Published by Marc
3 Mins

SEO vs. SEM: Which to Use?

Search engine optimization (SEO) and Search engine marketing (SEM) are two very different terms, even if they are often used interchangeably. Understanding the difference between the two is essential.

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a component of SEM. As per Google criteria, search engine optimization is “all about boosting traffic to a specific website with the help of top results found in search results”. Google’s algorithm is constantly changing (same as the SEO industry in its entirety). One element remains constant, however: SEO consists of both on-page as well as off-page activities.

Components of SEO

SEO is composed of two distinct factors:

On-Page SEO

  1. Social Media
  2. Fast Page Loading Speed
  3. Google Authorship
  4. Using Keywords and Keyword Analysis
  5. Neat and Formatted URLs
  6. Optimized Content and Blog Posts
  7. Meta Tags, Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

Off-Page SEO

  1. Social Bookmarking (such as Reddit and Stumbleupon)
  2. Social Sharing Signals
  3. Back Links (and other methods for website promotion)

Search Engine Marketing

As defined by Wikipedia, “Search engine marketing is the type of Internet marketing which involves promoting websites by heightening their visibility in search engine via ads and optimization”.

Via paid search ads, the individual purchases advertising space to be featured in Google’s search results. This forestalls SEO for ranking the website higher to bring traffic, as paid ads appear in forefront.

Google Adwords is the most well-known agency in this regard. Via Google Adwords, ads can appear as search results of Google. Payment is made on the number of clicks. Yahoo and Bing have similar systems, which are less popular.

Components of SEM

Apart from search engine optimization, SEM includes the following:

  • Pay-Per-Click Ads
  • Ads
  • Paid Search

Mostly, SEM consists of pay-per-click ads for mass-market campaigns. PPC and SEO are both sub-components of SEM.

Primary Difference between SEM and SEO

SEM and SEO should never be used interchangeably since SEO is a sub-component of SEM. But they do work hand in hand.

The main difference between these two terms is that search engine optimization is simply a component of search engine marketing. As mentioned above, SEM includes components of paid search, such as PPC and SMM (social media marketing).


Most online marketers often argue the viability of one over the other. However, the majority of the marketers insist on SEO being the best method. SEO is deeply interlinked with SEM and using one without the other is a strategy doomed to fail.

Apart from that, PPC (pay-per-click) marketing is much more viable than SEO in some situations. For instance, an organized PPC campaign is necessary if seeking immediate market traffic after launching traffic, since it’s less time consuming than SEO. However, remaining confined to PPC is bad for e-commerce businesses, since SEO is equally needed.

While organic SEO takes more time to release results, it generates credibility and market reputation, which isn’t possible in the case of PPC. When starting an e-commerce business, it’s better to assess needs and demands and pour in equivalent amounts of effort.