either. Your copy and marketing plan still needs to align with the keywords your target audience is searching for.

Let’s have a detailed look at the difference between SEO and SEM, and see how you can use these strategies to grow your traffic.

Major Differences at a Glance

Search results Include “Ad” designation and have ad extensionsAppear as organic results and have featured snippets
CostPay each time user clicksPay nothing
ResultsAre ImmediateTake time
Click-through rateLowerHigher 

Search Results: SEM contains an “Ad” icon on Search Engines listings whereas SEO doesn’t

The first visible difference between the two is that when you search for something on a search engine, you see an “Ad” icon. It is paid, which means SEM. However, this “Ad” icon doesn’t appear in the SEO case. Sometimes these ads appear less credible than the organic listings, and thus, users are less likely to click on the paid ads.

Cost: SEM is paid whereas SEO is organic (free)

With SEM, the advertisers pay a fee whenever a user clicks on their ads. The process is called PPC (Pay-Per-Click). But in SEO, the advertisers pay nothing when a user clicks on organic listings. In short, SEO doesn’t make you pay, while SEM does.

Results: SEM ensures immediate results but SEO takes months

Another important difference is that SEM can produce immediate results, whereas SEO takes time (about 6-12 months) to achieve desired results. But the effects that SEO has are cumulative. They grow with time. SEO continues to add value to your

brand or product as it promises lasting results.

Provide value over time: Your ads don’t appear when you stop investing in SEM

You can get instant results through SEM. As long as you are paying for the ads, everything will go perfect with SEM. But when you stop investing in SEM, your ads stop so does your visibility. On the other hand, with SEO, you don’t need to pay anything, but you need the patience to wait for the results to show. SEO guarantees long-lasting results.

Click-through rate

Click-through rate is used as a parameter to judge a campaign’s success for a specific website. Click-through rate is usually lower in SEM and high in SEO. SEM is useful for testing, but SEO isn’t.

Now let’s dig deeper and understand what SEO and SEM are all about and why you should care.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?

SEO is the process of getting organic and quality traffic to your website or blog. Organic in a way that this method won’t charge you a cent. It’s a durable method to attract visitors and, consequently, to convert them into potential buyers.

In short, SEO helps to optimise the content on the website with relevant keywords so that Search Engines (SEs) rank those pages’ top of its list. The whole process of SEO ensures greater visibility to your blog for relevant searches.

The world of SEO is far-reaching and dynamic. But you can quickly get to know the basics. Even if you have little SEO knowledge, you can still make a huge difference.

SEO not only deals with people but also deals with search engines.

SEO informs you what people are searching on Google and Bing and what questions they are putting forward for a specific product.

Doing this will enable you to connect to the users who are probing for online solutions you provide. SEO is all about understanding your target audience and reaching them with effective keywords and images.

It is further divided into two categories, i.e. on-page SEO and off-page SEO. Both are fundamentals of SEO that eventually make your website friendlier to users and search engines.

Here is an example of SEO where the search engine has ranked a website against the keyword “Google SEO.” 

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO optimises web pages to rank higher and get more relevant traffic in search engines. It plays a pivotal role to make search engines understand your website.

Below are three key steps you need to consider for On-Page SEO.

Publish High-Quality Content

In SEO and digital marketing, content is king. It is the prerequisite to writing high quality and unique content. While working on SEO, you must optimise your content page. Doing this will generate relevant traffic to your optimised page.

First, You must create and deliver new content regularly to get ranked faster and higher. Also, try to write 1000+ words articles because Google loves it.

Secondly, content should contain relevant keywords for SEs to understand. It should also be easy to read for all visitors.  For this reason, you need to use short and concise sentences.

Furthermore, while posting an article, you should also include internal and external links. It will develop more trust between you and the buyer.

Write catchy Page titles and Meta description

If you want people to click on your page in the search results,  you have to grab the reader’s attention in a flash by writing catchy titles and unique meta descriptions. You need to write a compelling, catchy title, and it should include a call to action. Use words such as “Shop,” “Sign up,” “Discover,” “Try,” “Watch”, and “Start”.

Improve readability

For improving readability, we recommend you to use short, jargon-free and easy to understand sentences. A couple of transitional phrases and active voices will do the math.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO doesn’t happen directly on your website. Instead, it is all about link building, guest blogging,  social media marketing, and influencer marketing. It deals with the page ranking factor, such as backlinks from another website.

Following are the components of Off-page SEO.

Link building and backlinks

Acquiring hyperlinks add worth to your websites. You can backlink your website with other credible external sources such as bloggers, industry leaders and influencers.

Guest Post

Guest posts are an excellent way to drive traffic to your website or blog from an incredible source. Guest posts add credibility and worth to your website. It’s a great way to boost domain authority by inserting external links to high authority domains.


It should also be a regular practice if you are pursuing SEO. It’s a cost-effective medium in which you update your audience about the latest product offerings and discounts.

Social bookmarking

Social bookmarking allows SEO specialists to find and save valuable content from featuring in their publishing schedule. It helps curate content.

Social Networking

Social networking is essential for enhancing brand awareness and boosting conversion rate. It is part of SEO. Through social networking, one can grow followers and, consequently, customer’s strength.

Content marketing

Then comes content marketing. It’s an integral part of SEO and digital marketing. Content marketing can help users to turn them into buyers.

It also plays its part in increasing sales and engaging customers long term. This strategy is excellent to acquire a well-defined audience.

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

SEM is an activity of getting relevant traffic by using paid advertisements that show up on SEs. It helps increase the visibility of websites in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

SEO involves optimising content and improving website visibility over a long time, whereas SEM helps this content be visible faster on SEs through the paid channel. The whole process is expensive as compared to SEO.

Thus, SEM offers advertisers the opportunity to post their ads in front of motivated buyers. So, they can make purchases instantly. SEM is the fastest medium of marketing that helps you to grow your business.

Below are some examples of SEM:

Following are the main components of SEM.

Posting ads on Search Engines (SEs)

SEM allows you to post Google Ads, Bing ads, Yahoo Search Ads and Amazon-sponsored ads for maximum visibility. Your advertising budget is one of the key factors that influence the success of your SEM campaign. The bigger the budget, the better the reach you will get. It is as simple as that.

Running an ad campaign with a targeted audience

To run an SEM campaign successfully, it requires hard work, diligence and effort. It is best to design your campaign with the budget and targeted audience in mind for maximum results.

Targeting multiple keywords

Before launching a campaign, you must find multiple keywords for the specific product you are selling.  We advise you to search for suitable high volume, relevant keywords from Google keyword planner and get started. However, often high volume keywords can be costly as they are also highly competitive. You can also consider long-tailed keywords which are more specific and longer than usual. They will have a higher conversion rate.

Setting an ad budget

It’s the essential part of all your efforts while you are pursuing SEM. It would help if you had a clear picture of your budget in your mind. It will prevent you from spending extra money as well.

Running social media campaign

Develop targeted social media ads on appropriate networks such as Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter.  These networking sites are very much active nowadays. They may also play their part in the promotion and growth of your business. 

Improving Domain Authority

SEO and SEM, if worked together, can increase the domain authority of a webpage. You get higher visibility when you use both strategies. They will give long-lasting benefits in the shape of high conversion rate and plentiful revenue. 


It’s an essential part of your whole campaign.  To improve conversion rate, one should follow steps like adding a pop-up to the site, introducing a live chat feature, third party sign up, offering money-back guarantee.

Bottom Line 

Whether it’s SEO or SEM, the bottom line is that you need to be consistent. All you have to do is to post content regularly. It would be best if you did not ignore either of the strategies. It would help if you worked on both approaches. SEO gives you long-term benefit with organic traffic, whereas you can go for SEM for quicker and instant results. 

There’s always more to learn about SEO and SEM. If you need more information or help tackle SEO and SEM, contact our friendly team today. 

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