Similarities and Dissimilarities between SEO and SEM

In this digital marketing era, businesses have the opportunity to attract massive traffic towards their website and convert it into sales through SEO and SEM process.

What is SEO? – Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a website optimization process that ensures an increase in visibility for relevant searches on search engines. SEO can include four main categories — on-page optimization, off-page optimization, user-interaction signals, and technical SEO

What is SEM? – Search Engine Marketing or SEM is also called pay-per-click [PPC], where you pay search engines to make your site visible for relevant searches. PPC includes bidding, quality score, ad copy, and AdWords account management.

The main aim of SEO and SEM is the same. You can get help from an SEO agency like Australian Internet Advertising. Their main goal is to increase customers’ revenue with SEO packages designed specifically to gain more sales.


  • Increase website visibility for relevant searches within search engines
  • Use targeted keywords
  • Helps to drive traffic towards your website
  • Needs consistent optimization

Both SEO and SEM processes help to reach the same destination but are different in their structure and sustainability.

You have to pay for both processes. SEO does not attract website traffic for free. You have to pay to have interesting content created, build domain authority backlinks, promote content, use SEO paid tools, hire a graphic designer and pay a web developer for coding. On the other hand, for PPC, you spend cash up front and are certain to see results, which is not the case with SEO.


Let’s discuss the differences between the SEO and SEM process using four different categories.


  • SEO is popular as an organic result, while SEM is termed as a paid listing.
  • SEO results are shown below the paid listing and take a lot of space on search engines, while SEM is shown above and even below the organic results.
  • SEM has an ‘AD’ symbol for identification. Only a single ad is shown at a time per relevant searches.
  • Multiple pages get ranked at a time for single search words for organic results, but Google is considering limiting organic results to show one result per website.


For SEO, you target content based only on keywords. While in SEM, ads can be targeted on geographic location, time, day, language and device. SEM allows you to pay to have keywords show up regardless of competition, which offers unlimited potential to reach your audience. Unlike SEM, for SEO, you need to consider competition as you don’t want to waste effort on ranking for highly competitive keywords.

Results timing

With SEM, you see results almost instantly once your ads are sanctioned, which can take less than one hour. Therefore, SEM is appealing to those willing to pay or have the budget to pay for and enjoy instant results.

With SEO, creating authority takes 6 to 12 months, after which you will start noticing results from your SEO efforts.


SEM sustainability depends on your payment capabilities. The moment you stop paying, your website no longer shows up for relevant search terms. The traffic source depends on the cash you spend to fuel it.

With SEO, the moment you start ranking, you are all set. Investment is upfront and the money you spend to maintain the current ranking is considerably low.


On an average, the CTR for Google ads across all sectors is 3.17%. This means three people out of a hundred will see and possibly click on your ad.

The average CTR for an organic top result is 31.75%. This means thirty-seven people out of the hundred searching on Google click on the top rankings.

What to consider – SEO or SEM?

Focus 100% on SEO –

  • If your budget is limited.
  • You can try ranking for ‘how to’ keywords.
  • You can wait because content marketing will take some time to show legit results.
  • You are skilled at link building, which is also necessary to create impressive content.

Focus 100% on SEM [or PPC] –

  • If you have a consistent ad budget.
  • Are willing to sharpen your skills to manage AdWords accounts.
  • Have you ability to launch and test landing pages.

When to focus on both [SEO and SEM] –

PPC is cheaper than SEO, therefore the majority of businesses blend both in their marketing strategy. Nevertheless, handling the SEO and SEM process simultaneously is challenging. Writing content, optimizing search engines and ad account management is a lot for one person to cope with. However, if you have competent staff to handle both, then go for it. If not, you can comfortably outsource it to a professional, experienced SEO company.

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