What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

Search engine optimisation and search engine marketing are becoming increasingly popular terms and are often, incorrectly, used interchangeably. This can make things confusing and difficult to explain when you require the use of both terms.

SEO, search engine optimisation, is about increasing the total number of visitors to a website by increasing its rank in the search engine results pages. This is done through organic methods.

SEM, search engine marketing, is about increasing a sites total visibility. This does include SEO but is far broader as it includes internet marketing, organic search engine marketing and also paid advertising amongst other things.

Notably, the difference between these two explanations is that SEM requires some form of external monetary investment as well as organic methods whilst SEO is simply an organic process.

SEO and SEM are performed alongside web development and other services at leading digital marketing firms. Let’s take a closer look at SEO and SEM to see what the differences between them really are.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimisation fits under the SEM umbrella but is a complete operation in itself. It is about increasing website traffic through higher search engine rankings. It is constantly changing, however, there are two things that stay constant within SEO; On-Page and Off-Page work.

On-Page activities include;

  • Keywords used throughout content and titles
  • Page formatting and design
  • Page load speed
  • Social media integration within content

Off-Page activities include;

  • High quality and highly relevant internal and external links
  • Additional social media integration

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is a combination of the SEO mentioned above as well as other marketing tactics used through the internet such as advertising of websites and products. As well as SEO, it includes things like paid search, pay-per-click advertising.

Ultimately, the main difference between the two is that SEO is a component of SEM and therefore is just a smaller part of the whole process.

Which is the more important tactic?

Whether one is better than the other is a difficult discussion but what can be said is that they are both important to the success of your search engine campaigns.

Many people will say the SEO is the most important as it is the backbone for any future marketing efforts online. If your site is not able to be found organically, then investing more money into it is going to have limited effects as it is much like bringing something to life using chemicals rather than letting it grow – it might work, but it’s simply not as good as the real thing.

However, in the instance of a brand new website, paid marketing may be a good idea to create some visibility as search engine optimisation takes time and you don’t want to be waiting months before your site is visible. By the same note, it would be a poor decision to then just rely on the paid marketing in the long run and SEO should be worked on from the start as well.

Search engine optimisation is a great tool because it is free and in the long run will be highly beneficial is completed correctly and regularly updated and improved. It does form the basis for a good campaign.

When determining which method is best for your business, it is important to consider the circumstances and the goals set out for the campaign. This will help you to fully understand what needs to be done and how SEO and paid marketing will be able to help in their own way. Regardless, it is important to stress that SEO in some capacity must be undertaken for all websites.

All in all, SEO should be used in conjunction with paid marketing to get the most out of both efforts. Using them together maximises the power of each appearance and also helps them to build on each other as clicks and time spent on the page contribute well to SEO.

Christian Woods
Christian Woods
Christian is a morning reporter and technology columnist for Best in Australia. Christian has worked in the media since 2000, in a range of locations. He joined Best in Australia in 2018, and began working in Melbourne in 2019.
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