SEO vs. SEM: Which One You Should Choose

SEO and SEM are essential digital marketing strategies for attracting quality traffic to our site and generating conversions. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to all paid campaigns we can run on search engines and other websites.

This is a great way to quickly increase the visibility of your website. SEO is the process of optimizing our website for search engines.

This includes web optimization (SEO content), on-page optimization (SEO on the page), and getting links from other websites (link building).

While both are designed to drive traffic to the internet, there are many differences that you should be aware of before you start to use them.

Paid positioning vs organic positioning

Our web page will be ranked higher in search results because it is optimized and has good content. SEM positioning involves placing ads and paying Google for the top positions.

We earn SEO by optimizing well and we pay for it with SEM. But what does organic search mean in google analytics?


This is the most important difference between SEO and SEM. Once we activate our SEM campaign, we will be in the first search results for all terms we have bid, increasing our website’s visibility at the moment.

It can take several months to get organically in the first search results. SEO positioning is a change in web content and SEO positioning requires Google to detect these changes.

Their position in search results

Google has defined where organic and paid search results can be displayed. The results of Google Shopping may appear in the first position.

These are product sheets that include an image, product name, and price. After them, there are two search ads. If Shopping ads are not shown, then up to four search ads might appear.

It is important to note that the “Ad” word appears in green when trying to distinguish paid results from organic.

These are the areas that Google has designated for each strategy. However, if no bidder is available on the words in your place, the ad won’t be shown. It will instead be shown as organic results.

The message of the ads

Although paid and organic search results may look similar, there are many differences. The meta title, URL of the website, and meta description are all displayed in search results when a page is positioned organically.

SEM ads can have up to three headlines, each with a maximum length of 30 characters and two description lines of 90 characters. To make your ad more appealing, you can include ad extensions such as site links, call extensions, or location extensions.

Rich fragments and rich snippets can be used in SEO to create links, rating rankings, etc. However, they are less likely to be displayed than ad extensions.


The keyword we can position in each strategy is one of the major differences between SEM. Each keyword must be earned through different strategies in SEO.

This will require a lot more effort, especially at the beginning, to rank for each keyword. When running an SEM campaign, we have the option to bid on any keyword we feel is necessary.


Organic results are preferred by users over paid ones. Users can easily spot the ads and know that they bid on keywords that do not match their search requirements.

The SEO results, on the other hand, are perceived as high quality and increase trust in these pages. Google placed us at the top of its search results because we performed content optimization tasks.

The results’ duration

SEO is a long-term strategy for marketing. It is possible to maintain a high-ranking SEO position by regularly uploading optimized content to the internet and doing a little maintenance.

SEM is the exact opposite. We will cease appearing in search results as soon as our budget is exhausted, and lose all traffic to this channel.

Variables that can affect the results

The variables that influence the results are another difference between SEO and SEM. The CPC, quality of our ads, landing pages, budget, keywords, and other variables will all affect whether we get good or poor results from our SEM campaign.

The variables that influence SEO positioning are determined by the Google algorithm. This encourages great content, optimization of our site, and quality of inbound links.

Graduation of difficulty

It is difficult for many websites to compete to be in the top search engine positions organically. We must also be aware of changes in Google’s algorithm and adapt our website accordingly to ensure that we remain in a favorable position.

A website must be properly positioned. This requires knowledge of SEO, programming, and data analysis. However, developing an SEM campaign takes less time and requires less technical knowledge.

Measuring the results

Google Analytics can be used to measure visits to our website through both the organic and paid channels (SEO), but the data we are most interested in for each case is different.

Here is where SEO results measurement becomes more complicated. Because we need to monitor the changes in the positions of the key keywords and analyze the competition, this is where the measurement of SEO results becomes more complicated.

The Google Ads interface shows us lots of information (numbers of impressions, clicks, costs, quality of ads …), and information about our target audience (locations of users, devices used, age, sex …).). This allows for faster data analysis and comparison.

SEO or SEM? Which is best for me?

You are probably wondering which one to implement in your digital strategy, considering the differences between SEO & SEM.

We recommend designing a strategy that combines SEO activities with SEM campaigns at specific times. Doing all these tasks ideally is not easy and you will need a proper team for this. Or you can hire a Digital Specialist for this job.

SEO positioning traffic is always needed because it is more reliable. However, since the results are long-term we can continue to create SEM campaigns until our SEO rankings improve.

SEM campaigns can also be used to promote our business or increase sales over a certain period.