SEO vs. SEM: How do they differ, and which one suits you best?

SEO vs. SEM: comparison

SEO and SEM are part of the marketing strategy known as Search Optimization. Still, even when both can relate and work perfectly together or any brand, both are quite different and present separate results. However, any brand should practice both tactics to increase several aspects and start to fulfill their goals. Check out more about SEO vs. SEM!

Read: Achieve customer loyalty through inbound marketing

SEO vs. SEM: What are they?

Before diving into both terms, you must know the following: search marketing. This is a primordial aspect in a world ruled by digital devices. When you don’t know something or are indecisive among several options, you take your phone, tablet, or laptop and search for it using a simple word or a small line. This will present a list of results. If your brand appears on the first page of that list, it means that the search marketing strategy is working, and here is where SEO and SEM are being used. 

These two are the major players in any search marketing strategy bringing more traffic to your website or social media accounts. We can say that they are siblings because they are quite similar but different at the same time. But because they are part of the same family, they both present benefits for any brand. So who wins in SEO vs. SEM, check it out!

SEM or Search Engine Marketing 

This one uses paid resources to gain visibility in any search engine. When you perform a search, the first result will include the word AD, meaning that this brand or business is paying to appear at the beginning of any search results. This strategy can consist of not only the different activities associated with the multiple ads but also the budget that will pay the placements for each ad. There is another term for this: paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. The core of this strategy is using specific and related words to your brand, better known as keywords. 

Google Ads is the major channel to make good use of SEM. After all, Google is the most popular search engine in the world. Using their ads, they can place ads and create campaigns with the best keywords for the company. 

SEO or Search Engine Optimization

This is the strategy that will use organics tactics to gain traffic and visibility. Here brands don’t need to pay for ads and their placements, but they use different strategies and channels to get to the top of the results. There three ways to make a great SEO strategy:

  • On-page SEO: with this, each page of the website is optimized to target its specific keyword that way, making it easy for the algorithm to put it on the search results. Here you will keyword research, content creation, and keyword optimization to have a great strategy.
  • Technical SEO: not only each page and the content must be optimized for any search, but also the technical aspects of the website. The best way to do this is by improving the backend structure and foundation of the entire website. We are talking about: site speed, mobile-friendliness, indexing, crawlability, site architecture, structured data, and security. With this, not only the search marketing will be improved but also the user experience. 
  • Off-page SEO: besides helping with the search optimization, this organic technique allows the brand to build connections and the brand’s reputation using backlinks and creating a directory and local listings. When other websites connect to another brand’s website, it shows the trust that you can put in that, and this also works for the search engines. 

The best SEO strategy doesn’t focus on only one of these ways; instead, it uses the three to show a solid plan to gain traffic and reputation through an organic approach. 

SEO vs. SEM: differences

Even when we talk about how both are necessary for a great search marketing strategy, they present some differences that you must know before diving into this world. Check out SEO vs. SEM with the following table.




Search Results Lists

The results using SEM will appear with the word AD in some part of the text, indicating that it is a paid result. SEO is working with organic techniques so that it won’t appear with this tag. 


SEM needs a budget for placements. This means that each time a user clicks on the link, you must pay for that. SEO doesn’t need a budget for its placement. Brands earn their place in the search engine using keywords and other methods. 
Visibility Brands use SEM to reach exactly their target audience, one that has already been defined.

Instead, with SEO, even when the brand knows their target audience, cannot reach their target audience, it will appear to anyone that uses the keyword. 


As with any strategy, results are highly important, and one of the best benefits of paid plans is the quick results.

SEO takes time. After all, it is organic and their result will reach the goals with lots of patience.

Testing With SEM, you can turn on and turn off the ads whenever you need. This is perfect for running different tests over changes and styles.

SEO keeps the same style and content for a longer time, and it is hard to make big changes. It’s better to wait for established results before starting to make changes.

Value Over Time

SEM is a paid strategy, and when the budget is over, it’s also the strategy. Normally this type is used just for a short period.

SEO values time and growth in it. A solid strategy will show how the time will present the best result and loyal traffic.  

Click-through rate With SEM, it is obvious that you will get CTR, but normally people tend not to trust all in those ads.

While SEO is the winner here, if, with a great strategy, you get to be at the top five of the result list, normally, those five results will have the best CTRs. 

Even with these differences, they also present some similarities. Read them all:

  • Help the brand to appear in the search engines.
  • Bring more traffic to the website.
  • It’s all about knowing your target audience. 
  • Use keywords to know the new trends and popular searches.
  • Try to use related keywords to the brand.
  • Optimization is key to both.

SEO and SEM play an important role in any search marketing strategy. It’s just more about how to use both and always look up for the best for the brand and how to connect to the audience through quality content. Keep in touch with the magazine to know more about marketing topics!

SEO vs. SEM: Which is the best.

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