What’s the Difference Between SEO And SEM?

What’s the Difference Between SEO And SEM?

Understanding the distinction between SEM and SEO is of vital importance when deciding which resources and budget to allocate for promotion. Let’s start by defining SEO: it means activities taken by professionals to adjust the architecture and contents of the site that are easy to index for crawlers. Essentially, SEO focuses on organic search engine results and makes sure that, when a human crawls on Google for a particular keyword related to what you do, your site appears among the first on Google.

Meanwhile, SEM includes all the processes of choosing the right keywords in which to invest your available funds; the objective of this goal is to appear among the sponsored ads of the main search engines. In this article, we will teach how to distinguish these two similar instruments of promotion, and when you should involve professionals.

What is the purpose of SEO?

The English acronym SEO means all the web promoting activities that are applied to search engines, to increase the ranking of a site in the organic search. These are the “free results” that are offered by Google and are different from the sponsored ones. When you do a Google search, you can identify sponsored ads, as Google will display the yellow “ad” logo near them. All those that do not have this yellow label are organic, i.e., those in which your website could appear after carrying out appropriate SEO campaigns. Such campaigns are conducted by SeoProfy.com and other professionals in this niche. Here are the minimum steps that will help you set up SEO on your site:

  • writing unique high-quality content;
  • optimization of HTML, CSS, JavaScript site code;
  • adaptation for mobile devices;
  • increase the website loading speed;
  • image optimization;
  • other. 

Since SEO focuses on driving organic web traffic, you won’t rely on paid advertising to boost your search rankings. Rather, you will first focus on designing content such as social media posts, videos, and blogs. Then you will work on the appropriate keyword placement.

What is the purpose of SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is usually considered paid search advertising or pay-per-click marketing. As the name suggests, it reaches its goals by paying a search engine to acquire traffic to its website; typically, the advertiser will get his payment every time a potential customer clicks on the ad (hence the origin of the term “Pay-per-click”). These techniques are applicable in different situations and involve investment in Facebook Ads or the use of Google Ads. Thus, the SEM setup includes the following actions:

  • creation of advertising campaigns in various search engines;
  • creation of landing pages for an advertising campaign;
  • correctly placed CTA (Call to Action) buttons on the website;
  • powerful social media campaigns on Facebook and other social networks;
  • competitor analysis;
  • testing various elements of the site;
  • SEO;
  • other.

SEM has more space for experiments because it relies on SEO and paid ads to increase the visibility of the company online. So, SEM includes SEO and PPC marketing at the same time.

SEO or SEM strategy: which one to choose?

The key factors that typically make people select either SEM or SEO are, first of all, the budget available to the company and the time within which the client wants to have the results. With an SEM strategy, you will immediately have an ROI that will rise to a level X and will remain high for the entire advertising time. With an SEO strategy, on the other hand, for the same investment, you will not immediately have a very evident result, which however will grow over time, making the investment beneficial. It should also be clarified that the profitability of the SEM will end once the advertising campaign is over, that is, your earnings from that moment on will be comparable to 0. The profitability of the SEO, on the other hand, will stop growing at a certain moment but will maintain a decent level for a long time. 

Example 1. SEM

Let’s imagine that you have a budget of $3,000 and want to compare the theoretical profitability of the investment in SEO with that in SEM. Given a total budget of $3,000, we could decide to allocate an advertising value of $100 per day. This means that our campaign will last a total of 30 days. Now, given an average CPC of $0.40, we will receive approximately 250 visits each campaign day. In 30 days we will receive approximately 7,500 visits. At the end of this period, once the budget is fully used, our PPC campaigns will be terminated and will no longer generate any clicks or visits. The profitability of this strategy will therefore be measurable exclusively from the results generated within this time.

Example 2. SEO

Let’s say we invest the same $3,000 in SEO. In the very first months, the ranking of our site will gradually improve. Maybe for the most competitive keywords, the ranking will go from the 100th page to the 5th, but the overall visits we will receive will still be very low. A site beyond the second page of organic results receives almost no traffic. The real result will be visible when our site reaches one of the top 10 positions in Google and, even more, when we reach one of the top 3 positions. However, this process usually takes many months of empirical tests and evaluations. For this reason, SEO strategies do not have a daily cost (like the $100 per day we spent on SEM) but tend to have a monthly cost. In our case, the monthly fee could be around $500 per month and the initial budget of $3,000 could last up to 6 months of SEO activity.


By spending our initial budget on SEM, at the end of the 6 months we will know exactly how many visits and how many sales we have obtained. By using the same budget for SEO, however, we will see the results on our site even in many months following the end of the campaign. For this reason, one of the fundamental drivers of choice between SEO and SEM concerns the company’s budget, but above all the period within which the objectives should be achieved.

If the goal is short-term, the answer is SEM. If the goal is medium to long-term, the answer is SEO. Finally, if the budget available allows it, the company can combine SEM campaigns to bring tangible results in the short term and in the meantime conduct SEO strategies to ensure high ROI in the long term. The ideal solution would be to make a marketing campaign that manages to combine SEO and SEM in a single and coherent strategy, which evolves over time and which combines the speed of SEM with the high ROI of SEO in the medium and long term.