Date Published
November 10, 2022

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Introduction: What are SEM & SEO?

SEM and SEO are two online marketing strategies for businesses. They are both designed to increase the visibility of a website or webpage in search engine results pages -commonly referred to in the industry as SERPs -the results pages that appear when someone performs a search query- by improving ranking factors such as on-page optimization, off-page optimization, and social media marketing.

SEM and SEO have different goals but share many of the same practices. So what does each acronym stand for and what are the differences?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a type of internet marketing that uses paid advertising to drive traffic to a website. SEM includes:

  • Pay-per-click advertising, such as Google AdWords that allow you to bid on certain keywords, related to your website, to appear on top of a SERP.
  • Display advertising which are visual ad formats placed on webpages or apps to promote an add or product, you might have seen Google banners with ads on publication websites or blogs [reference image below], these are part of the Google Display Network.
  • Social media ads as any advertisement you see on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc...

In brief, search engine marketing is the act of paying a supplier of advertising space to publish your ad.


Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or web page in a search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as "natural," "organic," or "earned" results—which are usually displayed as hyperlinks to web pages. SEO happens on your website and not anywhere else. It has to do with optimizing your content with specific keywords related to your website’s topic of existence, adding alt texts -brief, written description of an image with the primary purpose of assisting individuals who are visually impaired, make sure your sitemap is well structured, your webpage titles are inline with the page they head and not misleading. Webpage title elements are crucial to SEO because they provide both the users and search engines with a page’s topic.


Basically, search engine optimization (SEO) is cleaning, tiding, and organizing your website, making it better for search engines to crawl it and display it for users in search queries.

How do you Measure Success with SEM & SEO?

Search Engine Marketing

In SEM, search engine marketing, there are several key performance indicators [KPIs] that basically indicate whether or not your campaign has been successful and you have achieved optimal return on investment [ROI] for the budget you spent on that same campaign.

I will not dive into all the metrics one should keep close observation on before or during an SEM campaign, but here are definitely the most critically acclaimed of them all:

  • The cost per click (CPC) is the average amount an advertiser pays for every time someone clicks on their ad.
  • The cost per thousand impressions (CPM), the notorious of them all, is the average amount a company pays for every 1,000 times their ad appears on someone’s screen. CPM is important to compare the effectiveness of different media channels. For example, if social media platform A had a lower CPM than advertising on social media platform B or search engine C, then platform A is a better investment because it costs less to reach 1,000 people, given of course that the users reached in platform A are within the target audience and persona the advertiser is aiming to reach, you wouldn’t want to advertise meats & steaks to vegans regardless how many saw it!
  • Click through rate (CTR) is the percentage of people who click on an advertisement after it’s been shown to them e.g., if two people saw your ad and one clicked on it, your CTR is 50%.
  • Conversion rate is the percentage of people who take some sort of desired action after seeing an ad, such as signing up for a mailing list or making a purchase. The conversion rate can be calculated by dividing total conversions by total number of impressions, or total number of conversions by total number of clicks.

Questions you might want to ask yourself when running an SEM campaign, or simply any digital advertising campaign are: “are people clicking on my ads?”, “are users taking the desired action i want them to take with my ads? Such as downloading a document, purchasing an item or service, or signing up to a newsletter”.

These are great questions because clicks are what drive online advertising revenue. Clicks don’t just mean someone saw your ad - they also mean that someone clicked on it and saw the content you ultimately wanted them to see. If people aren't clicking on your ads, then you need to optimize the ad otherwise there's no point in running an ad campaign that will not have any effect in the first place. Don’t start celebrating just because a million people saw your ad, maybe out of these million views only you and a family member clicked -unless the campaign objective is views such as “video views.

Search Engine Optimization

As defined above, search engine optimization, SEO, is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in search engine rankings. It is all about getting your content to rank higher in SERPs. As the name itself suggests, SEO is a complex process that requires constant optimization and monitoring.

The most important metric for measuring success with SEO is organic search traffic - this is what we care about the most because it's what drives conversion rates for businesses. Here are five methods to keep in mind when optimizing your website for organic search results on search engines such as Google and Bing:

  1. Hunt down pages from your website that just don’t perform and either delete them or better yet, give them a content makeover.
  2. Find better keywords for the entirety of your website relevant to your industry or the website’s main topic.
  3. Optimize the homepage with the necessary content, navigation banners, and speed required to rank higher on search engines.
  4. Optimize for mobile: Google's algorithm prefers content optimized for mobile. In 2022, Google switched to a mobile-first indexing. Websites not optimized for mobile are more likely to get overlooked by Google and other search engines leading to lower traffic and fewer leads.
  5. Rewrite meta tags to improve click-through-rate. Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page's content. Meta tags are not visible content that appear to the user on the website itself but rather appear during a search query on the same topic.
  6. image

    Bonus sixth tip: Start a blog on the website! As per HubSpot, blogging helps boost SEO quality by positioning your website as a relevant answer to your customers' questions. Blog posts that use a variety of on-page SEO tactics can give you more opportunities to rank in search engines and make your site more appealing to visitors.

Other most common metrics to look out for in search engine optimization are rankings [how high your website ranks on Google with respect to a certain keyword], and conversions [how many users are actually clicking on your website after performing the search query], and here is where the benefit of those meta tags really kick in.

The higher your website ranks on search engine results pages, the more traffic -conversions- you are likely to get from these search engines. And the more conversions you get, the better your business performs due to the better website exposure.

Conclusion: Which Is The Best For Your Business – SEM or SEO?

In conclusion, both SEO and SEM are important for any company, brand, service provider, or just website that wants to grow its online presence. I cannot say that one strategy is more suitable than the other. If you have a website for your business that you need users to visit for any reason to perform any action, then search engine optimization is crucial for the healthy placement of the website on search engines.

On the other hand, if you are spending time and money to expand your social media reach whether to have people view a video, convert to your website, or purchase/download anything from the digital advertisement itself, then keeping tabs on views, impressions, clicks, and conversions is a must, otherwise you are technically burning your budgets and wasting precious time.


Final Note

Now I surely did not cover everything that has to do with SEM & SEO in this article, this would take pages of information, definitions, and examples; Google has an entire course dedicated to SEM & SEO. Moreover, I surely do not claim that I have tapped into all the examples, metrics, and KPIs of each, but for a small company or startup that just launched, a medium enterprise or family business that is managed entirely by a small family trying to have outreach to new audiences and customers, or a freelancer working on his or her personal business through a website they just launched, I hope I successfully explained clearly the differences and how to go about each one. My target audience for this article are the audiences mentioned above, and my objective is to lessen the intimidation caused by the industry jargon and shed light on key differences so they take better decisions on how to efficiently market their business with the resources, time, and budgets they have.

As always, may you have any question or inquiry, please reach out and I will gladly assist you with advice free of charge.

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