SEM and SEO - what's the difference?


SEM and SEO - what's the difference?

If you have a professional blog, a website or an online store, you're probably already familiar with the terms SEM and SEO.

Although SEM and SEO have been around for some time in digital marketing, many people are still confused about what each of them mean or do - how do they work? are they similar or different? does one include the other, or not necessarily?


SEM and SEO - what do they have in common?

SEM and SEO share the same goal: to improve your website's search engine positioning, so that your content, your products or services become immediately visible to your target audience.

Every time someone is searching for a term related to your area of knowledge or your business, SEM and SEO highly increase the chances of ranking your website in the top search results.

You'll gain visibility over your competitors, more potential to attract new visitors and more opportunities to increase your sales.

What differentiates SEM and SEO?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. In fact, SEM is the broader term under which fall all digital marketing strategies (free or paid) to increase the visibility of your website on search engines.

We use search engines like Google as one of our main resources to find solutions, answers and to know more about certain subjects.

SEM takes advantage of the power of search engines to get your product, your blog post or your page to a targeted audience when they search for specific terms.



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SEM includes two types of tactics:

  • Increase visibility, organically (SEO)
  • Increase visibility through paid traffic (PPC)


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and falls under the SEM umbrella.

SEO uses a variety of techniques to increase your ranking on search engine listings, in unpaid, algorithm-driven page results (the organic page results).




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Pros: a higher return on investment and longer visibility in the top search results.
Cons: SEO results take time and are not predictable (it can take months to improve the ranking of your website).


Search Engine Marketing is also possible through online ads, such as Google Ads.

Instead of optimizing your page to improve ranking over time, you buy ad space to be prominent in user searches. 

You pay every time someone clicks on your ad, no matter what - that's why they are commonly known as Pay-per-click (PPC). PPC ads are often the first listings you’ll see in search engine results, marked as ads or sponsored results. 


Pros: results are fast and guaranteed: your ad may be up in a few hours and will be prominent in user searches.

Cons: you pay for each click no matter what, which can become an overbearing cost for smaller companies and visibility ends as soon as your ad is no longer active.

How does SEO work?

When someone searches for "dog collars", Google has the ability to analyse and understand the search query, in order to return the most fitting web pages.

Google maintains a unique search engine algorithm, which gives each web page a score for relevancy and determines where it will rank in searches.

Where a web page is ranked is normally dependent on several key factors, some of which:

  • location and frequency of keywords and phrases.
  • history of the web page; well established pages with regular content updates have higher scores.
  • number of backlinks from other pages; more links to a site increase relevance
  • mobile usability


SEO aims at getting your site a high ranking and position in organic (non paid) search results of Google or other search engines. A good SEO strategy takes into account the right content, the right keywords and the right promotion. 


In conclusion...

Search Engine Optimization is actually one of the strategies of Search Engine Marketing - SEO aims at ranking organically versus PPC (sponsored/paid ranking).

Although SEM and SEO are essential to improve your website's search engine positioning, you should never underestimate the value of compelling, unique and quality content

If more users find valuable content on your page, more will return in the future and reference it, automatically scoring points in Google's PageRank.