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SEO vs. SEM: The Key Differences to Keep In Mind

What to Know About the Relationship Between SEO vs SEM

One of the biggest drivers of conversions is where your website shows up on SERPs (search engine results pages). If you rank high, more people see your site and, therefore, more people are likely to click through to your site or go even further. But getting your site and the content on it to the upper echelons of SERPs is no easy feat.

That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) come in. These acronyms are constantly thrown around, but many do not understand what each term actually entails, nor how they are different- driving the old SEO vs SEM debacle. SEO and SEM are both about promoting a website by increasing its visibility on SERPs. SEO does this through optimization of content to make it more friendly and appealing to search engine algorithms organically. SEM does this through paid advertising, like pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. Some consider SEM to include organic SEO as one of its components, but others separate the two, saying SEM is only paid advertising. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll be keeping them separate: SEO is organic, SEM is paid.

So, there’s the main difference between these two important terms. Let’s break these down further to better understand their relationship:


SEO can be broken down into two tasks: On-page and off-page actions.

On-page actions include:

  • Using keywords in your metadata and content
  • Writing quality copy that offers substance
  • Having clean pages and formatting throughout your site
  • Having a quick load speed for your site
  • Using structured data to tell Google about page content
  • Integrating social sharing within your content

Off-page actions include:

  • Having high-quality, naturally-occurring backlinks (basically, having other reputable sites link to your content)
  • Having good social sharing signals (another form of citation like backlinks, but focused on social media shares and interactions)
  • Social bookmarking on sites like Reddit (similar to above)


SEM involves paid advertising on search engines. If you’re running paid ads on search, you’re typically going to use PPC campaigns, which mean that you pay a certain amount every time someone clicks on your ad. You also may use CPM (cost per mille, or cost per thousand) campaigns, which just use a different rate (every thousand impressions) for how you are charged.

Your Search Engine Team

The best way to look at SEO and SEM is not to pit them against each other, but to use them together as a team for boosting your visibility on search engines. SEO is great for garnering more long-term success, but SEM can be useful for getting more immediate results when you need it. Try to factor both into your marketing strategy and vary it depending on your needs.

If you’re launching a new website, running a PPC campaign to help boost its initial prominence could be the way to go. If you’re simply trying to drive up your rankings over time, publishing great blog content that gets picked up by other sites and garners traffic organically should be a big piece of the goal. Either way, both SEO and SEM are necessary to improving your ranking on SERPs and should be dealt with accordingly.

Looking to launch a PPC campaign or want to improve your SEO efforts? Maybe you need a fresh, new website to start off? Kraus Marketing’s team of copywriters, developers, designers, and digital specialists can take you there. Contact us today to learn more.