SEO vs. SEM: Which Is Better & What Is the Difference?

SEO vs. SEM: Which Is Better & What Is the Difference?


Search engines like Google and Yahoo offer different kinds of results that show up when you carry out a search online. Some are paid results, while others are organic. Google usually opts to show you the organic results first because they are most likely to have the answers you are looking for.

As a business owner, you can increase your company’s online web presence by investing in effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) strategy or use them together and come up with a holistic Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy. You can either pay to have ads put up on search engines or modify the way you exhibit your content and where and how you carry out your marketing, in order to reach the audience, you are targeting.

At SEO Resellers Canada, we can help you find the best strategies to get your business on its feet. Without a strong foundation, your business’s online presence will not reach the potential that it has. We know what kind of algorithms get your site to the search results and we can help you make the required optimization to generate more traffic and conversions.

In this article, we are going to discuss the following topics.


What Is SEO?

SEO is a commonly heard term that almost any online business owner would know about. It includes all the strategies for optimizing your website to appear in search results. The better your SEO strategies, the more chances you have of getting your pages to show up in the first few pages of search engine results. One major aspect of SEO is that it works towards getting you free traffic because your audience comes across your page through your various uses of keywords and website layout.

Did you know that 52.4% of the population makes a search per day?

The traffic that SEO attracts is organic, because search engines like Google are constantly crawling your site and making sure that you have been following the latest algorithm and have content and keywords that are currently trending. When search engines determine that you are regularly updating your content and your site offers a friendly visitor experience, it bumps you higher in the ranking and you have a chance of showing up on the first page of results.

This is why businesses spend up to 65 billion dollars on improving their SEO strategies per year, as of 2016.

What Does SEO Consist of?

There are different components of SEO that make it easier to understand and incorporate into your company’s online marketing strategy. The closer you are to the requirements that search engine crawlers are looking for when evaluating your page to rank, the more chances you have of getting to the top page. Because SEO is broken down into quantifiable strategies, it takes you less time in figuring out where you’re lacking and what areas you need to make improvements in.

Technical SEO: The technical part of SEO is when you work to optimize your website so that search engine crawlers can crawl and index your website more effectively. By applying technical SEO to your business’s website, you make it easier for search engines to assess your website and determine whether it is optimized enough to make it to the first page of results.

On-Site SEO: The on-site SEO strategies that you use refer to each separate page of your website. These rules are so that your content, like the blogs and how-to articles you post, have the right keywords that are going to lead you to get the most hits and generate a greater amount of traffic.

On-site SEO refers to having the right title for your blog, optimizing your meta details and image tags, using URLs that encourage a visitor to visit the site and having headings that tell a quick scroller what they are going to find if they read your article thoroughly. On-site SEO tells you to choose keywords that are already getting hits and are trending on different social media question-answer platforms, so that your page comes up if anyone searches up those words.

Off-Site SEO: The third component of SEO is the off-site part. This is the area where you try to increase your website’s credibility and reliability by linking to other websites about similar topics or additional information. The larger your network of websites is, the higher your ranking becomes. This is because search engines encourage pages to link to other pages that already have a strong reputation.

Building links is done by referring to websites that already have a high ranking. This makes your website look like a more trustworthy source of information by search engines. Getting other websites to refer to your site will create a strong network of high-ranking resources.

What Is SEM?

Search engine marketing comes as an overarching idea that has SEO and PPC as a part of it. It comes under digital marketing strategies that consist of other aspects like text and email marketing as well. Although the most common kind of optimizing strategies come under SEO and SEM, there are other ways as well.

SEM comprises different kinds of marketing techniques that will get you more visitors to your website and will take you higher in search engine results, but it does not rely only on organic traffic. SEM is about getting traffic that leads to conversions through both SEO and PPC strategies.

In PPC, you have to make a financial investment, such as ads that will appear in search engines like Google. The number of times that people use the ad to land on your website will determine how much you have to pay the search engine for placing an ad there.

Using SEM helps you create a budget for how much you want to spend on advertisement. If you realize that using PPC is more than enough to get you the traffic and conversions you need, you might decide on limiting other areas where you were not getting as much return on investment (ROI), such as email marketing campaigns.

You can also make a comparison between which marketing strategies have been working the best for your particular business. If paying for ads on social media does not lead to as many conversions as using Google Ads, you will know where to cut down on your investment and place it somewhere else.

How Does SEM Contribute to Traffic?

SEM generates immediate traffic by placing your website at the top of search engine results through PPC. However, because SEM is the umbrella term that covers SEO as well, we know that with the combined strategies of PPC and SEO, the concept of SEM is now the number one method of generating traffic to your site.

Whether people are searching up queries or looking for products, you will be able to target them and lead them to your website through either the keywords in SEO or the ads in PPC. If a website uses both strategies at the same time, you will always be able to maintain regular traffic to your site.

The fact that PPC ads and SEO both work by appealing to people who make certain queries means that the people who end up clicking on your link and ending up on your site have more chances of following through and making a purchase or investment with your business as well.

This is because people who click on a link knowing what it is about and knowing that it may provide the solution to what they are searching for are more likely to be conscious visitors. They will make a purchase and lead to higher conversion rates because SEO and SEM are visible mainly to those who displayed interest in their product or service already.

What Are the Differences?

The main difference between SEM and SEO is that unlike SEO’s strictly organic traffic, SEM consists of traffic that is generated through paid ads that are placed in places where potential customers might see them. For example, if someone is searching for a place that sells lawn chairs, you can pay to have your ad show up at the top of the search engine results page and be noticed by anyone that is interested in buying lawn chairs.

The difference is, instead of relying on keywords and content ideas to get to the top of search results, you pay to be there. Below your ad, there will be pages that are ranked as the top organically.

Most of the time, people who are talking about using SEM strategies are referring to PPC. This is because this is one of the main distinctions between the two strategies. However, PPC is not the only component of SEM.


The concept of PPC is the main distinction between SEO and SEM. PPC is the paid aspect of SEM, while SEO is the one that takes a significant amount of time yet does not cost money. When your business has to pay each time someone clicks on your website, it is not there because of organic means and will be taken down the moment you stop paying.

The longer you keep investing in these ads, the more you have to pay, with no substantial proof that any of your customers would come back to visit your site if they did not come across the ad.

It’s also possible that PPC does not work at all, because more than 50% of all searches do not lead to any clicks.

One reason why businesses may choose to experiment with PPC is to figure out what resonates the most with their potential audience. By using varieties of keywords in the ads, they can measure the number of clicks and how many clicks led to conversions, which makes it easier for them to come up with more sure-fire keywords and content when they go for a long-term strategy for SEO.

SEO vs. SEM: Which One Is Better?

Although SEO stems from SEM, more often than not, SEO is considered the primary form of generating traffic to your website. One of the reasons is that when you use factors like keywords and content to get people to visit your website, you are going to get the traffic you were aiming for, even if it takes some time to get the visibility you want.

Did you know that SEO has 20 times more opportunities for traffic than PPC, regardless of whether you’re on your phone or PC?

However, once you are up there in the top search results, all you have to do is keep a careful watch on your website and keep updating your content and you will be able to enjoy a high rank and the greatest amount of traffic without having to pay for any ads.

Another benefit of SEO is that you stay up in the top results for as long as you follow the rules set by the algorithm. With paid ads in SEM, you have to keep investing money to keep your ad on the first page of results. The moment you stop paying for it, the traffic will come to a halt and you will have to foundation to fall back on.

On the other hand, if you are looking for quick results because you need to kick-start a campaign immediately, it is possible that the other SEM strategy, PPC, might work in your favour. As we mentioned before, getting SEO to show results takes time but lasts for much longer. However, if you are looking for a method that gets you to the top in a short amount of time, paying for ads will be more effective for you.

The real question here is what you are wishing to achieve through the digital marketing strategies that you are putting into place. Are you looking for ways to start traffic generation as early as you can while you are still figuring out your SEO strategies for the long run? If this is the case, then opting for PPC to stand in for SEO related strategies until you can start organically attracting traffic is a valid idea.

When it comes to reliability and credibility, most people prefer SEO. When you see an ad at the top of a search engine, there are chances you might click on it and find yourself on a website featuring exactly what you are looking for. However, there are also chances that the website is fraudulent or suspicious and people may not trust the site with their credit card and payment details.

On the other hand, SEO-based strategies come off as more credible because they have earned their way to the first page by putting in the effort to create worthwhile content and use keywords and techniques that would resonate the most with their potential audience.

This provides more opportunity to believe that your customers are going to return soon. When they visit a website which they came across organically, they feel as if they have made a special discovery in finding your page. To add to it, if it features what they were looking for, they will make a mental note that your business is genuine, and will may multiple more visits.

Which One Should You Go For?

There are several different things to consider if you only want to go for one strategy: either SEO or SEM (which mainly refers to PPC). You will find that it is easier to decide on one when you know what your brand needs or what your business’s strong spots are, so that you can either build on them or improve on them to create the perfect marketing strategy.

Think about the kind of competition you currently have. Are there several competitors for the same product or service? It is possible that you will have to go the extra mile if you stick to SEO in this kind of situation. Paying for ads and placing your site at the top when you have too many competitors with organic rankings is a more effective idea. However, if you have very few competitors and many options to come up with content that will get you a higher rank, you should go for SEO.

Another way to determine which one you should stick with is by thinking about how long you have been in the business and the extent of your market research. It is possible that for a business that has yet to understand their target audience, using PPC will help them figure out what works and what does not, in terms of what kind of products are selling and how the audience is responding to them. If you are aware that your products do sell and are a hit with customers, you can focus on long-term content and keyword ideas with SEO instead.

Of course, knowing how much you can spend on advertising is important too. In case the cost that you incur per click is much more than the return you are making; it is worth considering that PPC may not work in your favour. As a business that is just starting out, you do not want to go into a significant loss before your company even has a chance to prosper.

Again, having a newer website may mean that you will have to experiment with PPC before launching into the longer investment of SEO. You will want to know what kind of audience is reacting to your site and whether the content you have currently put up is going to work in the long-run or not. If you are an old business with a website that has been around for years, especially if your networking and traffic is substantial enough to take you somewhere near the first page of results, you should go for SEO strategies that work towards building up and optimizing what your website currently has.

Last but not least, think about how much work your site currently needs. Is there little to no work related to SEO on your website at the moment? Will it take months for you to have a solid enough SEO foundation to get any traffic at all? In this case, you will want to start off with PPC and work on your SEO in the meantime.

This does not mean you abandon SEO as a strategy altogether. It only means that you give your website some visibility while working on ways to make that visibility more concrete. On the other hand, if your SEO strategies already exist but need some tuning and updating as per the changing algorithms, you should stick to SEO and upgrade your content a little bit at a time. The more regularly you work on your pre-existing content and come up with more content, the higher your ranking will be in search engines.

Do SEO and SEM Complement Each Other?

This is rarely the case. SEM does not help your SEO because they do not work with the same basics in the first place. To get a position in the first page of search results through SEM, all you have to do is pay for the ads you are using to attract people.

On the other hand, the ways in which your worth as a top-ranking page for SEO are completely different. You have to take several aspects into account, like website loading speed and bounce rate, something that SEM has no contribution to.

This means that whether your site is getting more traffic through SEM or not, as soon as you end your SEM campaign, that traffic will go back to zero and you will have to start from scratch in order to rank with SEO.

In a way, you can say that SEO does thrive off of SEM if your business does choose to use them together. This is when you use SEM to determine which kind of content and what combinations or groups of keywords are getting the most hits when people come across them on the first page of search results.

You can then measure whether those clicks from the ads are leading to conversions, based on the kind of content you had featured, the information you had given and the kind of website and aesthetics that you had used. Because SEO takes quite some time to flourish and can require months or even a year to show any results, the last thing a business would want to do is to invest so much research, content and time on a website or page that ends up having little to no results a year later.

Instead, you can save time by using PPC as an assessment to determine what would work if your page were hypothetically at the top through SEO strategies. Are people staying on the website? Is there a high bounce rate or are people clicking through to the purchasing page and making an investment? How many people stay on the page as compared to the number of people that immediately exit?

You can use different tools that give you a more thorough idea of how your website is doing. They will tell you about the clicks, the bounce rate, the click-through rate and whether or not the clicks are leading to conversions. You can also get an idea of how user-friendly and accessible your website is and figure out whether it is hindering the number of conversions you may have gotten otherwise.

These questions will help you make a thorough strategy that has no such loopholes. You will know exactly the kind of response that you will get, should you put your website through a rigorous SEO enhancement campaign.

One way that you can use SEO to make your SEM more effective is by incorporating the strategies that SEO requires. For example, you know that SEO has an essential aspect of optimizing your website and making it more user friendly, accessible and available across all PCs and mobile devices. By making sure that your website meets these guidelines before you put up a PPC ad on a search engine, you will be ensuring that people will not turn away from your content once they arrive at your page.

Simply being on top of the results pages is not enough to have people purchase from your business. You need to show them that you are committed, reliable and have the best product or service in the field that your potential customers are looking for. You cannot do this by merely getting people to click on your site. You have to ensure that once they are there, they find the content they came there for and are given proper steps on how to make a purchase.

Having a shabbily done website that only shows up in top results because of the money behind it does not guarantee you any customers. People might even end up making up their mind to avoid your website in the future, because you did not offer them the help or useful tips that you had mentioned in the link on the search result.

When you have only started your website and are still working on creating your online presence, you can use SEM, like PPC, to put your website out there and evaluate the initial responses that people are giving you. You will learn a lot more about what content they are most likely to click on and what kind of audience is primarily attracted to your business.

Taking part in SEM and using PPC to get your website noticed is a wonderful place to start and build your name. However, you cannot use PPC as the sole way of having your website at the top. You need to build up to more effective SEO strategies if you want a business that thrives at the top with minimal costs involved.

Although it’s good for introducing your business to the world, if you cannot give them the invaluable content and help that they visited your website for, their first visit could end up being the last. That is why you need SEO to guide you towards content that gets views and generates conversions.

Final Thoughts

SEO is a strategy that comes under SEM. SEM comprises of both SEO and PPC, and the main difference between both of them is that SEO is free and consists of free, organic traffic only while PPC is all about getting traffic through placing ads in search engines.

However, the two concepts are not polar opposites of each other. They are still both about generating the kind of content that will make people make the next move and carry out a purchase. This is because whether you pay for your content to be visible to people as soon as they search for something, or you work your way to the top of the search engine results page by continuously optimizing your content and improving your SEO, in the end what matters is whether you can convince people to spend money on your business.

Whether people come across your business through an ad or whether they find it organically, the only aspect that matters is if they are intrigued enough by your content, website and business to feel like it is safe to buy your products or services. This means that at the end of the day, you need to ensure you have a solid set of SEO strategies and a convincing and easy to comprehend call to action that assures people they are making a safe decision. It is only then that an ad that people come across can lead to a conversion.

The most important part of investing in marketing strategies in business is knowing whether your strategies are leading to conversions or not. If you’re only incurring losses or making no significant improvements in your traffic and conversions despite the financial or time and energy investments you are making, then you are harming your business and setting it up for failure.

You need to make sure that your business is thriving from whatever strategies you choose to apply. Each business has a different audience base and their audience base might be more responsive to one form of marketing than another. It is up to you as a responsible businessperson to ensure you know where you are putting your money and whether it is giving you anything in return, and here at SEO Resellers Canada, we can help you pave a path for your business.

author – Jamie – Barton
Jamie Barton
CEO of NASN Licensing Inc. &

Jamie has more than two decades of experience in accelerating brand visibility for online businesses. His company operates, a white label SEO and digital marketing agency. With his unique and actionable business processes, agencies and small businesses can successfully expand online operations without the traditional associated cost overhead.

For over 18 years we have been the solution to fit any size agency or business. Our team of creative SEO experts and marketers develop some of the best results driven campaigns in the industry.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us!