SEO vs. SEM: What is the Difference and Why Should You Consider in your work?


Search engines like Google have two varieties of search results: paid and organic.

Paid results show up when companies pay Google for clicks. 

Organic results are the ones that Google deems most relevant for the query.

 paid vs organic search result

Business owners can increase website traffic by appearing in organic and paid results using SEO and PPC.

In this article, we include when and how to use SEO, PPC, or both for a more general search engine marketing (SEM) tactics.

But first, let’s cover the basics.

What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of optimizing content to be discovered through a search engine’s organic results.

Google and other search engines look at hundreds of factors to decide which pages to rank for queries. Nobody knows what all of these factors are, but the most important ones are roughly divided into three buckets:

On-page SEO

On-page SEO is the method of optimizing particular web pages.

Examples of on-page tactics include:

  1. Matching search intent
  2. Covering a topic in-depth
  3. Using short and descriptive URLs
  4. Writing enticing title tags and meta descriptions
  5. Using descriptive alt tags for images (where appropriate)
  6. Writing simple and easy to read content
  7. Including keywords in famous places

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO is anything prepared outside of a website to enhance its rankings.

Examples of off-page tactics include:

  1. Getting backlinks from relevant and authoritative websites
  2. Earning brand mentions
  3. Building citations*
  4. Optimizing your Google My Business listing*
  5. Earning positive reviews*

SIDENOTE : Those marked with (*) are mainly important for local business SEO.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO includes making technical changes to improve search engines crawl, index, and rank content more effectively.

Examples of technical optimizations include:

  1. Improving page speed
  2. Using canonical tags to prevent duplicate content
  3. Using hreflang tags for multilingual content
  4. Optimizing robots.txt for crawl efficiency
  5. “Noindexing” thin content

What is PPC?

PPC (Pay Per Click) is a form of advertising where businesses pay for website clicks from popular platforms like search engines.

For example, clicking this ad in Google gets Apple money:

what is ppc?


What is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a general term that contains SEO and PPC.

SIDENOTE : Not everyone agrees with this definition. Some see SEM as synonymous with PPC.

Should you use SEO, PPC, or both?

Knowing what we now know about search engine marketing, it’s easy to conclude that SEO is the way forward because organic traffic is free, consistent, and passive.

This isn’t always the case.

Sometimes SEO works excellent; other times, PPC is the more suitable option. And sometimes, it makes the most sense to use both marketing strategies at the same time.

The following are four ways to use SEO, PPC, or both for best search engine visibility and traffic.

  1. Run ads for keywords that are too competitive
  2. Use PPC and SEO for ad-heavy keywords
  3. Use SEO for informational keywords
  4. Use SEO and PPC to monopolize the search results


1. Run ads for keywords that are much competing


It can take time to rank for some keywords.

For instance, if you have a brand-new supplement store and need to rank for “buy protein powder,” your possibilities of ranking in the short-to-medium term are narrow.

This is because you’re working up against established brands like Amazon, Walmart, and GNC.


But this doesn’t indicate you should quit SEO and drive ads.

As ranking for competing queries will possibly be a long-play, there are a few advantages to practicing PPC while working to rank your site.

2. Use PPC and SEO for ad-heavy keywords.

Profitable keywords tend to attract lots of advertisers.

Just look at the results for “car insurance”:


Google shows four paid ads at the top, and that leads to fewer clicks on organic results as they get pushed down the page.

3. Use SEO for informational keywords.

Most Google searches are informational.

That means people are watching to learn, not buy.

For instance, take a question “how to make a protein shake,” which gets 2,100 searches a month.


It’s unlikely that anyone searching for this is in the market for protein powder. Most are looking to discover how to make a tasty shake using powder they’ve already purchased.

4. Use SEO and PPC to manage search results.

It’s not only ads that start the organic search results.

Google now gives SERP features like featured snippets, “People also Ask” boxes and video carousels for some queries.

Final thoughts

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) isn’t a never-ending wrestling competition between SEO and PPC. Knowing when and where to use each tactic to achieve the desired results is the game.

Sometimes SEO is the answer, PPC, and sometimes both.