The Main Difference Between SEO and SEM: A Guide for Businesses


Nearly 70% of all online activities begin with a search engine. As a result, more businesses are investing in search engine marketing (SEM) to reach customers online. Search engine optimization (SEO) can improve your rankings to ensure you reach customers, too.

What is the difference between SEO and SEM, exactly? Which digital marketing strategy will help you reach more customers online?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about SEO vs SEM before marketing your business online today!

What is SEO?

Before discussing the difference between SEO and SEM, let’s look at each strategy separately. What exactly is SEO?

Search engine optimization involves optimizing your website content for search engines. When consumers search for keywords related to your business, your website could appear. Consumers can then visit your site to determine if you have the answers they need.

From there, consumers can convert into a lead or sale, helping you drum up more business.

Over 50% of all website traffic comes from organic searches. With SEO, you can rank at the top of search pages. Higher rankings will help you generate more traffic.

Other benefits of SEO include:

  • Generating brand awareness and recognition
  • Establishing yourself as a thought leader
  • Ranking ahead of competitors
  • Proving your credibility
  • Generating brand trust and loyalty
  • Improving your ROI

It can take time before someone knocks down your organic rankings. As a result, you could experience the benefits of SEO for years.

There are different types of SEO to consider as part of your strategy. For example, on-page SEO involves optimizing your content. Off-page SEO involves factors beyond your site (like generating backlinks).

You’ll also need to update your website to create a positive user experience (technical SEO). Local SEO can help you reach nearby customers, too.

You can learn more about SEO here.

What is SEM?

What is search engine marketing, exactly?

SEM encompasses different marketing strategies, including:

  • Video ads
  • Geotargeting
  • Display advertising
  • Remarketing
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
  • Shopping ads
  • Search engine optimization

SEO falls under the umbrella of SEM.

Most SEM strategies are paid, while SEO is organic, though. For example, with PPC, you’ll pay when someone clicks on one of your ads. You can also pay per thousand impressions.

The Difference

What is the difference between SEO and SEM, then?

For starters, it can take time before you improve your organic rankings with SEO. SEM, on the other hand, is almost instantaneous. Once you create your campaigns, you can reach customers online.

SEO is organic, while most SEM strategies are paid. Keep that in mind before you get started.

Google’s algorithm changes can also impact your SEO rankings. Changes to the algorithm shouldn’t impact your PPC campaigns, though.

Both strategies can help you generate brand awareness, website traffic, leads, and sales.

The Difference Between SEO and SEM: Your Path to Higher Rankings

To recap, what’s the difference between SEO and SEM? SEO is organic while SEM involves paid advertising. You can use both to reach more customers online.

Start marketing with SEM and SEO services today.

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About Marc Wallace

I'm never too busy to share my passion. I've created this page to help people learn more about business, finance and real estate. Besides all the serious stuff, I'm also a man that values family and healthy relationships. I hope you find my content insightful.

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