Looking for Love in Search

SEM vs SEO: Clarification Needed

The clarification of SEM vs SEO is pretty simple. Yet, for some reason and for many people, it is still very much needed. For example, just recently I read a top SEM guy equate the two. And there I was, thinking that he, of all people, should get it. But I guess not. I guess there is still uncertainty about what each one is and whether or not they are interchangeable terms.

So I would like to clarify. Maybe it really isn’t necessary, but here we go. Simply put: SEM and SEO are NOT the same thing. They are not interchangeable terms, able to be tossed about and equated without care. They are not “Spielberg” and “Great Movies”. Now, they might sort of look similar; they might even be connected in a way. But, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are not one in the same. The difference is very clear.

Granted, the difference isn’t like apples and oranges, where both are completely different things connected only under a certain subgroup. In fact, the comparison is more like apples vs. Fuji apples. SEM is the apple; and SEO is the Fuji apple. That is to say, in the broader category of SEM lies the subcategory and type of SEM known as SEO. Let me explain further.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the broad category of tools that a company will utilize in order to bring more traffic to a website or more attention to a product. It increases the “magnitude” of a site, attracting as many searches as possible.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is more specifically the tool of increasing the search-ability of a website (or optimizing) so that it can more readily be found in all search engine listings, including organic and natural listings.

SEM includes SEO but is not limited to it. That is to say, there are more tools in the SEM belt than SEO. These include such things as Paid Inclusion, Traditional Ads, and Pay-Per-Click Advertising, all of which focus on a different marketing medium than traditional SEO. Unlike SEO, for example, they are faster tools, able to bring traffic to your website quickly. They get the message and increase your visibility immediately.

SEO, on the other hand, builds up the content of your website, making it readable, informative, and helpful. All of these make your site relevant and desirable, which, too, increases traffic, though slower than the other tools. Overtime, however, SEO has proven just as, if not much, much more, effective in bringing traffic to your site, leading ultimately to SEO’s popularity and importance.

The final word: SEO is the best tool in SEM’s belt. You cannot have effective, long-lasting SEM without quality SEO. Now, there are no questions about that.

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8 Responses

  1. Now that would be great if they did an update. I love reading about human behavior and search. I mean really when you think about it in just the last 10 years look at how far search engines have gone. Now with Social networks like Twitter some people search internally. Just something else to chew on 🙂

  2. No problem -Thanks for the great content.

    I re-discovered a cool heat map that shows the percentage of clicks that each position gets in an organic search engine results page – it really reminded me how important it can be to get those top 4 or 5 positions! I thought others might enjoy checking it out:


  3. When it comes to servicii seo and seo services there are only a handful of companies who really know what they're doing. Only these know what content is all about, fixing site issues, URL canoniclization and rewrites and getting you a lot of links.

  4. Gabriella,

    Great job on describing the differences between SEM and SEO. I would also add that SEO usually involves more “under the hood” changes to a web site, such as fixing up title tags, description tags, keyword tags, page targeting, site linking structure and other on-page factors. SEM focuses more on link building, advertising and other off-page factors.


  5. lolol Hey Brain with as many acronyms coming out I have a hard time keeping up with most. Heck in my day SM meant sadism and masochism. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. I never understood what SEM was at all. I thought it was another term for “PPC Expert”….like the PPC guys didn't like the fact that Site Optimizers had a cool little military-style code-name and they didn't.

    Now it makes more sense.

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