You’ve come here to find out the fundamental difference between SEO and SEM, right? Let’s start with this. 

If we’re talking SEO statistics, did you know that 60% of clicks to websites go to the top three results in the search? 

With SEM statistics, more than 25% of searchers will click on an ad because it mentions a brand that they’re already vaguely familiar with. 

The main difference between SEO and SEM we can see here is paid versus organic, but there’s so much more to it than that. Keep reading to cover the key things you need to know. 

What Is SEO? 

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) involves the tactics that businesses use online to increase their visibility in search engine results. This is done through hundreds of different methods such as keyword research, on-page SEO tactics, meta descriptions, and many more. 

The goal of SEO is to drive traffic to your website organically, meaning that you don’t spend money but use the tactics to increase your standing in search engine results. 

There are three main categories when it comes to SEO tactics:

  1. On-page SEO is the process of optimizing each page on your website by targeting a specific keyword and is made up of tactics such as keyword research, creating content, and optimizing your pages for those keywords. 
  2. Off-page SEO is the strategy that helps you increase your ranking by connecting to other high-quality, relevant websites through tactics such as link building and managing online directories.
  3. Technical SEO is where it can get a bit confusing, the tactics here include optimizing your website for mobile viewing, focusing on the speed of your site, indexing your website, and having reputable security. 

An SEO strategy is best done when it combines all three categories in an ongoing effort to increase your search engine result rankings. 

What Is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) focuses on one thing when it comes to search marketing, and that is the paid tactics a business can use to rank in search engine results. 

An SEM strategy is made up of two parts: 

  1. The tactics of setting up, creating, and optimizing adverts
  2. Setting a budget for the placement of search engine adverts and managing it 

Another term that SEM is sometimes referred to as is PPC Marketing (pay-per-click marketing). Commonly, Google Ads (previously known as Google Adwords) is the most used provider for SEM. 

Basically, a business conducts keyword research and then creates SEM campaigns targeting these keywords to produce results for their industry, service, or products. The results come in the form of a click by the searcher, and the business is charged for each click that they receive.

The Difference Between SEO and SEM 

When we compare the two to find the difference between SEO and SEM, you’ll find that there are similarities. Understanding these similarities can help you build both a successful SEO strategy and an effective SEM strategy. 

Similarities Between SEO and SEM 

  1. Both SEO and SEM have the goal of helping a business appear in search results by using specific terms that a user may be searching for
  2. Both, ultimately, have the goal of driving more traffic to a brand’s website through increasing click-through-rates (CTR) 
  3. SEO and SEM are both built on a foundation of knowing who your audience is, of understanding them and how they behave online, they then use this knowledge to create valuable content while searching for results your business should show up in 
  4. Both are built based on your keyword research, this is done by identifying the keywords that your brand should be targeting through analyzing popular search terms, looking at competitor search terms, and even looking at keywords that are easier to rank for 
  5. SEO and SEM target very specific keywords and are not performed on a whim 
  6. Both SEO and SEM are not overnight success stories, they require testing to see if the strategy is working or if there is a need for adaptation

The one comfort in knowing the similarities between SEO and SEM is that the foundation for your work in both are done in the same way. So if you put in the right amount of prep work, you should have the basis for a successful campaign in both. 

Fundamental Difference Between SEO and SEM

Once the groundwork has been done through the similarities of both strategies, you’ll need to understand how the two differ from one another, to create effective strategies. Neither concept is a one-size-fits-all approach, let’s have a look at why.

  1. SEM placements look different from organic search engine results, they’re usually identified by a small ad icon that appears adjacent to the ad, whereas SEO placements simply appear in the results as a block of text 
  2. SEM results have a different appearance to SEO results, for example, SEM results may include things like phone numbers, or call-to-actions, or extra links 
  3. With SEM, obviously, you pay each time a user clicks on the link whereas with SEO clicks, the brand would pay nothing 
  4. SEM has the ability to show results related directly to a specific, select target audience whereas, with SEO, you’ll be getting clicks from other audiences too, so SEM allows you to focus on a niche audience 
  5. SEM can give you results immediately as you’re paying for results and clicks, you will have the opportunity to immediately be in front of your target audience’s eyes whereas, with SEO, your tactics will take more time to generate organic results 

As you can see, both SEO and SEM efforts have a considerable amount of similarities which can allow you to build the great groundwork for both strategies, whereas the differences between the two will assist you in creating effective tactics for both. 

Choosing Between SEO and SEM 

When looking at the difference between SEO and SEM, the one great thing is that you actually don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, both strategies work seamlessly together to increase your search engine results if done properly. 

Simply focus on your keyword strategy, and knowing your ideal target audience, and you’ll be well on your way to success. 

Contact me if you need digital consulting to make your SEO and SEM results soar.