5 Key Differences between SEO and SEM in the World of Digital Marketing

SEO and SEM are often used in the world of digital marketing as a fairly effective strategy channel. What’s the difference between the two?

If you are a person who is literate in the world of digital marketing, of course you will be familiar with the two terms SEO and SEM. Yes, both are examples of various types of digital marketing strategies that are widely used by companies to attract new customers.

But it turns out that the effectiveness of both is often debated by its users. Many people are of the view that it is better to use one and leave the other. What exactly is the recommended best practice?

Before going there, it’s a good idea to discuss the definitions and advantages one by one.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)?

SEO is a strategy that focuses on how to be number one in search engines, such as Google and Bing. By using the right SEO strategy, your site’s visibility will be high, based on the target keywords you want.

For example, there is a site that wants to be number one on the search results page when people type the keyword “digital marketing class”. With the right SEO strategy and implementation, the site can reap some or even all of the potential traffic from searching these keywords.

Moz (one of the leading SEO tool providers) even said that of the people who use Google, 71% of them interact on the first page search results. While on the second page, the amount of traffic immediately plunged to 6%. That is, SEO is something very serious if you want to get traffic from search engines!

Those who are experts in the field of SEO are usually referred to as SEO Specialists or SEO Content Writers

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

While SEM is a search engine dominance strategy by advertising using Google Ads or Bing Ads. SEM is a strategy with instant results, where digital marketers don’t have to wait a long time to get results. This then becomes one of the main comparisons with SEO.

By using Ads, the website can appear in the top 3 search results according to any desired keyword target. In contrast to SEO which requires the creation and preparation of relevant content to appear on the first page, SEM only requires ads and registered target keywords.

Professions related to SEM: Ads Specialist, SEM Specialist, Google Ads Strategist, Ads Optimizer

Difference between SEO and SEM

It is clear that there is a difference between these two strategies, in fact both of them already have their respective positions in the world of digital marketing. Now what’s the difference?

reference set of digital marketing strategies Sasana Digital’s

1. Cost

In terms of costs, SEO does not require explicit costs such as advertising costs. However, there is a considerable cost of time and energy in its execution. Once the SEO strategy is right, the results obtained will also be large and in the long term. It may take a few years or more in some cases.

While SEM has a clear cost, namely the cost of ad clicks that must be paid in advance. The results are only in the short term, because once the ad doesn’t run, your site will disappear from search engines until you place an ad again. The energy required is also not too large when compared to SEO, SEM only requires an advertising strategy and periodic optimization.

2. Time Required

SEO takes time for you to get results, especially if your site is just starting out. In some cases, a site may even take up to 3 months to appear on the search page (not necessarily on the first page). This makes the SEO strategy quite time consuming.

For SEM, you can get the results right away. Once you have installed the ad and the deposit fee has been entered, then your site will appear without the need to look at the age of the site. SEM is also unaffected by Google’s algorithms, so there aren’t that many changes to deal with.

3. Resources Required

SEO arguably requires a lot of resources, especially if you build your own website without using tools like WordPress. SEO requires website optimization inside (on page) and outside (off page) site. The resources required are certainly much greater.

SEM on the other hand, you only have to deal with advertising vendors. Say Google Ads, then you only need to optimize in Google Ads and don’t need to worry about other things including your website. Even a free website, as long as it’s easy and comfortable to use by potential prospects, it won’t be a problem.

But again keep in mind, SEM costs upfront. And if the results from advertising do not cover these costs, you have the potential to suffer losses.

4. Difficulty Level The

world of SEO has undergone drastic changes several times, such as the Google Panda and Penguin algorithm updates a few years ago. This makes the SEO strategy must always be updated, which of course also increases the level of difficulty especially for those who are not experts.

Not to mention the many SEO factors that continue to grow all the time (lastly, Google added User Experience as one of the SEO factors), making the SEO difficulty level rather lofty, and well beyond the ability of regular folk to tackle.

In contrast to SEM, which tends to be stagnant and does not change much. The existing ad formats have also not changed since the first time SEM appeared, as well as the ‘effective’ ad indicators which are not much different from before.

This makes SEM strategies much easier to understand and implement, especially for companies that need short-term results.

5. Goals and Goals

Many specialists recommend SEO for the purpose of brand awareness or brand recognition. And this is not wrong, considering that search engine users are looking for more information than making a decision to buy.

While SEM is more focused on the purpose of the sales campaign, considering that you have already spent a budget on advertising costs.


are complementary, not interchangeable. In conclusion, SEO and SEM cannot simply be separated. There’s a lot of debate out there, but in fact it’s better to use both strategies simultaneously.

One method that is often used by specialists is to collect visitors from SEO and then target them again with retargeting SEM’sThis makes both digital strategies

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