Digital Marketing

Understanding Digital Marketing: How is SEO different from SEM?

Understanding Digital Marketing: How is SEO different from SEM

Today, every company wants to grow its business through digital marketing and online channels for better engagement. As marketing methods have evolved, people use many different terms interchangeably without knowing their true meaning. In the case of digital marketing, you might have heard two basic terms, i.e., SEO and SEM. Though the two terms are different, many people use them interchangeably.

However, when embarking on a digital marketing journey, it is best to know the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

Difference between SEO and SEM

Understanding the difference between these two marketing terms gives us an idea to choose a strategy according to our needs.However, the primary difference between these two terms lies in the way they digitally market your product.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an unpaid marketing strategy, while Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a paid method. SEO focuses on bringing organic traffic to your website, while SEM aims to bring both paid and organic results. Although both SEO and SEM have significant differences, they both closely relate to each other and are necessary for your marketing strategy. Remember that you’ll always need a perfect SEO strategy to carry out SEM properly.

Furthermore, SEO aims to increase a website’s organic ranking in search engines and bring in organic visitors. It is done by continuously optimizing the site and by creating a better user experience. Since Google’s algorithms evolve regularly, the tactics of SEO also change accordingly. But one thing remains the same, i.e., on page and off page SEO strategies.

SEM, on the other hand, aims to bring website traffic by using paid ads like PPC to enhance online visibility. However, the targeted keywords must be the main focus of your ad copy and targeting strategy. You have to align your ads to match a buyer’s search query that allows you to show SERP. Paid advertisements enable you to increase the visibility of your blog posts, landing pages, articles, and more.

SEO includes various techniques that marketers generally use to tap into SEM. Keyword strategy and high-quality content with PPC (Pay per Click) marketing targets potential buyers and drives traffic. Hence,it would not be wrong to say that SEO is a component of SEM.

SEO vs. SEM: Prominent features

SEO includes three common features.

  • On-Page SEO: On-page SEO is where you have to optimize the website according to keywords. These keywords refer to the words that your customers use to search for relevant products or services on Google or other search engines. You can add these targeted keywords to your website’s content, title, description, and more. Besides content, on-page techniques also focus on website design, page aesthetics, color schemes, etc., for a better user experience.
  • Off-Page SEO: Off-page SEO is about gaining trust and authority signals from other high-ranking websites. The technique involves building high-quality links to your site. You can commence your link-building strategy with other sources like social media and E-A-T.
  • Technical SEO: Technical SEO involves processes that make it easy for search engine crawlers to index your page. It means improving page loading speed and setting site architecture.
  • User Interaction Signals: The way a user interacts with your site signals Google about your content as a good match. For instance, if your site has a high bounce rate, it is a sign that your siteis irrelevant to the user’s query. As a result, Google can drop your ranks or take you off the first page altogether.

Since SEO is a part of SEM, it includes all the features mentioned above. However, other significant features of SEM include:

  • Bidding: Any paid ad that a user gets in search engines is a part of the bidding. Most marketers go for paid Google Ads to attract customers. Bidding helps you gain higher rankings in SEM. If you are the highest bidder, your ad will show on top. When someone clicks your ad, you have to pay the requiredamount for that bid. The approach is also known as cost per click (CPC).
  • Quality Score: Quality score is an important Google Ads metric that figures whether your ad is a good match for the searcher’s intent. Quality score depends on CTR, ad quality, page quality, and account quality. If you have a better quality score, the chances are that you can benefit from discount offers with each click.
  • Ad Copy and Account Management: Writing an excellent ad copy is essential to do well in PPC. Better ad copy means better CTR and more customers, forming a better quality score. The opposite of this is a higher cost of PPC due to bad ad copy. Account management is a dashboard that gives you ways to optimize your ads and gain better quality scores.


SEO vs. SEM: Difference inResults

Another difference between these two terms is speed. SEO takes time, especially if your site is new and has no backlinks. Analysis shows that it takes almost 1-2 years for a new website to rank on the first page of Google. However, that does not mean you have to expect such a long time. Implementing best practices starts giving you results in few months.

If you focus your attention on SEM, you get instant results. You can set time limits on your ad campaigns. But you cannot generate ROI in one go. You need to give some time and effort to come up with the correct copy.


Although SEO and SEM are both parts of digital marketing strategy, they both have distinct features and results. You have to choose a strategy according to your business needs and preferences. The features mentioned above give you the best idea about how SEO and SEM work. Hence, resulting in drafting a perfect SEO strategy.

Rajesh Saini

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