Digital Marketing

SEO and SEM: Differences Between Both Strategies, Which One is Best For My Business?

Both are strategies or disciplines that can be applied to boost any online business. They are so important that it depends on them that a website has a life within the Internet, basically without them, it would be impossible to receive visits.

However, when we are faced with the question of which of the two is more convenient for us, we do not know what to choose, and that is that each one has its advantages and disadvantages, making any well-applied option can become valid.

So how do you know which one to choose? Well, it all depends on understanding the differences between SEO and SEM, and when it is convenient to use each one, based on this, you can correctly choose the one that best suits you for your business and your digital strategy.

1. Can SEO and SEM be used together in a Digital Marketing strategy?

The first thing you have to do is eliminate from your mind the idea that the two cannot go hand in hand; this is a misconception that is usually had at the beginning.

This is one of the most recurrent questions among business managers who want to go digital. In my case, many of my clients who ask me, I usually comment on this “football” simile:

Would you put Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same starting team? Taking into account that they are the best footballers of the moment, why not? Of course, it is! Why would they be incompatible, as some say?

In Online Marketing, it is possible to combine different strategies as long as they contribute something to achieving your goals, and in this particular case, it is more than viable.

Also, later on, you will realize that both one technique and the other have marked differences that at the same time support each other, so in a certain way you will be complementing the disadvantages of one with the advantages of the other, and this is something that suits you enormously.

Of courseknowingow when to use one and when the other is always more necessary.

2. How is it possible to differentiate SEO and SEM within the SERPs?

Before going with more specific differences, I want to briefly show you a clear distinction that you can see as a Google user.

And it is that the search engine is not interested in deceiving the user, so it always leaves a method to differentiate between organic and paid positioning.

a. Organic results

If you look closely, within the SERPs, we can find different results; however, at this point, there are two in particular that I want to highlight:

In the screenshot that I show you above, I show you the results for the keyword “what is Instagram” and, as you can see, on the results page we have the first two results that you usually see in any search.

However, if you look closely, these are the “true” first results.

Let me explain: in this case, being a purely informational search, and without commercial pretensions, Google does not show any payment results above them.

b. Payment results

However, when we carry out a somewhat more “interested” search from a commercial or economic point of view, we will surely see paid results from Google Ads (Adwords).

It is the case of this search that you see above in the image. The easiest way to identify if a result is in that position by SEO or SEM is by looking closely at the attributes that appear.

All Ads results, without exception, have the distinctive “Ad” label just above their title, accompanied by the web site’s address to which it belongs, and optional information that may vary, such as the contact number that appears in the example.

Is this difference between SEO and SEM results relevant? Yes, but not at the same time. And it will depend on the search intention that the user has when selecting a keyword that contains ads in the SERPs.

3. Differences between SEO and SEM that you have to know

Now, let’s move on to the differences between the two strategies. Instead of impeding using both methods together, I remind you that these differences are perfect to complement each other and cover their main disadvantages.

a. They are fundamentally different strategies

While Search Engine Optimization, focuses on the optimization of a website to enhance organic or natural positioning in the search engine; “Search Engine Marketing” is a strategy that focuses on using paid ads to give visibility to a website.

This difference is the most important, and it is why both strategies can complement each other without interfering with each other.

b. SEO is long term and SEM is short term

Another difference that should be noted between the two is that the first is a long-term strategy, while the other is a short-term strategy.

This is because organic work requires a lot of work and patience, you need time to start to bear fruit and for your page to climb positions in the SERPs.

On the other hand, paid work to Google, Washtenaw in the previous example, is a quick method to appear on Google’s first page.

c. With Ads, you pay for results

In this one, you pay to appear in the first results, that is, you are paying for products, which makes it a relatively more expensive alternative, and that, if you do not know how to configure it well, it can result in a disaster for your budget.

On the other hand, although SEO is not a free strategy, or at least not in all circumstances, its rate of return on investment is higher in the long term, and the principal asset is in time.

d. SEO brings more benefits than “just visits”

While SEM focuses on getting visits and potential leads for your business, Search Engine Optimization has a more general approach that seeks to take care of the health of your website, which makes it a much more complete and necessary strategy for any online business, at least from my point of view.

For this reason, organic is considered today as an indispensable discipline for the Internet, starting from content curation through Keyword Research and reaching the endpoint, which is the fact that Google thinks you are “worthy” of being at the top1. It’s no surprise many trusted businesses decide to seek help from popular content marketing agencies to get this done the right way.

e. SEM is not a sustainable method of web positioning

Unlike SEO, this is not a viable strategy to boost your sustainable online visibility over time, since as we usually say in Online Marketing: «you are up as long as you pay Google; when you don’t deliver, you will go down.

Therefore, in terms of temporary sustainable visibility, organic will always last longer in top positions. As a result, working with Google Ads is considered one more strategy for specific moments, such as a time of offers/discounts in an eCommerce, where we want to give visibility to certain products.

4. How can SEO and SEM be combined in the same Online Marketing strategy?

Now that you have seen the differences between the two techniques, you will indeed be giving yourself some ideas on combining both within your strategy.

Well, it is not very complicated, and the basic idea is to use each one in those moments when it best suits you. Still, here are some tips.

a. Never stop using SEO

As I told you before, organic positioning work is an essential discipline for Digital Marketing, it is through it that we manage to position and achieve better places in the SERPs of Google and other search engines in the long term.

For this reason, you cannot stop working on your website, and it is a constant that you must continue to improve and improve as search engines and user behavior evolve.

b. Use SEM for highly competitive keywords

When it comes to keywords with healthy competition, Search Engine Optimization is not always enough, and it is precisely in these moments that you have to take advantage of the advantages of investing in AdsThisis way, you can have visibility, even if the competition is healthy. Of course, this will only give you results if you combine it with the right organic strategies, such as Content Marketing.

c. Optimize your Landing Page with SEO

When you implement a payment strategy, you need to build an optimized landing page in every way. This not only helps you capture more user attention, but it will also make it easier for you to convert the visits you receive into leads, and later into sales.

Many strategies can help you do this.

d. You can use the same market study

Generally, SEM requires a prior market study to obtain optimal results.

As you might suppose, the information collected during this study can improve your SEO strategy, obtain better results, and outperform the competition to climb positions in the SERPs.

e. You can use SEM as a visitor enhancer in the initial stage

As you surely know, SEO has a slow start, and it costs to start giving results; for this reason, you can take advantage of SEM as a means to obtain visits while your SEO strategy gains momentum.

Of course, be careful not to abuse it with little competition keywords, since you will be wasting your budget unnecessarily.

Generally, this is recommended during the initial stage of the project, since SEO will take care of giving you a constant flow of web traffic, without having to pay for them later.

At least, of course, it is a keyword with substantial competition.


These are just some methods by which you can take advantage of SEO and SEM in your Digital Marketing strategy. Undoubtedly, there are many more, but as always, it is a matter of practicing and trying new ideas until you find what works best for you.

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