SEM vs SEO: What’s the Difference?

SEO and SEM are two of the most common Internet acronyms known to businesses and individuals who want to hire a Los Angeles SEO company to promote their brands, products and services online. But what exactly do they mean, and do they mean the same thing?

Read on to know what SEO and SEM are, what makes them different, how they are alike, and how excellent SEO and SEM techniques and strategies can help your business succeed online.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

SEO or search engine optimization is the more popular of the two partly because the need to optimize websites came long before websites were a valuable marketing tool. SEO is just a fancy name for making your website good and useful enough for search engines like Yahoo and Google to take notice. Optimization, in this case, means utilizing tools and strategies like interesting and organic content, strategic and natural use of keywords, and ease of navigation to get a good search engine ranking.

Optimization is the buzzword it is today because search engines like Google and Bing rely on highly- developed algorithms to come up with organic, natural and targeted search results for their users. If your website is ranked well by these search engines, your site has a good chance to appear high and often on searches that use the keywords best related to your website, product, or service. The best way to achieve this kind of positive relationship with any search engine is with SEO.

Search engine optimization can take a variety of forms. The most common is the strategic use of keywords, the use of organic and interesting content built around these keywords, as well as website optimization that include boosting the efficiency, security, making website architecture more user-friendly, and mobile optimization. Good SEO also includes the use of quality backlinks to reputable websites that builds your website’s credibility.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is the process of boosting your online presence using a variety of paid tool and strategies. Search engine marketing is a broader category that often includes SEO because it refers to the processes done to increase search engine visibility. Aside from SEO, other means to increase traffic to your site include PPC or paid-per-click advertising, where you buy ad space in search engine results to rank high.

Search engine marketing is useful if you want instant visibility using customized ads and strategic ad placement. Advertisers can choose the location, appearance and keywords used in the paid campaign to attract more traffic. While not free, search engine marketing is still a legitimate and effective way to get more eyes on a service, product or website.

What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

SEO and SEM are alike in that they are digital marketing components proven to be effective in getting exposure for a particular brand, product or service. SEO is built to create traffic using organic means, while SEM covers both organic as well as paid means to get more exposure for your brand. In terms of visibility, SEM offers a distinct advantage because it is shown to a targeted demographic, while SEO strategies involve making the website and its contents visible to anyone.

Designations for SEO and SEM also differ. Paid ads are designated as such when they appear on search engine results. Results generated from SEO are not marked in the same way when they appear on search results.

SEO vs. SEM: Which one is best for you?

Some consider SEO the better marketing tactic between the two despite the fact that it takes longer to generate the result and takes more work. Because SEO uses targeted keywords, depends on real, organic page views and quality backlinks which require quality content and SEO-friendly website architecture, you can pretty much establish a steady stream of traffic once you have reached the tipping point. The focus on an optimized website also results in a trusted online presence which builds the credibility of the brand and product. All these create the foundation for long-lasting exposure.

SEM, on the other hand, can produce instant exposure and often leads to actual conversions because the ads are placed in front of targeted, motivated consumers, most of whom are ready to ready to buy. Paid advertising that is placed on the first page of search engine results can definitely give your website traffic a boost on the first day of marketing. When the website offers a way to facilitate conversions or sales with ease, SEM can be the most powerful conversion tool that you can use to grow your business.

However, when not paired with useful content, optimized website architecture and a user-friendly platform, traffic and conversions can disappear once the ad campaigns stop. Paid advertising can also be costly and may end up a waste of money if the website doesn’t offer anything valuable enough to create a loyal following for that website, product, brand or service.

This doesn’t mean that SEM is useless for your campaign. SEM, when done right can get you targeted exposure that will lead to increased conversions if all the other elements of your digital marketing campaign are done well.

If you want long-lasting, targeted results coming from organic traffic, and building a valuable and credible online presence is important for you, SEO is the way to go. SEM can be useful for relatively unknown businesses or those that are just starting since the boost in exposure can help them stand out from among the sea of competitors online. SEM is good if you want a rankings boost from Day 1 and you are able to ride this wave with a website that offers good value to potential customers and consumers.


Both SEO and SEM help your website, product or brand get more exposure in search engine results, driving more traffic to your site. Both require knowing your target audience and both require the right use and placement of keywords to drive traffic. One may be free and the other requires paying Bing and Google to show your ads, but both SEM and SEO are fundamental elements in any online marketing strategy.

Success online doesn’t mean that you need to use one over the other. Expert SEO paired with targeted SEM can give you the ultimate search engine rankings performance to give your business the advantage it needs to succeed.

About Kushal Enugula

I’m a Digital marketing enthusiast with more than 6 years of experience in SEO. I’ve worked with various industries and helped them in achieving top ranking for their focused keywords. The proven results are through quality back-linking and on page factors.

View all posts by Kushal Enugula

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