Digital Marketing

SEO vs SEM: What's the Difference?

Nathan Maas July 6, 2022

Picture of a blurry glowing Google sign

Trying to figure out the difference between SEO and SEM? Wonder what marketing strategy is best for your business? Here's everything you need to know.


On average, 5.8 billion searches happen on Google daily, which is the main reason to look into SEO and SEM for your business today.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means getting your website ranked in a search engine organically or non-paid. Search engines use the keywords searched through a platform like Google to return the most relevant results.

Why should you use SEO?

  • Traffic from SEO is free
  • Traffic is consistent
  • Traffic from SEO reaches Google’s audience
  • Traffic can be more relevant than with SEM

How does Google work?

Two terms will help you to understand Google and its algorithm. Crawling and Indexing. Crawling is the process of finding new or updated pages to add to Google. Indexing is the collecting, parsing, and storing of data to facilitate fast and accurate information retrieval.

When someone searches into google, the crawlers start with a URL list they have previously crawled in. These are called seeds. The crawlers then follow hyperlinks found on pages from seeds and then crawl to newly discovered pages. This process repeats itself, allowing Google to build a massive information index. They add all this data to their search index, enabling users to have millions of links in one search.

Why does this matter? Google’s algorithm takes keywords from all this data and then generates a list of relevant results in seconds. Google looks at many factors, including the words in your query, relevance and usability of pages, the expertise of sources, and location and settings. Everything comes down to the language you use when generating your query.

Downsides of SEO

SEO can take 30 days for results to generate. SEM will be the better route if you are a company that does not have time to wait for traffic. SEO will help you reach the top of organic search results, but ads with SEM will always be above organic results.


What is SEM?

SEM stands for search engine marketing. It is the combination of SEO and PPC (Paid-per-click). PPC enables you to serve ads inside of search engines. This allows you to rank above SEO top results immediately at a cost.

Why should you use SEM?

  • See information on every click costs and the traffic generated
  • See the number of people who come to the landing page and convert from the landing page
  • See data on leads and closing of leads to determine the worth of PPC
  • You can develop an online business model with these data analytics, especially for e-commerce
  • The results and revenue are immediate compared to SEO
  • Compete with top brands immediately that will be ranked higher organically
  • Generate positive information on keywords to help with SEO

Downsides of SEM

The number one downside of SEM is the cost. Where SEO takes longer to see results and is more costly with time, SEM is most expensive with money. SEM does not always have a great ROI as some keywords are expensive, and traffic may not be as expected.

In Conclusion…

SEO and SEM are not about which is the best choice for your business but how you can use them both. SEM and SEO complement each other. If you are a new business, running an SEM campaign and then using the data you learned to implement into SEO would be beneficial. Think of SEO and SEM as being on the same team; both players need to be utilized to help win the game. Once you understand SEO and SEM and the importance of implementing them into your business, you will see increased traffic and revenue benefits.


Websites to Get Started with Keyword Optimization

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Insight by Nathan Maas

Nathan is a digital marketer passionate about how storytelling, targeted messaging, and implementing technology create business-changing content. As an Account Manager, he is responsible for assisting with communication to help his clients increase brand awareness, generate leads, and acquire new customers.













































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