What’s the Difference Between SEM and SEO?


With so many internet marketing acronyms floating around, it can be hard to know what they all mean. Most people researching digital marketing have heard of SEO and SEM, but what’s the difference? Both involve digital marketing with search engines, keyword research, and ongoing campaign optimization. However, each term has slightly different meanings, advantages, and applications.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

In short, search engine marketing means “marketing with search engines.” This includes any and all types of marketing strategies, from search engine optimization (SEO) to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

Since the term is still relatively new, the term itself might carry different nuances depending on who’s talking. Generally, SEM often focuses on the use of sponsored search results and paid advertising. This form of advertising is sometimes called “paid search,” since you are paying to include your ad next to specific searches.

SEM, when thought of as paid advertising, is relatively straightforward: you pay for ad space that appear next to your chosen search queries, then test and optimize the advertising campaign over time. With this type of marketing, it’s much easier to track your ROI and your results.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is another type of marketing that focuses only on improving search engine rankings. Technically, it would be classified as one SEM technique.

It is well-known that top-ranking search results earn many more clicks than search results that fall farther down the page. In fact, the vast majority of people almost never click past the first page of search results. This is why SEO receives such emphasis from online marketers who understand how important it is to rank well.

SEO includes a variety of strategies and approaches, but there are two primary strategies: gaining inbound links (backlinks) and improving on-site keyword optimization. The techniques for earning more inbound links and maintaining on-site SEO change over time, and, like SEM, require ongoing investments and optimization.

Interested in Learning More?

To learn more about SEM and SEO for your business, call (858) 277-1717 and request a free website audit and consultation with the internet marketing experts at Saba, Inc. We’re more than happy to answer any of your questions and can help you determine the right marketing mix for increasing online visibility and traffic. We look forward to hearing from you!