August, 2021 

SEO, SEM—what’s the difference?

Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing can go hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing. While SEO focuses on optimizing a website to gain traffic from organic search results, SEM aims to gain traffic from paid search. SEO fits into a broader category under SEM. Let’s learn a little more about both.


When a community member searches for local businesses or services in town, does your website show up? If it doesn’t, it may be because you thought your offline reputation would translate to your online reputation. But that isn’t always the case. It takes work—namely, good SEO—to get your business to show up in search results.

SEO relies on a variety of techniques (including the four pillars of SEO: technical, on-page, content, and off-page) to pair your products or services with online searches. These strategies aim to make your site more attractive to popular search engines, like Google. It grows your online visibility. SEO aims to bring relevant traffic to your website, which will ideally result in more business meetings, partnerships, sales, and whatever other goals you are hoping to reach with your website. 



SEM, on the other hand, is the perfect way to supplement your traditional marketing efforts. It uses paid methods to help your website appear in search results. SEM is sometimes called PPC because it relies on pay-per-click advertising platforms to reach your target audience. Therefore, SEM consists of the management of all your paid ads, including writing the ads, setting them up, and optimizing them, as well as monitoring the account with the hopes of increasing conversions. SEM is easier to test and refine than SEO. However, creating a targeted campaign starts with keyword and competitor research, much like SEO would. Ad campaign formats include search ads, display ads, shopping ads, and YouTube ads. There are a variety of formats you can choose from to reach your target audience where they are.



While both SEO and SEM are beneficial, you will notice quicker results with SEM. SEO can take months to see real results, whereas ad campaigns can turn over conversions fairly quickly. While SEO may take longer to work, it builds value over time and you will not be paying for your efforts like you do with PPC.

You’ll be able to tell the difference between SEO and SEM strategies when you do a simple Google search. There will be results at the top of the SERP that say “Ad.” That’s SEM. Anything under those results without the word “Ad” earned its ranking with SEO. And when someone clicks on one of those ads, the advertiser pays for each click. When people click on organic results that are ranking well due to good SEO, the advertiser pays nothing.


So, should you use SEO or SEM in your digital marketing efforts? The honest answer is that it depends on your situation, but you should likely use both. It all depends on your goals. If you need help combining SEO and SEM, reach out to the experts at BadCat Digital today.


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