The Difference Between SEO And SEM

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) can work in harmony – we explain the difference between the two online marketing strategies.

SEO SEMSome internet marketing companies may use the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably but SEM is an integrated strategy including SEO. It is an umbrella term that covers two broad areas driving traffic to your website through organic search such as SEO and paid search advertising such as Pay-Per-Click (PPC). A company may decide to use organic or paid search or a combination of internet marketing strategies. Find more about SEO and SEM.

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM stands for “Search Engine Marketing” and is sometimes called “search marketing”. As aforementioned, it is the process of gaining traffic from, or visibility on, Search Engines through organic and paid search. Paid Search Marketing is also called PPC marketing, Cost-Per-Click marketing or sponsored advertising. A comprehensive Search Engine Marketing campaign may include the following elements:

  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Pay-for-placement management (includes pay-per-click)
  • Paid inclusion and trusted feed programs

What is SEO (organic/natural search)?

SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation is sometimes also called organic or natural search. It focuses on search positioning and on-page optimisation as well as link and citation building. SEO may take longer to get results, but they will tend to be more long term or at the very least, your Search Engine visibility will be constant for some time (months) depending on industry competition and other factors.

What is PPC (paid search)?

Pay-Per-Click is where an advertiser bids on keywords associated with an advertisement in order to achieve higher position on Search Engine Results Pages (sponsored links section) for searches on that keyword. PPC stops immediately once the campaign ends. However it is a quick-fire strategy and in only a few hours, PPC ads can be active and visible on the net driving traffic to your website and improving revenue.

What is paid inclusion?

This is simply the practice of paying a Search Engine or a directory to add a site to its database immediately, rather than setting up that site so that it will be found by the Search Engine spiders on its own. With some sites, paid inclusion may be the only way that you can get listed on their website. An example of paid inclusion sites include:

  • Yahoo Directory
  • Several good directory listing sites often include a ‘featured’ listing selection where you can pay to have your listing on the home page or top of the category page.

One should be careful not to overdo getting links from paid inclusion sites and the percentage of paid links should be much lower than non paid links.

SEO and SEM – Pros and cons

Here are the advantages and benefits of using organic and paid search:

Organic search Paid search
Cost It costs nothing to index your website on a Search Engine. However, if you engage an SEO company, you will pay for their services. With PPC, you are paying a cost-per-click. Click prices vary depending on the key phrases used to trigger the advertisements.
Control With SEO you can optimise your website but you cannot control your Search Engine ranking which may fluctuate slightly from day-to-day. With PPC, you can have direct control over the position on the page depending on the outlay. 
Immediacy Changes to a SEO campaign can take several hours/days to change. Changes to PPC campaigns are effective immediately.
Segmentation SEO shows all markets in the geographic area and displays results over a 24 hour basis. PPC can target just your geographic area and can be time specific and targeted eg after 7pm to target people online after work.
Long term positioning Once your website has started ranking, a properly designed and optimised site should long term positioning in the rankings. With PPC as soon as you stop paying for your campaign, your visibility on Search Engines will end.
Credibility SEO may be seen to be more credible as it’s free to index your Search Engine. PPC may be seen to be less credible as you need to pay to index your website.

Despite their differences, using a combination of organic and paid search strategies will help your website perform better. As both are specialist online marketing techniques, you may want to hire experts to assist you. Speak to our consultants about our SEO and SEM services and how these strategies and tactics can work together in harmony to improve your Search Engine visibility, increase your conversion rate and boost online revenue.

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