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  • Writer's pictureNamra - Digital Marketing Agency

What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Today we will be discussing the differences and similarities between SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing).


In short, Search Engine Marketing is an umbrella term for anything a company does to make their website rank higher in SERPs. Obviously, SEO falls into this category, but remember that SEO is specifically done without paying for advertisements on a search engine. Rather, SEO is handled on the website specifically, and through generating buzz around the company on social media. In contrast, SEM includes methods of payment to get one’s website ranked higher on SERPs. This includes, but is not limited to, things like PPC (pay-per-click) advertisements, paying for advertisements on social media, and paying search engines directly for one’s website to be featured at the top of SERPs. Traditionally, SEM is concerned specifically with PPC advertising efforts, but SEO and paid search also fall into the SEM category as well (Rende).

That’s Great, but Which One Should I be Using?

Well, it’s kind of a complicated answer, and one that has been debated hotly in recent times. As has been asserted in the previous blog post regarding SEO, there is a significantly smaller amount of people that click on paid advertisement links in SERPs than those who click on organically generated ones. Ultimately, SEO is a more cost-effective method of garnering traffic to your website, but this can be difficult to pull off organically if your company does not have the name-recognition or the reputability that a bigger company might have. For that reason, it may be in the interest of companies at their inception to spend a little bit of money on SEM to get their company’s name in the face of customers immediately without having to curate a reputation first. However, SEM cannot flourish fully without proper SEO efforts (Rende). While SEM can make people click on your website link, you will not make a loyal base of customers unless your SEO efforts are focused on making your site as relevant and useful to clients as possible. Otherwise, you will simply have a bunch of people clicking on your link, and you will see no uptick in sales as a result. Further, without proper SEO efforts, SEM could work to diminish the value of your company, as word will get around that your company does not offer reputable and valuable information on it’s site. Ultimately, SEM can be a good tactic for jump-starting the traffic your website sees, but for long lasting results, it is probably a better idea to focus your energy on organic SEO.


Chris, A. (2019, September 2). What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Rende, N. (2014, June 19). What's the Difference Between SEO and SEM? [FAQS].


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