SEO vs SEM: Which is Better for Your Business?


Search optimization is one of the best marketing strategies for businesses, helping them to attract users, drive traffic from search engines, thereby helping in business growth. Search optimization might sound easy for many but it could be challenging if you are not really clear about the differences between SEO and SEM.

Although the practices that SEO and SEM follow might sound the same, it is important to understand that these are two entirely different approaches that can be used for search optimization. A lot of people are seen using both terms interchangeably without really having an idea of how each differs from the other, and hence end up messing up the two and complaining about how their search optimization techniques are failing constantly.

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Let us take a look at what each of the process is and how they differ from one another.

Search marketing:

Search marketing refers to the process by which a brand grabs user attention by appearing on search engine results pages (SERPs). This will help you in your efforts to rank higher and increase search visibility to drive traffic to your website or your website’s specific webpages.

Search marketing can be categorized into:

  1. Search engine marketing (SEM)
  2. Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEM is a paid strategy whereas SEO is an organic strategy. With SEM, costs are involved for a business appear in the search engine, while SEO can be accomplished with zero costs.

When you work with clients, often they might confuse the terms and you might end up strategizing something that they didn’t want. It is always recommended that you discuss and explain how both these terms are different and how their functionalities differ from one another.

Let us dive deeper into these processes.

Search engine marketing (SEM), as we discussed earlier, is a search marketing strategy that involves costs to help businesses gain visibility in the search engine results pages. With a paid SEM strategy, you have to set up and optimize ads and also set a budget for placing ads.

SEM is also referred to as paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. The most commonly preferred search provider for SEM is Google Ads or Google Adwords. Using this, you can conduct keyword research and create campaigns for targeting the best keywords that are relevant to your product, service and so on.

If a relevant search related to this keyword happens, the users would be shown the custom ads at the top or bottom of SERPs. Each time a user clicks on the ad, you will be charged.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

As discussed, SEO is a form of search marketing where you apply unpaid strategies to gain visibility in SERPs. Unlike PPC, SEO doesn’t charge brands for placing ads on SERPs. SEO implements best practice strategies to encourage search engines to identify their content and display it on top of SERPs if the search engines find the results authentic and informative.

SEO comes with multiple interesting tactics to help your brand rank better and higher on the search engines. These SEO tactics, also known as white-hat SEO techniques, are categorized into three major sections:

  • On-page SEO: This intends to optimize each individual page of a website, targeting specific keywords to drive traffic. On-page SEO focuses on keyword research, content creation and keyword optimization. When it comes to on-page SEO, the intent is to encourage search engines to analyze and understand the content on a particular page and rank it on top.
  • Technical SEO: The best way to optimize the non-content elements of a website and the entire website, focusing on enhancing its backend structure and foundation. Some of these strategies include improving site speed, indexing, site architecture, structured data, mobile-friendliness, and security. With technical SEO, you can improve the user experience, thereby improving search rankings.
  • Off-page SEO: Off-page SEO focuses on building a website’s reputation. This is done by implementing off-page SEO tactics, including link building, to help connect the site to other high-quality websites to manage local listings and directory profiles.
    When other websites start linking to your business’s website, search engines will identify your website as trustworthy and genuine, thereby improving the rankings.


As we discussed earlier in the article, SEO and SEM are two important concepts of search marketing. The main differences between SEO and SEM are listed below:

  • SEM brings immediate results; however, with SEO, you will have to wait for some time before you actually get some results.
  • With SEM, you can test and get the results instantly. With SEO, you cannot get instant results.
  • As long as you pay, you can have fun with SEM. But SEO is a long-term strategy.
  • All clicks generated through SEM are paid, but with SEO, there is no payment.
  • SEO results appear to all; SEM is available just for a select group of people.

Now, the choice is yours. Based on your business requirements, choose what works for you the best.

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