What are the differences between SEO and SEM?

A successful marketing strategy helps attract visitors and drive traffic to your site. An essential tool for any marketing strategy is search optimization, that means to increase the number and quality of visitors to your website by getting your page to rank higher in search engines. There are basically two ways to increase performance and visibility, namely SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). SEO and SEM are two closely related digital marketing strategies, but at the same time are different from one another.

The aim of this blog is to clarify the differences between the two methods in order to understand what sets them apart and be able to choose the tactic that suits your business best.


SEO (organic traffic) is a low-cost option when compared to SEM (paid traffic). SEM or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) as it’s widely known, involves buying space in the search engine results, so instead of ranking higher by getting free traffic (i.e. SEO), you pay to appear on top of other searches.


As a matter of fact, it takes time to achieve results by using SEO. Value is added over time using digital marketing tools and different social media platforms. With SEM the impact is immediate but the value is questionable as not all views/clicks are relevant. Our advice would be to use SEM is you are first launching a website as it takes less time than SEO, and then focus on growing your traffic organically.


SEO is slightly more complicated than SEM, as it needs a refined strategy in place to work, as well as professionals that know the ins and outs. The reason behind this is because it uses a variety of keywords to enhance the relevance and drive website traffic. Whilst SEO is an ongoing process to keep in the top position of the search engines, SEM does not involve any complication, as you pay to appear on top. To keep in that position though you have to keep paying!

When it comes to choosing the best tactic, you should not only consider their main differences but also think about how you would like to achieve digital marketing excellence. Neither of them is better than the other, but the two complement one another extremely well. Keep in mind that what works best for your business will depend on the type of your business, if you are a newcomer, your budget, you marketing goals and the resources available to maintain your efforts.