The Difference Between SEO and SEM and Why You Should Use Both

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The Difference Between SEO and SEM and Why You Should Use Both

SEO and SEM are entirely different from one another. Both acronyms are often used in each other place; however, the whole practice of using them interchangeably is incorrect.

SEO—or search engine optimization—refers to the techniques used by the brands to drive more traffic to their websites and expand their online presence. 

Additionally, SEO is a challenging technique to use if you aren’t familiar with combining it with SEM or search engine marketing.

Though both terms sound similar, they have entirely different meanings and are simply two distinct ways to become visible on search engines. 

SEM vs. SEO: The Difference

SEO: SEO refers to organic tactics and methods that you can consider if you want your content to appear in search results.

SEM: This marketing approach encompasses paid methods for the companies and brands to appear in the search results.

When talking to others, keep in mind that the meaning and definition of the term SEM is disputed and contradicted everywhere. Some people even refer to the term as encompassing both the organic and paid methods. 

However, generally, the term SEO refers to organic practices, while SEM refers to paid methods. 

What exactly is SEO?

SEO is the communication between your website, search engines, and consumers. 

The idea is to include specific keywords on your website that your ideal clients will use when looking for a product or service. Search engines work to match the keywords with the query.

The Four Pillars of SEO

The four pillars of SEO include technical SEO, on-page SEO, content creation, and off-page SEO. 

  1. Technical SEO focuses on improvising the overall technical structure of a web page by improving the web page’s average speed. Additionally, technical SEO ensures mobile friendliness and enhances a web page’s overall security and indexing.
  2. On-page SEO is all about optimizing a web page to ensure that the search engines understand the content written in the context. It mainly deals with headings, meta tags, and images.
  3. Content is the backbone of SEO and is one of the main factors in website ranking. Without high-quality, optimized content, your website will not rank. It’s also the main factor in engaging past clients and prospects. 
  4. Off-page SEO refers to building authority, taking into account backlink building and other strategies that focus on enhancing the trust and authority of the website in the eyes of search engines. If the users see the website as trustworthy, the search engine will rank it in the top results.


What is SEM?

As mentioned earlier, SEM is a strategy that encompasses paid techniques to enhance the website’s visibility on search engines. In other words, it means PPC (pay per click).

The strategy works with paying methods and is quite the opposite of using tactics to rank organically. Google ads and Bing ads use SEM to ensure that your brand is visible to the target audience. 

Along with this, it encompasses everything, including the overall setup and optimization of paid ads while enhancing conversions and return on investment.

The strategy involves a fair amount of Keyword research and competitor insights to create campaigns targeted at a specific audience to make the products and the services available to them. 

These campaigns encompass search ads, display ads, Google ads, and YouTube ads. 

People generally use SEM to enhance brand popularity and fame. When the users of a product search for specific terms that match with the keywords used by the marketers, they will see a custom-built ad meant for them in the top results of the search engine. 

The best part about using SEMs is that you only pay for the ads people click on.

Benefits of Using SEM

Sometimes you have to wait months to see results with SEO. However, you can see results pretty fast when using SEM.

It’s easy to see clicks and conversions on the homepage of ad management. SEM allows you to control the overall ad game and lets you choose where the ads are shown and who they are shown to.

SEM drives streamlined traffic to your website and is the best way to test new strategies.

In reality, both SEO and SEM are not something that should be isolated from one another but should be used simultaneously with one another.

These are two significant factors in driving the visibility, traffic, and overall conversions to your website.

SEO vs. SEM: Which Should You Invest in First?

A simple and straight answer to the question is that “it depends” on the following variables:

  • Goal: if you’re testing out a new offer or want to jumpstart a slow month, SEM should be your first choice. While in the long term, SEO is used for organic growth.
  • Performance: If your website is already visible and popular among the general audience, it’s time to invest in SEM, as SEO is already working for you.
  • Margins: If you’re experiencing high click costs for marginal profits, there’s no use in running SEM. SEO would be the best technique to channel the most profits. 

Why use both SEO and SEM?

Why should you use both SEO and SEM? The answer to the question lies within the discussion mentioned above. Let’s break it down. 

SEO will increase your website’s organic value and improve the website’s overall ranking in the search results. 

While SEMs will help to drive more traffic to your website for an increase in conversions and sales. SEO demands time and patience, while SEM demands strategy and money. 

When you combine both SEO and SEM, you can use the data, such as conversion rates, keyword performance, and website traffic, to create your SEO strategy moving forward.

Using both SEO and SEM will make your website stronger than ever.

You can also use SEO remarketing campaigns along with the SEM strategy to convert those who didn’t become customers the first time they visited your site. 

There’s no simple formula to improve both strategies because numerous factors need to be considered. Some entrepreneurs prefer working on SEO, while others love working with SEM. 


SEO adds value to the business by allowing it to grow organically. At the same time, SEM is a marketing tactic that focuses on driving traffic to your website and converting visitors into paying customers. 

As soon as you stop implementing SEM, you’ll notice a drop in website traffic. However, SEO grows the worth of the website via search engines over time.

SEO will get you higher click rates than SEM in the long run and is free, while SEM requires an investment.

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