SEO vs. SEM, What’s The Difference?

You’ve launched your site, maybe it’s been live for years but you’ve begun to realize the traffic just isn’t quite there. What do you do? Likely you’re thinking it’s time to invest some money into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and you are not wrong. However, you may need to spend a greater portion of your budget, especially in the short run, on Search Engine Marketing. SEO boils down to content and backlinks while SEM includes spending money on advertising while utilizing SEO principles within the ads and strategies.

Breaking down the SEO/SEM Differences


Search Engine Optimization is much like planting a seed and then watering it, making sure the soil is of great quality, and keeping up with constant attention. In terms of the website, SEO is the organic optimization of a website through on-site and off-site tactics. Aside from directory listings and other one-time fees, SEO investments are generally spent directly on the SEO firm handling the campaign which will spend a lot of time generating content for your niche. From blog posts and press releases to the manner in which the content on the website is structured, SEO is fundamental to site growth and is also utilized in the efforts of SEM.


Search Engine Marketing utilizes SEO tactics and the soil must still be prepped (the core of the website and its content) but paid advertising methods are utilized to boost a website’s ranking. This would be similar to purchasing a plant from Home Depot as opposed to starting with a seedling. There are a variety of platforms to spend advertising dollars but the most important factor that separates SEM from traditional PPC (pay per click) ad campaigns is the way in which the ads and landing pages are crafted. SEM incorporates SEO principles via key-wording the ads and the pages they land on. One of the most difficult factors when it comes to well-done SEM comes down to finding the perfect mix of terminology in an ad to both maximize the site’s organic ranking (SEO) and the actual effectiveness of the ad to inspire clicks, the marketing side.

So which is right for you?

Now that you’ve got the idea, you may still be wondering whether SEO or SEM is best for your current needs. We are going to break down a few situations for you and go over why one may be better than the other for you.

Scenario 1. New Website

You’ve just launched a new website and most likely you aren’t even coming up on the search results. Of course, you need to first assess your new site and make certain that it has been built with plenty of valuable content and this content has been crafter carefully taking into account search engine signal factors. If not, start with SEO. If so, or once you’ve finished with the SEO portion, you’re ready for SEM. Spending the extra money on advertising will help boost your new site on the rankings. We also suggest generating and releasing a press release through a company such as PRweb. Depending on your industry and the competition you may need to continue a strong SEM campaign for as short as a few weeks or indefinitely.

Scenario 2. The ‘Over Spender’

After years of spending thousands of dollars on Google Ad Words, you’re ROI (return on investment) is static and minimal. It’s time you change gears and start investing more into SEO. Hire a professional company to write good blog articles and assess your website to configure the content for the best possible outcome with Google and other search engine ranking factors.

Scenario 3. Falling Behind

Your website’s ranking is falling on the results and almost off the first page. If you’ve already been keeping up with content it’s time for SEM. You need to boost your site by using ad dollars. If you haven’t been keeping up with SEO, you still need SEM but should also be investing in the content generation on the website (SEO).

Still not sure which is right for you? Contact us or comment on your situation below and we will assess it to give you an appropriate plan of action.

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