Differences between SEO and SEM

Differences between SEO and SEM. In today’s world, Digital Marketing has become a daily talking topic, either with your friends or colleagues, due to its undeniable effectiveness. Two words that resonate a lot in any endeavor are SEO and SEM.


But do we know what each one consists of? There are ways to differentiate them. We know that SEO is a series of organic positioning strategies. While SEM or Search Engine Marketing manages sponsored links in search engines.


Today we will explain how they differ:

What is SEM?

When we talk about SEM, we refer to Search Engine Marketing. It promotes the website in search engines by using sponsored ads on platforms such as Google Ads or Bing Ads. Believe it or not, this concept also includes other displays and social media platforms where you usually pay. They’re usually based on the clicks generated by the ads.

This strategy aims to facilitate the immediate visibility of your website. It configures the campaigns so the ads can appear on the first page of results.

What is the function of SEM?

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKThe function of SEM is to position commercial web pages on the first page of search engines for a certain time. They have sponsored ads that appear before SEO results to attract potential customers to a website.


When executing SEM campaigns, this strategy takes into account several elements:


  • Target audience searches
  • Sponsored links available
  • Market segmentation


Once the target audience is clear, it’s necessary to specify some data that will determine how, where, and to whom the content produced under SEM strategies reaches.

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKFor example, the target audience, the geographical area, and the devices through which it carries the searches.

SEM encompasses several key concepts:

  • CPC, which means Cost Per Click. It generally uses CPC in SEM campaigns, such as Adwords, Display, and Facebook Ads.
  • CPM, which means cost per thousand impressions. It’s when the advertiser pays each time they display their ad 1000 times on the platform. The amount to be paid will have been previously agreed upon.

Advantages and Importance of SEM

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKNext, we will mention what the advantages of SEM are and why it’s important:

  • It’s a quick method to publicize a product.
  • A strategy that allows segmenting audiences, it allows reaching a specific audience directly.
  • Favors the return on investment.
  • Allows us to develop specific campaigns and redirect the audience to a specific landing page.
  • Positions an unlimited number of keywords. However, it requires a minimum of keyword consistency.
  • Offers short-term benefits.
  • You can plan specific campaigns that lead the audience to a certain page or category.
  • Lets you check what type of campaign works best after trying different creative strategies.
  • It doesn’t influence the contents of the web.

SEM works by itself, not under the influence of any theme or content of any page.

  • Depending on the investment and the CPC of the keywords. SEM allows us to make a more or less accurate forecast of the short-term benefits.
  • If SEO campaigns work with creativity, SEM works in part thanks to the ability to segment audiences and target a target audience.

What is SEO?

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKFirst, we’ll clarify that SEO means Search Engine Optimization and refers to the work of optimizing and increasing the popularity of a website. The aim of this is to get the search engines to recognize and index the website.


Likewise, SEO focuses on making web pages relevant enough that they appear in the top positions of search results for specific search queries from users.

Therefore, SEO focuses on making websites appear in the first results that, as we know, attract more customers to your business.


The idea is to appear on the first page, preferably in the first five positions of a search engine, in a set of searches that interest us without paying a direct advertising cost for each visit. This is one of the best advantages that SEO offers.


Different search engines even test hundreds of signals from all the websites. They do this to determine which the best responses to that search are. This way, they ensure that users have the best experience and find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.


If a website is correctly optimized for SEO, it has more possibilities to position itself in the first positions of organic results. Within SEO positioning work, there are 2 large sets of factors that we can optimize:

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UK


SEO ON-PAGE encompasses all those actions we perform within our website to optimize it for search engines. For example, having friendly URLs, reducing loading time, and offering original and attractive content. Also, provide the user with security and a good browsing experience.


This SEO encompasses optimization actions that work to increase the popularity of our website. We accomplish this by having other sites link to us. Every time a site links our website, it gives us a vote of confidence. The popularity and reputation of this website influence the value that this link may have to promote our positioning.


Some examples of SEO OFF-PAGE are publishing guest articles on blogs and registering in relevant subject directories. SEO OFF-PAGE focuses on making us known on websites with a greater reach than ours. It achieves this through practices such as distributing content to viralize it using social networks and third-party sites, publishing press releases, and content on relevant topics on our website.


These actions are external factors, given that they don’t imply technical changes on our website.


SEO and SEM, therefore, are two complementary strategies or ways of working with search engine optimization. For this reason, we highly recommend working with both of them in a coordinated way in most cases.

Advantages and importance of SEO for companies

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKSearch engine optimization is a technique that has been evolving since its appearance, as well as the need for its implementation in companies. Today an online business could not survive without SEO professionals.


The definition of SEO has evolved to the point where some have already named it as Search Experience Optimization. This name refers to a search engine positioning oriented towards the user and the need to improve their experience. Below, we will tell you, point by point, why companies need to implement SEO:

  • It has no expiration date. Search engine optimization is a reliable marketing strategy since it updates constantly and its effectiveness lasts.

Any online search depends on keywords.

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UK

  • It’s profitable. Compared to other methods, such as Google Adwords sponsored ads, long-term SEO is profitable for popular search queries. This is because, in SEO, there are no requirements concerning the time in which a link is in the search engines, nor terms of its cost. In this sense, the cost per click (CPC) in the first phase is higher than in other strategies. However, once applied, the price remains.

Search engines have a significant market share. Around 80% of customers review products and services on the company’s website.

  • Generates qualified traffic: We achieve this by attending to the needs of the users. If a website contains information related to all the queries generated around a sector, the public will increase, and we’ll get more customers or subscribers. For example, if you have a blog about digital marketing and cover all the topics that exist in this area, users will refer to your site.


  • An SEO specialist finds out what those topics are and responds to user requests as soon as possible.


SEO is the best way for your users to find you through searches in which your website is notable. These users look for what you offer them, and the best way to reach them is through a search engine.

Which is better, SEO or SEM?

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKWe know that SEO requires work that offers results in the medium / long term, but that will be maintained over time.


SEM makes it possible to briefly achieve visibility. But there’s a drawback, once the ads campaign stops paying, these results will disappear from the top positions.


So what is recommended the most?


The most recommendable thing is to design a strategy that combines the two options. That way, you can carry out a series of SEM campaigns while the SEO work achieves the objectives and expected results.


This is an excellent strategy to increase the visibility of your website’s products and services on Google. It’s proven that having both Adwords and organic results provides a greater number of clicks and intensifies your brand’s branding.

Differences between SEO and SEM

Next, we will explain what the differences between SEO and SEM are:

  • Cost, Differences between SEO and SEM.

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKWith SEM, you pay a specific amount for each time the user clicks on an ad. The more clicks, the higher the cost. This payment model is called PPC, which refers to the cost per click or pay per click. This means you don’t pay for the times it shows the ad but for the times they click on it.


In contrast, in SEO, you don’t have to make any payment for each visit as in the Google Adwords platform. This doesn’t mean that you don’t pay anything. The work and time you spend optimizing a website to position it in search results naturally can give better results.

In the short term, SEM is more expensive than SEO positioning. However, in the medium and long term, this changes completely.


In the short term, an SEM campaign can become more expensive since you need to hire an Adwords expert, not to mention the cost of the campaign itself. In the medium and long term, this could change since your investment could be less.


SEO isn’t one of those tasks you do on your website once, and you forget about it. On the contrary. Content generation is a task in which you must constantly work to publish it regularly and update the information on your page. Besides, optimizing your website and making regular updates are elements that you can never leave out.

  • Time, Differences between SEO and SEM.

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKFind out how SEO and SEM differ when it comes to their runtime:


In SEO, we get the results above all in the medium / long term.


In SEM, we get the results almost immediately, and we can extend it as much as we want in time.


We know there are times when we can achieve to be among the first SEO results in a few days. However, the results can take a few weeks or months when we start a project from scratch. We will constantly observe details that we can improve to optimize your website and accomplish your specific objectives through continuous work.

This makes the difference between other strategies and SEO and is what will make our portal take off at any given moment.

Why is it like this?

Because search engines want to make sure that your project is serious and long-term. You sometimes don’t get the visible results after impeccable optimization work, and perhaps when you least expect it, your positioning will take off.

How do we achieve this?

Differences between SEO and SEM | BluCactus UKBy performing clean and constant SEO optimization. For this reason, dedicate yourself to constantly improving it because you can also lose it. Through SEM strategy, we can appear in a matter of minutes in the first or second place in the search results, surpassing all the SEO results in a flash.

This will make us achieve effective results, such as increasing visits and conversions almost instantly. However, success is about trial and error in an SEM campaign, especially initially.

  • Patience, Differences between SEO and SEM.

When we start this marketing strategy, patience reigns supreme. We will see the results between the first and fourth month of its implementation. Therefore, it’s advisable to have a little patience, as mentioned above.

We may notice that in the first-month sales have not yet exceeded the cost of the campaign. However, as long as we observe progress and solve problems, we are on the right track.

  • Implementing multiple strategies.

Such problems sometimes don’t depend on the campaign it relates to but on the company’s conversion funnel. For this reason, we should put various strategies into practice to turn your prospects into loyal customers. For example, we are having a interesting product or service, a competitive price, and a website with relevant content.

We can also see it from another point of view, and that is when a new competitor enters the market. Here, the competition will implement their strategies and will make it difficult for you, including using unethical click techniques, such as Black Hat SEO.

Once the SEM campaign operates, we should not see it as a strategy that replaces SEO but as a complementary one.

As long as the campaign is profitable and  you generate conversions, visits, or sales on a recurring and continuous basis, it’s ideal that you continue implementing it.

SEM strategy is the one that attracts most of the conversions and is necessary. However, there are businesses in which SEM strategy is difficult to monetize and is limited, with SEO being the most favourable option.

  • CTR

Regarding SEO, various studies show that the CTR, known for being the click rate below the fifth position, is less than 5%, which can affect the optimization work.


Appearing on the second page of results is like not being there since only 1% of users go from the first page. A curious fact is that appearing in the first results usually generates click rates close to 30%.


In SEM, there is the case of advertising systems such as AdWords, which allows getting very high CTRs in the first 4 results. Those that come out in the TOP area and can reach figures of over 10% and up to 30% with being in the first position.


Some users prefer to click organic results instead of sponsored results, as they know they’re ads.

  • Content, Differences between SEO and SEM.

In SEO, we must seek innovation, extension, quality, and relevance.


SEM should seek, above all, relevance, besides giving a more commercial focus to the content, focusing it on the conversion of customers.


In SEO, the contents of the pages that appear in the first search results are organic and are positioned by the website’s relevance within a defined theme and by the quality of its content.


For this reason, the user is more likely to find the answer to what they’re looking for in organic search results. An SEM strategy has a clear business purpose. That is why most of the time, such content doesn’t meet the needs of users who perform search queries.

  • Why?

From what we mentioned above, it’s a commercial strategy. It only seeks to sell, not to educate.


If working with SEM, it’s highly advisable to have specific pages focused on giving the user what they’re looking for and leading them towards conversion, using calls to action. Likewise, the user must reach the objective we have set for ourselves with the campaign.

  • Visibility, Differences between SEO and SEM.

SEO: there is no guarantee of appearing in the first results.

SEM: from the moment the campaign starts, it’s possible to appear in the first results.


In SEO, no one can guarantee that you will appear on the first page of organic search results or in a certain position at a certain time. Whoever tells you that is trying to deceive you or using unethical techniques that, most times, can lead to severe penalties.


Why do we say this? Because SEO involves planned work that allows you to achieve results in a reasonable time period that will depend on the popularity of your content. We will see this as these SEO optimization results gradually pays off.


However, we have to assume that the positioning could work for months, even years, and even then, we might not achieve our objective, which is to position a web page in the TOP 10 of search results.


This is because competitors could position themselves there for a long time or have more resources to promote their businesses. Here, it’s better to opt for other solutions.


If you optimize the campaign correctly in SEM, you will appear on the first page almost instantly and even in the first position. We should note that you could get this successful result if you invest properly in the campaign. In this way, SEM represents a reliable alternative to increase your visibility quickly. However, in the long term, it’s not just a matter of insisting a lot but of structuring the campaign and optimizing correctly.

  • Ranking, Differences between SEO and SEM.

Know the ranking of each of them:


SEO: there are no immediate significant changes in terms of your position in the ranking of results.


SEM: the variety of positions can be constant.


In SEO, there isn’t a great variety in the positions in the rankings since it considers hundreds of elements, and it’s difficult for a single signal to produce important changes. We often see significant changes when search engine algorithms trigger modifications that influence the processing of some signals. This usually happens a few times a year.


Therefore, if a website is in a great position, it will be challenging to overcome it in a brief space of time. One of the central positioning factors is the age of the domain, but also the freshness of the content. For this reason, to maintain the interest of the reader from beginning to end, we insist on making valuable and creative content.

Older websites have certain advantages, while more recent articles are more relevant.


In SEM, the changes are constant because if any of the competitors modify their offer or change the campaign or website, it will change the ads’ rank. This depends on a mathematical formula that takes into account the bid – the price offered by the buyer – and a quality factor that is calculated in real-time for each search.


  • Measurement, Differences between SEO and SEM.

Do you already know what the differences between SEO and SEM measurement are? Today we will explain them to you:

 SEO is difficult to measure immediately. To know whether you do good SEO, you need some time to see its progress.


SEM is easy to monitor due to the digital tools that facilitate the process of visualizing the performance of everything we want to monetize.

We will explain it in more detail below:

If we ever use a web analytics tool such as Google Analytics, we will have noticed that Google cares about privacy in searches.


What we identify as ‘Not provided’ in Google Analytics refers to the keywords used by users that Google can’t provide. Having a session started, it’s more difficult to know the queries or keywords for which we are getting traffic.


Instead, to measure the metrics related to SEO positioning, we can use the tools for web developers that search engines provide us with its Search Console, in Google’s case.


This tool provides us with certain information on the positions and keywords that have generated clicks. However, the data is usually incomplete, thus hindering the work of the SEO specialist.


In SEM, due to the tools provided by advertising platforms such as Google AdWords, you can have all the data and statistics of keywords and metrics related to a campaign.


This way, we can quickly identify the keywords with which we get the most visits and interactions. Also, in Google Analytics, we can have this information completely, but not in real-time.


The initial investment in AdWords can be useful to know which words are searched, which ones attract traffic to our website, and which ones convert the best.

  • Flexibility, Differences between SEO and SEM.

We will explain what the differences between each one are:


SEO isn’t very flexible to changes.


SEM is very flexible to changes.


In SEO positioning, you have to wait for days or weeks for the changes to take effect.


For example, the search engine robot needs to scan the page again and update the result in its index servers to make a title change. This can take time, so we should avoid changing titles regularly. Instead, in SEM, any change in the campaign is applied immediately.


Some modifications that we can make are to change the texts of the announcements, pause a keyword that doesn’t give us good results, and add others.

In conclusion

BluCactus - Linn Larsson BluCactus - Ken SchrenkWe have learned the differences between SEO and SEM. We learned that while SEM can quickly put us on the first page, its results depend on us paying a certain amount of money, and once we stop doing it, the results can disappear.  On the other hand, SEO can gradually position our website through a series of organic strategies. 

It all depends on your goals and content. If you want to have immediate results and can spend some money, we recommend SEM. SEM can be used when, for example, you need to sell something quickly, like a Valentine’s sale that’s limited to date. If you prefer to get there organically and remain there for a while, SEO is what you need. SEO works best for long term goals, such as selling services and/or products all year long. 

Remember that you can also use both at the same time. You can create a solid strategy that will impulse your website to the top.

If you are looking to do SEO, you can contact us immediately. We have a specialized team, and we can help you achieve your goals.


Here at BluCactus, we take care of designing the solution to all your problems. We accompany you throughout the process and guarantee you successful results in realistic terms.

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