SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

If you are new to the world of digital marketing, wrapping your head around all the terminology and jargon can be overwhelming. Not only are there a lot of acronyms, there is often little explanation or differentiation. In this article we are going to focus on two terms you probably hear a lot, SEO and SEM.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing a.k.a. Paid Search

Let’s start with SEM. SEM, which stands for Search Engine Marketing, describes the process of gaining traffic through the purchase of ads. SEM is used interchangeably with Paid Search. Some of the tactics that fall under the umbrella of SEM include PPC, or Pay-Per-Click advertising and CPM, cost per impression advertising. The most popular platform for executing paid search campaigns is Google Ads followed by Bing Ads.

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. According to Wikipedia SEO “is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results.” At Pathfinder SEO, our goal is share our search engine optimization process with you in an understandable and digestible way. We call our approach guided SEO.

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The Difference Between SEO & SEM

The advantage of SEM is immediate, trackable results. SEM campaigns can get off the ground quickly and start generating traffic immediately. Additionally, the data from the campaigns can be applied to SEO efforts. The disadvantages of SEM are that you are paying for the traffic and in many cases the management of the campaign. Not to mention that once the campaign ends the traffic stops.

With SEO, it may take a little while for the work you do to impact how your website appears in search results and starts driving more traffic. However, the major advantage is that resulting traffic from your efforts is free. Another upside is that the tactics and strategies that build a solid foundation for SEO, also create a positive brand experience for your customers.

Now that you know what differentiates the various types of search marketing, we recommend you test them out to see how they can benefit your website.

Pathfinder addresses the SEO needs of small businesses by sharing our time-tested process and helping guide subscribers every step of the way. Start your journey by requesting your SEO score.

If you ever have questions about other digital marketing terms, TechTerms is a great resource for learning more about them.

Overwhelmed by SEO? Try a
guided approach.

Lori Calcott

Lori Calcott

Originally from Pittsburgh, Lori has been working in search engine marketing since 2001. Lori is the published author of The Definitive Guide to Google AdWords and is a leader in the paid search field. When not at work, Lori spends time with her family and can often be found hiking and skiing the Highland Bowl.