SEO vs SEM What’s the Difference?

SEO is different from SEM because Search Engine Optimization is part Search Engine Marketing. Both methods aim to increase visibility in search engines.


SEO refers to optimizing your website for higher ranking in organic search results. However, SEM is more than SEO. Other methods, such as PPC advertising, can also be used to increase search engine traffic.


The SEO Vs SEM diagram shows that a typical search engine’s results page includes two types. The first is paid search results, while the second is organic search results.

Paid results are often denoted by the letters “AD” (and sometimes in another colour) to make it easier for users to distinguish them from organic results. They appear at the top and bottom of organic search results. You can use PPC (pay per Click) ads to get your website on the first page of the “paid search results”. This can be done through the various PPC platforms that search engines offer to advertisers.

Google Ads, for example, is the advertising platform of Google. Microsoft Advertising, on the other hand, is the advertising platform for Bing. Each search engine comes with its own tool. Good SEO practices are essential to get your website on the first page of organic search results. This basically means that you need to have a website that is SEO-friendly and publish content that fulfils the search terms of the user.

These two processes (SEO/PPC) are what we call Search Engine Marketing, or SEM. This visual representation will help you to understand the differences between these terms:-

Search Engine Optimization

It is essential to begin with the definition of SEO in order to compare SEO and SEM. This will make it clear for everyone who is interested what the differences are. SEO refers to optimizing your website in order to get free traffic from search engines. Organic traffic is also known as SEO traffic.

SEO is crucial as the majority of search engine traffic comes from the top of organic results. If you want to attract search engine traffic without having to pay for it, you must ensure that your website appears in the top five positions. Search engine crawlers can easily understand SEO-optimized websites, which increases your chances of ranking higher on SERPS (search engine result pages).

SEO Overview

There are three main types: technical SEO, off-page and on-page.

  1. Technical SEO 

    It is the process of optimizing your site for the indexing and crawling phases. Technical SEO will ensure that search engines can index and crawl your website easily.

These are the main components of technical SEO:

  • Sitemaps in XML
  • URLs for Canonical Use
  • Page-speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Site structure
  • Site security
  • Onsite SEO refers specifically to the rules that you can use on pages and content in order to optimize them for certain keywords.
  • On-page SEO consists of the following components:
  • Optimization of page titles
  • Meta description optimization
  • Optimization of URL
  • Image optimization through the use of Alt Text
  • H1 tag optimization
  • Content optimization


  1. Off-Page SEO


It is the process of obtaining references (backlinks) from other websites in order to increase your website’s trust with search engines.

This may seem confusing to beginners. However, you can think of it as a ranking system in which the website with the most references rank higher. References are links from other websites that point to your website. This is why off-page SEO can also be referred to link building.

To avoid any misinterpretations, it is not just about how many links you have pointed at your website but also where those links came from (and other factors).

  1. On-page SEO

on-page search engine optimization, encompasses the practices and techniques employed to optimize individual web pages for search engines. This involves several key elements, such as optimizing meta tags (title, description, and headers), ensuring quality and relevant content, using appropriate keywords, improving the website’s user experience, and optimizing images and multimedia. On-page SEO also involves enhancing internal linking and ensuring mobile-friendliness. The objective is to make web pages more attractive and accessible to search engine crawlers, which, in turn, enhances their ranking in search results, ultimately driving organic traffic and improving the overall online visibility of a website.


Search Engine Marketing

SEM is digital marketing that aims to increase visibility in search engines by generating organic traffic through SEO and paid traffic via PPC advertising. Search Engine Optimization is more than SEO, but it’s only one subset of digital marketing. Other than SEO and SEM, digital marketing can be used to increase traffic to your website. These include email marketing, social media marketing, content marketing and video marketing.


Why SEM traffic is Important?

Search Engine Marketing traffic, whether organic SEO or paid search advertising, is the most important source for Internet traffic. It is targeted. It is well-known that search engines are used by people to solve problems, find answers to questions or learn how to do things.

Searchers are more likely to click on an advertisement or click on a website in search results. SEM traffic is more valuable than any other traffic source because of its relevancy. Facebook and Twitter are working together to optimize their advertising platforms for targeted traffic, but traffic from search engines still has a higher ROI.


How does SEM Aid SEO?

SEO is not helped by SEM, contrary to what many believe. PPC can be used to target keywords and drive search engine traffic. This will not negatively or positively impact your SEO efforts. SEO rankings are determined after considering hundreds of factors, and PPC or SEM campaigns are not one of them.



Paid search advertising allows you to buy space in search engine results. Instead of ranking in the top spots organically via SEO and getting free traffic, you can pay to appear on the search engine results pages.

Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords, is the most popular advertising agency for PSA. Google Ads allows you to have your ads appear in Google search results. You only pay for clicks. This is why Pay-per-click, or PPC, is used to describe the entire process.

Here’s a quick overview of the PPC process:-

  • Register with a PPC platform, such as Google Ads.
  • You can specify the keywords for which you would like your ads to appear in search results
  • Make your ads. Search engines show text ads only in their results.
  • Your daily budget and MAXCPC (the maximum amount you will pay for clicks on ads) should be set.
  • Monitor the results of your campaigns

Your ads will cease running once your budget has been exhausted. Important: While you can pay to have your ads appear in search results, there is no guarantee that they will be shown at the top of the ad positions. It all depends on the competition and the price you are willing pay per click to secure top placements.

SEM vs SEO: What is better SEO or SEM?

Although SEO is an important component of search engine marketing and PPC advertising are also part of it, most marketers refer to SEM as PPC advertising. They consider Paid Search Advertising the only component of SEM. We can compare the two.

  • Price

For long-lasting marketing results, organic SEO is the best option. Websites that rank highly in organic search results for their target keywords can receive free traffic 24/7 and industry recognition. Although PPC sites can still receive targeted traffic from search engines, they must pay for it. Traffic disappears once they have stopped paying for paid campaigns.

While SEO traffic can be considered free, it is important to remember that getting to the top of organic results for popular keywords takes time, effort and money. You will need to invest a lot to get a top position in the competitive search space.

It will be necessary to produce high-quality content on a regular basis (which can be very expensive). Hire an SEO expert for help in the SEO process and optimization of your website using hundreds of SEO rules.

Which is more cost-effective, SEO or SEM? Yes, SEO. SEO is definitely worth the investment. Once you rank well for keywords relevant to your business, you can enjoy the ride 24/7 without worrying about advertising budgets.

  • Time

The main difference between SEO and SEM lies in the time it takes for SEO to produce results, while PPC can be done almost instantly.

Which one is best depends on your overall digital marketing goals? You can use SEM (paid Search Advertising) to quickly get traffic. In parallel, you can also work on SEO. SEO is the best way to build a lasting online business.

  • Easy Learning

There will be some learning curves for beginners when learning SEO and PPC. However, I have found that you can become a PPC expert quicker than an SEO expert. PPC is more flexible than SEO. You can begin experimenting with PPC campaigns once you have mastered the PPC platform. Start pilot campaigns with a small budget. Once you have analysed the results, you can increase your budget to create more campaigns.

Plus, artificial intelligence has been integrated into SEM platforms. This makes it easier to complete complex tasks (such as manual bidding for ad placement). There are many online courses that can speed up your learning and improve your SEO skills

  • Risk

If your business relies on SEM, it is important to understand the risks associated with SEO and PPC. Google algorithmic changes are the biggest risk for SEO. Google is the largest search engine and the main source of traffic to any website. They make changes to the organic search results every year. It is possible to gain or lose rankings and traffic during these changes.

Traffic is great if it comes from people who are interested in your site. However, if traffic goes away, it can take some time to find out why and what to do to fix it. Advertising costs are the biggest risk for PPC. Pay per click costs are increasing every year. If you rely on paid traffic only, it is possible to reach unacceptable advertising costs. To stay in business, you might need to raise prices, but this could reduce sales or profit.

Based on my experience of 20 years in the industry, I believe that using both SEO and PPC to manage these risks is the best way. PPC can be used depending on the business model. However, it may generate quicker results. Enhancing your SEO is imperative. Elevating your website’s search engine optimization is a critical step in boosting online visibility, driving organic traffic, and ensuring your digital presence is more discoverable and competitive in the online landscape. It is best to get traffic from both channels in order to ensure that your business won’t be affected by any issues with SEO or PPC.

Key Learnings

SEO marketing and PPC marketing are two parts of SEM Marketing. While SEO technically is part of SEM marketing, many people refer to SEM as the use of PPC ads to obtain traffic from search engines. Search engine marketing is an important digital channel. You need both to build a lasting online business. PPC may give you quicker results, but you’ll have to continue paying for traffic. SEO generates more results over time and requires a larger initial investment.

Both of these processes are designed to increase a website’s visibility on search engines in order to get highly targeted traffic.