SEO, search engine optimization, and SEM, search engine marketing, are often used interchangeably in the workplace. When paired, they account for a well-rounded digital strategy, but there are stark differences that distinguish the two. 



  • SEO is a consistent effort utilizing unpaid tactics to improve search result rankings. It requires an eye for detail to generate good UX as well as attention to written content. 
  • Good SEO is determined by credibility, which is acknowledged by search engines such as Google. This credibility is based on the quality of content, consistency, upkeep, and relevant information on the website or landing page. 
  • SEO requires a continuous strategy with constant updates. 
  • It uses keywords. Search engines look for certain keywords in web copy, making it essential to implement relevant keywords frequently. This way, it will be easy for the search engine to find your content and introduce it to a potential customer. 

A business’s SEO strategy can include a myriad of actionable items, such as creating compelling, original content on multiple pages that keeps users engaged (therefore decreasing bounce rate), and maintaining a quality site overall. This can be achieved by updating a site’s SSL, fixing broken links and pages, backlinking to well-performing resources in blogs, and adding plenty of images. 



  • SEM is the paid way to increase search ranking results. It is used as an overarching term that describes digital marketing tools.
  • It includes PPC, or pay-per-click. These advertisements help boost websites to the top of search results and charge advertisers each time the ad is clicked.
  • SEM usually shows results quickly, whereas SEO takes time and cultivation to pay off. 
  • It makes use of the capabilities of Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and other search engine-operated options. Through paid search, display ads, and even email marketing, SEM can help create leads in a short period of time. 

SEM is a great option for generating clicks and conversions, but it is not to be confused with SEO, its organic counterpart. While their differences are apparent, they share a common goal — to reach the top of the search results and get as much attention for a brand as possible. 

At the end of the day, both SEO and SEM are great tools for any marketer to become familiar with, as they can be the difference between a bounce and a conversion. 



Lisa Williams

Author Lisa Williams

More posts by Lisa Williams

Leave a Reply