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What exactly is the difference between SEO and SEM? Why are both vital for your business? How much does it cost you to implement them? What tools can help you use them? What risks do they entail? Should you manage them in-house or is it better to outsource them? Let's start answering from here

When marketing your business, you have probably heard of SEO and SEM. Combined together in a systematic strategy they can be exceptionally effective in strengthening your online presence and, consequently, your revenue. But are you clear on exactly what this refers to? Our web marketing agency can help you.

Understanding the difference between SEO and SEM, i.e. Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing, is vital when deciding what resources and budget to allocate to marketing. Let's start by giving a definition of SEO: search engine optimisation means putting in place every measure necessary for a website to have the structure and content to be easily indexed by search engines. In essence, SEO focuses on organic search engine results; it ensures that when a user searches Google for a particular keyword related to what you do, your site appears among the first results returned.

SEM - according to the definition most commonly used in the present day - revolves around advertising on search engines, such as Google Advertising, and includes all the processes of choosing the right keywords on which to invest one's available funds; the objective of this strategy is to appear among the sponsored results of the main search engines.

The definition of SEM, as just outlined, is consistent with the current thinking, but in certain contexts it can have a different meaning. The video below provides a detailed explanation of this distinction and how the meaning of this acronym has evolved throughout the history of web marketing. At the end of the visualisation, you will be able to understand exactly what it means and relate it appropriately to the concept of SEO.


The acronym SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) refers to all web marketing activities that are applied to search engines in order to increase the positioning (or ranking) of a website in the organic results of search engines (see also our article on SEO optimisation to maintain website ranking). Organic results are the 'free results' that are offered by the search engine, as opposed to sponsored results.


Paid search advertising or pay-per-click marketing is what is now known as SEM (Search Engine Marketing). As the name suggests, it pursues its objectives by paying a search engine to acquire traffic to its website; usually a price is set that the advertiser will have to pay for each time a potential customer clicks on the ad (hence the origin of the term 'Pay-per-click'). Its techniques are applicable in different contexts, ranging from investing in Facebook Ads to using Google AdWords. Originally, however, the acronym SEM had a much broader meaning, and was certainly more consistent with its literal definition: it indicated the set of marketing strategies that a site can implement on search engines. Literally, in fact, 'Search Engine Marketing' means 'marketing on search engines' and should include both organic positioning strategies (SEO) and paid advertising strategies.


Marketing often focuses on the differences between SEO and SEM and which of the two is preferable. In reality they share several of the benefits they offer to your business. Both strategies lead to attracting more visits, which is the first step to increasing sales. This means more money for your business, which is basically what any marketing campaign wants to achieve. It is true that SEO and SEM use very different methods in this task.

SEO aims to optimise the structure and content of your website according to what the search engines want through careful text writing, implementation of a fluid layout and careful link building strategies - not for nothing is it a key element of Inbound Marketing methodology. The job of search engines is to get users the most relevant results to their searches, and they tend to favour sites with clear navigation, an excellent link network and whose benefits to visitors are well highlighted. A good SEO strategy can bring your site to the top of the organic results returned for a specific keyword.

SEM invests marketing funds in the purchase of sponsored ads. It is based on clear and fast promotion and targets the keywords that potential customers are most likely to enter in their searches. One of the specific advantages of paid search marketing is its direct nature: it captures users' attention by presenting them with a message that is particularly obvious at a glance. By clicking on the ad, they will be directed directly to a particular page on your site. As far as the conversion rate is concerned, it is not possible to define in advance which of the two strategies generates more sales for the same amount of traffic, as there are many variables that can cause this figure to fluctuate greatly (for more information on this subject, see: Abandoned shopping carts in e-commerce).


Our agency knows how wide-ranging this topic is and also that it would deserve an article of its own. Just so that we don't leave it entirely unresolved, let's say that there are many factors that make one choice over the other, first and foremost the budget available to the company and the time horizon within which we expect to see results.

If the objective is short or very short term, the answer is SEM. If the objective is medium to long term, the answer is SEO. Finally, if the budget allows it, the company can combine SEM campaigns to bring tangible results in the short term while designing SEO strategies to ensure high ROI in the long term. The ideal solution would be to plan a marketing campaign that manages to combine SEO and SEM in a single, coherent strategy that evolves over time and combines the rapidity of SEM in the short term with the high ROI of SEO in the medium and long term: it goes without saying that, by joining forces, the power of each methodology will be amplified and the chances of success will be greatly increased.


Nous comprenons que les entreprises modernes ont besoin de flexibilité, nous adaptons alors nos ressources à vos besoins. Un service marketing est disponible sur demande pour seulement 1,00 euros par mois.

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