SEO vs SEM Whats The Difference?

The difference between SEO vs SEM can be confusing for many people entering the world of online marketing. One of the most frequent questions you will ask yourself is “do I invest in SEO or SEM?”.

Whether you are a large company or a small company there is fierce competition on the Internet for appearing in the search engines results pages.


SEO: Search Engine Optimization

This is the strategy and set of practices aimed at positioning a website favorably within search engines in order to gain traffic back to your site.

Differences between SEO and SEM

Basically, it can be summarized in the improvements you apply to your website to help search engines like Google assess it and can show users what they are really looking for with a higher match. For this Google takes into account a number of aspects to first show some websites or others.

And what do you have to do to make your website appear among the first results of Google? It’s not easy, and it depends so much on the competition that you have the keyword or keywords that you have decided to position yourself as the quality of your website.

If you still do not have a website for your business, always keep in mind SEO when it comes to mounting it. You will get your page to position itself well from the beginning and have no headaches later.

Advantages of SEO:

Higher percentage of clicks

Increase in visits

Quality results

Sustainable traffic


Cost per lead

Disadvantages of SEO:

Results take longer to show

Dependence on Google and its algorithms

Technical implementations on the internet

Many influencing factors for ranking

On-Page SEO: The techniques you perform on the pages of your website

Sitemap: It is the sitemap that Google reads and it helps to index web pages

Robots.txt: Added to tell search engines what we do not want you to read from our website.

Indexed pages: are the pages of the web that have read the search engines and show them in their results.

Selection of keywords: The pages of the site must contain a series of keywords for which you want your potential customers to find you. These words are determined based on the volume of search they have and the competition.

Metadata (title, description, h1, keyword, url’s). It’s what Google knows about you. It is about the labels that are added to the code of each page. The fact of placing this metadata correctly helps the search engines to know the content that each page has

ALT Tags: This consists of assigning some keywords to the images on your site.

Quality and quantity of content: You must generate your own original content. You should not copy or generate duplicate content.

Structure content: A correct structuring and usability improves the user experience.

Technical factors:

Page speed: When we access the web we want it to have an optimal loading speed so as not to frustrate the user’s experience.

Clean code: The layout and programming code should be as clean as possible. If you facilitate the path to search engines, they will visit you often.
User Experience: A site that is easy to navigate for the user

Off-Page SEO: The actions of SEO that you perform on other websites to influence your own.

Purchased links: You can buy links to your website on different blogs and reference websites. You can achieve relevance in the sector, gain quality, and potentially increase traffic and positioning.

Natural links: This would be ideal. Get different blogs and pages to talk about your website naturally because they love your site.

Social links: Publications in social networks of quality and that values that you are present and are a reference for users.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing

This consists of the appearance in search engines through paid ads. SEM is basically what is known as Search Engine Advertising. In this case, it is an abbreviation of Search Engine Marketing. As you can see, the word “marketing” already appears, which indicates that you pay for it. SEM is to make a PPC campaign (pay per click) to appear in ‘privileged’ positions of Google results. They are assigned positions by the search engine in the upper, lateral and lower part; whose result shows the ad description.


Fast results

Easy to measure


Increase visits and potential customers.

Short-term and high-quality results

Brand generation

Presence where your competition is.

Increase in conversions (registrations, sales, request for information)


Periodic spending that depends on the competition bid

The moment you do not invest, you disappear from the search results

Can take a while to figure out the best way to optimize the campaign

Search Engine Marketing is used primarily for two reasons:

To capture visits to a website from the beginning of a project, when we are not yet appearing in the organic positions.

To take advantage of every opportunity, because if we do not take advantage of it, the competition will do it.

That is why this technique of publishing advertisements in search engines, mainly Adwords advertising, is used both in the short term to start receiving users to visit the website, and more in the long term to continue maintaining the market share in this segment of the ads.

In addition, there are searches in which it is very complicated to appear on the first page of results. Imagine that you sell sports shoes. Appearing on the first page for the search “buy sneakers” is going to be a real marathon in the long term. If it is that one day you get there.

You would compete no more and no less than against real giants like Amazon, Nike, and Adidas. Imagine what it would be like to fight against these giants for organic positions. Indeed, a waste of time and resources.

That’s why advertisements give us the opportunity to compete against these giants and have the opportunity to appear in searches that would otherwise be almost impossible.

Campaigns in Adwords:

When we talk about Adwords campaigns we talk about campaigns in which each click that is made on the ad has a cost, defined by the bids, which depend on the competition. It is important to be clear that there is a monthly investment and from that investment is configured when, where and with what words can be found in the Google search network. In addition, to reach your target audience, you can segment the campaigns by location, time of appearance, devices, languages, date, and more.

There are different types of Adwords campaigns:

Search Campaigns: Ads are displayed next to search results. Ads are related to search results pages based on the terms or phrases a user is looking for.

Display Campaigns: The ads show on the Google Display Network, which consists of more than one million locations (websites, blogs, videos, applications, Gmail, and YouTube). Ads are related to websites when the keywords are related to the content of a site or the interests of a user browsing a site.

Remarketing Campaigns: These types of campaigns reach people who have visited your website by showing them your ads while browsing other websites.

Google Shopping Campaigns: This is based on product listing ads. They are ads that include rich information about the products, such as images, prices or the name of the merchant. The ad is shown to those users who are looking for the type of products you sell. You can customize the content of the ad, define the budget and the prices that suit you and easily calculate the impact that the ad will have with advanced performance tools and reports.

Differences between SEO and SEMSEM vs SEO

Do you know the difference between SEO and SEM? Basically, they are the two sides of the same coin. Both techniques are used to capture traffic to a website. But one of them is more immediate, for the short term. And the other is a more long-term investment.

Broadly speaking, we can say that the main difference between SEO and SEM is that while the first consists of a organic positioning (without paying for it), the second is what is known as search engine advertising (and we already know that advertising is paid).

SEO is to apply to our website all those relevant improvements for Google to qualify it as “worthy” to appear in the first results.

While the SEM is based on paying to appear in those ‘privileged’ positions of which we just spoke. For this, we will use the tool Google AdWords with which we will create ads based on keywords.

In general, the ads are activated when the search denotes an intentional purchase, or search for information about a product. And they are also distinguished from organic results because they are identified with a small label that says: ” Ad “Or” Sponsored “.

Let’s search Google for “leather shoes”and see what comes up. You see the featured section at the tops with pictures of shoes, prices, links to stores, and the parts that say Ad? Well, those websites that have been positioned for that keyword in exchange for money.

1. Time

It is said that SEM is short-term and SEO is long-term. Although as you have already seen, there are sectors where the SEM is practically mandatory if you do not want to lose any opportunity to attract customers.

From the moment we have configured our campaigns and activate them, we can begin to appear in the searches of hundreds or thousands of users (well, the amount depends on your budget). However, to appear in the organic results it is necessary the work of many months, or even years, to gain positions little by little.

In fact, when a website is new, it is said that there is a period in which Google still does not take you seriously, which is usually about three to six months. And no matter how much you have done with previous work, it will cost you to appear in the first pages of the search engine for a few months. It is what is known as the “Sandbox” of Google and it’s designed to stop new and spammy websites from ranking too quickly.

2. Cost

Obviously, the costs are another difference between SEO and SEM.

SEM is paid. We decide a budget to invest, and we are charged for every click that is made in our ads. That’s why these campaigns also receive the name of PPC, pay per click.

SEO can be free, and you do not have to pay anyone to appear in the results. However, the cost in time and hours worked is usually higher than in the case of SEM.

The organic positions in the search engines are not supposed to be manipulated. There are hundreds of criteria and parameters to take into account for a page to leave before or after others. Some rules of the game that you must know, and that you must be very careful not to try to alter so as not to suffer penalties.

The first are techniques to manipulate algorithms (sometimes even unethical), and the second is to work to get up positions, but within the rules of the game. And above all, with a lot of common sense.

3. Positions

Using SEM can have your websites ranked above the organic positions that are achieved from SEO. This is because above the organic results there are ads shown and paying can enable you to appear there.

SEM occupies the beginning and the end of the page, and SEO occupies the central part of the search results.

4. Keywords

Both techniques are based on the optimization of keywords but have a great difference in focus when we perform the strategy for one or the other. Keywords are the words by which your website will be seen on the search results page. Let them be words that really define what your company does/sells/offers. Study your competition, your search volume, etc.

Take care of the quality of your website. The little spiders of Google look at everything and, of course, will not allow the first results to be occupied by mediocre web pages.

Include your keywords throughout your website in strategic positions such as Titles, H Tags, Meta Tags, etc.

Develop from the beginning a good content plan for your web page. It’s a good idea to have a blog that targets related keywords and to run social media campaigns around these blog posts.

Although there are different tools for SEO and SEM, Google’s keyword planner is often used in both to start charting the strategy.

When we search for keywords, the tool returns all the words related to the theme chosen, as well as the volume of monthly searches for each one, and the difficulty for each keyword or level of competence.

And this is where the huge difference between SEO and SEM lies:

While in SEM we discard those keywords that have a low volume of searches, SEO can be very interesting because the competition is low and will accelerate the process of positioning in an organic manner.

In addition, in SEM we also look at the cost per click of each word (it is indicative, but it gives us an idea of the existing competition between advertisers), and in SEO we look at other parameters such as the authority of the page.

5. Analysis

Another difference between SEO and SEM is the optimization of each technique. Once we have the previous work well done, we must analyze the results obtained to continue improving them.

In both, you have to optimize the keywords and the texts used to improve what is known as CTR. The percentage of clicks obtained versus the total number of impressions (the number of times your result has been in the search engines).

And the tools we use for it are different. While in SEM we use Adwords, Googles ad management tool, in SEO we use Google Search Console.

In both cases, they will allow us to monitor and control exhaustively the number of times our results appear and the number of clicks they make. As well as the searches that have activated our results.

Actually, Adwords and Search Console have more similarities than differences, since both allow us to optimize our keywords.