SEO vs SEM: how do they complement each other?

Written by

Yolanda Sánchez

SEM · 05 / 09 / 2019

Have you ever wondered if your customers find you when they look for you? Do you have a good SEO and SEM strategy?

“If you’re not on the internet you don’t exist” 

This may seem exaggerated, but it is not far from reality. The Internet is no longer the future, but the present and we find ourselves in an increasingly competitive market, where making a gap between the first search results seems like a real battle. And it is here that we ask ourselves some questions such as: what strategy do I follow? do I do Seo Or Sem. Which is better? Although some SEOs and SEMs may rival each other, the truth is that they work better together.

 In the next post we will tell you what are the main differences between the two techniques and how to work them in a unified way to get the most out of them.

With both strategies we seek to gain visibility among the top positions of the search engine, but each works differently to achieve this goal in the short, medium or long term. But before explaining the SEO vs SEM differences and how to work in a unified way, let’s briefly review what each of them consists of.


SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the set of search engine optimization techniques aimed at improving the visibility of a website for “free”. By this I do not mean that we will not pay anything for having our website optimized, but as we will see now, we will not have to pay for each visit to the web. But without a doubt, a good strategy will require a specialized person or team to carry out the project. 

Within the SEO world, there are many factors that search engines (Google, Bing or Yahoo) take into account to position the site, but let’s say that they can be summarized in two: authority (popularity) and relevance of the content with the search performed.

In order to improve these two factors, the working techniques are divided into two: SEO ON page and SEO Off page.

The SEO On page are all the improvements that are carried out within your website (keywords, URL, load times …) to improve the positioning in the search engine while the SEO Off Page is a series of actions focused on factors external to the website, such as number and quality of links (linkbuilding), presence in social networks, mentions in local media or the CTR that have our results in a search engine.


When we talk about Sem (Search Engine Marketing) we refer to the techniques, tools and strategies aimed at occupying the first results in search engines, through ads that are managed from platforms such as Google Ads or Bing Ads. SEM helps improve visibility and drive traffic to your website faster than SEO, paying for each visit. In addition, paid ads will always appear above those of SEO. 


Differences between SEO and SEM


This is one of the main differences since with SEO the improvement in rankings and visibility will be in the medium to long term, while with SEM you will appear on the results page immediately. However, the moment you stop investing in your SEM campaigns you will stop appearing.


The above characteristic is closely linked to visibility. For example, if you have a seasonal business or want to launch a specific promotion, the most effective way to position and publicize your product is through one of your SEM campaigns, as you would gain that visibility in a matter of minutes.


With SEO we will have a fixed cost of the team in charge of carrying out the project, while with SEM the costs may be variable depending on the fluctuations in the CPC´S, the traffic generated or the specific actions you want to carry out.


With SEM we can select as many keywords as we want, while with SEO the number of keywords is limited and based on the content of your website.

Sensitivity to ranking changes

Unless Google penalizes you, SEO results usually don’t have big fluctuations, while with SEM rankings are more volatile depending, for example, on the behavior of the competition.


SEO and SEM, together better

On many occasions, I have heard things like “why do SEO if I already have SEM” or vice versa, “I don’t do SEM because I have the SEO that is free”. But the reality is that both strategies are not exclusive, but quite the opposite, in fact, the ideal is to work them together taking advantage of the synergies they generate between them. These are mainly related to: 

    • Page optimization website based on paid advertising.
    • Data exchange
    • Combined use of keywords.
    • Strategies Multilisting.

In search engine marketing, keywords are essential when creating a strategy, so sharing and interpreting data between SEO and SEM becomes so necessary.

In the case of SEM, when the search engine decides to display one ad or another, it will base its algorithm on a simple equation: 

sep vs sem

The maximum CPC is what we are willing to pay for each click and the level of quality is formed by different signals that Google interprets as the Expected CTR, la quality of the landing page and its relationship with the keyword and text of your ad. The higher the quality, the lower the cost we have to pay and that’s why the Quality Score (QS) plays such an important role here.

To help us with SEO, you can work together with the team to optimize the page enriching the content of the web and the product sheets with relevant keywords that describe your products and why we want to position ourselves in the short term. This will help both organic results and improve the quality of your Google Ads campaigns and, therefore, you will pay less per click.

Also through the data collected by the campaigns you can detect new search terms that are important to you but are not profitable in your SEM campaigns. These words that, a priori generate quality traffic and low conversion, you can use as content on your website to carry organic traffic and quality.

With SEM campaigns, in addition to being able to position transactional keywords closer to the conversion, you can also more clearly identify how your potential customer or user is really looking for and use this information to optimize your content or even create the ad hoc category or section in case you don’t have it.

Another effect of using the mix of SEO and SEM is to get a higher percentage of visibility within the SERP (search results page) with the multilisting. That is to say, to show the results of your page before a search occupying all the possible locations as Shopping, results of payment and organic.

In short, although SEO and SEM are different techniques we can not forget that both work to achieve a common goal for your business, as well as meet a need of users. That’s why it’s so important to unify strategies and make the most of your investment. 

There are occasions when brands or advertisers decide to diversify their products. SEO and SEM strategies between different specialised agencies, but this can be a disadvantage by losing synergies between the techniques.

In Digital Menta we are experts in developing both PPC and SEO strategies adapted to you and your project. Would you like to improve the visibility of your business and increase sales? If you have any questions or want to know us, do not hesitate to contact us. Shall we talk? Go Ahead.


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