SEM – What is SEM or Search Engine Marketing?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

SEM and SEO – The Difference

SEM – the initials SEM stand for Search Engine Marketing.  The initials SEO stand for Search Engine Optimisation.

Within the general public there is confusion as to both what SEM and SEO are.  Even within the industry there is some debate as to whether is there is or if there isn’t an overlap between SEM and SEO.  There is also debate as to whether the meaning of these two terms have changed over time.

Furthermore there is disagreement over which tasks fall under SEM and under SEO.  I have provided below as clear a description as I can between the two.  Please however do remember not everyone in the industry (including search engines themselves) agree with the breakdown hat I have provided.  It is however, I believe the more general consensus within the industry.

The main disagreement is whether Search Engine Marketing includes paid advertising (Google AdWords) as well as SEO or whether the two are two separate services.

The way that I  (and many others) see it is that SEM is paid advertising and that SEO is a different service altogether.  The description below is based upon this differentiation in the terminology.

SEM – Generally Agreed Meaning of SEM

It is generally agreed within the industry that Search Engine Marketing or SEM is internet advertising that is paid for.  Thus SEM is primarily Google AdWords.

SEO – Generally Agreed Meaning of SEO

Within the industry it is generally agreed that Search Engine Optimisation or SEO is work that is done by an SEO professional to optimise your website so that it rises through the ranks of the organic search engine results. Whilst this is still a paid service it is not directly paid for advertising but rather a payment for services that will then lead to ‘free advertising’.


SEM in More Detail

SEM primarily involves paying for Google AdWords.  If you pay a sufficient amount then your Google Add will appear at the top of and to the right hand side of a Google page. Thus if you pay a sufficient amount for your add your add will be listed on page one of Google for the search term that the add has been written for. Once people click on this add they will be taken to your website. Every time someone clicks on your add Google charges you a certain amount.

Whilst with Search Engine Marketing and Google AdWords you can have a link to your website on the first page of Google immediately it can be very expensive.  This is particularly true if you are in a competitive market. Thus it may cost say $20 each time a person clicks on your Google Adword, however only a proportion of people who click on your Google Adword will become a customer. So it may take 5, 10, 50 or any number of clicks before you obtain a paying customer. This is why SEM can be very expensive. The effectiveness of Search Engine Marketing and AdWords depends upon a number of factors but the most important is the competition which means a higher cost per click.

SEM is paid for marketing with immediate results.

With Search Engine Marketing you pay Google for your advertisements.  More often than not you also pay an Search Engine Marketing Consultant to run your Google AdWords campaign for you. The better it is run the lower the cost of clicks and the better conversion rate you are likely to have.

SEO in More Detail

SEO is work that is done one and off your website with the aim of achieving a high rank in the organic results of Google.

The organic results are all the other results that you see listed below the Google AdWords (excluding the Google plus Pages). If you website is listed in the organic results, when a person clicks on your website link it does not cost you anything, not a cent.

If this sounds too good to be true, it is. Firstly it is highly unlikely that anyone will click on your website link unless you are on the first page of Google for a particular search term. Also to obtain a large amount of clicks you need to be listed within the top three organic listings on the first page of Google.

To achieve these top positions you will need to pay for SEO services.  If these services are done effectively over a period of time (months) you will see your website listed in one of these slots. So whilst it is free when someone clicks on your organic listing, you will have paid beforehand for services to get your website in such as position..

SEO is paid for services for long-term results. SEO services payments are made to SEO freelancer Consultants or Search Engine Optimisation Agencies. There is no payment to Google.


Some companies with the funds available choose to do both Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation.  This can be a very powerful combination providing you with the greatest number of business leads for your website and revenue for your business. It also though comes with a greater cost. The cost and effectiveness of such practices depend upon many, many factors including:-

The competitiveness of your industry which includes the strength of your competition for both SEM and SEO.
The average cost of Google AdWords for your industry.
The average conversion rate for your industry.
The cost of your SEM Consultant and how good they are at SEM.
The cost of your SEO Consultant/Agency and how good they are.
The amount of money you are prepared to pay for both services and to Google.
The longer the time that you are prepared to spend on both of these services.

The SEM and SEO Argument

As outlined in the beginning of this article there is disagreement between what comprises Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimisation. Thus while I have separated the two into two distinct services, there are many who believe that SEM includes both paid advertising as well as SEO.

The distinction between the two terminologies is not really important.  What is important is that you understand when you are paying for when you engage a Consultant or an Agency. It is also important that you obtain or make an evaluation as to which services are likely to provide you with the best return for your money and also match with your long and short term goals.

SEO – Through The Ranks

I (Karen) am an SEO ( Search Engine Optimisation) Consultant with my own business Through The Ranks.  If you are looking for effective and affordable SEO and have a local service business, please consider my services to help your website earn revenue and generate business leads for you.