SEO vs. SEM_ What do SEO and SEM stand for_

Optimizing your content’s searchability online is a vital and practical marketing approach for businesses trying to draw attention and drive site traffic as they grow their brands. And this does not just refer to any attention or traffic, but traffic that really converts into sales and leads.

Now, although there are other ways to get exposure online, Google is still on the frontline when it comes to helping firms get the best out of their marketing campaigns. This is mainly attributed to its considerable market share as well as the user base.

Google itself owns 92.07% of the search engine market share worldwide, Bing coming in second only owns 2.44%.

Statcounter showing Google owns 92.07% of the search market share

That said, there is one puzzle that most businesses still struggle with when trying to utilize different search engines to grow; should they concentrate on SEM or SEO?

Simply put, should you devote your resources to search engine marketing (sponsored ads a.k.a pay per click) or search engine optimization?

Overview of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO is fundamentally a marketing method that involves all the techniques of drawing traffic and enhancing the visibility of a page or website via free advertising efforts and organic search results.

Its main goal is to optimize a website to earn top rankings in search engines. It includes both technical and creative components to help businesses gain traffic, brand awareness as well as rank higher.

Components of SEO;


Finding the right and relevant keywords is a crucial factor in SEO and the first step to any on-page SEO effort.

A keyword is usually the phrases and words that users usually key in when searching for a particular topic.

You can discover these keywords using some common sense and also a lot of hints from the various keyword tools available in the market. Google itself has a couple of tools that are helpful like Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner. Both can help you find appropriate keywords for your service or product.

Here at SEOPressor, we use LSIGraph for keyword research purpose.

LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. while LSI keywords is used as a broad term for any keywords that are deemed closely related. For example “ice lemon tea” and “ice lemon tea recipe”.


The LSIGraph tool provides all the useful information in helping you out to pick a keyword, like search trend, keyword volume and more.

Useful content;

There is a saying in the SEO industry that “Content is King”.

This is partly true. Every user of Google is there looking for content, for infomation, be it written down in text, an image, or video.

This is why, if you want to have good SEO, you need to create and provide useful content to solve whatever questions they have in mind.

There exists content marketing, which in itself is a whole new branch out of marketing focusing on creating content as means of advertising. Read more about content marketing to know how it relates to SEO.

Relevant Backlinks

Backlinks is another big part of SEO.

There are 2 types of links, internal links that come within your own website and external links where someone else or some other website links to you.

Having internal links can help search engines, such as Google and Bing, to explore your pages better and thus understand them better, giving you a better chance to rank high. Read more about internal links to understand how that helps your website.

While every external backlink you received acts as a confidence vote to your website, which can boost your authority in the eyes of search engines, also helping you to rank higher in search result. Get some tips on how to gain external backlinks.

Social Media

This is where the SEO vs. SEM vs. SMM question comes in.

As mentioned earlier, SEM and SEO are all part of online marketing. The same applies to SSM (social media marketing). Which also, is part of both marketing techniques.

Nowadays, marketers incorporate social media into their marketing strategies and plans. It is a considerable driver of popularity and brand awareness. Through platforms like Facebook and Twitter, you can provide product information, advertise, solve concerns, and even get client feedback. The possibilities are endless.

Overview of SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

Search engine marketing mainly involves gaining search visibility via paid adverts through search engines like Bing and Google. The adverts are usually referred to as PPC (pay-per-click) ads.

There are other phrases used for different SEM related activities, including CPC (cost-per-click) ads, paid search advertising, and paid search ads. This essentially means that the highly controversial debate on SEO vs. SEM VS PPC is partially misguided; PPC is part of SEM.

PPC adverts allow businesses to target buyers through pertinent keywords and ad copy that match their respective searches. The ads usually show up in SERPs (Search engine results pages) just next to organic results. They give your brand’s blog articles, landing pages, and landing pages enhanced visibility.

Some SEM strategies include;

Google AdWords is, by far, the most effective search engine tool for hosting adverts. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t other noble platforms. Yahoo search ads and Bing ads can also do the job.

Now, regardless of which platform you decide to spend your marketing resources on, here are some critical aspects of a successful SEM campaign?

  • Have a budget
  • Launch a campaign with a particular audience in mind
  • Create ads that involve various variations of your target keyword
  • Write useful and relevant copy using the keywords
  • Monitor statistics like impressions and clicks by analyzing things like average cost per click as well as click-through rates

Though other factors determine effective ad campaigns, these are very important for beginners in the game.

What differentiates SEO from SEM?

SEO and SEM are two intertwined ideas used to increase site traffic and promote brands. While they are related considerably, the two concepts have some differences. Let’s delve into them;

  • When utilizing SEM to enhance business visibility online, both paid and unpaid techniques are used. Whereas in Search Engine Optimization, a business owner or marketer tries to rank higher via natural or organic strategies. The processes are usually free, unless you’re using any paid tools and hiring any agency to get this done for you.
  • SEM cannot survive with paid adverts only. As such, with Search Engine Marketing, there should be some middle ground between organic results and between paid through Search Engine Optimization.
  • The leads generated from Search Engine Marketing are particular and have a higher chance of conversion because it is targeted. Organic leads, on the other hand, are generic and present various options to a query. This essentially means that when a user clicks on an advert or site with SEM, the results are usually much better and relevant.

Which one should you choose for your Business?

Your brand, whether it is a start-up or an SME, it has its own audience.

You can reach them with SEM or SEO, but the outcome will largely depend on your marketing and business objectives. While for some brands, Search Engine Optimization makes sense, and PPC is entirely out of the equation for some, the opposite is true.

For instance, if you are an accounting firm that wants to generate local leads gradually, developing and implementing a sound SEO campaign can work out well in the long term. However, if you are a law firm in competition with other similar agencies, you are better off going for SEM to get better and more targeted leads.

So it is essential to scrutinize your current objectives and then asses how they relate to your general long term goals. Also, create a strategy that not only guides you correctly but also allows you to adjust when necessary.

Balancing SEM and SEO

Most successful brands online today like Sky News, talkSPORT, and Vodafone started by implementing both techniques. According to econsultancy, these companies leveraged the two methods to get to where they are now. Similarly, an advertising report by Adobe shows that click-through rates are on the rise signaling a shift to paid search ads.

As such, if you are a brand that cares about developing a robust online presence and gaining returns both in the long run and short run, balance both SEM and SEO. Your focus should be on covering up for the cons of SEM and SEO while taking maximum advantage of each.

Final Word

Knowing your brand’s goals is very vital when it comes to creating an online marketing approach that yields positive results. By concentrating on both SEM and SEO, you are taking advantage of both worlds and countering competitors who are only concentrating on only one method.

What’s more, if you go on top and stick there, don’t just grasp how SEM and SEO work in the current environment and then get comfortable; Try to do some research and look at how the methods will evolve as the world becomes more and more reliant on the internet. This will be important for your brand’s marketing strategies in the coming years.

Updated: 7 January 2022

Lo Jia Thong

A polyglot plummeted into the deep blue world of SEO and inbound marketing armed with a burning passion on letters and a fascination on how thing rolls in the world wide web.