SEO vs. SEM: What Is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

If your goal is to promote your business via online channels, you‘ve probably come across search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Both produce traffic via search engines, but what is the difference between SEO vs SEM? SEO is an uncompensated strategy, while SEM is a compensated strategy.


With search engine optimization (SEO), you focus on bringing organic traffic to your site. In comparison, with search engine marketing (SEM), you focus on bringing both paid and organic traffic to your website. Read on to learn more about the difference between SEM and SEO, plus discover which approach will help you reach your company place. For even more marketing tips, check out Revenue Weekly!

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What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

The difference between SEO and SEM is subtle. SEO focuses on optimizing your website for better results when you appear higher in search results. SEM focuses on using SEO and PPC advertising along with other techniques, such as pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, to bring more organic and paid traffic to the site.

SEO vs. SEM: Comparing the differences & similarities

Now that we’ve answered the question what’s the difference between SEO and SEM,  we would like to compare the two strategies and compare and contrast them, such as  How much does SEM cost?  and  How long does SEO take its full effects into account?  Get answers to these and other questions (and more) below.

How much do SEM and SEO cost?

Factors aside from price affect SEM and SEO pricing.

  • Aggressiveness
  • Scale
  • Industry
  • And more

In most cases, most mid-sized companies plan to invest in SEO and SEM.

Keep in mind that spending may be different based on the business environment, marketing goals, and ambitions of the business. Not all businesses may match these benchmarks, but you should still be using them to determine how much you can spend.

How long do SEO and SEM take to work?


SEO and SEM utilize different strategies. SEM takes longer than SEO.

  • SEO: Around three to six months
  • SEM: Instant, or as soon as your ads launch

Your turnaround time for final results depends on many factors. Examples include the fact that your search engine marketing campaign may not be a hit right away and long-term nerve damage may be crucial when enhancing your targeting. Or, your search engine optimization campaign may take longer because you must make improvements to the backlinks or solve weaknesses as a result of an SEO audit.

Which is better, SEM or SEO?

We’ve already discussed the difference between SEO and SEM; which one is better for your business’s marketing campaign? What are the benefits of SEO and SEM? SEO and SEM each offer benefits that your business should t ignore. Ideally, you should take advantage of both. If you only have to choose one, however, go for SEO.

SEO is an effective strategy for attracting website visitors, leads, and sales. In addition, SEO is more widely affordable than traditional SEM, which nearly always utilizes paid advertising. Although digital advertising is comparatively inexpensive in terms of price, it can become costly if it’s your sole source of traffic, leads, and sales.

For optimal results, create an SEO plan incorporating SEM. This permits you to develop numerous advertising channels, including search, paid, and social, to generate traffic and leads, and hence boost sales. Use SEM and SEO in unison for the best results.

When should I use SEO vs. SEM?

When SEO is the optimal choice, SEM is frequently appreciated in situations when You can’t wait three to six months to observe traffic, leads, and sales. When it becomes important to manage your online marketing strategy without relying on boosting one’s ad spend, SEM is an option for you.

In comparison, SEM is the ideal method when you need to generate website traffic, leads, or revenue quickly. You want to have a presence in high-traffic search results without waiting for the results to be audited with SEO. You have the time, resources, and budget to run the ads weekly. Overall, choosing between SEM and SEO depends on what you need and how quickly you want it.

SEO: Everything you need to know

We can give you a comprehensive breakdown of SEO services right now.

  • What is SEO?
  • How does SEO work?
  • What are the advantages of SEO vs. SEM?
  • What are the disadvantages of SEO vs. SEM?

To earn more SEO web traffic, enter your site’s URL to discover personalized recommendations on how to improve your traffic. In 60 seconds, you’ll receive a report on SEO action that pertains to your site’s current traffic.

What is SEO?

At its core, SEO is the construction of your website so that it is extremely user-friendly. Twitter and other search engines will notice this and put you above your competition in search results.

That increase in your rank will attract more users to your site, which will have a positive user experience and indicate to search engines that you are a valuable and helpful resource on your subject. This pattern continues as your site grows following SEO best practices.

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How does SEO work?

SEO includes a wide assortment of activities with both online and offline components. Many of these revolve around processes that happen on your website, including editing a title tag, publishing a new post, or improving page load time.

You have total control over on-page SEO. Off-page SEO Off-page SEO refers to optimization efforts that occur off your website, like conducting outreach, optimizing social media profiles, or sharing content. You have some control over off-page SEO, but not a lot.

A few key SEO action items typically include:

  • Optimizing page titles and meta descriptions
  • Keyword research and analysis
  • Site and server optimization
  • Content creation and optimization

With our practices and the ones we didn’t mention, we educate search engine visitors about what they can expect from your site and convey this with your text, multimedia content, and other site components. This demonstrates to your prospects that your business is competent and aware of your customer base’s desires.

What are the advantages of SEO vs. SEM?

The advantages of SEO over SEM include:

SEO builds trust

SEO demonstrates that your business has a lot of value among people who never heard of it beforehand, and among those who did but failed to find anything concerning you. In that case, proving the quality of your products or services reinforces your faith in your visitors, causing more of your website’s visitors to become paying customers.

SEO requires zero ad spend

SEM, frequently called PPC, which focuses on paid marketing that offers a monthly ad spend, contrasts with SEO, which does not demand ad spend. You’re able to make monthly content, conduct outreach, optimize your website’s homepages with SEO, and get traffic from the effort throughout the year.

SEO works 24/7

When it comes to digital marketing, SEO drives traffic to your website 24/7 because that is the platform’s strength. By comparison, SEM requires a budget to operate, and your ads can be set to run only on particular days and times depending on the ad schedule.

What are the disadvantages of SEO vs. SEM?

The disadvantages of SEO over SEM include:

SEO requires maintenance

Search engine optimization is not a one-time gig, even though others may attempt to make a quick fix. You need to maintain your ratings, as you’ll be building upon your initial efforts to remain relevant as time passes. It’s also essential that you gain a greater understanding of SEO over time so it becomes increasingly effective in promoting your livelihood. With this in mind, SEO is an ongoing process.

It requires effort, diligence, and time, but the results of your efforts will be worth the efforts.

SEO takes time

Companies should practice patience when SEO is taken into consideration. As SEO does not deliver fast results, many corporations must wait three to six months to observe improvements, traffic, and income. SEO takes some time but gives lasting results if your company wants immediate success, you may wish to try SEM instead. Now that we’ve been through SEO, let s take a look at SEM.

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SEM: Everything you need to know


Get a complete breakdown of SEM, including answers to questions like:

  • What is SEM?
  • How does SEM work?
  • What are the advantages of SEM vs. SEO?
  • What are the disadvantages of SEM vs. SEO?

What is SEM?

SEM is an umbrella term for search engine optimization, paid advertising, and other strategies carried out within search engines.

Five popular SEM strategies include:

  1. PPC
  2. Local SEO
  3. Display advertising
  4. Shopping or product advertising
  5. Remarketing

A company whose website has just begun might focus on paid advertisements and SEO to raise awareness of its brand, while a company that has been online for at least 10 years might benefit more from optimizing its customer experience with Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).

How does SEM work?

Like SEO, SEM operates on several different tactics, including:

Account structure: Your segmented account structure, which moves from account to campaign to ad group to ad, helps your business organize your ad planning and optimize your ad spend. For example, ads about women’s sneakers should leave the default marketing campaign.

Bids: Your bid determines how much your company pays (at most) for a click on your ad. Some systems, like Google Ads, offer automated bidding choices that can help you work toward your business’s unique objectives while remaining inside your anticipated advertising budget.

Quality Score: Your Quality Score, which is specific to Google Ads, is an indication of the quality and relevance of your ad. A high-Quality Score indicates lower costs per click (CPC) as well as better ad placements.

Ad assets: Your ad assets consist of your copy, your images, and your video. Optimizing your ad assets significantly raises your odds of delivering relevant advertisements that will improve your click-through rate (CTR).

If you want to work with SEM instead of SEO, try researching the various ad platforms, such as Google Ads, Bing Ads, and Google Advertising. Doing so will help you become familiar with how their ad grading systems work so you will be better able to optimize ads for the best performance.

What are the advantages of SEM vs. SEO?

Some of the advantages of SEM over SEO include:

SEM creates an immediate impact

One of the best advantages of paid tactics for SEM is that they can have a high influence. You are entirely in control of PPC campaigns  Who sees your ads, how much you pay, when your ads are shown, and more are up to you.

SEM delivers targeted ads


A good target audience-focused SEM approach will allow your business to effectively organize engaging ads across a range of platforms. Most companies only need to employ a couple of strategies, however, large or small they may be. Small businesses, mid-sized companies, and even large ones typically don’t make use of every SEM strategy.

SEM serves as a cost-effective strategy

Another advantage of SEMs is that they enable you to identify issues and implement changes relatively quickly. When you sign with a company, you will probably pay a sum in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars for these services. The return is worthwhile, however, as analytics can quickly track everything for you. That also makes it a more advantageous method than traditional marketing.

SEM is more affordable, cost-effective, and trackable than a billboard or television commercial. While you can continue to use conventional advertising with SEM, many businesses find that they can accomplish just as great of results with SEM.

Companies planning to go a long way with their advertisements can opt for SEM and traditional advertising together.

What are the disadvantages of SEM vs. SEO?

Some of the disadvantages of SEM versus SEO include missing out on organic searches.

SEM requires a monthly ad spend

Besides the cost of marketing and developing your SEM campaigns, you must also set aside money for your ad campaigns or your monthly ad spend. If you do not have an ad campaign budget, your ads are not run, which can result in a sudden (and instantaneous) decline in website traffic, leads, and sales.

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SEM targets bottom-of-the-funnel users


While companies like read the y-to-buy mindset of bottom-of-the-funnel users, limiting yourself to this part of your sales funnel can miss out on valuable top- and middle-of-the-funnel users. With SEO, for example, you can capture and nurture those users into your next buyer. With SEM, you are capable of generating some extra profit for your business very quickly.

However, the challenge is that SEM requires a constant investment of your time and money to receive that income, which can decrease your ROI.

Related resources

What Is SEM?

What Is SEO?

7 SEM Tips for Beginners

15 SEO Tips for Beginners

How Much Does SEM Cost?

How Much Does SEO Cost?

SEO vs. SEM comparison

SEO refers to the practice of making improvements to your website so that it appears more prominently in search engines, such as Google. SEM refers to marketing activities involving search engines, such as SEO and pay-per-click (PPC).

Compare SEO vs. SEM for an in-depth overview.

Factor SEO SEM

Traffic Cost Free Typically paid

Marketing Type Inbound Outbound and Inbound

Time To Results Long-term Short and long term

Included Channels SEO PPC, SEO, Display, Local & more

Targeting No Yes

Is SEO or SEM right for you?

Wondering whether SEO or SEM is right for you? On this page, we’ve answered questions such as what is the difference between SEO and SEM, what are the benefits of SEO and SEM, and more. But if you’re still not sure which strategy to use, you’re not alone. The answer to that question depends on the goals of your business campaign.

In a perfect world, you would be able to have an extremely effective, helpful SEO strategy for your website that would be incorporated into a larger SEM campaign.

You would also have PPC campaigns targeting various demographic groups, hyper-specific local ads reaching people near your brick-and-mortar locations, and an advanced, AI-powered remarketing campaign serving personalized product recommendations to visitors coming to your site from search. It’s possible to have a highly targeted digital marketing campaign that incorporates elements of SEM.

With a number of the most popular SEM channels including SEO and PPC, starting your company with some of these may be an effective method to boost your take your company to new levels. You can start connecting with your market through paid and non-paid search engine channels to gain more customers and increase your company!

Get started with SEM and SEO — and make it easy — with WebFX


Not sure where to begin with an SEM and SEO campaign? With WebFX, we‘ve been involved in SEO and SEM for 25 years, and we would love to learn more about your company. Contact us today online or by phone, at 888-601-5359, to schedule a free consultation!

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