Home SEO 5 Key Differences Between SEO and SEM You Should Know Of

5 Key Differences Between SEO and SEM You Should Know Of


When it comes to marketing your business online, it’s all about appearing in search results. People find new businesses by searching for various keywords related to a product, service, or industry that they’re interested in.

In search engine marketing, there are two key strategies that businesses employ–search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). These two strategies are very different and both can be beneficial to your business.


What is SEO

SEO is the practice of creating content, formatting your website, and meeting other key measurements that will help your website organically rank high in search engine results. Some of the basic strategies include building a fast website, acquiring backlinks to build authority, and focusing content around keywords that your audience is interested in.

SEO helps your site rank high in results without having to pay search engines.


What is SEM

SEM is when a business pays a search engine to rank their link above the competition. For instance, when I search for “used books” on Google, the top result is for ThriftBooks.com and it is clearly labeled as an ad. Businesses can attain this slot by paying every time someone clicks on the link.


Key Differences

Though SEO and SEM strategies both focus around marketing with search engines, they can serve very different purposes and achieve different outcomes. Here are five key differences that you should be aware of:

  • Cost

The first difference that you may notice is that businesses pay for SEM while SEO happens organically with a good content creation strategy. Every time someone clicks on a paid search result, the business has to pay Google. No matter if the click results in a lead or a conversion, the business still has to pay.

Google estimates that, for every $1 spent on Google ads, an average of $2 in revenue is made by the business. In other words, Google ads eat up approximately half of the revenue that it helps you generate. That’s a pretty significant piece of the pie.

If you’re a brand new business trying to establish yourself, you might not mind that sacrifice because it is helping you get recognition quickly. However, a good SEO strategy is significantly more cost-effective.

You’re already hosting a website and creating new content. If you employ someone who has the SEO know-how, they’ll take what you’re already producing and make it work harder for you. It takes more time but costs less and the results better.

  • Engagement

When it comes to clicks, top-ranking organic results pull in way more than paid results. Even though the paid ad appears higher on the page than the top result, most people performing searches don’t like to click on paid ads because they seem less credible.

In September of last year, 65.6 out of every 100 clicks went to organic results in searches performed on desktop computers. Of these same 100 clicks, only 3.4 clicked on a paid result; the rest were no-click searches.

Despite the fact that businesses are paying for the most appealing location on the page, only a small fraction of people performing searches actually click on those links.

Organic results are thought of more highly because they don’t have to pay to land on the front page, and people know that. Appearing in that top slot organically conveys to searchers that the information on the site is relevant and trustworthy.

  • Competitive Keywords

One occasion in which it is beneficial to incorporate SEM in your marketing strategy is if you’re using a very popular keyword. According to Digital Authority Partners, this can help your business stand out where it would otherwise be pushed off of the first page of results.

With some Google searches, so many businesses pay for ads that the first page of results may only have one or two organic results toward the bottom. If you are facing this kind of competition, it’s better to pay for the ad to get your name on the front page than it is to hope that the people performing the searches will venture to the second or third page of results.

  • Time

The time that it takes for SEO and SEM strategies to yield results is very different. Acquiring a paid ad for a keyword on Google can be done in a day and your site could show up in results almost immediately. But, a good SEO strategy can take between four and six months to start working.

If you are a new business just looking to jumpstart and get some recognition, it may be a good idea to employ some SEM strategies while you build your SEO strategy. In the four to six months it takes for your SEO strategy to kick in, your SEM strategy will start to bring in some new traffic.

It’s important that you don’t just use SEM during this time of building an audience. SEM does not lead to sustained site traffic. So, working on your SEO strategy while you have paid ads, for instance, is a good way to start bringing people in while setting yourself up for success in the long run.

  • Brand Authority

Brand authority is key to a good marketing strategy, online or offline. If consumers start to recognize that you have an important voice in your industry, they will look to you first for new products, industry news, and other important information.

A good SEO strategy helps build brand authority (and vice versa), but an SEM strategy does not have that kind of power. Most consumers are clued into Google ads. Despite seeing them at the top of the results page, they don’t believe in the authority of these brands just because they have a Google ad.

Building authority takes a solid SEO strategy that involves backlinks, internal links, and well-researched content. Unlike paid ads, the effects of building brand authority will benefit your business for a long time to come.


Why They Both Matter

Though SEO is generally used to do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to marketing your business online, SEM also has a place. Both of these strategies could benefit your business if you know how to use them correctly.

Summed up, use SEM for a quick increase in traffic on a keyword with a lot of competition, but remember that it’s costly. Use SEO to build up a larger, more effective presence over a longer period of time.



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