SEO & SEM – What’s the Difference & Why Should You Care!

Image cut into two sides one has a blue background with SEO written at the top and one has a purple background with SEM written at the top. In the middle of the text is a circle which says vs. Underneath is a graphic of a laptop which displays a search bar.

Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing can be a confusing mix, especially when a marketing executive starts using their abbreviated names – SEO and SEM.

While these two are often used interchangeably, we’ve found many people don’t have a clear understanding of how they’re related, how they differ and when to leverage them, to generate marketing results.

Scrabble tiles on a wooden surface spelling out SEO

What is SEO?

SEO means Search Engine Optimisation. This is where you use unpaid also known as organic methods to appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

While SEO is constantly changing due to the frequent updates to Google's algorithm. (For example, in June 2019, we had the Diversity Update. This is where Google decided they’d only show up to two results from the same domain for a particular query in the top results.) There are two methods which remain consistent. These are On-Page & Off-Page.

Snippets of On-Page SEO:


· Incorporation of Keywords into Title Tags, Headings Tags, Meta Descriptions, Alt Text, etc.


·  Well-Formatted URLs


·  Quality Content


·  Optimised for Mobile Devices


· Optimised Page Load Speed


· Social Sharing Buttons

Snippets of Off-Page SEO:


· High-Quality Backlinks (For example another site with quality content linking to your site)


· Social Bookmarking

Search engine results pages for term Bexhill Plasterers - 3 highlighted listings for the same company

By implementing a few simple SEO strategies, we’ve got our clients on the front page of Google.

Scrabble tiles on a wooden surface spelling out SEM

What is SEM?

SEM or Search Engine Marketing is the process of getting more visibility for your site from the search engine results pages (SERPs) either by getting traffic organically (SEO) or through paid methods (PPC).


SEM – Paid Advertising:

If you opt to use paid methods (PPC), you are essentially buying advertising space within the search engine results. Whether this be at the top, bottom, or side, of the organic results.

The most well-known platform for this is Google Ads. However, there are others such as Microsoft Ads (formally known as Bing).

Here’s what our clients are saying about our SEM (paid advertising) services:

Talkativeonline (TOL) took over the day-to-day management of our AdWords account in May 2017 and have since been managing our monthly campaigns. Our target was ultimately to lower costs by reducing our monthly AdWords spend, while continuing to increase sales. So, we contacted Mark at TOL to see if he could achieve this. Since May 2017 we have met with Mark on a monthly basis to discuss and analyse the data from the campaigns. He always comes to the monthly meetings impeccably prepared with all data to hand to show us the supporting evidence of our increases. He is an expert at reviewing and analysing the relevant data and finding the reasons for the peaks or dips and then utilising those peaks and levelling the dips. It takes time to be able to see the results improving, which is why I am now able to write a reference 14 months on. Since using Talkativeonline we have exceeded the goals set, having seen a clear increase in the sales and a decrease in costs, and we are looking forward to these results continuing.

~ C.W - Balconette

When to Focus on SEO:

Creating quality content and optimising it for SEO normally lays the groundwork for SEM. Without web pages and blogs with content that customers find useful, SEM efforts generate poor results due to low quality. Making it difficult to gain the desired visibility in the search engine results pages.

SEO can also save money over the long term and helps to establish credibility which you may not gain from SEM. However, you must keep in mind that organic placements within the SERPs are usually not gained overnight!

 When to Focus on SEM:

If you're launching a new product or service, or completely new business then you'll need to get in front of potential customers quickly. Therefore, SEM will help to cover you until you've built some organic credibility.

Which is Better?

This depends. As a marketing agency we know that one size doesn’t fit every business. Therefore, your business goals will decide whether to push one more than the other or focus on both.

For example, SEM may generate visibility quickly however, if you don’t provide viewers with what they’re looking for, you’ll lose them. Therefore, you need to build quality content which you can then optimise for SEO.

For more information on utilising SEO and SEM for your business, call us on 01424 868 001 and speak to one of our experts.

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