New announcement. Learn more


SEO vs SEM - What's the Difference?

A graph showing the difference between SEO and SEM

Want to learn more about SEO vs SEM? We have put together a guide to teach you both the benefits, differences and meaning of Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and is the practice of making a website rank higher on Google (or other search engines). Optimising a website involves everything from keyword research to rewriting title tags, improving the navigation and content structure, adding structured data and more. It is easier for search engines to understand the context of a site's content if it is optimised. This, in return, will increase the chances of the site being matched with relevant searches.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing and refers to paid search marketing. Basically, businesses pay Google to show their ads in the search results. These types of paid ads give instant results and they are running for as long as they are being paid to run. One of the benefits of SEM is that the ads are presented to the target audience that has been specified in the ad campaign, rather than being displayed without a specific target. 

Benefits of SEO

Grow your Organic traffic

SEO increases organic traffic by getting your web pages to rank higher on search engines. When you optimise pages for certain keywords, you rank higher for those search queries and you generate more organic traffic to your site.

Long lasting effects

When paying for ads your site will only rank high as long as you keep paying to have the ads going. The second you click on 'pause campaign' your site is no longer to be seen as number one (maybe not even on the first few pages of Google!). To the contrary, when you have SEO implemented on your site your rankings will keep improving and you will creep closer and closer to the top. 

Boost brand trust

When someone is searching for the services or products that you offer and your brand keeps ranking as one of the top options on Google, they will understand that you are the real deal. Having ads popping up will not give your brand nearly as much credibility - I mean, anyone can pay for ads, right? But only the most visited, trusted and authorised sites can organically rank as number one. 

Benefits of SEM

Drive traffic to your website fast

In contrast to SEO, SEM will give you instant results - you'll see clicks, views and impressions of your ads instantly. This is the fastest way to drive traffic to a website, which is the reason that many businesses are allocating a lot of their marketing budget on paid ads. 

It's conversion focused

Paid ads are usually linked to conversion-focused landing pages that move traffic through the sales funnel. Whilst SEO is focusing on the long-term effects and brand awareness, the main goal of SEM is to drive sales.  

Specify target demographic & location

Rather than increasing your Online presence in general (as with SEO), paid ads will let you specify who your target audience is. You are able to select which location, gender, age group your audience belongs to, and what interests and search intent they have. This gives you the opportunity to narrow down who your paid ads are displayed to. 

Pay-per-action options

If you wish to be in full control over your ad budget there is the option of pay-per-action or pay-per-click. By only paying each time someone is actually clicking on your ad rather than paying just to have the ad displayed, you are assured that you get something out of each paid cent.

Test & measure ad performance

Paid ads are easy to compare and measure. A/B testing is a great way of measuring the success between different types of headlines, copy, images or call to action. The benefits of measuring ad performance is that you can keep tweaking and improving them to get an even better result.

Who should invest in SEO?

There is the perception that SEO only is worth the investment for big companies, or companies who are 100% Online based, such as ecommerce sites. This is incorrect - SEO is even more important for small and medium sized businesses who are competing with well known brands on the same platform (Google). If you would like your site or brand to grow steadily over time, you should invest in search engine optimisation.

Who should invest in SEM?

If you are looking for instant results, are launching a campaign or would like to reach a specific target audience, SEM is for you.