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In Digital Marketing Last updated: August 30, 2023
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Do you want to become a successful digital marketing professional? Are you looking to utilize online marketing strategies in your business? For both, you must know the differences and similarities of SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are powerful tools for marketing in the digital age. Read this ultimate guide on SEO vs. SEM to develop a foundational idea about these marketing techniques and do well as an executive or a business owner.       

Relationship of SEO and SEM with Marketing

Marketing is the practice of brand promotion, consumer research, product research, sales promotion, and more. In the digital era, marketing is fully online. It utilizes websites, marketing videos, marketing articles, etc.   

SEO and SEM are the two most important techniques of marketing efforts on the internet. These tools are totally different from each other but highly interdependent. Both of them actively contribute to achieving your marketing goals and objectives.

Your business’s digital marketing efforts will most likely fail or go over budget if you do not mix SEO and SEM in the right proportion in your marketing recipe.      

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO or search engine optimization is expreciselyhat its words literally mean. You need to optimize your website, blog, or eCommerce marketplace according to the standard policies of major search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.


Since Google dominates the search engine market with 91.43% market share (according to Web FX), most digital marketers focus on Google Search than its competitors.

When your website becomes SEO compliant, Google Search shows your webpage at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Hence, your website gets more traffic and in return, better ranking, and the cycle keeps moving.      

How Does SEO Work?


There is a common understanding that the search engines will show those pages at the top that provide value, high-authority information, accessibility features, readability, etc.

Google’s search engine bots crawl your web pages and store the data in an enormous library of website indexes. Then, the search engine algorithm of Google goes through all these indexes to understand which website provides good content and rank them.

SEO experts do the following to rank: 

  • Create and publish high-authority content.
  • Place search engine keywords strategically.
  • Produce and post attractive website copy, content title, etc.
  • Link website and content to a descriptive URL.
  • Optimize images and videos.      

Pros of SEO

  • SEO is the inexpensive form of digital marketing.
  • It works as the foundation for other marketing strategies.
  • Your website or marketplace gets a better presence on the internet for a long time.
  • SEO ensures that website and blog owners publish good quality content.  
Pros and Cons of SEO

Cons of SEO

  • SEO needs hard work and patience since it is a lengthy process.
  • If you do not have a good in-house content creator, then SEO can also be costly

SEO Metrics

SEO Metrics

SEO metrics help you measure if your SEO strategy is doing well or not. The followings are popular metrics you should know:

  • Total Clicks in Google’s organic results
  • Referring Domains
  • Core Web Vitals 
  • Organic Traffic
  • Indexed pages
  • Traffic Cost
  • Keyword Rankings
  • Click Through Rate (CTR) 

Types of SEO

There are the following three kinds of SEO practices: 

1. On-Page SEO

Website owners host web content according to search trends and keywords. For example, if your business deals with VPN apps, you need to include several VPN-related keywords on product description pages, website landing pages, blog posts, etc.    

2. Off-Page SEO


Off-Page SEO is promoting your website from other channels like social media, third-party websites (backlinking), press release sites, etc.

Backlinking is the most trusted form of off-page SEO. Backlinks from high-authority websites are essentially votes that help you rank on Google SERP.   

3. Technical SEO

When you properly optimize your website, hosting settings, and server settings, search engine bots will find your web page, crawl its content, and index it. It is popularly known as technical SEO.  

SEO Best Practices

  • Aim to create unique content that offers extraordinary titles, descriptions, images, videos, texts, etc.
  • Insert keywords in the earlier sections of your web or blog content.
  • Optimize the SEO/meta title and meta descriptions with the keywords.
  • Analyze your web page on Google Analytics and improvise as needed.   

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM is a digital marketing strategy that helps you boost your website’s visibility on SERPs. SEM includes both paid and non-paid techniques of marketing.


Hence, SEO is also a part of SEM. However, there are other paid marketing practices in SEM. These are: 

  • Pay per click or PPC marketing
  • Display advertising
  • Hyperlocal and local SEO
  • Product and service advertising
  • Remarketing content or product to those who already subscribed or bought

You may not want to focus on all the SEM techniques. Instead, pick the methods that might give the best results cost-effectively.    

How Does SEM Work?

SEM works on the strategy to design and display ads with a chance of conversion. Before running paid ads, SEM experts consider several factors like audience, region, ad platform, ad provider, etc.

How Does SEM Work

For effective SEM, you need to focus on the followings:

  • Campaigns should be product specific. For example, the best IoT devices should go into consumer goods or smart device ad campaigns.
  • You need to bid for target keywords and campaign smartly to avoid overbudgeting your SEM project.
  • Increase the quality of your landing pages, ads, and keywords to get a minimum cost-per-click (CPC) rate.
  • Use SEO to increase your website’s domain authority.
  • Use high-quality ad assets like videos, images, audio, and graphics.            

Pros of SEM

  • SEM gives your brand faster results. It is suitable for businesses that focus on aggressive growth.
  • SEM practice is highly scalable.
  • You can control the budget and resources on SEM strategy from granular levels.
  • SEM’s PPC campaign helps you reduce the cost of paid advertisements. 
Pros and Cons of SEM

Cons of SEM

  • Your brand needs to keep aside a monthly budget for SEM.
  • SEM can sometimes become expensive because of high competition over a product, service, or keyword.
  • SEM only targets those users and consumers who are ready to buy. Hence, you miss the rest of the users.  

SEO vs. SEM: Similarities

Similarities Between SEO and SEM

Being parts of the present-day marketing strategy, both these have some similarities between them:

  • Contributes to increasing the website’s visibility to potential users and brand awareness among them. 
  • Get more relevant and quality traffic to your website and landing page.
  • Need keyword research and competitor analysis to find relevant keywords for targeting the audience.
  • SEO and SEM need continuous monitoring and optimization of strategies for long-term results and ROI.
  • Allow you better to understand your audience through SEO and SEM analytics data.

SEO vs. SEM: Top Differences

Now that you know the similarities between SEO and SEM, it is time to check out their differences. As these two vary in several aspects, we focused on the most crucial ones in this section:

Time Taken by SEO and SEM

In many cases, whether a company opts for SEO or SEM depends on how quickly they want to achieve success through their campaign. Hence, time plays a vital role in distinguishing these two. 

With SEO, ranking a page or website on a particular keyword might take months and years. So, if you want quick results in traffic and sales, you can try SEM. It will bring traffic to your page immediately.


While SEO and SEM need you to spend money, SEO is cheaper than SEM. Companies can have an in-house team of SEO and copywriters who can work on writing, optimizing, and publishing blogs for organic SEO. But for SEM, you need to pay the search engine for each click on your ad.

Website Visibility

If you are looking for website visibility, SEO should be your digital marketing strategy. With the right SEO, you can get your website on top of SERP and make it stay there for a long time. Also, SEO can ensure one blog or page ranks on multiple keywords. 

Website Visibility

Contrarily, SEM will make your website visible as long as you can pay for the ads. Hence, it is more beneficial to increase the sales of SMBs.

Long-Term Value

SEO is definitely your best bet if you are looking to bring compound or long-term value to your business. It helps you stay on top of the search result and become visible to all the users, even if they choose not to click on your website. On the other hand, the SEM results are short-term as it lasts till your ad campaign. 

Target Audience

While making an SEM strategy, companies can determine who will see their ads. There are various criteria, such as country, gender, age, and interest, that you can pinpoint to show the ad to your target audience and enjoy a better conversion rate.

While working on SEO, there is no such scope. All you can do is optimize pages to rank; whoever searches that keyword will see your website or blog. 



With SEO, you can make use of more areas in the SERPs. For example, one website can be part of featured snippets, knowledge panels, business profile listing for “N” ar Me” searches, People Also Ask links, images, and many more. Alternatively, you will get only one ad position, extensions, and site links through SEM.


It takes time to test whether an SEO strategy works for your business. It might take months, depending on the keyword difficulty and the business industry. Conversely, SEM allows you to gather insights through fast-paced testing.


CTR stands for Click-Through-Rates. Studies of various independent research organizations show that the CTR of SEO results is much higher than SEM. It means that when a user sees your company website as a result of their query, they have a higher chance of clicking when it is a part of organic search results instead of paid ads.


Organic search results (SEO) are more reliable for a regular user than ads. Everyone knows that companies have invested money to bring their ad on top. But for SEO, they understand that the position is well-earned. Moreover, users think users can rely on when a search engine like Google gets a website on top.

Traffic Potential

When it comes to traffic potential, SEO has unlimited opportunities. Rank higher on a keyword, and you can attract every visitor looking for answers to that query. For SEM, the potential solely depends on your company budget and your ability to bid higher than the competitors.

How to Combine SEO and SEM and Its Effect on Users

How to Combine SEO and SEM and Its Effect on Users

Companies need to remember that they can use SEO and SEM together in their marketing strategy to get high-quality traffic from users. For that, SEO and SEM teams should work on the content creation strategy and keywords to influence more potential customers to take action.

Your teams should start working on keyword research to get benefits from SEO and SEM. You need to find out the keywords on which you want to rank and start creating unique and better-performing content.

Moreover, the SEO team can get the data from the SEM team on keywords that derive more traffic to the website. Then, they can create content around that information.

Also, organizations have a higher chance of ad conversion with adequately optimized landing pages. Therefore, the SEO team should optimize the landing pages where visitors will stay to find out the information they need and proceed to the next level to purchase the company’s product or service.

Combining the data insights from SEO and SEM teams will give you more outstanding results in devising killer strategies to attract the maximum audience and increase sales. However, it is up to you to find out how to use SEO and SEM together to ensure growth in your field of business.


The article above has explained the basics of SEO and SEM. For example, their definitions, usefulness, drawbacks, etc. Furthermore, it also covered the fundamental differences and similarities between SEO and SEM.

You may also be interested in online tools to analyze SEO to audit your online platforms and improve their rankings.

  • Bipasha Nath
    I am a technical and creative content writer with 10+ years of experience in the relevant industry. My degrees in English and Sociology, coupled with working experience in software development companies, help me understand how technology… read more
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