Differences between SEO and SEM

Differences between SEO and SEM

SEO and SEM have become common terms in the digital marketing space, but what are the differences?

December 22, 2023

In the current highly digitalised landscape, the terms search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are being thrown around a lot as the main forms of digital marketing. But what do they mean and what is the difference?

Before diving into SEO and SEM, it’s important to better understand the search marketing industry. 

Search Marketing Industry

Search marketing is the practice of using various search engines like Google and Yahoo to increase the visibility of ranking of a certain website. Search marketing includes both paid and organic methods.

Organic methods involve optimising a website’s content to rank higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords, which includes SEO. Paid search marketing involves paying for ad space on SERPs for those same keywords, which includes SEM.

Key elements of SEO

  • Keyword Research – Identifying and targeting specific keywords that aligns with the website’s content and target audiences.
  • Technical SEO – Optimising the website’s technical aspects, including site speed, mobile-friendliness, and indexability, to allow for better search engine visibility.
  • On-Page Optimisation – Optimising the various elements in a webpage, such as meta tags, headings, content, and URLs to make them more search engine-friendly.
  • Off-Page Optimisation – Using high-quality backlinks from reputable websites to enhance the website’s credibility.
  • Differences in SEO vs SEM

    Now that we understand the basics of the search marketing industry, what are the differences in SEO and SEM.

    SEO is the practice of website optimising to be ranked higher in the SERPs and increasing organic traffic. It puts emphasis on improving a website’s visibility, accessibility, and relevance to search engines. The primary objective of SEO is to make websites appear prominently in search results when the relevant keywords or phrases are used.

    On the other side, SEM involves paying for ad space on SERPs for specific keywords. SEM also includes creating and running ad campaigns on platforms like Google Ads and Bing Ads. Unlike SEO, which can take months to get back results, SEM can drive traffic and leads to a website almost instantly.

What should I use for my website?

Despite their differences, SEO and SEM are different strategies that complement each other. SEO is ideal for businesses looking for sustainable results, while SEM is great for businesses looking for quick results. However, most companies would combine the both by using SEM at the start to drive traffic and building brand awareness and switching to SEO in the long term.

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