SEO and SEM are two essential components used in marketing arena. They refer to same set of activities but are not the same. Where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is focused on optimizing a website for getting traffic from organic search result, main goal of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is to get traffic and visibility from both organic and paid search.

SEO is a part of SEM, which further includes other marketing methods like PPC (Pay Per Click), PPA (Pay Per Action), advertisements, etc. In other words, both SEO & SEM are used to increase a website’s ranking in search engine results.

So they are same in few aspects but quite different when it comes to methodology, precisely the reason why they are usually used interchangeably and are confusing for those who aren’t familiar with this world of Marketing.

It is important for any digital marketing professional to have a solid grasp on these two terms and understand their importance.

To understand the difference its important to understand the types of Google’s search results, which can broadly be divided into two categories:

  1. organic search
  2. paid search

Paid search includes various components like:

  1. PPC (Pay Per Click): company/website is charged when the customer clicks the ad on per click basis
  2. PPI (Pay Per Impression): company/website is charged when the customer sees company’s ad
  3. PPA (Pay Per Action): company/website is charged when the customer takes an action like signing up or providing their details ​.

The main goal of any marketer is to get more and more traffic to their website. This can be done through various processes, like Social Media Marketing, Email Marketing, Making websites mobile friendly, SEO, SEM, etc. The main aim is to get more website traffic and this can be ensured by having right keywords on the website so that when people search for related keywords, the website ranks high.

But paid marketing is not the only part of SEM, it includes organic results as well, which comes under SEO. SEO falls under the umbrella category of SEM. SEO is the technique used for optimizing a website so that it ranks higher on Search Engine Results. It is the more sustainable and long term strategy as it’s not chargeable on click or action basis. Though paid advertising can get the website to the top of search results immediately but its not sustainable in long term.

This is because the website is charged on the basis of per click and the total budget assigned for this can vanish in no time and once the cost exceeds the budget, website is back to point zero or from where it all started. So there might be a lot of traffic but only for a small duration, unless the budget assigned for SEM is freakishly high.

That’s the reason every website must also rank high on Search Engine Results without actually paying for it or without PPC. In short organic traffic on websites through SEO is much more effective than inorganic traffic through SEM.

Overall, both SEM and SEO are important component of marketing and cannot be ignored. Paid promotions or SEM gives great results in cases where the company is looking for immediate result and visibility. Though the fact remains the same that it is always limited by budget and is thus not very sustainable in the long run. On the other hand SEO takes time to show the results but is more sustainable and effective in long run.