Digital Marketing: The Key Distinctions between SEO and SEM

If you’re a business owner looking to harness the power of digital marketing, you must have frequently encountered two terms- SEO and SEM. For a beginner in Digital Marketing, these two terms can be very confusing, especially given that they are often used interchangeably.

With the escalating importance of Online Marketing to promote businesses on the internet, these two acronyms have become part and parcel of every professional online marketer. However, it is imperative to understand the key differences between the two to execute your brand campaigns effectively as a business owner.

Search engine marketing (SEM) and optimization (SEO) are related terms as they both revolve around getting customers to your website. But if we take a closer look, they are two completely different traffic generation methods. Let’s explore the differences and similarities between SEO and SEM to understand how they complement each other in any marketing plan.

Digital Marketing

Search Marketing

In today’s digital era, brands compete to attract attention and drive website traffic by appearing on search engine results pages (SERPs). As such, you can grow your business with Search Marketing, which uses tactics to get higher rankings and increase search visibility to drive more traffic to your website. To achieve this, search marketing relies on SEO and SEM. In simplest words-

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses unpaid, ORGANIC tactics to gain visibility in SERPs for search marketing. SEO strategy uses methods to optimize your website to generate organic traffic when people search for related keywords in search engines like Google and Bing. Compared to SEM, SEO usually has long-term benefits for your digital marketing and lead generation strategy.

To help businesses increase their search rankings, SEO techniques under three categories are employed.

1. On-page SEO: Under this method, each page of a website is optimized to target a specific keyword. The on-page optimization method includes keyword research, content creation, and keyword optimization to make a website rank higher. Content marketing and frequent publishing of quality content help generate organic traffic.

2. Off-page SEO: Here, the focus is on link-building and other off-page factors such as earning social signals. Your search rankings will improve by connecting your website to other high-quality websites with the help of backlinks. This will make your website more reliable and trustworthy for search engines.

3. Technical SEO: Here, the non-content elements of a website are optimized by ensuring site speed, mobile-friendliness, indexing, crawlability, site architecture, structured data, and security. These tactics help gain higher search rankings by enhancing users’ experience and making the website easily “crawlable” by search engines.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a broader term that encompasses many activities to gain SERPs visibility. It uses PAID methods and tools such as paid advertising platforms and other tricks to increase your visibility and convert more searchers into business leads. By investing in pay-per-click advertising or other paid search engine options, businesses can grow quickly. This strategy mostly uses Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords), where brands conduct keyword research to create campaigns that target the best keywords for their industry, products, or services. The brand’s ads appear on the SERPs when users search for those keywords. Other methods in this strategy include creating and updating search engine listings for your company. Also, getting high ratings and positive Google reviews from your customers is a part of SEM.


The objective of both SEM and SEO is to help a brand appear higher in search results when users search for their business-related terms. However, unlike SEO, SEM search placements include an “Ad” designation. This means that the search results that appear due to SEM or SEO look different on SERPs. SEO search results have featured snippets, whereas SEM search results usually show ad extensions and sometimes phone numbers and callouts. If you’re perplexed that which one is best for your business, look at what your competitors are doing.

About author

I work for WideInfo and I love writing on my blog every day with huge new information to help my readers. Fashion is my hobby and eating food is my life. Social Media is my blood to connect my family and friends.
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