Chase Reiner October 26th, 2018

SEM vs SEO, which one is better? Which of the two should you invest in if you want to get traffic and revenue flowing into your website and ultimately in your business?

And if you’re new to the online marketing scene, you probably have no idea what these two acronyms stand for or even mean. In this article, you’ll get a necessary grip of what SEM does and what it stands for. As well as learn what SEO is and what makes it different from SEM. Lastly, you’ll learn how each one can help your business grow and increase your revenue.


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What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, and defines it as “Paid Search”. In short, it’s the ads you see showing up on the Search Engine Results Page(SERP). For example, you type in the word “resorts Vancouver” in Google’s search bar. It would yield results pictured below.

SEM examples from Google SERPs

As you can see in the image above there are results that are labeled as “ADs”. These results are called paid-ads, which means you pay Google money so that Google will show your website or webpage.

SEM top ad results

This process of you paying a search engine so that it shows your webpage or website in the SERPs is called SEM (search engine marketing) or simply Paid-Ad. And the traffic you get every time people click on your ads and go to your website is called “paid traffic”.

SEM, in short, is creating Ad Copies which will be shown in the SERPs. And you pay Google certain fee so that your ad copy will show.

What is SEO?

SEO, which means search engine optimization, is similar to SEM in that you try to increase your visibility in the Search engine results page. But, unlike SEM which requires you to pay a certain amount so that your site will appear in the ad’s section, SEO is free.

Search engine optimization makes use of quality content like blogs in order to get people’s attention and drive traffic to the website. Take a look at the page results given for the word “resorts Vancouver” as shown in the picture below.

SEO results

What do you notice?

There are results that don’t have the label ‘Ad’ attached to them. These results are not paid, and Google shows and ranks them depending on their relevance and information presented.

SEO example from the SERPs

How do search engines work in relation to SEM and SEO

Search Engines are the medium or the platform where SEM and SEO take place. It’s the very reason why these two strategies, which are grouped under Search Marketing, are created. Without search engines, like Google, there wouldn’t be a need to optimize or create a marketing plan, to begin with.

Now, if you’re new to SEO or SEM, then you wouldn’t have any idea what a search engine is, search engines are software designed to answer a  user’s query by pilling different resources from the web. These answers often called results come in various forms from blogs to infographics, videos, images, etc.

Search engines then rank these results in order of importance and significance to the question asked. So, if you ask for example ‘How to make a solar cooker’ Google won’t show a grill or a rice cooker to you. Instead, it would show a solar cooker like this.

Google results for Solar Cooker

And not this.

Googles results page showing a grill

What does SEM do?


Search Engine Marketing helps you advertise your products to your prospective buyers by creating an enticing ad that will compel them to click. Once they click your ad, they will then be directed to a page called a “landing page” which will contain information such as benefits and solution. At the end of the landing page, you will place a button referred to as call-to-action (CTA) which your prospective buyers will click.

This CTA can do two things (1) compel your prospective buyers to make an inquiry or ask for a quote and (2) buy your product or service that you’re offering. Let’s take a look at our example from earlier “resort Vancouver”.

The ad will bring you to a page with a whole list of cabins and hotels that you can rent.

Ad clicks results for resorts in vancouver

Let’s try another one. How about ‘house for sale Vancouver’, let’s see what advertisement we can come across.

House for sale in Vancouver results in Google

And you get results like the one above. Now, let’s try clicking their ads to see what we can find. Once you click that ad, you will be transported to their website which shows a video of a real estate agent showing people around. As you can see here below.

man man showing a couple around a house

The part that is boxed in red is this website’s CTA, which tells a visitor to either check out how much their home is worth or find a house. And when you click the ‘Find Your Perfect Home Button’, you’ll get this.

Which ends with you seeing a page like this, if you click any of their categories.

Another advertisement takes you to a website displaying different houses for sale.

results of houses being rent

Now, SEM is targeted only at people who have made up their mind to purchase or buy something. Which makes sense right? Why would you click an ad if you’re not planning to buy anything?

Now here’s an example of a typical landing page that hired SEM specialists make. When you type in the words ‘Best PPC services Canada’ You’ll get these results.

Besr PPC services canada results on Google

When you click the second ad, PPC services| Digital Marketing Experts. You will be brought to a page like this.

landing page for leadopo

Now, if you’re looking for the best PPC services in Canada, then you’ll most probably fill up the form and click the ‘Start receiving leads’ button. Which by the way is the CTA.

So where’s the “Money” in all of this?

Well you see, the words:

  • house for sale Vancouver
  • resort Vancouver
  • Best PPC services Canada

Also known as  ‘keywords’ are words that you can’t just randomly and freely use in your ad copies. Keywords are phrases users like you and your customers’ input in search engines whenever they search for something. And if you want to use them in your advertisement, then you should be willing to pay for them. Take a look at the example below.

The keyword ‘resort Vancouver’ costs $1.42 in CPC, CPC means Cost Per Click. This means that when someone clicks your ad with the resort Vancouver as the keyword, you’ll be paying Google $1.42 every time. So if ten people click your ad, then you’re going to pay Google $14.2.

Now, take a look at this other keyword.

The keyword ‘PPC management Toronto’ costs $18.90! And ‘PPC management’ cost $40.13 per click! Now why do these keywords cost so much? Well, a high-value keyword means that people who click these keywords actually purchase the services or product that the sites who use them offer. This sureness of purchase increases a keyword’s price since you can get revenue if you use them in your ads.

Note: I used a tool called KWFinder in order to determine the price of the keyword. You can check out their website here


What does SEO do?

SEO follows a similar format as SEM. SEO, by the way, stands for Search Engine Optimization. Which means you revamp or make your site better so that Google will show it in its Results Page. Now, SEO is similar to SEM in the sense that it utilizes a search engine and gets ranked depending on its quality.

It drives traffic to your website without you paying any money to Google. This type of traffic is called Organic Traffic, which in simple terms means that your page organically or naturally showed up in the SERPs.

Let’s try an example, so you can get a clearer idea what SEO is. We’ll use the keyword ‘resorts in Vancouver’ and type it in Google’s search bar. We’ll get results like this.

SEM top ad results

At the top, you have the ads for the different resorts and lodging you can find in Vancouver. And at the bottom after the map and different locations of the resorts, you’ll see this.

SEO results

These are blogs or content that contain information about resorts in Vancouver that you can find. These pages can either be websites or blogs whose sole purpose is to give information to users. The site that Google deems as the most informative is at the top. In this case, ‘The 10 best Vancouver Island Luxury Resorts – Oct 2018 by

And when you click their entry, you’ll be directed to their website.

And you’ll see that they have 961 results and they’re showing you the top 11 results they ranked as the best. You can clearly see that TripAdvisor is very helpful especially for travelers who are looking for a place to stay in Vancouver.

Keywords In SEO

Unlike in SEM or PPC, you don’t pay for the keywords you use. What you do need to pay attention to are Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty (KD). Search Volume refers to the number of people who search for certain keywords. While Keyword Difficulty (KD) refers to how difficult it is to rank for those keywords.

In this case, resorts Vancouver has 70 people searching for it, and it’s possible to rank for it if you decide to use it. Cheap hotels, on the other hand, has 11,922 searches, and it has a KD of 46. You know that the keyword is easy to rank for when the KD is colored green.

The goal of SEO is to drive traffic to a website. So, the higher the search volume, the higher the chances of you pulling those people into your site. But, you can only do this if you make worthwhile content.

Simple How to do SEM step by step

  1. Create your Advertising Goal
  2. Understand what is your Business Offering
  3. Choose your Paid Advertising Platform
  4. Setup your PPC Account
  5. Build your Campaign
  6. Determine your Budget
  7. Create your Ad Copies
  8. Build your Landing Page
  9. Double Check your Tracking Conversion
  10. Test Track your Conversions
  11. Launch your Campaign
  12. Track the Results
  13. Document your Losses and Revenues

Simple How to do SEO step by step

  1. Do a Website, Backlink and Content audit
  2. Research your Competitor
  3. Perform a Keyword Research
  4. Update your Content
  5. Optimize your Meta Titles & Meta Descriptions
  6. Improve your Desktop & Mobile Page Speed
  7. Include keywords in your Images, Alt text & Geotag to
  8. Optimize your Web Schema
  9. Update and improve your Google My Business Listing (GMB)
  10. Build Citations on Top & Same Niche Directories
  11. Do Link Building on Forum sites, Blogs & etc.
  12. Track your Results
  13. Condense your Results  in a Performance Report

The Difference Between SEM & SEO

SEM used to encompass both paid advertising and SEO, but now the term SEM generally refers to Paid Ads. The term Search Marketing became the new term to describe both paid (SEM) and unpaid tactics of getting traffic online. Both SEM and SEO are similar and different at the same time. Both are strategies to gain online traffic in search engines and both use keywords.

But, it’s the similarities that we want to tackle its the difference. Here are points that separate SEO from SEM.

  • SEO is Free – its free in a sense that you don’t actually pay any cash for the keywords that you’ll be using in your blogs. But, if you do guest posting or hire SEO analysts, then you will need money to pay for their services. In SEM, you pay for the keywords you use per click, so you don’t have the liberty of choosing any keyword. Your choice of phrases and keyword to use is dependent on your given budget.
  • SEM needs more content – in SEO you only need to create a compelling blog, but in the case of SEM, you need ad copies, and landing pages. And more detail should be placed on ads and the landing page since they cost you money.
  • SEM is placed higher on the SERPs – ads are displayed just below the search bar, so more people see them and possibly click on them.
  • SEO rakes in more traffic – Even though SEM is placed at the top of the SERPs, SEO still rakes in more traffic. Because blogs are free content, and more often than not they give people the information they need.
  • SEM requires less effort – ads on search engines require less effort in ranking since they will appear on the top of the SERPs. Your ads will show up at the top of the page without you having to go through numerous editings and postings.
  • SEM shows faster results – the results of SEM such as sales, ranking and conversions are faster than compared to SEO. And these fast results are what determines an SEM campaigns success.

What does SEM & SEO stand for in business


SEM and SEO both help a business grow and increase sales by providing various instances of customer contact. Your blogs help your prospects get to know your business more. Through the information and tips, you post. They also raise awareness about your brand whether you offer a service or a product. Your business will show up in a search engine’s listings, and you’ll be

How to Grow Your SEM & SEM knowledge

One way to increase your learning about SEM and SEO is by reading informative blogs. Don’t go for the simple blogs that don’t offer much info instead look at long copies that have many to offer. Blogs that are worth your time reading them.

Aside from blogs you can also read books on search marketing, SEM, SEO and even copywriting and basic programming, so you know what goes on in your campaigns. You can also attend seminars offered by different business and digital marketing organizations. Learning and being taught by key speakers give you a better experience than just you reading alone. And lastly if you don’t have the time to travel, you can watch webinars online, or you can download some from websites like Udemy.

Anyway, you choose learning more about SEM and SEO will help you create more thorough campaigns that will get you the results you want.


Instead of pitting SEM and SEO against each other, the best thing you can do is use them together. Two smart heads are better than one, right? So when you employ SEM along with SEO, you can get more results than when you pick one and forget the other. SEO provides the green traffic pasture that SEM needs to convince in order to get the goal, which is more often than not sales. And SEM provides the push needed by the people you’ve attracted in SEO to act or do something about their problems, whether it’s grave or minor. In its straightforward sense, you can really make a website or business fly out in the online setting unless you use SEM and SEO hand in hand.