Search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are digital marketing terms that are often misinterpreted and used interchangeably, but when you delve into the details, their fundamental differences, as well as benefits, are revealed. Collectively, they fall under the umbrella term ‘Search Marketing.’ 

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between these two acronyms, discuss their benefits and find out how they complement each other. 

What is SEO?

SEO is the process of gaining website traffic from a search engine’s organic (unpaid) results. The search engine (like Google for example) utilises ‘spiders’ that once a search enquiry is typed into the search bar, are released and ‘crawl’ the internet looking for the websites that best suit the keywords in the search query. For most businesses, SEO forms an essential part of a search marketing strategy which drives a robust online presence.  

A solid digital footprint provides you with the ability to be recognised by search engines, which in turn allows you to be seen by your target audience. Regular SEO website optimisation is also required to maintain ranking on Google’s sought after page-one search engine results.

Factors that ‘spiders’ consider can include but are not limited to: 

  • Quality and relevancy of the content

Search engines favour websites that contain well-written optimised and relevant content. It conveys a message of validity as well as reputability.

  • User experience

The spiders will give preference to websites that offer a seamless experience. A website should be fast loading, easy to navigate and most of all, provide clear answers for users’ queries. Remember, that you only have approximately eight seconds to make a meaningful first impression; if not, the user will find another site that meets their needs.

  • Domain and page authority

Global SEO authority, Moz developed a search engine ranking score that ‘predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERP). A Domain Authority score ranges from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.’

The company also developed a powerful SEO metric called Page Authority. It ‘predicts how well a specific page will rank on the SERP. Page Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.

At the time of this article’s publication, Internet Live Stats recorded 83,314 Google searches per second. Your business can be in the first 10 search results if SEO is implemented correctly. There are a plethora of other factors that are considered, but it requires a lot of technical knowledge and expertise.

SEO is a continually changing part of the digital marketing industry primarily due to the frequent changes in Google’s algorithms and therefore, for optimal SEO, it’s best to consult with a digital marketing agency that specialises in this marketing tactic.

The benefits of SEO

Here are the key takeaways from what has been discussed.
  • SEO is a foundation of lead generation.

Through effective implementation of SEO marketing strategies, which can include targeted social media and content marketing, quality leads can be obtained and nurtured to increase the chance of a conversion. 

  • SEO can increase conversion rates.

Achieving and maintaining top position on a SERP will enhance your conversion rate because your target audience will become familiar with your brand, increasing your brand’s reputation in the market. This leads to trust and loyalty, which translates into sales.

  • SEO assists in establishing brand awareness.

SEO ensures that your brand can be found easily by your target market through organic search. By holding page-one rankings, users will recognise it as an authority in your chosen industry. Brand awareness will continue to escalate due to a continuous influx of high-quality traffic.


SEM has also been defined as ‘buying traffic through paid search listings’, according to Search Engine Land. So, it’s safe to say that SEM refers to Paid Search with specific emphasis on pay-per-click (PPC). 

Pay-per-click (PPC) is a marketing tactic whereby advertisers pay a fee every time a user clicks on their ads. This term has been used to describe paid advertising online with the specific intention of driving traffic to one’s website. PPC is effectively a billing model within Paid Media and there are many billing models which support website traffic. 

All advertising channels, ad formats and targeting means are considered when developing a Paid Search plan for the best return on investment (ROI).  

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a marketing approach involved in the promotion of websites by enhancing their visibility in search engine page results through advertising.

SEM offers marketers the flexibility and opportunity to measure results. It’s only through objective analysis of collected data that you will know whether marketing efforts successful. The implementation of SEM complements a variety of marketing strategies.

Types of SEM activities

  • Implementation of targeted paid media ad campaigns.
  • Researching and applying appropriate keywords to create targeted content.
  • Making sure that advertising activities fall within an allocated budget
  • Applying key performance indicators (KPIs) such as click-through-rates (CTR) and cost-per-click (CPC) towards future advertising opportunities.
  • Optimising on-page and off-page components of the digital assets with rank organically on Search Engines. 

How does Search Marketing work?

It’s best to illustrate the connection using the following example.

If you set up a PPC advertisement but don’t optimise the ad or the website to which it links, it can be seen as an example of SEM. However, if you optimise your site as well as your search content with well-researched keywords and implement a budget behind it to boost it on targeted audience’s search pages, then you’re working with a combination of SEO and SEM, collectively known as Search Marketing.          

They work in unison to establish and maintain the strength of your website’s online presence through top-spot ranking on SERPs. Through this, brand awareness and reputation can be recognised by your target audience. The services and/or products that your brand offers can be monetised through SEM, which plays a significant role in your business’s revenue growth, leading to a lucrative return on investment (ROI).

At, we employ a team of digital marketing specialists who work together to ensure that your business is visible online and contains well-written, relevant content. We want you to reach your target audience, improve engagement and make more sales.