SEO vs SEM: The Difference & How They Work Together


When it comes to growing your business online SEO and SEM are always the focus tools for online marketing. While both work in different ways, the objective and the end results is always to increase online visibility on SERPs or SGE.

The most important difference between SEO & SEM is that with SEO you are marketing your online website on search engines and acquiring traffic and sales purely organically. On the other hand SEM harnesses the use of paid advertisement on search engines to bring quick traffic to your website and gain a positive ROI.

SEO and SEM both influence a marketer’s online marketing strategy as every online business has a different audience, different industry practices and different demands and the right marketing strategy may include SEM or SEO or even both at the same time. That’s right, for many SEO and SEM prove to be the perfect combination of growing their business online on search engines. So how are they different and at the same time how can SEO & SEM work together for you? Let’s have a great discussion

The Major Differences Between SEO & SEM

When it comes to major differences between SEO and SEM there are three areas that marketers and websites owners need to look at.

  1. Process – the process of SEO and SEM, how they work, what are their criteria’s, how to SEO & SEM results appear on SERPs and how the two campaigns are different to one another.
  2. The cost of SEO & SEM – what are the costs associated with each marketing strategy?
  3. The time required to get results through each campaign.


The first part is the process, before investing a budget and investing your time to any marketing method, you should first know the steps and the process. So lets start with SEO


Search engine optimization, as the name suggests is the practice which requires a website to be optimized such that it appears on top of search engines for relevant queries without spending a budget to appear there.

SEO has more than 200 ranking factors which are always evolving and changing as Google keeps on updating its search algorithm. However, all these ranking factors can be compiled into four parts of SEO namely:

  • On page SEO
  • Off page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • User Experience

All the ranking factors fall in these 4 areas and if anyone wants their website to do well on the SEO front, must get these 4 areas perfectly right.

On page SEO

On page SEO is where you work around ON your website to get it fully optimized as per the search engine’s requirement. The features of on page SEO mainly revolve around keyword research, keyword mapping, URL structure, content, meta title description, relevancy and intent.

So if you get your keyword research right, all you need to do is give a proper structure to your content, make it relevant to your audience, make the intent clear and optimize it with the chosen keywords. Every page on your website should be loud and clear about its uniqueness and what it is offering. A good example can be seen below the search term “SEO Service” shows the two results where the two websites have optimized their content and meta title description with the same keyword very properly hence they are ranking.

SEO Results

Off page SEO

Off page SEO revolves around the work that is done OFF the website. This is the process of getting third party mentions or referrals for your website from other high authority and relevant domains. Creating high quality backlinks and other links from Social Media sharing help in increasing a website’s backlink profile. One must focus on E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) when acquiring backlinks for your website

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is the part where you make sure that the website is technically sound enough for the search engines to find it, crawl it without any issues and index the website within the search results. This will include development side expertise as you may need to increase the speed of the website and other fixes to make it easily indexable. Certain website requires other technical solutions such as server side rendering, this is for websites made on REACT. This goes out to show that technical SEO is very important for SEO

User interaction & Experience

Users experience of a website plays a major role in the SEO and ranking of a website. Google tracks how a user interacts with a website and if the users were able to find what they searched for. If your website is unable to provide a satisfactory solution to the user Google may remove your website from first page rankings or downgrade your ranking.


SEM is more collective term for online marketing on search engines. While it is collective of both SEO and PPC, most people attribute it to PPC and paid marketing strategy on search engines. SEM or PPC has its own important areas and features that experts utilize to run your paid marketing campaigns on any search engine such as Google Bing Yahoo etc.

SEM campaigns most important features revolve around creating your Ad Campaigns through Google Ad Console where you create different Ad Groups to target different areas of your expert services.

Ad Groups & Campaigns

Ad Campaigns are made with one or more Ad groups where you target a relevant and similar set of keywords. This is where you can make a theme for your Ad Campaign and target similar and relevant keywords. You set a landing page for each ad so that once a user searches for a keyword relevant to your campaign your ad appears on the search results.

ad groups


SEM also involves bidding for keywords. Within your Ad campaigns, you set a bid for each keyword and once someone searches for the keyword, your ad is triggered and shown to the users. But if your bid too low, your ad might not show as other competitors may be bidding higher than you.

Quality Score & Ad Copies

Another major part of your Ad campaigns is the creation of your Ad copies. Yes Ad copies are super important. You need your Ad copies to be super relevant, compelling and should capture the attention of the user.

If your Ad copies are great, this will increase the CTR of your website which in turn will improve your quality score.

Quality score is a Google metric which tells Google if your Ad is good enough to be shown to the user. Google calculates it by the quality of your Ad copy, CTR and your landing page experience.

So how the process is different?

As you have now understood how the two processes (SEO & SEM) work. This also means that both marketing campaigns’ results are shown differently on search engines.

Let us show you a visual of how they appear differently and at the same time provide a great opportunity for business owners to use them for marketing at the same time

As you can see the red outline shows the paid results in the search engines (SEM) and the green outline shows the websites appearing through non paid activity (SEO). So how good it would be to have your website appearing in both areas?

The website appearing in the non-sponsored area of search results are the website whose SEO is done right hence they are appearing over there without paying a single penny and this is how they will appear always.

But for Google Ads, there are many different types of Ads for different service type. The major types of Ads that appear in the Ad section of Google are the search Ads and Shopping Ads.

Search Ads

As you can see below an example of search Ads. Where website owners run Google Ad campaigns for their websites and bid on relevant keywords so that their website’s ad will appear. Once an ad is clicked, the website owner will be charged a fee by Google. Its important to note that every keyword has a different fee, and based on the demand and timing, the fee may differ.

Shopping Ads

Very similar to search ads but these ads are run through Google Shopping where Google shows the products of an ecommerce store on its search results. Again, once someone clicks a product, Google will charge a fee for that click (PPC model – Pay per click)

Shopping ads

The Cost Of SEM & SEO

This is a very interesting difference between the two marketing methods. In order to understand this, you have to look at it from a short term and long term perspective.

In the short term you would see that SEO will cost a lot more than SEM in terms of ROI. How is that?

When it comes to paid marketing, you are paying a fee to the experts and separately allocating a budget to be paid to search engines for your ads to show. But with that spend, you start getting quick business and there is some positive ROI generated. But you have to make sure that the SEM strategy employed is the right one otherwise you might not be getting any ROI.

On the other hand, SEO requires a lot of more expert help then SEM. You will need an SEO expert, a content writer, a developer and a lot of time for all of it to come together and get you the results. You won’t be spending as much as SEM in a single moment with SEO but you will definitely be spending quite a lot of money without any ROI at the beginning. But along with time once your website starts to get ranked on your keywords, in a few months’ time you will be able to cover your cost accumulated. So in a longer run, SEO will cost less and will generate better ROI if done right.

Time Required To Get Results From SEO & SEM

The time needed to get results from SEO is quite long compared to SEM. SEO is a marathon where you have to endure patiently and wait for your website to rank but once you are ranked your website will stay in the search results for a good period of time. The trick is to keep persisting with SEO so that no competitor will start to take away your top position.

For SEM the results are instant but as with any advertisement you need to keep spending to have your ads displayed. So in order to gain results through SEM and paid marketing the campaigns are dependent on spending. Once the spending stops, the campaign stops. So you have to make sure that the budget is used smartly, and the campaign is optimized properly so that you are getting a positive ROI.

Which is the better marketing strategy SEO or SEM?

That depends entirely on the organization or the website owner’s requirement and budget. In an ideal situation going for both SEO and SEM would be the perfect strategy. While the website takes time to get ranked, in that time you can go for SEM simultaneously and keep on generating some revenue. Once your website starts to rank, you can reduce the budget being spent on Ad campaigns as now you are getting organic results. But that would be only possible if you have enough budget.

In case of low budget, you would be better suited for SEO as in the longer run the ROI is much greater and you will find it to be very cost effective.

Secondly, not every website is eligible for Google Ads such as websites for vaping and e-cigarettes products may not be allowed to run Google Ads. So SEO remains the only option for them. Nonetheless, you can always use both the strategies and methods to increase the visibility of your website on search engines.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *