SEO and SEM – What is the Main Difference?

Many small business owners or marketer sometimes tends to confuse the difference between SEO and SEM and use it casually. But the function and usability of these two are totally different from each other.

SEO is important to provide higher web ranking on a search engine whereas SEM is all about branding and marketing of the website, which increases the website visibility.

SEO and SEM Difference

To get the users to click on your website, working with SEO and SEM is important to gain the website traction.

While SEO focuses more on the technical and promotional aspects of the website.

SEM is a term which has vast dimensions within it. It includes SEO, PPC, or any other search related work.

But both of these are extremely important to generate website traffic and achieve higher conversion rate.

What is SEO?

SEO or search engine optimization is an organic way of achieving better ranking on search engines.

You need not to pay to achieve better rankings. The reason for getting a higher ranking is to get higher website traffic.

SEO is needed for crawlers, which are small algorithms to read through the website content and index the keywords.

When the user is searching something on the search engine, these crawlers then show your website to the relevant search queries.

Constant effort and work are required to achieve good SEO results. Below are a few things that should be kept in mind while working on SEO:

When Working on SEO:

  • The website content should be updated.
  • A website should be user-friendly.
  • Link building and internal page linking should be effective, but don’t overdo it.
  • Website content needs to be relevant to the product or service offered by the website.
  • Website speed should be fast, i.e. the page should load quickly once someone clicks on the link.

Types of SEO:

There are two types of SEO, which works together to complete the picture to bring website traffic. They are explained as below:

  • On page optimization
  • Off-page optimization

On page optimization:

It is the technical detail of the website optimization, which is needed to attain higher search ranking. When we say the technical side of it – it means HTML coding, content structure and quality of the website.

Below are a few important aspects of on-page optimization:

Title tags:

The title tags are required to be short yet descriptive in nature. It needs to be creative and interesting to attract the users to click on it.

Meta tags:

It says everything about your website, providing information to the search engine. It requires the use of trending keyword based on crawlers to index them.

HTML tags:

These are the header tags that you want your reader to focus on. They are written within square bracket like [h1].

HTML tags or header tags are usually the page titles or highlighted part of your content.

Image optimization:

Image optimization is meant for crawlers to read and index the image content. This is also helpful when someone is looking for an image in Google images search.

There are a few types of image optimization techniques as given below:

Alt text:

This is a one-line description of the image. Suppose if the browser is slow to load your image, then this text provides image information to the user.

Image title:

Always give a relevant title tag to your image, because it shows up when someone brings the mouse pointer to the image.

Linking image:

If your images are clickable, then anchor them to the relevant internal page or external website.

Up to date content on the website:

Any website that functions are completely dependent on its content. The crawlers that we talk about, go through every page of the website and index the content.

Therefore, always ensure to update your website content, with trending keywords to achieve that top search ranking.

Off-page optimization:

Off-page optimization is all about promoting your website on different online channels.

It increases the reach and visibility of your website. It is a way through which people find your website and click on it.

Here are few steps which include Off-page optimization:


Good quality content is the biggest need for a website to be ranked number one on a search engine.

Therefore, use blogging effectively to achieve that. Invite guest bloggers to write on your blog and share their links on your website.


Use the comment section of forums, and social media channel wisely. There you can write the URL, which people may end up clicking on it.

Another thing is while crawlers index that blog or social media platform, it will visit your link from there too and index it.

Social media:

Another good way to promote your website is by using social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Share your website there, reach out to people and promote your website.

Discussion forums:

Interact and promote your content on discussion platforms like Quora and Reddit.

Rather than just pasting the website link, be interactive and build a follower base by answering questions on topics relevant to your website.

Article submission:

Publish your website content in the form of articles on article directories available online. Also, you can submit pdf of your website blog on various pdf publishing platform.


There are many online discussion forums where you can participate and share your website link for people to find your website.

Exchanging links:

This is one of the effective ways to generate traffic. Share your website links with other similar websites and add their links in your website.

Link exchange brings lots of cross online traffic to both the websites. Ensure that you are exchanging links with a website similar to your content.

Some benefits of search engine optimization:

  • Makes the website user-friendly.
  • Generates higher traffic to your website.
  • Higher traffic means a higher conversion rate.
  • Your website searching ranking goes higher on search pages.
  • It increases the reach of your website to the audience.
  • Increases website visibility online.
  • The domain authority of your website increases.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is one of the most popular ways to generate traffic to the website. It is also known as pay-per-click advertising since it is paid a form of online advertising.

It uses platforms like Google Adwords, Bing or Yahoo to promote their ads on them.

Getting the website traffic through organic way is extremely difficult and may take months to achieve a higher ranking.

Meanwhile, the pay per click method or PPC gives the website an opportunity to show their ads next to organic searches or even on top of these searches instantly.

It does not necessarily mean that the PPC method will give your website an opportunity to get higher search ranking organically. But due to its smart cost per acquisition methods makes SEM extremely valuable to the advertisers and business owners.

SEM gives the freedom to choose your own target audience as per your business requirements. Those who are looking for services or products similar to yours will see your ads.

SEM is highly dependent on keywords. Therefore, having a thorough understanding of keywords is extremely important for successful implementation of SEM.

Keywords are the terms or search words used by the people who are looking for information on a product online. They type these words in the search engines to get the relevant information.

Therefore, any ad to work well understanding the keywords which users are looking for is essential.

Along with letting you choose your audience, SEM also gives freedom to create your own ad campaigns as per your need and requirement.

For example, if you have a bakery store, you can create campaigns like “Muffins” where you can create multiple ads for different types of muffins like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.

You can create a different campaign for candies under “Candies” where you can advertise various types of candies available in your store.

You can set the campaign goals and under each campaign, multiple ad groups can be created. Ad groups consolidate the common keywords which are used for the ads. Under each ad groups then multiple ads can be run.

A good and relevant ad will lead you to a higher click-through rate or CTR.

Search engine marketing is a process which takes a few months to deliver the best results. It requires a constant effort of testing your ads, monitoring their results, analyzing your competition as to what they are doing to get higher traffic.

Benefits of SEM:

Search engine marketing strategized and implemented properly will lead to better and successful results.

Before proceeding with the implementation make sure the kind of strategy you are looking for. For example, short-term, long-term, seasonal it all depends on your goal and motivation that you want to achieve.

Benefits of implementing SEM into your online marketing strategy.

  • It increases brand awareness online. Be it on search engines by using Adwords or Bing or promoting your ads on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • SEM helps to provide good visibility of your website on various online channels.
  • You can select your relevant audience and can optimize, then only they get to see your ad which increases the chances of higher traffic.
  • SEM is quite easy to learn and anyone can learn it on their own.
  • You can choose the amount of money you want to spend on each campaign.
  • By linking your website to Google Analytics, you can easily analyze the traffic generated. Go through various reports to know about the performance of your ads and audience.
  • It also provides an edge over your competitors, because you can smartly choose the right keyword set for your ads for targeting.
  • SEM is an easy way to generate higher ROIs on your website.

Difference between SEM and SEO?

        Search Engine Optimization        Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
It is an organic way to achieve results on search engine ranking.SEM is a paid method to show their website on search engines along with organic searches.
Crawlers, small algorithms read each page and index the keyword, which later matches up with the user result.This is an advertising form, which is not dependent on crawlers solely.
Requires some technical inputs to achieve effective SEO.NO requirement for technical knowledge to achieve the results through SEM, anyone can learn it.
SEM does not come under SEO.While SEO can be considered under SEM.
SEO can work independently to achieve a higher ranking.Good quality SEO is needed for SEM to function.
SEO gets about 8.5x more clicks than SEM. Hence, has a higher success rate over SEM.While SEM gets about 1.5x times more clicks than SEO.
Users consider SEO results more trustworthy than SEM.Not everyone relies on SEM based results.
Big businesses prefer working more on SEO.Startups or new businesses focus on SEM.
Its main criteria are to achieve higher search engine ranking.Its main criteria is brand awareness and visibility online.
Results are shown only when users search for the relevant keywords.Shows its ads to their relevant audience on search and display networks.


Before proceeding to use SEO or SEM, it is good to know your company’s goals and targets. Having a clear picture of what your company requires will help you to strategize your goals accordingly.

Have a clear understanding of the difference between SEO and SEM for its effective implementation. Because getting the right result is what matters. The use of SEO or SEM technique also depends on the industry you are working for, making it easier to proceed.

In a way, it is good to use both these strategies in a combination, to generate better conversion rates. SEM is mostly used by new businesses to gain visibility and reach to the audience.

But almost all the businesses rely on the use of both SEM and SEO to maintain their online visibility and to stay ahead of their competitors.

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