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As a business owner when you plan to invest in digital marketing to grow your business, you come across a common question – whether to go for SEO or SEM? Should you go with investing in growing your organic traffic or should you capitalize on paid ads?

Google divides the search results into two different categories: paid search results and organic search results. In order to make an informed decision and get the maximum return on your investment, you need to understand the differences between the two and grasp how each digital marketing strategy will affect your business, both short term and in the long run.

The difference between search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) is that SEO focuses on organic search traffic, whereas SEM focuses on both organic and sponsored search traffic. SEO and PPC are both methods of marketing your company via search engines. As a result, both are sorts of search engine marketing (SEM).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process of optimising a website’s content and link structure in order to achieve higher positions in search results pages for chosen keywords. You can also spend on PPC advertising so that your website appears here.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM strategy relies on bidding on keywords via Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising / Search Engine Advertising, in addition to increasing organic traffic via SEO.

As a result, your SEO strategy will devote all of its efforts to ranking higher in organic search results. To increase traffic to your website, your SEM campaign will use both SEO and PPC marketing tactics.

SEM is a wide phrase that encompasses both an SEO strategy and a PPC approach for generating visitors. Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of search marketing, let’s look at the key distinctions between SEO and SEM.

What Is Search Engine Optimization?

Most digital marketing firms will refer to search engine optimization as SEO. Others refer to the practice as organic marketing or natural search engine strategy. SEO is an organic method that aims to increase the number of visitors to your website. This method entails constantly optimising your website in order to rank well on Google’s search engine results page.

When Google or other search engines begin to scan the site, websites with SEO-friendly content will rank higher. This, in turn, raises the likelihood of that website ranking higher on search engine results pages, sometimes known as ‘SERPS.’ Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of search marketing, let’s look at the key distinctions between SEO and SEM.

Google’s algorithm analyses hundreds of ranking factors to predict which websites will rank high and which will not.

However, for the sake of clarity, we’ll divide these ranking signals into four major subcategories:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • User interaction signals


On-site SEO, also known as on-page SEO, refers to any optimization that occurs on your website. This includes strategically constructing your pages to target relevant keywords in order for your website to rank higher when consumers search for this term.

  • On-site tactics can include:
  • editing your title tag or heading tag to include the target keyword
  • adding meta descriptions
  • optimizing your URL structure so that Google can easily understand it
  • formatting your URLs to match your target keyword values
  • creating high-quality content that’s centred around a solid keyword strategy
  • adding in structured data, such as FAQ schema
  • including alt text on graphics that include your target keyword
  • optimizing page load speed times for a better viewing experience
  • organizing your internal link structures
  • integrating social sharing elements within your web page content


Off-site SEO, also known as off-page SEO, focuses on increasing traffic by collecting trust and authority signals from other websites. The majority of this entails developing link-building methods. Because of its importance in search engine optimization, off-page SEO is sometimes referred to as link building.

  • Link-building strategies to boost a website’s SEO can include:
  • Using social media to share content that links back to your website
  • Creating useful infographics that link to your site
  • Reaching out and gaining high-quality, natural backlinks from other relevant websites
  • Posting helpful website pages to social bookmarking sites like Stumbleupon and Reddit
  • Creating content that’s worth sharing, to receive more social media signals
  • Building up local business citations for Name Address and Phone Number (NAP)
  • Writing guest posts on other websites that link back to the target site
  • Having other websites reference and link to your content

Every website is assigned a domain rating by Google’s algorithm. The more hyperlinks a website receives, the higher its domain rating.

Google also favours sites that are similar in type or operate in similar or adjacent industries.

As a result, the more websites that link to your page as a reference with high topical content value, the higher your web page will rank for related keywords.


Technical SEO is an essential component of your SEO approach. This is where you ensure that Google and other search engines can crawl and index all of your site’s vital pages.

Technical SEO tactics include but aren’t limited to:

  • Improving your site speed
  • Ensuring that your website is mobile-friendly and optimized for mobile devices
  • Use SSL, so that your site is secure
  • Creating an XML sitemap so that crawlers can understand your website more efficiently
  • Registering your site with Google Search Console
  • Fixing broken pages and redirect errors on your site


The way a searcher interacts with your website helps Google determine whether or not your page was a suitable match for that specific search query.

If your page has a high bounce rate, or if consumers click on your link and then instantly leave your site, Google will conclude that your material isn’t answering the inquiry or that your website isn’t useful in general.

The more Google notices that your site is not a good match for the keyword, the lower your rankings will be.

What Is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Remember how we stated earlier that SEM techniques combine SEO and paid ads?

So, everything we have discussed regarding SEO also applies to SEM. We’re now incorporating ad campaigns to generate traffic as well.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a digital marketing strategy used to promote a website. You may increase traffic by raising exposure on search engine results pages by using both keyword research and ad spend.

Using a paid method involves advertising your website on big search engines such as Google or Bing if your page is unlikely to appear on the top page of the SERP naturally, or organically. If you compare your page to other websites and notice that your competitors have higher backlink profiles and more relevant content than you can offer, paid techniques are a terrific way to begin attracting your target audience to your website. Instead of trying to rank higher to receive website traffic, you can use Google Ads to pay per click to appear at the top of searches for specified keywords.

Paid methods are also employed in conjunction with SEO when keyword analysis indicates that the value associated with a given term warrants investing the marketing budget to rank organically and show PPC advertising for that same phrase. This is a rather typical approach, particularly in the marketing of lawyers or the healthcare industry.


Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords, is the most well-known platform for delivering paid search ads. Microsoft’s Bing Ads platform comes in second place. It still provides many of the same advertising opportunities on the search engine as well as other Microsoft properties such as Xbox and Skype.

You may get adverts to appear at the top of Google search results for specified keywords by utilising Google Ads. You will only be charged for the clicks on your adverts.

SEO and SEM become perplexing for individuals attempting to budget for digital marketing charges. Because, depending on your location, digital marketers may refer to their PPC campaigns or other paid search activity as SEM.

In any case, PPC advertising has its own distinct set of vital factors that aid in driving visitors to your website:

  • Bidding
  • Quality Score
  • Ad Copy
  • Account Management


Paid advertising methods on search engines, whether you use Google Ads or Bing Ads, are all about your bidding approaches. You place your bid on a certain keyword for PPC advertising, preferably after doing keyword research for conversion metrics.

If you bid high enough, your ad will appear at the top of the search results when someone searches for that keyword online.

If numerous ads appear for this exact keyword, Google will usually offer the highest bidder first place ad placement. If someone clicks on your ad, you will be paid the amount you bid. This is referred to as the cost per click, or CPC.

Quality Score

When it comes to paid advertising, your quality score is one of the most crucial indicators. This is Google’s method of judging whether your web page is relevant to the search query.

Remember how we discussed the bounce rate earlier? This procedure is comparable.

Google calculates the Quality score based on the click-through rate, the quality of the landing page, and the overall quality score of your Ad account. The greater your quality score, the lower your bid for your desired keyword or keywords will be.

Ad Copy

Writing engaging ad copy and ad extensions is an important aspect of succeeding with paid advertising.

The higher your click-through rate, the better your ad copy. Your quality score improves as your CTR increases. With a higher quality score, you’ll pay less for the same click. As a result, you’ll have more money to spend on advertising.

However, the converse is true for paid advertisements. If your advertising does not inspire your intended audience to click, your quality score will suffer. And, ultimately, those PPC advertising will become prohibitively expensive.

Account Management

Account management is critical to the success of a Google Ads campaign. The different activities associated with operating paid advertisements soon add up. To begin, you must confirm that your ad spend and revenue make sense. What’s the sense of spending more to reach your target audience than your product or service is worth? You’re losing cash. Account management also involves the following responsibilities.

Checking and tweaking:

  • Ad positions
  • Display network placement
  • Budgets
  • Bids
  • Keyword performance
  • Keyword negatives

SEO and SEM: Which is Better?

SEM vs SEO Speed

The primary distinction between SEO and SEM techniques is speed.

Yes, SEO is time-consuming. This is especially true if your site is fresh and has no established backlinks.

On the other hand, if you focus on naturally increasing your website traffic while running PPC or SEM ads using the search engine marketing strategy, you can start seeing conversions the next day.

You might not get the highest return on investment at first, but if you engage with an experienced PPC marketing agency, you’ll start to notice better results after about a month.

SEO vs SEM Cost

Many business owners and fresh marketers are tempted to SEO because “it’s free.”

You don’t have to pay every time someone clicks on one of your advertisements. Professional SEO, on the other hand, is far from free. Writing good SEO material takes years of practice, and those who do it well will and should charge for their services.

Ranking first for a term that converts in your sector is a good place for a company to be. Even naturally, getting there requires time, effort, and usually a good amount of money. But, once there, with a little attention, you should be able to stay for a while. This is not true of paid advertising. When you stop paying, you stop showing up.

When Should You Only Focus on SEO?

We only recommend that someone focus solely on SEO if he or she has a very low budget. Although you may not see a good ROI on your SEO expenditure for a year, investing in SEO is always a wise decision that will eventually pay off.

SEM Traffic

SEM traffic is one of your company’s most essential sources of online traffic. It can target specific keywords that are likely to produce leads on your website.

Search engines are the most commonly used methods for locating a previously known solution to a problem. They are also used to provide a response to a specific issue or to learn how to accomplish something.

When someone clicks on your website from the search results for their query, they are more likely to take the desired action when they browse your relevant web pages. SEM traffic is likely to be more valuable than other sources, depending on the relevancy of the displayed web pages. This is due to the fact that it connects searchers to the items, services, or information that they are already looking for.

SEO vs SEM Traffic

Some digital marketers argue over which strategy is superior for driving sales: SEO vs SEM. Long-term SEO is the best strategy. Quality SEO is worthwhile since the long-term value of visitors grows over time. Calculate how much each click would cost if you bought the traffic instead of getting it for free.

You have two options for increasing traffic: learn and implement SEO yourself, or engage an SEO agency. If you decide to engage an SEO Agency for SEO services, make sure you first read reviews. In addition, request that they provide you with “before and after” analytics from current and former clients. We begin by providing you with a list of questions to ask!

If you are launching a new website and want to gain quick search engine awareness, you should build a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or search engine advertising campaign. You want to rank on the first page of search results because it takes significantly less time than SEO.

It would be foolish to rely solely on PPC ads without also including search engine optimization in a more holistic, long-term strategy.

Even while SEO takes longer to provide results, it is a considerably less expensive method in the long term. Establish credibility that paid search efforts alone may not be able to provide.


We hope, you’ve enjoyed learning about the basic difference between SEO and SEM, and we’ve managed to guide you well through it. A business can benefit from both SEO and SEM services provided you know when to use which. While SEO can help in optimizing your website in order to get traffic from organic search results, Search Engine Marketing will get traffic and visibility from both organic and paid searches. If you want to go down the organic route, go for SEO and if you want traffic from paid sources go for SEM and enjoy the benefits of both.

If you’re looking for a company to take care of both SEO and SEM for you and drive traffic to your site for conversions, then contact us. We ensure that you have clearly defined your business objectives and then use SEO and SEM to assist you in achieving them.

Our experts can save you a lot of time and money as they are through with the techniques which don’t go wrong. So, once you hand it over to us, relax and focus on your business goals and we will present you with regular updates on how your website is performing as part of our Digital Marketing Packages. Contact us through our hub at for more information about how we can help you.

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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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