Are SEO and SEM the Same Thing?

February 3, 2024

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SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) can sometimes be confusing terms, and it’s not uncommon for people to use them interchangeably. It’s most likely why a lot of people don’t even believe there is a difference between the two.

But that’s not the case, not by a long shot.

Understanding the different nuances of the two terms may be key to a successful digital marketing strategy.

SEO refers to the tactics that can help increase organic traffic by improving the search engine results page rank (SERP) of a website. SEM (or Search Engine Marketing) is a form of internet marketing that increases a website’s visibility both organically and through paid ads. SEM includes SEO, and often other marketing tactics.

That is the nutshell of SEM vs. SEO conversation, but if you want to get a better understanding of the two, we’ve got a comprehensive guide for you.


You might also be interested in WHAT IS SEO AND HOW DOES IT WORK

What is SEO?

SEO is the process through which you can improve the position of your website in the search engine results. For instance, if you sell children’s toys, whenever someone searches for “children’s toys” (and other keywords relevant to your site,) your URL will be indexed on a results page.

Now, the higher the rank, the more chances you have of people clicking on your link and visiting your site. Not many people bother checking out even the second tab of the results page, so it’s all about getting at least in the top five. You will need a thorough SEO strategy to achieve the coveted number one position.

According to Google, even small but well-thought modifications to your website can bring significant changes and long-term benefits. The idea is that all of these tweaks will allow search engine web crawlers to read your site better, and increase your rank when put together.

What is a web crawler, you ask? Well, it’s just a bunch of 1s and 0s, but it’s essential to allowing search engines to do their jobs. Once a user types a keyword into the search engine, the web crawler scans the web for all the pages that relate to that keyword. The more optimized your website is, the better the web crawler can understand it, and bring it back on the SERP.

What It Includes

If you want to understand the differences between SEO and SEM better, then it’s vital to know precisely what goes into the two processes. There are two main categories in the case of SEO: on-page, and off-page SEO, each with its tactics.

On-Page SEO:

  • Adding relevant keywords naturally into the metadata of the website (title tag, meta descriptions, headlines, alt texts, etc.)
  • Optimizing page loading speed;
  • Optimized and high-quality copy for web pages and blog posts;
  • Social Sharing integration in the content (with CTAs);
  • Google authorship.

Off-Page SEO:

  • Having authority websites link back to your site to create a valuable backlink profile;
  • Social bookmarking;
  • Social sharing;
  • Any other method that creates a direct link from another page to your website.

What is SEM?

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a vital component of an overall digital marketing strategy you should have in place

It can enable you to boost your visibility in search engine results by getting more free traffic (SEO) or paid traffic (PPC advertising like Google AdWords). SEM includes SEO tactics, as well as several other search engine marketing methods.

Why SEM Is Important?

SEM traffic is one of the most essential sources of internet traffic. It is targeted to reach prospects who may be interested in your website, as opposed to other methods where the results may not be so specific.

And the reason for that lies in the actual purposes of search engines. People use Google, Bing, or other similar platforms when they are looking for something, be it information, a product, services, or other things. So, when people click on a link from the search engine results page, they are more likely to convert, because they have an already-established interest in your website or something on

SEM tactics can help you increase the possibility of your website popping up in relevant searches, meaning it can display for those users most likely to find your site useful for their needs.

SEO Vs SEM: What’s the difference?

One difference is most evident, and it’s the fact that SEO is a component into the broader SEM. If you want to develop a Search Engine Marketing campaign, then you’ll have to use SEO methods combined with PPC campaigns or SMM (social media marketing) to get better results. Just incorporating some SEO elements won’t automatically mean you’re also doing SEM.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways here is that you should never use the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably because though they may work to boost your website performance, they are two different processes.

Which Should You Use?

Lastly, the big question that’s on all our minds: should we use SEO or SEM? Or both? Or neither?

Well, given the current internet trends, marketing or otherwise, SEO almost becomes a mandatory thing to do. Most of its tactics essentially make for a better website, one that not only allows web crawlers to read it but one that your visitors can enjoy.

For instance, a way to optimize your website for search engines is to make sure it is accessible on mobile devices. Considering how many people access the web through their mobile phone, it’s practically a must to make sure your website is mobile friendly, regardless of SEO purposes.

However, you should never ignore the value that SEM tactics can bring to your website. Pay-per-click PPC, for instance, can sometimes be incredibly helpful for your business growth, and its results are generally visible a lot faster than the ones of SEO tactics.

However, keep in mind that PPC or SMM require money, sometimes substantial amounts, depending on the results you want. So if your budget doesn’t allow it at this point, SEO strategies that will boost your business organically might be the only solution.

SEO Vs SEM: Which one to choose?

The only way to know if you need SEO or SEM is to look at the specific needs of your website/business and go from there.

However, it’s not just about what you need right now. Especially for SEM tactics, it’s important to figure out if the methods you employ are sustainable in the future. If let’s say, you opt for a PPC campaign, then its success generally relies on keeping afloat for an extended period. But if you don’t have the resources to do that, then the results might not be something to brag about.


Both SEM and SEO are useful tools in a marketer’s arsenal. SEM tactics include SEO, and while they both can work towards relatively similar results, search engine marketing needs a bit extra planning, and some additional funds.

Do you want some extra help with your website’s SEO or SEM? Contact Australian Internet Marketing today and bring us in to help.

Billy P.

About The Author

William Polson founded Australian Internet Advertising in 2013 and has over 12 years of experience immersed in Digital Marketing.

With an in-depth level of digital marketing knowledge, William has been sort after by and worked for, many large national brands including Subaru, Blooms The Chemist, and Nova 96.9.

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