Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) may seem to be used interchangeably as these two terms may have the similar functionality. However, SEO and SEM are two different things in terms of its specific meaning and purpose. Many may confuse the difference between these two and think that these terms are substitute for each other. But using SEO and SEM together without understanding what they exactly are may cause further confusion to others.

This post will help you to understand the difference between SEO and SEM. 


What constitutes SEO and what is considered as SEM? To start, we shall first understand what SEO and SEM are.

SEO is the process of gaining visibility and traffic to the website through organic search strategy. SEO is constantly adapting to the latest changes of the search engines like Google and Bing in order to optimize the webpage and content effectively and efficiently. It requires a rather technical process in its practice. SEO consists of two main aspects: On-Page and Off-Page activity.

On-Page SEO focuses on optimizing the webpage by assimilating keywords in the content, meta tag, title, meta description, image alt tag, and heading tags. It also focuses on optimized and quality page copy, well-formatted URLs, optimized page loading speed and social sharing integration of your content. On the other hand, Off-Page SEO is about proper link building, social sharing signals and attracting social bookmarking sites.

Moving on, SEM is the process of attaining visibility and traffic to the website through paid search strategy. It is being done using paid advertising on the search engine. These paid advertisements are usually known as pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Instead of organically appearing and climbing up the ranks in search engine results pages (SERPs) through technical practices and content optimization, SEM allows a website to be listed on SERPs through paid search, thus promoting the website on the search engine by purchasing ads from the search engine. Among the many SEM activities are ad campaign, setting ad budget, and metrics monitoring.

So, what is the difference between SEO and SEM then? Frankly speaking, SEO is a component of SEM. SEO revolves around the technical process of optimizing website’s content and webpage, while SEM involves marketing strategies on the search engine such as PPC, SEO and social media marketing which can be used simultaneously. As long as it involves ads and ads purchasing, it is not SEO, but SEM. SEO is useful as a sustainable practice on maintaining or improving your ranks on the SERPs over time, while SEM helps to boost your website when it is new and needs immediate exposure on the search engine.

There is no absolute answer or fact to which is better between SEO and SEM. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and they both serve a distinct purpose. That is why it is important to identify and evaluate your needs specifically before choosing the one that caters to your needs best. It is also crucial to remember that SEM will not be effective without a proper SEO. This is because SEM may bring in the clicks and traffic, but without good and optimized content, you will not able to maintain the traffic. This will result a loss of investment for your paid ads. 

Raefi Azrani

Raefi Azrani

CEO of Majoris Digital Marketing Agency

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