What is the Difference Between SEM and SEO?


You may have heard the term SEO from your digital marketing services provider a lot more than SEM. Or perhaps the other way around. Understanding how they differ and what works best depending on your need is essential if you want success in the web space.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a kind of Search Marketing that focuses on the use of organic strategies to attract online presence, attention, and even website traffic.

Right off the bat, you’ll clearly see that unlike SEM, SEO services do not require that much of a budget, or sometimes, may not even cost you any at all depending on your level of expertise. SEO is the practice of developing ways to get the optimal rank on search engines.

Google, for example, has hundreds of ways to evaluate what makes a website credible and relevant to appear on their results page. Whenever you search for something online, their smart algorithm does its magic to give you the best result possible.

Search Engine Optimization subcategories

To further understand how SEO works, here are its subcategories to give you a better idea.

On-page SEO

Everything that’s on the website itself such as specific keywords fall under this subcategory. Strategies such as keyword optimization and content creation help to gain a lot of attraction to search engines. These are the things that would make search engines recommend your website more to many users.

Off-page SEO

This subcategory relies on building the site’s reputation through other high-quality or established websites. Simply put, it boosts the credibility of your website because many search engines can take this connection into account when increasing your search rankings.

Technical SEO

The last SEO marketing category involves all the non-content elements of your website such as its structure. The better your site speed, security, and even mobile optimization or friendliness, the better your search rankings will perform well.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing or SEM is mostly referred to as a kind of Search Marketing that uses paid strategies to grow a business in the online space.

In search engines such as Google, you will see a line or two just below the search bar of the results page. That is where you’ll find the ads that SEM users are taking advantage of. SEM can be a combination of SEO and paid tactics.

With SEM services, businesses can pay to make an ad placement on those spots. But just like with SEM, it also requires a great amount of work such as keyword research, content creation, etc. The thing with SEM is that it can also take advantage of what’s called PPC or Pay-per-click marketing.

What’s a PPC?

PPC is something that SEM is commonly associated with. In most cases, it is referred to as SEM and many are using these terms interchangeably. With PPC, a website gets charged whenever a user clicks on an ad. It’s a cost-efficient way to place ads on search engines as you only get to pay whenever there’s a clear potential customer.

Bidding and Quality Score

Your ad placement is all about bidding. The highest your bid, the better your ad will rank higher above all other ads. With Google, a metric called Quality Score is an algorithm that identifies how great of a match your ad is relevant to a user’s inquiry. This algorithm can be based on a combination of click-through rates, your website’s overall score, and many more.

What’s the difference?


Search Engine Optimizations takes a lot of time. This is especially true for all the newer sites as you need to do a lot of keyword searching and backlinks. While it isn’t completely possible to take any shortcuts, there are lots of search marketing practices that can help your online presence be boosted and get desired results.


SEO can arguably be a free website marketing strategy. Meanwhile, SEM is obviously going to cost you some bucks if you want those ads on the search results. The thing to note, however, is that the moment you stop paying for PPC, you lose and start from scratch. Unlike SEO, once you get the rank organically, you’re pretty much set.

Which to pick?

Depending on your capacity to build your business even from the ground up, one can either be better. For instance, small businesses with such a low budget are better with the SEO strategy. It may take a lot of time but every digital marketing agency will tell you that it’s going to be a great investment in the long run.

If you have all the means to take advantage of PPC right from the start, you should never disregard the fact that a lot of work is still necessary to maintain your search ranking. You would want to guarantee that even without PPC, your website can definitely carry on still.