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SEO or SEM: What's The Difference?

Have you heard terms like SEO and SEM and felt confused because you don’t really know what they mean and how they’re different? SEO and SEM are two different marketing channels that are often (wrongly) used interchangeably, that brands can use to reach their target audiences on search engines like Google.

As many people search the internet on a regular basis, marketers and brands turn to SEO and SEM strategies to increase their brand’s visibility on search engines.

But what are SEO and SEM? How are they different? How are they similar? How do they help your brand? Do you need them both?

This blog aims to lay out the definition of each and provide you with a clearer understanding on the similarities, differences, pros, and cons of both SEO and SEM.


The truth is, SEO and SEM are really two sides of the same coin, but they consist of very different actions and relate to different aspects of marketing.

In essence:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is an approach that uses organic methods to appear in search engine results.

  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is an approach that uses paid methods to appear in search engine results.

Imagine you own a haircare product for hair growth which is sold in supermarkets. You want to attract more customers to see your product while they shop, so you consider two different approaches:


SEO is like making your product more visible to consumers by placing it on the right product aisle, near to men’s hair care products for example because through your research, you found that men are more inclined to experience hair loss. Similarly, with SEO, you optimize your website to make it more attractive and relevant to search engines like Google. You might create high-quality content that uses the right keywords, make sure your website is well-structured and easy to navigate, and build links to your site from other reputable websites.


SEM is like paying for an attractive slot at the hair care section that is eye-level so lots of people are likely to see your product. With SEM, you pay to have your website show up at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords. This can be done through pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, where you bid on keywords and pay each time someone clicks on your ad.

So, in short, SEO is all about optimising your website to rank higher in organic search results, while SEM involves paying for ads to appear at the top of search results for specific keywords.

SEO vs. SEM: What are the similarities?

You can count on both SEO and SEM to increase the visibility of your website on search engines. They will help your site show in the SERPs through the use of targeting and optimising for keywords. Here are some similarities that you will find regardless of which approach you choose to employ:

  • Both increase relevant and quality traffic to your site. Theyencourage users to click through to your site, although one through unpaid tactics and the other paid.

  • Both SEO and SEM utilise keyword research to discover and target relevant keywords. Keyword research is important because by selecting relevant keywords that your customers may use to search and also keywords your competition is targeting.

  • Both require continuous testing and optimisation. Monitoring and tweaking keywords based on the prevailing popular search terms is a dynamic process and will increase efficiency of conversion in the long run.

SEO vs. SEM: What are the differences?

In a nutshell, both SEO and SEM are important strategies to use to increase visibility, traffic to website and generate conversions. In an ideal scenario, you would use both of these to complement each other, as part of a wider marketing strategy involving many other aspects of digital marketing. However, if you are on a tighter budget or deadline, weigh your options and priorities.

If you’re unsure, get in touch with us at Spoilmrkt. We’d walk you through the options you have based on your needs, goals and your budget. Speak to us today!

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