SEO vs. SEM: When and How to Use Them (With Definitions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It's important to grasp the diversity of marketing tools accessible to you, whether you're an entrepreneur or a marketing expert. Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) enable companies to improve their websites to get better exposure. By reviewing the components of each, you can decide which strategy is right for the business you work for and begin making adjustments for growth. In this article, we define SEO vs. SEM, explain what each strategy entails, review the benefits and challenges of each, and discuss which is better to use.


If you have an interest in the content creation industry, you may wonder about the difference between SEO vs. SEM. Here are their definitions:


Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing method companies use to increase the exposure of their websites and digital content. They often accomplish this via organic optimization techniques such as keywords, linking, and word count to assist search engine bots in placing particular websites higher in search results. Businesses may increase customer engagement and encourage more consumers to complete the purchasing process using SEO best practices.

Related: How to Become a Brand Strategist (With 8 Steps)


Search engine marketing (SEM) allows businesses to pay for higher rankings in search engine result pages (SERPs) and advertisements that boost traffic to their websites. A company can use this digital marketing strategy to choose keywords relevant to its industry, goods, or services. When individuals perform searches for items that include certain search phrases, an SEM strategy increases the probability of the companies' websites showing in search engine results.

The components of SEO

Several components may form an efficient SEO strategy. The following are some of the most typical ways that companies use SEO in their marketing activities:

Industry-focused content

Industry-focused content can take the form of written articles or blog posts, videos, white papers, infographics, or other forms of content that attract a specific audience. For example, a clothing boutique may create a fall lookbook video to engage its retail audience and promote the upcoming season's trends. Industry-focused content can also utilize certain terms or phrases popular in particular industries.


Keywords are words or phrases customers use when conducting searches. By adding keywords throughout the content, meta description, alt-text, and URL, among other places, you can ensure that your website receives optimization and achieves a higher search engine ranking. You can research certain terms and phrases that relate to the information on your site and include them in your content development.

Backlinks and internal links

Linking is an important component of any SEO strategy. It assists search engine bots in establishing your website as a trustworthy source of information, resulting in a better search rating. Backlinks are references to your website that other websites use in their content. You can build backlinks to a site by forming partnerships with businesses that provide comparable goods and services. You can also boost your search engine ranking by using internal links. You can include links to particular product pages, the company's about page, and other blog entries throughout your website's content.

Images and alt-text

Images can be an excellent strategy to improve your search engine results. Companies utilize alt-text to assist search engine bots in describing the embedded picture. This enables users to differentiate between textual text and graphics throughout your material. Adding images throughout your material can also increase your chances of ranking better in search engine results for a certain subject. Blog posts, articles, and other types of information often dominate the top of a search engine result page.

Meta description and tags

A meta description is an HTML tag that gives extra information about a website but is often not visible on the page itself. The website developers might provide a short description of the webpage in this tag. The meta description and meta tags summarize your content and assign keywords for bots to review. By using these two SEO methods, bots can more accurately assess the relevance of your content and subsequently rank it higher in search results.

Mobile compatibility

Compatibility with mobile devices is an important component of any SEO strategy. To boost website engagement, you can ensure that the website and its content are mobile-friendly. This helps users access and explore your website's content more easily. It can even influence their decision to proceed with the purchasing process.

Social media

Another effective SEO technique is leveraging social media channels to communicate information about new items, including website links and direct connections to product pages. You can enhance your social media channels by posting about popular subjects and using hashtags. Another way to do this is to increase brand awareness consistently.

The elements of SEM

Your internet marketing plan may use many elements to engage in SEM successfully. The following list highlights some advantageous SEM techniques:

Landing pages

Companies optimize landing pages to promote their goods and services. Many landing pages feature a form in which visitors can enter their e-mail address or phone number to receive future information about offers. A landing page's objective is to assist companies in generating prospective leads for marketing.

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are phrases that enable companies to target particular customer search results. A long-tail keyword might be something like summer peplum top in red, while a short-tail keyword might be peplum top. Long-tail keywords are useful for companies seeking leads for a specific product or service.

Ad campaigns

SEM strategies typically involve paying for search engine advertisements to promote a business at the top of a search engine page. This may link to a specific product page or article, depending on the keywords a business wants to target through the ad. Depending on the packages a search engine provides, businesses may be able to run ad campaigns for several months while testing out different keywords and strategies.

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Ad groups

Ad groups are a subset of a campaign's advertisements that include comparable keywords or subjects. This SEM module enables you to compare the efficacy of several adverts inside a single ad group. Additionally, it allows you to evaluate which advertisements within an ad group generate the greatest interaction.

Ad copy

Ad copy, or advertising copy, is brand material that aims to convert users into paying customers. Effective ad text replaces the typical interaction between a potential buyer and a salesperson by emphasizing the major advantages of a product or service and addressing any concerns the prospective customer may have. Ad text is an important component of the effectiveness of your SEM adverts and overall campaign. Ad text can use certain keywords and phrases to improve rankings and customer engagement.

Which is better to use?

Both SEO and SEM have a lot to offer organizations looking to increase their online engagement. Here are some distinctions between the two tactics to help you decide which choice gives the most beneficial outcomes for your particular circumstances:

Paid vs. organic

One of the most obvious distinctions between SEO vs. SEM is their approach to improving search rankings. Individuals and corporations use organic approaches with an SEO strategy to boost their websites' search engine results. By comparison, SEM utilizes both organic and sponsored tactics to increase a website's search ranking.

For instance, an SEO strategy focuses on incorporating keywords and long-form material into online activities to enhance ranking, but an SEM strategy focuses on paid ads in addition to keywords and long-form content to maximize reach. Companies with a small or restricted marketing budget might benefit from SEO over SEM, lowering their online marketing expenditure.

Related: How to Become an SEO Expert (With Salary and Job Outlook)

Instant vs. delayed results

As SEO depends entirely on organic approaches, it may take months to see noticeable effects. In comparison, SEM enables you to pay for a better ranking and adverts that improve your website's possibilities of rapid interaction. As a result, the urgency of your demands may dictate the method you adopt for your marketing endeavours. SEO may still provide maximum engagement for organizations with the appropriate methods and a little patience.

Short term vs. long term

SEO and SEM also differ in their timeframe for use. SEO is typically a long-term marketing tactic as it takes time to improve your search ranking, and it is necessary to continually implement new strategies to maintain your ranking. In contrast, you can use SEM in a short-term and long-term format.

For example, a business might use SEM to implement a three-month paid advertising campaign to advertise a new product and maximize initial sales. SEM may also be useful as a long-term strategy to improve product awareness and a website's overall ranking. Whether you decide to use SEM or SEO depends on your objectives. You may benefit from both to gain accurate test results and quicker engagement.

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