SEO AND SEM: Why Is It Essential To Understand Both SEO And SEM For The Good Health Of Your Business? - Semalt Expert Advice

What exactly is the difference between SEO and SEM? Why are these strategies vital for your business? How much does it cost you in terms of implementation? What are the tools that can help you in use of SEO and SEM? What are the risks involved? Should you manage these net strategies internally in the company or is it better to entrust it to third parties? These are questions that this article will help you to answer.

So, let's start answering the above questions from here.

Understanding the difference between SEO and SEM 

When you are marketing for your business, you have probably heard of SEO and SEM. Combined together in a systematic strategy it can be exceptionally effective in strengthening your online presence and, consequently, your earnings. Do you clearly know about what we are exactly  referring to? Our SEO agency will give you more information on this.

It is vital to understand the difference between SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing), when we have to decide of which resources and which budget  we have to allocate to the marketing. 

Let's start by giving a definition of SEO: 

Optimization for search engines means put in place every  necessary measure for a website to have the structure and contents of easy indexing for search engines. Basically, SEO focuses on organic search engines' results; and then, when a user searches on Google for a specific keyword related to what you do, your site appears among the first results returned.

SEM - according to the definition most used in the present - revolves around advertising on search engines, such as Google Advertising, and includes all the processes of choosing the right keywords in which to invest one's available funds; the objective of this strategy is to appear among the sponsored results of the main search engines.

The definition just provided of SEM, as just pointed out, is coherent with the current trend of thought in the current moment, but in certain contexts it can take on a different meaning. 

Meaning of SEO

The English acronym SEO (Search Engines Optimization) refers to all web marketing activities that are applied to search engines, in order to increase the positioning (or ranking) of a site in organic search engines results. The organic results are the "free results" that are offered by the search engines and contrast with the sponsored results. When you do a search on Google, you can identify sponsored results as Google puts the yellow "Ann." Sign. Example of sponsored vs organic results.

All results that do not have the word "Ann". In yellow are organic search engines' results, that means, the results in which your site may appear after carrying out appropriate SEO campaigns.

Meaning of SEM

The paid search advertising or pay-per-click marketing is what today is meant by SEM (Search Engines Marketing). As the name suggests, it pursues its objectives by paying the search engines to acquire traffic to its website; usually a price is set. And the advertiser will have to pay for each time a potential customer clicks on the ad (hence the origin of the term "Pay-per-click"). These technics are applicable in different contexts, and range from investing in Facebook Ads to using Google AdWords. Originally, however, the acronym SEM had a much broader meaning, and certainly more consistent with its literal definition: it indicated the set of marketing strategies that a site can implement on search engines. Literally, in fact, "Search Engines Marketing" means "Marketing on search engines" and should include both organic positioning strategies (SEO) and paid advertising strategies. Why it took on a different meaning today!

What benefits can you get from seo and sem?

Marketing often focuses on the differences between SEO and SEM and which one is preferable. Both strategies lead to attract more visits, which is the first step in increasing sales. This means more profit for your company, which is basically what any marketing campaign wants to achieve. It is true that SEO and SEM use very different methods in this task.

SEO aims to optimize the structure and content of your site on the basis of what  the search engines want  through an accurate writing of the texts, the implementation of a fluid layout and clever link building strategies, what is a fundamental element of the Inbound Marketing methodology. The task of the search engines is to serve to the users the most relevant results of their searches, and tend to favor sites with clear navigation, an excellent network of links and whose benefits for visitors are well highlighted. An excellent SEO strategy is able to bring your site to the top positions in the organic results  for a specific keyword.

SEM invests funds allocated for marketing in the purchase of sponsored advertisements. It is based on a clear and quick promotion and focuses on the keywords that potential customers are more likely to insert in their searches. One of the specific advantages of paid search marketing is its direct nature: it allows you to capture the attention of users by submitting to them a particularly evident message at a glance. By clicking on the ad, they will be directed to a particular page of your site. In terms of the conversion rate it is not a priori definable which of the two strategies generates a greater number of sales for the same traffic, since many variables intervene and can make this data fluctuate a lot.

SEO or SEM Strategy: which one to choose?

Our SEO agency  knows how vast the topic is and also knows that it would deserve an article in itself. Just not to leave it completely on hold, let's say that the factors that lean towards one choice rather than the other are manifold, primarily the budget available to the company and the time horizon within which it is expected to see the results.


With an SEM strategy we will immediately have a ROI that will rise to a level X and will remain roughly constant throughout the investment. With an SEO strategy, on the other hand, for the same investment, we will immediately have a little evident return on investment, which however will grow over time by making an ascending parable. It should also be clarified that the profitability of the SEM will cease once the advertising campaign is finished, i.e. my earnings from that moment will be equivalent to 0. The profitability of the SEO, however, will stop growing but will maintain a constant level despite the operations. Complicated to understand? Don't worry, an example comes!


For the sake of simplicity, let's imagine having a budget of € 3,000 and wanting to compare the theoretical profitability of the investment in SEO with that in the SEM. Let's start with the investment in SEM. Given an overall budget of € 3,000, we may decide to allocate an advertising value of € 100 daily. This means that our campaign will last a total of 30 days (after the thirty days we would have exhausted the initial budget). Now, given an average CPC of € 0.40 (you can make other examples with any realistic CPC value, the substance does not vary), the visits we will receive each day of the campaign will be indicatively equal to 250 (i.e. 100 / 0.40). In 30 days we will therefore receive about 7,500 visits. At the end of this period, once the budget to be allocated in advertising has been exhausted, our PPC campaigns will be terminated and will no longer generate any clicks or visits. The profitability of this strategy will therefore be measurable almost exclusively by the results generated within this time horizon.


Let's say you invest the same € 3,000 budget in SEO. In the first few months of activity, the ranking of our site, even if SEO campaigns give immediate positive results, will gradually improve. Maybe for the most competitive keywords the ranking will go from 100th page to 5th (i.e. between 41st and 50th position), but the overall visits we will receive will still be very low. A site beyond the second page of organic results receives almost zero traffic. The real result will begin to show up  when our site reaches one of the top 10 positions on Google. And even more, when we reach one of the top 3 positions. However, this process usually does not require 30 days of activity, but many months of strategies, tests and empirical evaluations. For this reason SEO strategies do not have a daily cost (like the € 100 a day we spent in SEM), but tend to have a monthly cost. In our example, the monthly fee could be around € 500 per month and the initial budget of € 3,000 could also last 6 months of SEO activity.

SEO and SEM: ROI compared

At the end of the first month of activity, the visits achieved through SEM campaigns will be considerably higher than the incremental ones brought by the SEO campaign, but to judge the true profitability of SEO we must consider the whole time horizon within which this strategy bears fruit. In fact, even once the initial budget has been exhausted (in the example we assume after the 6th month), the ranking of our site will not return to the initial one, but will probably maintain the same ranking for several months at the end of the sixth month.

By spending our initial budget in SEM, at the end of the 6 months I will know exactly how many visits and how many sales I will have obtained. However, by doing the same expenditure in SEO, we will see the results on our site for months and months following the end of the campaigns. For this reason one of the fundamental drivers of choice between SEO and SEM concerns the availability of a company's budget but above all the time horizon within which the objectives are to be achieved.

If the goal is short or very short term, the answer is SEM. If the goal is medium to long term, the answer is SEO. Finally, if the available budget allows, the company can combine SEM campaigns to bring tangible results in the short term and in the same time design SEO strategies to ensure high ROI in the long term.

The ideal solution

 The ideal solution would be to plan a marketing campaign that manages to combine SEO and SEM in a single and coherent strategy, which evolves over time and which combines the speed of SEM in the short term with the high ROI of SEO in the medium and long term: it goes without saying that, by joining forces, the power of each methodology will be amplified and the chances of success will be considerably greater.

Tools to support search marketing

Tracking the increase in revenue, click-through rate and conversion rate is easier with the help of some software that analyze the different elements involved in SEO and SEM campaigns; in addition to the famous Google Analytics, we can also mention Web CEO Professional Suite for Windows. Every day new ones are introduced on the market, and it can provide to your site with both alerts and comparison tools.

Using tracking software can help you to determine exactly which type of campaign requires more attention or generates better results for your specific business. Consequently you will be able, by tracking the results, to increase your spending in high profitability campaigns and to modify or reduce those that would absorb your budget ineffectively.

Outsourcing or not?

In-house VS Outsourcing we understand that if properly managed, SEO and SEM can make a difference to the success of your business. A well-studied marketing strategy based on both of these tactics can contribute to your brand awareness - or even to your personal branding - and bring new traffic to your site, thus leading to an increase in sales and in the conversion rate. 

In short, all this would lead you to acquire new customers, thanks to the Internet only. On the contrary, a bad management of these tools can make you waste time, capital and energy even to put your company in a bad light. Then analyze your resources and your budget, you have to decide whether your SEO and SEM can be managed in house or should be entrusted to third parties.

In the first case, one of the advantages is: you will always be deeply involved in advertisement of your company. You and your staff members can independently manage the strategies related to organic search marketing and paid search marketing.

How to have an effective marketing strategy 

Entrusting the management of your online marketing to a SEO agency or Web Marketing and external SEO agency is the preferred choice by most companies. It is an expense that can be amortized in a very short time as well as a huge saving in terms of time and resources. An effective marketing strategy provides tangible results from the first steps; but it is in the long term that the greatest success will be achieved. The sector specialists are prepared to identify new trends and analyze the performance of your company in real time; starting from a careful and constant measurement of market and campaign data, they translate the observations into marketing strategies tailored to you, guaranteeing your business the best possible positioning not only on the net, but on the market in general.

Truly, the good news is any company, no matter what size or sector, can profit from SEO and SEM. If it is true that no business can do without promotion, it is also true that any marketing activity has a cost, and it must be understood in terms of commitment or actual financial outlay. The point is to make this game worth the candle: what we spend on a good marketing strategy is nothing, compared to a deposit on what we will earn, in the near future.


In this article we touched on several complex issues, of which it is not easy to have complete mastery. However, we hope to have conveyed to you the importance of having effective SEM and SEO strategies for your company. If so and you want to have a partner by your side who can help you to find the most suitable action plan for your specific needs, contact us. Semalt experts will help you to avoid most of the mistakes.