Most small business owners already know about SEO.

But lately the term SEM has been gaining prominence in online marketing.

Sometimes SEO and SEM are used interchangeably which can be really confusing.

So, are they the same thing?

In short, no. But here is the long version…

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.

Basically it is a set of techniques to position your website higher in organic search results.

SEO has had some negative press lately with many people loudly proclaiming that SEO was dead.

Apart from sensational headlines, I can assure you that SEO is alive and well and will be around until Google stops providing organic search capability.

The organic search results are displayed when you do a Google search below the ads at the top:

organic results

The positioning of these results is determined according to Google’s mysterious search rankings algorithm that compares websites according to a whole bunch of ranking factors.

SEO is the art and science of optimising your website for these ranking factors to achieve the best possible position in search engine results.

SEO is not a quick process and normally takes around 6 month to show results.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing.

It is a broader term that covers SEO as well as other aspects of search engine technology such as paid advertising.

If we look at our search results page again, SEM covers both Ads and organic search results:


An SEM specialist will be able to help you with organic rankings (SEO) as well as Pay Per Click or PPC advertising such as Google AdWords.


The advantage of SEM strategy over pure SEO is time.

SEO requires a lot of work and results normally take around 6 month to kick in.

Also with SEO Google is in control.

They can change their ranking algorithm at any time which could see you page go up or down in the rankings and there is nothing you can do about it.

With SEM search traffic can be switched on almost immediately using PPC advertising while executing a long-term SEO strategy in the background.

PPC also gives you a great degree of control over the traffic providing you have the budget to pay for the ads.

On the flip side, unlike SEO, PPC advertising only works while you pay.

As soon as you stop spending the money, the traffic stops as well.

What should I chose?

The answer depends on your objectives.

Ideally an SEM strategy is best because it allows for compound results from both paid and organic search.

Statistically only 30% of people click on paid ads, while 70% ignore them and go straight to organic results.

This means SEO, helps to position your website in front of more users.

Unfortunately SEO takes a long time to work which means it is not suitable if you need the traffic quickly.

So here we are, if you want quick traffic and you can afford to pay for it, just use PPC advertising.

If you want long-term results and you don’t want to pay for ads, go for SEO.

If you want the best of both worlds and you have the budget, SEM is the way to go.

PS. For further reading you may want to check out my post about my recent Gumtree fail.