SEO or search engine optimization can often be confused with SEM (search engine marketing). While both share many similarities, SEM tends to focus on creating paid ad campaigns to increase traffic to a website, rather than using keyword research to optimize page titles and website content. To help you understand the key differences between both strategies, we’ve put together a top-level overview, detailing the pros and cons of both. At the end of this article, you’ll find out how to combine both SEO and SEM to help your business thrive online.

What Is SEO?


SEO can help significantly increase traffic to a website, by using keyword research. First, you may need an SEO audit, to identify any SEO issues with your current website that could be impacting your ability to rank in the search results. An SEO audit will analyze on-page content, identify duplicate content and provide the next steps to help guide your SEO strategy, just to name a few.

To start improving your website, you’ll need to carry out keyword research, relevant to your brand, business, and the products or services you offer. Once you’ve identified keywords that your target audience will likely be typing into a search engine, such as Google, you can rewrite the content on your website, so that your website is shown in the organic search results for the right search inquiries.

Let’s say you own an organic pet food brand. You may use keywords such as ‘organic dog food’, ‘natural cat food’, organic dog biscuits’ on your website so that search engines such as Google will understand what your business is about, and which search inquiries to display your website for.

By optimizing page titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags, H1, and H2 title tags, and on-page content with keywords, you can effectively increase organic traffic which should boost your conversion rate online.


  • Keyword research can help you learn more about your target market. How do they search for goods and products online? This can help you adjust product and service descriptions.
  • Small changes to page titles and meta descriptions can significantly increase your click-through rate.
  • You can reduce the amount of irrelevant traffic your website generates, improving your bounce rate.
  • SEO is sustainable and cost-effective.


  • An SEO audit may identify issues that require website development or website design work. This could be page load speed, mobile responsive issues, or UX concerns.
  • SEO is a long-term strategy and you should expect to see results within 3 to 6 months.

How is SEM Different?


SEM is search engine marketing and focuses on setting up paid ad campaigns to increase traffic to a website. While both SEO and SEM will start with keyword research, SEM will use the keywords to create groups and then use this information to design paid ad campaigns. The campaigns can then be edited and refined using customer demographics, location targeting, and assigning a budget. After an SEM campaign has been running for a while, or the budget comes to an end the KPIs can be evaluated. You may tweak certain aspects of your campaign such as the keywords you’re targeting, the ad copy you’re using or the content and design of a landing page to optimize your conversion rate.


  • Generate fast and highly targeted results.
  • Set dedicated KPIs to keep your campaign and strategy accountable.
  • Create clickable ads to boost traffic to individual landing pages.


  • Some keywords can be expensive to bid on.
  • There is an initial learning phase where a budget is required to gather information to optimize your ads.
  • You may need to hire a PPC manager to set up your campaigns and make regular adjustments.


Key Takeaways


To really see a difference when it comes to online traffic and sales, combine both SEO best practices with a targeted SEM campaign. This will allow you to build a long-term sustainable SEO strategy while generating instant results through paid ads.

  • Start by using keyword research to help you optimize your website content.
  • Then use this keyword research to develop ad groups and ad copy relevant to your target market.
  • Once you’ve done this, you can set up paid ad campaigns targeting the identified keywords, and have the ads linked to a dedicated landing page.
  • Assign a budget and consistently review your ads and SEM strategy to ensure you’re meeting your KPIs.
  • For SEO results, track your progress and visibility within the search results via Google Search Console.

Make your business visible on search engines by combining the power of SEO with SEM.