July 18, 2020 Last updated July 18th, 2020 1,868 Reads share

SEO vs. SEM: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

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In the digital marketing world, the terms Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are often misconceived. Especially when their acronyms (SEO and SEM) are used, it leaves clients and those who are new to digital marketing confused. 

Although SEO and SEM work hand in hand, they are two different concepts. These two terms play an important role in digital marketing. So, if you’re confused about these two terms, chances are, you may be missing out on major opportunities to grow your business and get new clients. This article is for you to clarify the differences between the two, so you don’t use them interchangeably in the future.

Let’s start with SEO

So, What Exactly is SEO?

SEO is an essential element of SEM. It is defined as a strategy used to optimize website pages to improve its visibility in the search engines. SEO is all about unpaid, organic, natural, or earned results. SEO includes many different components like keyword optimization, high-quality content, image optimization, user experience, and more that needs to work together appropriately to get the desired output. 

The foremost goal of SEO is to increase a website’s performance and ranking in organic search. There are hundreds of factors that help in achieving this SEO goal. These factors are divided into three main categories.

On-Page SEO

On-Page SEO has its main focus on the content of the site, ensuring to make it friendlier to search engines and users. On-Page SEO methods help search engines understand the content and consider the website as a reliable source. 

This type of SEO includes the following

  • Keyword Research
  • High-quality content creation
  • Keyword optimization
  • Image Optimization
  • Clean page URLs
  • Social media integration with the content

Off-Page SEO

Off-Page SEO is all about promotion. It helps in strengthening your website’s reputation, authority, and relationship with other websites. Off-Page SEO factors help search engines recognize your site as a reputable, reliable, and trusted source.

Off-Page SEO includes the following

  • Getting high-quality backlinks
  • Brand promotions
  • Building citations
  • Social bookmarking
  • Search Engine submissions and XML sitemap

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to making changes to the technical parameters of your website. The main goal of technical SEO is to ensure that search engines crawl and index your website without any problem. It also helps in offering a good user experience to the readers, thus improving your site’s overall traffic and engagement rates.

Technical SEO includes the following

  • Site Speed
  • Indexing
  • Optimizing site architecture
  • Optimizing robots.txt for easy crawling
  • Structured data
  • Using Canonical tags to avoid duplicate content

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. SEM consists of stuff that is not covered by SEO. Google ads and Facebook ads are great examples of SEM. You can use SEM to target a specific audience based on their interests, locations, and search queries.

SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

As already stated, SEO is unpaid marketing, whereas SEM is paid marketing. This is the most significant difference between the two. The traffic which you get from SEM is not considered organic or natural, as it’s paid and targeted. It matters how you get traffic to your website. Either the users visit your site on their own volition, or you pay the search engine to send you traffic through targeted customers.

Which Is a Better Option for Your Business?

Now that you know the difference, the next question is, which you need to choose for your business?

This is the most debated question among digital marketing specialists. Some SEO Experts offering SEO services often argue that SEO is the best to go, as it provides quality leads at low cost when compared to SEM. However, it is not a trivial matter. 

Every business is unique and has different goals. So, it is essential to have a digital marketing strategy that is customized to suit the business requirements. 

To gain clarity on what you should choose for your business, you need to have a clear idea of what to expect from both. Consider the following factors to make a decision.


Find out how your competitors are performing in search marketing before you decide to choose your strategy. Know what are the search terms that they rank for. Also, find out what paid keywords they are using to drive traffic to their site. This research and competitive analysis will help you get a complete picture of your competition. As a result, you can find areas where you can compete with your competitors in both SEO and SEM.


If you have been in business for a long time and know your customers want and how to reach them effectively, you can prefer to use SEO for your business. 

If you don’t know who your customers and competitors are and how they will respond to your offerings, you may want to prefer an SEM campaign.            

Customer Buying Cycle

If your products or services have a short buying cycle like your customers know what they want, search for it, and make a purchase, then SEM is your ideal choice. 

On the other hand, if your product has a longer buying cycle, like your customer research for weeks and compare with other products, then you may benefit from using SEO for your business.

Average CPC (Cost Per Click)

Different keywords have different CPC based on competition. If the CPC is low for your keywords, then SEM is right for your business. 

Whereas, if your CPC is higher and you need to spend more to show up in paid search results, then prefer using Professional SEO Services.

Age of your business

If you have just opened your business and launched your website, until you develop a proper SEO strategy, you can use SEM. SEM is an effective way to drive traffic while building organic SEO.

Current status of your website

Before launching a digital marketing campaign, know where your website stands. This will help you devise an organic SEO strategy before starting to invest in the SEM strategy.

SEO or SEM? Make Them Work Together for Better Results

In all honesty, SEO and SEM work better when together. You can run an SEO campaign without SEM and SEM campaign without SEO, but it will not take your business very far. 

If you are a business that genuinely values creating a strong online presence and getting a positive ROI in the short term as well as the long run, then you should balance both SEO and SEM together. Your SEM could cover up the defects of SEO and vice versa.

By incorporating both SEO and SEM into your business, you may end up getting the best of both. By using both these methods, you can stay ahead of your competitors who are focusing on only one of these powerful methods. 

Wrapping Up

SEO and SEM are most crucial for attracting traffic and leads online. Now that you know what SEO and SEM and their differences are, you’ll be better equipped to decide how each can help your business reach its goals. If you’re not considering using both strategies together, you could be missing out on some high-quality leads.

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Bala Kumar

Bala Kumar

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