SEO vs SEM: All You Need To Know From Start To End

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 should you go for?

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)?

seo vs sem

SEO is the process of affecting online visibility of a website or web pages. The key idea is to optimize your site, in such a way that i becomes easily searchable or gets higher ranking on search engines like Google, Bing etc.

SEO revolves around the concept called ‘keywords’. Keywords are basically a word or phrase which are searched on search engines.

Components Of SEO

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

On -Page SEO:

This is the category which 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

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 list goes on and on!

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

What Is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

seo vs sem

SEM involves earning search visibility through paid advertisement on search engine such as Google or Bing. The type of ads is what referred to as Paid-Per-Click (PPC) or Cost-Per-Click (CPC). 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 – Main Difference

In general, SEO is one of a tool which is used to run SEM. You can also term SEO as a subset of SEM. SEO basically revolves around various techniques which requires low to no-budget to run whereas SEM mostly focuses on using advertisement to gain search visibility.

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. For more details on SEO, check out my best SEO strategies for 2019.

SEO vs SEM – Which One To Choose

So now you know the 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. Let say you have just launched your website or your business is competitive in an online world, you would want to opt for paid ads as it takes less time than SEO and provides more exposure.
  2. Budget. If you have limited budget, SEO is the best choice as it requires little to no budget to get started.

According to me, my advice would be to focus well on SEO, as you should not forget that SEM cannot succeed without SEO. Then if you don’t have budget problem, you can go for SEM like Google Adwords for certain amount of time and stop the advertisement. This way, you will be able to have an initial momentum by creating awareness about your website, which is good if your site is new or have low traffic.

The rest depends on your contents whether they are worth coming back for or spread across in the internet.


That’s all about SEO vs SEM. Hope you have fully understood what are they and their difference.

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.

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