Understanding Search Marketing: SEO vs. SEM

What's the difference? How can you use them?

What is SEM? SEO? What about “Search Marketing”? There are many acronyms associated with search ads. What are all these terms, and how are they related? This blog will help you define these terms, identify the strategies associated with them, and provide advice on how to use them.

Search Marketing 

Search Marketing (different from the well-known acronym SEM) is an umbrella term.

Search Marketing can be defined as the concept of using marketing strategies to help websites appear on search result pages on all engines – Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Like most marketing strategies, there are ways to do both paid advertising or unpaid, also referred to as organic.

Search Marketing strategies include:

  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing), also known as Paid Ads, Paid Search, or PPC. Advertisers pay to have their ads show up in search results. Google marks these ads with an “AD” image next to the link.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the practice of optimizing a website's presence in organic results. These results indicate a website’s authority in search, meaning that when people click a link to the organic listing, they find the information, product, or service they are seeking. These results do not have an “AD” designation next to the link.


SEM: Search Engine Marketing

SEM is the practice of using paid text ads in search results. It is also called Paid Search or PPC (Pay-per-click).  These ads are typically made up of text ads

They include a headline and a description to let searchers know what they can expect to find if they click the ad.

Once a person clicks on an ad, ideally, they complete a purchase, submit a lead generation form, or complete some other action identified by as a goal for the campaign. In the example above, GEICO would want the person to get a quote and ultimately get car insurance.

The cost of ads for SEM campaigns should be closely monitored to ensure profitability for the client or company. Ideally, the SEM campaign will become a cash machine. Overall, SEM can be a fast and profitable strategy; however, watch your SEM campaigns closely! They can quickly become expensive and costly if not monitored and maintained properly.

SEO:  Search Engine Optimization

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of increasing a website’s rankings so it will appear high on the search engine result page without paying, also known as an organic listing. Search engine optimization can improve your websites placements on search results pages.

A few ways to do this:

  • Reviewing the website’s architecture or content
  • Conducting keyword research
  • Making sure the search engines can crawl and index the website through metadata, alt text, etc.
  • And more!

SEO helps build the website’s “authority” on Google, a longer-term strategy for increasing the website’s ranking on Google.


In conclusion, marketers in Search Marketing look to optimize their paid, search ads (SEM) and their organic search rankings (SEO). When evaluating your website – is SEM or SEO a strategy that could help drive more business for your website or company?

Digital Marketing