If you’re new to digital marketing, search engine marketing and search engine optimization can be a confusing concept to grasp. The terms are often interchanged, but there is a difference between them.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the internet marketing strategy used to increase a website’s visibility when someone searches a relevant phrase or keyword in search engines such as Google or Bing. Search engine optimization (SEO) helps the site to appear on result pages that pop-up when you search phrases on the internet. It ultimately leads to an increase in the number of website visitors.


SEM includes SEO and other search marketing tactics, like paid search, such as pay-per-click (PPC) listings and advertisements. SEM can seem like paid advertising, but there is a clear difference. For example, if you set up a PPC advertising and nothing else, then yes, that is your standard paid advertising. However, SEM goes one step further. SEM is when you use keywords to boost your paid ads and then implement those exact keywords on the website your ads link to; you are optimizing that advertisement with search engine marketing.


SEO is essentially a minor aspect of a larger SEM strategy. You hear about SEO a little more because it is constantly changing and at the forefront of digital marketing strategies. This is partly due to the frequent changes made to Google’s algorithm. SEO comprises selective keywords naturally into page descriptions, website content, title tags, meta descriptions, blog posts, and page copy. All are written and optimized with quality keywords and phrases.

There are basic four pillars of SEO:

  1. Technical SEO: It focuses on improving a website’s technical structure from the site speed, mobile-friendliness, security, and indexing.
  2. On-page SEO: This is all about optimizing web pages that help search engines understand the content in context. On-page SEO includes titles, H1 tags, meta tags, and alt image text.
  3. Content: Google uses content to rank and properly matches websites to search queries.
  4. Off-page SEO: This focuses on improving the trustworthiness and authority of a website in search engines’ eyes. You typically use links, PR, and outside marketing to enhance your reliability.


So, which one is better for your business? It all depends on what you want to do and whether or not you have the budget to do it. SEO is organic, free, and accessible to everyone, while SEM usually includes paid advertisements. If you are looking to find organic visitors, then SEO is the way to go. However, it is essential to note some strategies are more successful with SEM and paid advertisements.

For example, if you launch a website and want immediate visibility, it is a good idea to create a PPC campaign. It is a quicker option than SEO. While SEO is less costly, it does take longer to show results. However, by effectively using SEO, you can establish a search credibility that you might not establish with PPC. When it comes to choosing the best tactic, it is important to evaluate your business’s specific needs.