While they intersect, they are unique digital marketing strategies, which is shown in further detail below.

SEO focuses on improving your site in order to increase its visibility when people search for items or services related to your company in Google, Bing, and other search engines.The better visibility your pages have in search results, the more likely you are to get attention and attract prospective and existing customers to your business. SEO is a long-game tactic, but well worth the work as illustrated below.

Search engines use bots to analyze all the pages on the web, collecting information about those pages as they go and adding that information to an index. This index acts like a giant library, but instead of a librarian getting you a book, they pull up a web page to help you find  precisely what you’re looking for at the time.

After the pages are indexed, algorithms analyze the pages further, taking notes of hundreds of different signals or ranking factors in order to determine the best order for the pages to appear in the search results for a given query.

You can think of the SEO success factors as proxies for aspects of the user experience, as it is how search bots estimate how well a website or web page can give the searcher what they’re looking for.

Unlike paid search ads, you are not able to pay search engines to give your webpage a higher organic ranking, which highlights how crucial SEO is for your online presence.



While SEO is the long-game, SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a shorter game. As SEM is often paid, you can have more immediate results. It also typically incorporates SEO tactics into the overall strategy.

Like SEO, SEM is also used to improve your standing in search engine results. It builds on your SEO work, and helps to drum up traffic using marketing techniques such as:

  1. (PPC) using platforms such as Google AdWords or AdSense
  2. Paid and unpaid social media marketing (SMM)
  3. Sponsored social posts (influencer marketing)
  4. Email marketing
  5. Generating conversions with gated content, web pop ups and landing pages
  6. Promoted content marketing on third-party sites


SEM operates by using internet marketing tactics to get your site, name and ultimately,  content, in front of a larger audience, faster than SEO — but typically that speed comes with extra costs as a result.

As mentioned, both SEO and SEM are important for any business to grow and gain visibility online, but they can be useful at different times and for different goals. An important rule of thumb to remember – regardless of which tactic you’re focused on at any given time, high-quality SEO should never be ignored.


When to focus on SEO vs SEM:

  1. If your page receives lots of traffic but you are lacking conversions, focus on SEO
  2. If your conversion rates are fantastic but you do not have enough steady traffic, focus on SEM
  3. When launching a new page or product and want viewers fast, use SEM
  4. When you’ve already designed high-quality content, but but it’s lacking the higher levels of viewers, boost it with SEM