What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

It can be quite confusing when it comes to all the terms that are used to describe the different aspects of online marketing for your website. Many will have heard of the terms Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). There is quite a lot of confusion with what these two terms involve, and rightly so, many people use these terms as if they are one and the same. The truth is that they are separate functions and for those looking to increase their exposure via the top search engines, it is important to get to know exactly what these terms mean and how they differ.

Search Engine Marketing

Firstly, let’s take a look at SEM. This aspect of Internet marketing encompasses, in whole, the promotion of websites through search engines. In fact, SEO could be described as a sub-function of SEM, along with paid advertising, social media marketing and much more.
As Internet marketing services have evolved, often people now associate paid advertising or Pay-Per-Click with SEM the most. This is a very important aspect of Internet marketing in itself and can yield quick results, albeit at a cost. It is important to note that often when people are talking about SEM they could be talking specifically about paid advertising.

Search Engine Optimization

The function of SEO is to yield better search results with the “organic” or free listings on the top search engines. According to statistics and probably your own user experience, these are the results that searchers are most likely to engage. This involves using a number of techniques, including, tweaking the design or structure of a site and building trust around your domain. When correctly used, SEO helps structure your site into a user and search engine friendly domain, thus increasing the value of the website itself.
Although SEO could be deemed to fall under the umbrella term of SEM, they are often viewed as separate services and SEO is a very involved process on its own.

Key Differences


Let’s review some of the key differences between SEM and SEO below:

  • SEM may cost more as it often utilizes paid advertising.
  • As a result of paid advertising, SEM may yield quicker results.
  • SEO will potentially yield better results over a longer period of time.
  • Because SEO relies on results in free listings, it could be viewed as a more cost-effective measure to receive greater exposure.
  • SEO puts a focus on building and maintaining a quality site.


Different sites and businesses have their own needs, and this could dictate whether you would want to focus on SEM or SEO. To break it down a little further, if you want to focus on paid advertising for quicker results, then you may want to utilize SEM. If you want to center your efforts around long-term results with a focus on building a quality domain in line with search engine requirements, you will want to employ SEO techniques. Many companies employ both of these strategies, and the good news is that we can help you with the both SEO and SEM services.

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