What Is

What is SEM? SEO vs SEM

SEO and SEM are two acronyms that are different but related. They are often interchanged with each other, although one is a broader term. SEO is part of SEM, but both processes aim to increase visibility in search engines. 

A graphic that reads: SEM generally refers to paid search listings. SEO only refers to organic search listings.


Search Engine Marketing is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages primarily through paid advertising. SEO and PPC (Pay Per Click advertising) are the two main practices in search engine marketing.

  • SEO: Traffic to the site or page through unpaid or free listings.
  • PPC: Traffic to the site or page through utilizing paid advertisements run on the search engine. These could be search, display or a combination of both forms of advertising.


What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results. These results are often referred to as natural, organic, or earned results. It encompasses both the technical and creative elements that are required to improve rankings, drive traffic and increase awareness in search engines. It is essentially optimizing the website or web page to be shown as the best possible result on the search engine results page (SERP).  


Pay per click or cost per click advertising is an internet model used to direct traffic to websites, in which an advertiser pays a publisher when the ad is clicked. The technique is commonly associated with the most popular search engines since they are getting the most searches. The most common search engines are Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu and Ask. Since these platforms see massive amounts of search queries, they are able to sell ranking positions to businesses that would like to run an advertisement on the page. This is beneficial to businesses because it can generate leads that may have never come to the site or found the site otherwise. 

Similarities between SEO & SEM

SEM generally refers to paid search listings. SEO only refers to organic search listings. The two have some similarities. In both, keywords will act as a foundation. Keyword implementation in SEO is free and can be done virtually anywhere. Keywords can be put on the site, a title tag, a meta description, and many more places regarding a site’s digital presence. SEM or PPC keywords are keywords that you pay for. You set the keywords that you want your ad to show up when searched and when the search query matches your keywords; your ad will be displayed. 

Another similarity between SEO and SEM is that they are both trying to influence rankings on the results page and accomplish a conversion goal or site visit. SEO will optimize the rankings for organic results and PPC will optimize rankings that are paid and based on your particular ad’s quality score or how relevant it is to the searcher’s query. 

Both SEM and SEO are used by digital marketing companies to enhance the overall function of a site and accomplish certain goals which have been set. SEM will focus on running advertisements that lead to macro conversions. Macro conversions are the end goal that you want the user to do. More than likely, this will be purchasing a product or service. The ad will lead the user to a page where he or she can solve a solution to their search. If it does not or if it is not a sufficient page, the advertising campaign will fail. SEO has goals of increasing rankings, organic traffic to the site, and enhancing the user experience. SEO cleans up a website for the search engine to crawl and bookmark in its database. 

Should I Use Paid or Organic Search?

The answer to this question really depends upon your business and the goals that you want to accomplish. If your business relies upon contact forms or has a phone number listed on the site for more information and does not have product pages, then organic optimization may be better for your business. Optimizing for organic will bring more traffic to the site, which could result in more leads or contact forms being filled out. The paid search could work if it is done minimally, since you are not actually selling a product on the site. 

Paid search will work best for a business that is competing for competitive keywords and has product pages leading to the end conversion goal. An example where paid search advertisement listings produce good results is in industries like HVAC. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning companies are usually all fighting over service territory and common keywords. A paid search campaign is a great way to get your company to the top of a search engine result page when there will be multiple competitors ranking higher than you for key terms. Some organic optimization would then need to be done in order to ensure the user has a pleasurable experience once they click on the advertisement. 

A business owner will have to decide which is better for his or her business. Both organic and paid search results are very importance to the digital success of a business. However, a business owner may be able to determine the best strategy for understanding the focus of each tactic. Once he or she determines the best strategy, then they or can evaluate the results and determine which plan is the highest impact and he or she can invest more time and money into it.

SEM & SEO Working Together

A digital marketing company should have plans or packages where they can customize what your business needs. They should also be able to offer you recommendations for services that is the best fit for your business goals based on their client history. Good organic results can be completed without having good paid results and vice-versa. Once you determine the right budget for each tactic and monitor the results, you can create the best results for each plan. 


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