difference between sem and seo is explained

What Are The Differences Between SEO And SEM? How to Combine Both Strategies?

Should I do SEO or SEM within the online strategy of my business? What are the differences between them? This is one of the most recurring doubts among all who start their own internet business. And it is that both areas of digital marketing are important within a corporate strategy.

The truth is that, although both focus on getting more Web traffic and, consequently, a greater number of potential customers. However, despite the fact that both have a similar objective, the method with which they achieve it is completely different, which makes each discipline unique.

Now, the question you should ask yourself is: does this difference between SEO and SEM prevent them from being used simultaneously ? Well the short answer is no, and this is what I come to tell you today. In fact, they combined can be an opportunity to maximize your Digital Marketing plan and your business in general.

Are SEO and SEM Compatible With Digital Strategy?

Let’s start by answering the previous question, and it is that as I said, despite being two different disciplines, it does not mean that they are incompatible.

In fact, quite the opposite; Both “Search Engine Optimization” and SEM complement each other, and in fact, as we mentioned before, it can be very beneficial to use both disciplines in the same Online strategy.

Despite what it may seem, it is common for this question to arise, and it is that many people, especially those who are just starting out with a website, tend to be confused when talking about SEO and SEM , either because their initials are very similar or due to the fact that they both have the same objective, which is to give visibility and traffic.

In addition, once this first precept is understood, it tends to know which of the two is the best technique to promote said business on the Internet.

Of course, I clarify from the beginning that I will not talk about which of the two is better, since both have their own advantages and disadvantages, which we will see later.

Therefore, the important thing is not which of the two is better, but which of the two is better adapted to certain situations .

Having clarified this doubt, let’s see what the differences are between them , and based on this, how it is possible to combine both to achieve a better positioning in the Google SERPs.

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What is The Difference Between SEO and SEM in Google Results?

Let’s start with a visual difference, and that is that both SEO and “Search Engine Marketing” appear within Google’s results pages, and it is possible to differentiate them in a fairly simple way .

As you know, the «Search Engine Optimization» seeks organic positioning, that is, uploading positions in the SERPs without paying Google for it, while in the SEM you pay to have greater visibility on the results page.

With this in mind, it is important to note that Google always makes sure to clarify which of the results are paid ads and which ones are organically positioned there.

How Can You Identify Them?

Very simple, through an ad tag next to the URL.

buy cars barcelona search query in search engine results page

As you can see, if we search for “buy cars Barcelona” we have that the first results are paid ads, that is, Search Engine Marketing.

We know this thanks to the “Announcement” tag on the left of the URL.

Particularly for this keyword, which is quite competitive, there are several ads per search, so we will have to go down a bit until the ads disappear and we begin to see the organic results.

buy cars barcelona search query organic search engine results

It is not until after the fourth result that we start to see the organic results, as you see, in this case the ” Ad ” tag no longer appears next to the URL as it happens with SEM results.

Another point to clarify is that this label is not the only notable difference between organic and paid positioning.

If you look closely at the results shown in the screenshot, the ads are particularly shorter in description as they have calls to action, some even include a contact method.

And, above all, the URL consists only of the main domain, without including a specific page within the Web, as is the case with the organic result.

There Will Not Always Be Ads of This Style in the SERPs

To end this point, I want to clarify that the ads, that is, the pages positioned through Google Ads are much less common than you might think .

Generally, they tend to appear for highly competitive niches or for transactional keywords such as “buy cars Barcelona”, so, if you are worried about not being able to reach the top spot because of the ads, let me tell you that this situation will rarely happen to you ; unless you’re in a highly competitive niche.

In addition, if the search you carry out (you or another user) is purely informative, the appearance of ads of this type will be practically non-existent.

Jose Facchin - eBook Guia Palabras Clave Negocio

4 Important Differences Between SEO and SEM That You Should Know

Let’s continue with the differences between the two, in this case outside the SERPs, because not everything comes down to the Google results page.

There are some differences between these two disciplines or strategies that you should know if you want to start using them optimally in your strategy.

1. SEM is The Fast Way, but SEO is The “Sustainable” Way

The first difference I want you to know is that the former allows you to achieve much faster results than the latter.

It comes as no surprise that organic positioning requires effort, you need to work on it for a while before you start to see results, while paid advertising doesn’t.

And it is normal, after all, you are paying to see results …

However, this does not mean that you should focus all your attention on the SEM, but quite the opposite. Search Engine Optimization may be the slowest method, but it is the surest method of succeeding with your online business.

In the end, it all comes down to knowing how to balance both disciplines, taking advantage of the one while investing time and effort in the other.

2. SEM is Basically Paying for Visibility

Another point that you should know is that, unlike SEO, SEM requires investing money in ads to give visibility to your site .

The investment may vary depending on the type of ad, the results and how you program the campaign, but you will always have to pay to start an advertising campaign.

3. You Invest More Time in SEO and More Money in SEM

And since we did not mention that organic positioning also has its expenses and investment, I want to highlight that in the medium and long term it will also end up being expensive for our business .

Be careful, there is almost nothing here for free! In the long run SEO can also be almost as expensive as SEM. Because I am not only referring to investments in money, but also to the personnel, time and efforts that organic visibility forces us to dedicate in our strategies.

Organic visibility requires a multitude of skills and a lot of “field” work:

  • Many hours a day and a lot of constancy.
  • Market research and analysis of constant competition.
  • Find the correct keywords.
  • Generation or creation of content.
  • Use professional and expensive tools to create more effective strategies.
  • Buy or get backlinks for your link strategy.
  • Always be up to date with the thousands of changes in Google.
  • Have a sixth sense to try to anticipate changes in algorithms, etc.

Little by little, time, effort and money accumulate, to the point where organic visibility jobs end up almost matching those of Google Ads in the total investment made.

4. Once The Campaign Ends, Paid Advertising Stops Working

While organic gives you more constant and “permanent” results (as long as the search engine considers that your content is relevant enough for the user), once the advertising campaign you hired ends, the SEM stops giving results , at least until you invest in more advertising.

Again, it is normal, and it is that here you pay to see results, so if you do not invest, you will not have online visibility.

How to combine SEO and SEM in your Marketing Strategy?

Finally, let’s talk about how you can combine both digital techniques.

And for this I will give you some tips and strategies that you can apply and that will help you take advantage of both disciplines to get more visibility on Google:

Who Says You Need to Wait For a While to Start Seeing Results?

If it is true that with «Search Engine Optimization» you need time to start seeing results, but the same does not happen with SEM.

Therefore, while strengthening and optimizing the former, why not take advantage of the rapid results of the other?

Thus, not only will you be working to achieve a better organic positioning in the medium and long term, but you will also begin to give visibility to your Blog, business or brand in the short term thanks to the ads.

In this case we could say that SEM is going to sustain and drive the first moments of “Search Engine Optimization” and your website, like a baby walker who is just beginning to walk.

Of course, it is recommended that you find a specialist to help you optimize your ads to have better results and that you can recover your initial investment.

Take Advantage of The Market Research of SEM to Reach SEO

Something that is clear is that to create a good campaign, for example, Google Ads, it is necessary to carry out an in-depth market study, including the study of potential keywords, competitors and the like.

This information can not only be used in your paid Google campaigns, but also to optimize your organic strategy.

You already have potential keywords, you already know what your competition is, you already have an idea of how to optimize your snippets. Now is the time to take advantage of this information and create an organic strategy based on it.

In this sense, both complement each other perfectly , since the information you collect in one is reusable for the other, and vice versa.

If Your Niche is Very Competitive, Go Paid Advertising

Organic positioning is the answer to position your website in the medium / long term.

However, there are niche markets where the competition is very tough, so much so that you will need a lot of time to see results , and I am talking for several months and even years.

In these cases in which the competition is very high, do not be afraid to go to the SEM , since this is going to be the only way to achieve results in a shorter time, while working on organic positioning.

If you really want to compete in a crowded niche, it’s not just enough to invest twice as much time and effort in SEO, you will need the direct support that only SEM can give you.

Although I do warn you that, just as you need to invest twice as much time and effort in organic, in a highly competitive niche you will also require investing twice the money that you would normally use for a campaign, sometimes even more.

Focus Your SEO for Content and to Build Your Brand While Boosting Sales with SEM

Generally when a user performs a search, we can differentiate three possible intentions, that of searching for information, making a transaction or finding a company, brand or institution.

It is possible to differentiate the search intention based on the type of keyword they use, be it informative to search for information, transactional to make a purchase or sale, or navigational if their intention is to find a specific website.


To conclude, we could say that SEO is easier when we want to position informative or navigational keywords , since in this case the user is looking for information without a specific purchase objective or already knows what site they are looking for, so it will be more direct and will search for the name of the brand, company or institution.

Because of this, in addition to selling products and services, organic tends to work better to position our informational content and our brand.

On the other hand, the SEM is perfect for transactional keywords and to promote fast sales , since these types of keywords that show a transactional intention on the part of the user are generally much more competitive in organic.

In other words, they are going to carry out a premeditated action, but without having a specific Web page in mind.

And you, do you use SEO and SEM together in your digital marketing strategy?

I would love to know how you combine them, so leave me a comment right down here 😉

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