SEO vs SEM: Unique Features, Differences Between SEO and SEM

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Obviously, there is a difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing. However, for the purpose of clarity, this article is poised to briefly discuss what makes SEO vs SEM different taking into consideration their meaning and the basic features that are associated with them.

SEO is an acronym that means Search Engine Optimization. This concept primarily is focused on optimizing a website in order to get traffic from organic search results. 

On the other hand, SEM is an abbreviation to mean Search Engine Marketing, which means getting traffic and visibility from both organic and paid searches. 

In other to better our understanding, Google’s search results are in two forms which are paid search results and organic search results.

Therefore, the aim of SEO is to rank your website in the organic search results, while getting your website in the paid area of the search results using pay-per-click (PPC)

It is obvious now that, SEO primarily deals with ranking in the organic results whereas SEM is when you tap into both SEO and PPC in order to get traffic from search engines.

You can now agree with me that SEM is a wider concept that deals with SEO and PPC. That is to say, SEO is rather a product of SEM.

With the above insight, we shall now be going into some of the significant differences that exist between SEM and SEO.

#1. Basic Features of SEO vs SEM

#.1.1 SEO Overview 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the idea of constantly optimizing a website so that it can be ranked in the organic, non-paid search engine results pages (SERPs).

For effective performance, it is easier to divide SEO into four (4) main subcategories since Google uses over 200 ranking signals. The four subcategories include On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, Technical SEO, and User Interaction Signals. This can be treated below:

On-Page SEO: With On-Page-SEO, you can optimize your website around keywords so that your target audience can search for Google, Bing, and other related search engines. This can be found easily using the main keyword in your title tag, meta description, and webpage URL.

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Off-Page SEO: Off-page SEO. This has to do with building trust and authority signals from other websites. Basically, it has to do with building high-quality backlinks to your site. Don’t forget, that there are other off-page signals that can be used to size up the authority of your sites by Google. 

Technical SEO: This is where Google and other related-search engines can be able to identify and index all the pages on your website. This also includes ensuring your pages load quickly and also that your site architecture is set up correctly.

User Interaction Signals: The more views your site received is the clear show of relevance. This, helps Google to figure out if your page is a good match for someone’s search. For example, when your page recorded a high bounce rate.

The high bounce rate is a clear indication that your page isn’t giving someone the answer to their query. If Google judge that your page is a bad fit for that keyword, your ranking can drop down either a little bit or completely off of the first page.

Difference Between SEM and SEO

#1.2. SEM Overview

We all agree that SEM is a wider concept that houses SEO. This literally means all that is discussed before now regarding SEO is applicable to SEM. 

Additionally, SEM has to do with pay-per-click. PPC also comes with certain features and best practices.

Bidding: Whatever Ads one uses, be it Google Ads or Bing Ads, remember that all paid ads in search are all bidding. When you bid on a specific keyword using PPC, and someone searches for that keyword, your ad shows up.

The rankings of the ads are normally proportionate to the amount of money a user is bidding. That is to say, if you’re the highest bidder, consider your ads to appear above all other ads.

And when someone clicks on your ad, the user paid whatever amount you bid. The amount that you pay when someone clicks on your ad is known as cost per click (CPC).

Quality Score: This is an excellent and most important Google Ads metric. This is Google’s method of identifying whether your ad is a good match for whatever someone’s searching for.

Here, Google calculates Quality Score by taking cognizance of a combination of click-through rate, the quality of your landing page, and your Google Ad account’s overall Quality Score. And if your ad has a high-Quality Score, you’ll get a discount on each click.

Ad Copy: Great ad copy = high CTR. And a CTR means a good Quality Score. This means that you pay less for the same click.

Remember, if your copy doesn’t push people to click, your Quality Score will suffer. And your PPCs will start to get super expensive.

Ad Groups and Account Management: Here’s where you use the data in your Google Ads account to optimize your ad spending.

#2. SEO vs. SEM: How Long it Takes to See Results 

What makes SEO vs SEM different is seen in speed.  It is common that SEO takes a lot of time. This is commonly found mostly if your site is new and doesn’t have a lot of backlinks yet.

Though it is not always easy to be ranked on the first page of Google, however, it takes so much hard work, resilience, and focus on SEO to achieve some organic traffic. Don’t be deterred but rather stay focused and believe in your hard work.

Concentrate on targeting long-tail keywords and never fail in implementing SEO best practices, sooner than later, you will achieve significant results. Though, it takes so long a time to really see your organic traffic climb.

One good news is that you focus your SEM efforts on PPC, with this, you can start to see good results rapidly. This is to say, you can run an ad in the morning, and start to get traffic and conversions by noon.

Though that is not to say, you’ll get an ROI in a day. However, most of the time, it can take months of testing and fine-tuning to get a positive ROI from PPC.

#3. SEO vs SEM: How Much They Cost

Many people preferred SEO due to its “free website traffic”. Here you don’t need to pay when someone clicks on your site in the organic search results.

When you look at it critically, make no mistake: SEO is NOT free. Not even close. When you stop paying, your traffic goes to zero.

But with SEO, once you rank, you’re set and good to go. Your investment is all up-front. Once you actually rank, you don’t need to invest too much money in terms of maintaining your current rankings.

When it comes to cost, both SEO and PPC have their pros and cons which is why most businesses decide to use a marketing strategy that includes a mix of SEO and PPC.

#4. SEO or PPC: What to Focus On

SEO is an integral part of digital marketing. However, certain questions exist. Should you focus solely on your digital marketing efforts on SEO? Or to combine SEO and PPC, and launch a full-on-search marketing campaign?

Content is the King in SEO

#5. When to Focus Just SEO

When You Have Limited Budget: As a beginner, setting up a small business with an insignificant marketing budget is worrisome but all you need to do is to focus on SEO. Though, you may not see an ROI on your SEO budget for months or years. 

However, it is preferable to burn through your marketing budget on PPC ads that may only run for a week.

You Can Rank For Informational Keywords: Informational keywords are terms like “What is X” or “How to X”. Although these types of search query conversion are low, they get a lot of search volume. Therefore writing great and amazing content on topics that customers search for on Google, SEO becomes a sure bet.

#6. When to Focus on PPC

Have a Consistent Ad Budget: One good thing about PPC ads is that, they allow you to set a strict budget making it extremely difficult to spend more than you planned.

This then means you need a regular monthly budget that you can play with to figure out what combination of keyword targeting, ad copy, landing pages, and bids work best for you.

Manage An Adwords Account: Though, PPC sounds pretty good and simple. You can bid on keywords to get traffic.

It is indeed pretty good managing a Google Adwords account. All you need to do is to take into keyword targeting, ads, Quality Score, ROI, and conversion rates… and process all of this data to make decisions on how to get the most out of your ads.

Have the Ability to Launch and Test Landing Pages: Basically, ensure you learn about PPC and that you need targeted landing pages for each ad or at least each ad group. So to get the most out of PPC, you need a way to quickly launch lots of different web pages. And run A/B tests so as to know exactly which one is performing very well.


with the above in-depth knowledge, it is deduced that SEO is using non-paid tactics to drive traffic to your website organically. Though, the process could be slow. For it usually takes three to six months but in the end, it can pay long-term dividends.

SEM, including PPC, is the use of paid search platforms to drive targeted traffic to your website. It requires a budget but can drive results very speedily.

However, many people have a common view about SEO and SEM while others have a contrasting perception thereby missing out on the benefits of using them together.

The use of Both SEO and SEM is instrumental for your digital marketing strategy for optimal results. Though both have strengths and weaknesses, though, when properly applied, can give you a real competitive advantage.

Simon Orshi

Simon Orshi

Simon is a creative copywriter focused mainly on digital marketing and related topics. He loves sharing his expertise with our audience to help improve their blogging and traffic growth skills. He also loves reading, football and blogging.

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