SEO vs SEM: Which Is Better For Your Business?

seo vs sem

If you have been doing online marketing for some time, you must have come across the term SEO and SEM. But do you know what are their differences and which one is better for your business?

In this article on SEO vs SEM, I am going to guide you through the in-depth details of what are they, their components and which one is better. Let’s get started.

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

what is seo

SEO is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or web page.

The key idea is to optimize your site, in such a way that it becomes easily searchable or gets higher ranking on search engines like Google, Bing, etc.

SEO revolves around the concept called ‘keywords’. Keywords are basically words or phrases which are searched on search engines.

Components Of SEO

SEO is basically divided into 2 main categories, on-page, and off-page SEO.

1. On-Page SEO:

This is the category that focuses on the inner content of your page and site.

This includes technical set-up, the quality of your code, textual and visual content, as well as user-friendliness of your site.

Other factors include:

  • Readability of your site
  • Mobile Optimization
  • Site’s speed
  • Important tags like titles, meta, etc.
  • Internal and external links
  • Site’s URLs
  • And much more

2. Off-Page SEO:

This category focuses on external factors which is much more difficult to control

Factors include:

  • External links to your page or website
  • Social shares
  • Number of times your site or page has appeared on outer sources
  • And the list goes on and on!

For more about SEO, check out my full SEO guide for beginners.

What Is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

what is sem in seo vs sem

SEM involves earning search visibility through paid advertising on search engines such as Google or Bing.

The type of ads is what referred to as Paid-Per-Click (PPC) or Cost-Per-Click (CPC). The most famous one being Google Adwords. (For more info about PPC marketing, click here)

You can think of it as one of online marketing technique which involves activities as:

  • Launching ad campaigns with a specific audience (e.g., geographic) in mind
  • Creating ad groups that consist of target keyword variations
  • Writing relevant ad copy using these selective keywords
  • Setting an ad budget
  • Monitoring metrics like clicks, impressions, click-through rates and average cost-per-click

For more details on SEM, click here.

SEO vs SEM – The Difference

In general, SEO is one of a tool that is used to run SEM. You can also term SEO as a subset of SEM.

SEO basically revolves around various techniques that require low to no-budget to run whereas SEM mostly focuses on using an advertisement to gain search visibility.

In a nutshell, SEM focuses on bringing in traffic through search engines using paid advertisement whereas SEO focuses on conversion through organic traffic.

It is important to note that you should never use the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably because although they work hand in hand, they are not the same term.

SEO vs SEM – Which One Is Better

seo vs sem: which is better

So now you know what both of them are and what is their main difference. The question arises, which one should you go for?

The answer is quite controversial as many marketers debate whether one is better than the other.

There are mainly 2 factors which you should take into consideration.

  1. Time
  2. Budget

If your main concern is time, then SEM should be your go-to choice. This is because the paid advertisement takes significantly less amount of time to start showing results.

In fact, the moment you launched your first campaign on Google Adwords, you can see your ad up and running on the first page of Google within the first couple of hours.

But obviously, this comes with a great cost. Paid advertisement requires you to consistently pump in the cash to keep it running. The moment you stop, the ad disappears.

That is when the budget comes into play when deciding which one to choose for your business. SEO takes longer amount of time which can really frustrate most business owners.

But in this case, you just need to invest once and for all. SEO is considered as a long-term investment. The results will last forever, as long as you have done it right.

My Advice

My advice would be to focus well on SEO, as you should not forget that SEM cannot succeed without SEO.

In fact, I have already explained that the moment you stop paying money, your ad will stop. But if you have SEO as a backup, at least your site won’t disappear completely from the search results.

If you don’t have a budget problem, you can continue using paid ads, as long as it’s driving revenue.

But if your website is new, then maybe you can leverage the initial momentum by running SEM ads, and as you continue with the site, you can do SEO side by side.


That’s all about SEO vs SEM. I hope you have finalized which one to choose for your business

There is nothing as to which one is better than the other. Both work well together, also each can function very well on their own.

When it comes to choosing the best tactic, it is important to evaluate your specific needs, but be sure to fully understand the differences and how you will maintain your efforts.

Have you tried SEM after leveraging SEO? Let me know the result in the comment section below.

General FAQ

What Is SEO?

SEO is a process of affecting the online visibility of your website on the search engine results (SERPs), with the goal of driving organic traffic and ultimately, convert the traffic into sales.

What Is SEM?

SEM is the marketing approaching aims at driving in traffic and conversion via search engines. This includes SEO as well

What Is The Difference Between SEO & SEM?

SEO is termed as a subset of SEM. SEO only focuses on free organic traffic whereas SEM usually focuses on paid advertisements on search engines.

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