SEO vs SEM – How Do They Work – [Updated 2022]

  Published on March 09 |   5 minutes read


Businesses utilize methods and tools to increase the likelihood of appearing at the top of the search results and attracting as much traffic. The two most preferred methods are SEO and SEM. SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, while SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

Both of these have different processes and functions. SEO is a subset of SEM, and it is targeted at making businesses appear at the top of searches while SEM focuses more on attracting more traffic.

What is SEM?

SEM has multiple strategies that it utilizes for the desired purpose. The five strategies that are widely used include:

  1. PPC
  2. Local SEO
  3. Display advertising
  4. Shopping or product advertising
  5. Remarketing

How SEM Works?

The SEM strategies can be mixed and matched. The reason for this flexibility is that not all businesses need the same form of SEM. The main difference between the choices of strategies is time. Older businesses may focus more on re-marketing, using the already-generated traffic to drive higher conversion rates. Newer businesses or dynamic businesses may require a different approach. In these cases, the PPC or pay-per-click method works best. It helps them earn a substantial amount of funds. It also helps generate traffic, which will help them build their conversion rate base.

Core Elements of SEM

These are the core elements of SEM

  1. The Account and it’s built
  2. Bids
  3. The quality of the ads
  4. Ad assets

1. The Account and it’s built

This is an essential part of the SEM. The account structure moves from the account to the ad group or campaign to the ad. It helps organize the ad campaigns and helps optimize the funds that are being spent on the ads. To put it simply, there is no need to start a separate ad campaign for kids’ summer shoes when you already have a summer ad campaign.

2. Bids

The bid by an organization determines the amount of money they would have to pay for a click on their ad. Platforms offer different bidding services and options. A Google ad provides a service for bidding automation. This regulates bidding amounts according to changes that may occur. It is an imperative tool to help stay under the budget.

3. The Quality of the Ads

The advertisements being used for the campaigns also matter a lot. People looking for shortcuts may either copy a previous ad or rehash an old one. The ingenuity of those ads makes their quality extremely low. Google ads measure the quality of ads and give a Quality Score. Higher Quality Scores are advantageous; they will reap a lower cost per click. So, better quality ads, a lower cost per click, and better ad placements can be achieved.

4. Ad Assets

The components in an ad are its assets. This includes the video, image, or audio that the ad has. The copywriting of the ad is integral as it needs to be original, high-quality content. Higher quality assets lead to increments in the click-through rate.

Core Elements of SEO

These are the basics of SEO platforms.

  1. Content
  2. Keywords
  3. HTML

1. Content

All types of content come under this. Pictures, videos, articles, blogs, copies, etc. The thing about SEO content is that it attracts traffic the most. The content needs to be new and of good quality to do that better.

2. Keywords

Keywords are embedded in sentences of content. They help put the product or business higher in the SERPs. Essentially analysis of the competitors who are more significant in both traffic as well as brand presence help in determining what the keywords should be.


HTML is the code that the website represents. There are many regulations that people have to follow, which Google has set in place. An HTML that abides by the rules set forth has more chances of getting at the top search results than those that do not.


SEM is a comprehensive inbound and outbound marketing strategy. Companies typically pay for SEM and apply it using the five strategies listed above. It can be highly targeted, which makes it highly efficient.

SEO is free of cost and is used widely in SEM strategies as well. SEO benefits show after an extended period, and it is not targeted.

Which One To Go For?

The best way to utilize SEM includes SEO. Businesses that apply the strategies from SEM will benefit further if they have SEO as well. The base marketing strategy should be SEM, allowing for more growth. On top of the base SEM, a proper SEO strategy should be applied.


The differences between SEO and SEM are evident. The utilization of both together may be the most optimal. Businesses can choose different strategies in SEM in combination with SEO practices as well. The content in both SEO and SEM will benefit from being original and of high quality.


Farasat Khan

Khan is an SEO consultant with 8 years of experience. His expertise has helped hundreds of brands generate additional revenue through search traffic. He is an SEO cum Digital Marketing specialist specializing in content strategy, search intent, and the sales funnel.

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