What Exactly Is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Topics: SEM Tips, SEO Tips, Web Marketing Written on July 31, 2020 by Surfaced Media

About 75% of searchers never click beyond the first page of a Google search. With search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), you can reach that first page! Otherwise, you could end up missing out on numerous customers.

Are you unfamiliar with the difference between SEO and SEM? Do you want to start using these search strategies to boost brand awareness, leads, and sales?

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the difference between SEM vs SEO. With this guide, you can determine which strategy is best for your business!

What Is SEM Marketing?

First, let’s talk about SEM marketing.

Search engine marketing includes various digital search engine marketing strategies. Many people don’t realize that SEO is actually a form of SEM marketing. Other search engine marketing tactics include:

You can also format different PPC ads, including text, animations, HTML-5 ads, and videos. As the name suggests, you have to pay each time someone clicks on one of your PPC ads. If you’re unfamiliar with how to use the platform, PPC can get costly.

It helps to work with an experienced company that understands how to create, manage, and optimize PPC campaigns.

You can post PPC ads on platforms like Google, Bing, and social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Visual ads are a great way to attract someone’s attention.

In addition to boosting brand awareness, these ads can also help you generate website traffic and boost sales.

Remarketing is another great way to generate brand awareness and conversions. This SEM marketing tactic uses cookies to recognize which consumers have visited your website in the past. It can even tell which product pages were visited.

Using this information, you can create personalized PPC ads. Personalized messaging can help you connect with your audience to generate more leads.

Remarketing will help you get a second chance with previous website visitors. Instead of losing a sale, you can increase conversions and boost your ROI.

Creating Campaigns

Creating SEM marketing campaigns requires research and know-how.

First, you need to understand your target audience. You can segment your audience based on demographics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Marital status
  • Household income
  • Language

SEM marketing allows you to target your audience based on these parameters. You can also use keyword research to determine which words customers use in a search. Then, you ensure your ads appear when someone searches those keywords.

The more you understand your target audience, the more likely your ads will appeal to their interests.

When creating SEM marketing campaigns, you’ll organize your campaigns into ad groups, then create ads for each group. You can target different audience groups per campaign and different keywords per ad group.


Before we discuss the difference between SEO and SEM, let’s talk about the benefits of SEM marketing.

SEO can take some time before you generate results. SEM, on the other hand, allows you to attract site traffic the same day you start your campaigns.

As you create SEM campaigns, you’ll remain in complete control. You can decide who your PPC ads appear in front of (and when). In addition to controlling the targeting, you can also control how much you spend on each keyword and campaign.

This control will help you make the most of your budget.

You can make immediate changes to your ads and campaign settings whenever you need to. As you optimize your campaigns, you can generate more conversions and sales!

Paid ads can return $2 for every $1 you spend. That’s a 200% ROI rate! In fact, traffic brought in through PPC advertising yields 50% more conversions than organic efforts.

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization is an organic SEM strategy. With SEO, you can improve your organic website ranking on search engines like Google.

Remember, consumers usually only look at the first page of results. With SEO, you can rank higher than your competitors. A higher ranking will help you generate brand awareness, credibility, traffic, and leads.

Ranking higher will also tell consumers that you’re an authority in your industry. As you build brand credibility, you can also develop trust and loyalty. Then, you can retain long-term customers to improve your ROI.

There are multiple forms of SEO you can use to reach customers.

For example, you can use local SEO to increase foot traffic into your store. You’ll need to consider on-page, off-page, and technical SEO when developing your strategy, too.

Creating Campaigns

When creating SEO campaigns, you’ll need to start with customer and keyword research. Then, you’ll use your keyword research to create blog posts and website content. You’ll also need to optimize your content to appear for these keywords.


Since it’s organic, SEO is much more cost-effective than SEM. However, it can take time to improve your ranking.

SEO trends tend to change all the time. If you’re not up-to-date with the trends, you’ll fall behind.

Since SEO is a long-term strategy, however, you can keep your ranking to continuously attract visitors.

What’s the Difference?

Now that we’ve discussed SEO and SEM separately, let’s discuss the difference between SEO and SEM.

The biggest difference is usually the cost. You’ll have to pay for most SEM tactics. SEO, on the other hand, is organic.

However, you’ll spend more time trying to generate results through SEO. SEM, meanwhile, is immediate.

You’ll need to keep adjusting your SEM campaigns. Failing to optimize your campaigns could cause you to lose money. While you should continue adjusting your SEO campaigns too, you won’t have to worry about your budget.

About 85% of retailers claim search marketing is their most effective customer acquisition tactic. With both, you can boost brand awareness, site traffic, leads, and sales. In fact, attracting traffic through PPC could improve your SEO ranking.

Instead of choosing one, consider a full SEM marketing strategy to generate more business!

Separating Search Tactics: The Difference Between SEO and SEM

You don’t have to separate SEO and SEM. Instead, consider using both strategies to give your brand a boost! With SEM marketing that includes an SEO strategy, you can attract new customers, generate more sales, and improve your ROI.

Eager to get started? Consider working with a team of experts.

Contact us today to start marketing!

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