SEO and SEM: definition, differences and combined use


SEO and SEM are essentials in online marketing strategies, but they are also two abbreviations that lead to confusion. Which is better for my brand and how can I use them to empower each other?
It's time to clear all your doubts about this topic.


What is the SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It can be defined as "the process of improving the visibility of a website in the organic results of different search engines." Often, SEO strategies focus on Google, since it is the search engine used by the vast majority of users.
Within this definition, it is very important to emphasize that SEO refers to organic results. Organic results mean, that we are not going to pay the search engine company for our page results to position better.
Search engines have evolved over the years and with them SEO strategies have become increasingly sophisticated. In a simple way, there are two fundamental factors that influence the positioning of a web page:

  • Relevance. Google considers a website to be relevant when it corresponds accurately with a specific search, and when it responds to the question or the question that the user has asked. To improve the relevance of our website, we use SEO techniques on site such as the optimization of keywords and URLs, faster loading times, better user experience, etc.
  • Authority. A website has authority when it is popular, which is measured by the number of links pointing to it. To improve the authority of a website, SEO off site techniques are used. In this case, link building stands out.

What is the SEM?

SEM on the other hand, stands for Search Engine Marketing (search engine marketing). Globally, we could consider that SEM encompasses all the techniques used to improve the positioning of a website (including SEO). However, most marketers use SEM as a synonym for "search engine advertising". To avoid confusion, we will do the same in this article.

SEM, therefore, refers to the techniques that improve the positioning of our website through paid ads that appear in the search engines for certain keywords. Given the prominence of Google as a search engine, a common search advertising solution is Google Ads.


The Main Differences between SEO and SEM

As we have seen, both SEO and SEM seek to improve the positioning of a website in search engines, such as Google. But there are several differences between them:

  • The most obvious difference is the type of investment they require. There is a stereotype that "SEO is free," but this is not exactly true. Getting a web page capable of occupying the top positions in search results requires time, effort, and a budget. With the exception of some maintenance costs, it's mainly an initial investment that gives results in the future. On the other hand, if you use SEM, you will have to continue paying for each click on your ads.
  • The position that your website will occupy in the search engine results pages is also different. Ads from Google Ads occupy a band at the top, while organic search results fill the central space.
  • The type of content we work with is different between both strategies. SEO is based on creating quality content, usually in longer formats. Meanwhile, SEM has ads with a very small number of characters and landing pages designed to achieve the maximum impact with the minimum elements.
  • Finally, the time investment is different, where SEM is sought to obtain results in the short / medium term, while the SEO is a medium / long term bet.

How to combine SEO and SEM in your marketing strategy?

The next question is what is better, using SEO or SEM? The answer is both at the same time. It’s best to combine them and take advantage of their potential to achieve better results in both strategies.

Our philosophy in Cyberclick to combine SEM and SEO is summarized in a simple way: SEM first, SEO later:

  • The first step is to conduct a preliminary study of the most searched and clicked keywords by sector, product, or service. To do this, we use tools such as Ubersuggest, Google Keyword Planner, or SEMRush specially designed for SEM. The idea is to find words that have a high demand (many users are looking for them), but with low positioned "offers" of web pages.
  • Using the insights we have obtained in the previous section, we start our SEM campaigns to attract visitors. This way, you can achieve tangible results from the start without the long wait that organic positioning strategies require.

But of course, all this work we've done is reusable for SEO. We already know which keywords are most interesting to us. The next step is to use this information to plan our content strategy, and to work our web, blog, and social networks around these keywords. It's not about including them in the texts without rhyme or reason. It's about trying to understand what users are looking for and how we can respond to their needs with quality content, all while reinforcing the link building strategy. And so, in the medium and long term, we can see the fruits of our effort in the organic positioning in Google.