Okay, so let’s start simple with what SEO and SEM stand for, and then go into a bit of detail.

SEO = Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization is already a big topic in itself. The goal of SEO is to organically get your website on the first page of Google. What does it mean?

If you google “beSIRIOus” in Italy, you will see this website in the results:

Organi Results of Google beSIRIOus

The goal of SEO is, of course, that my website is also displayed when you search for “SEO services”, “SEO agency” and so on. Search engine optimization is about: increasing your organic traffic by, for example, optimizing page speed, researching and targeting keywords, optimizing content, and so on.

Read more about SEO here: Importance of SEO

SEM = Search Engine Marketing (search engine marketing)

Search engine marketing basically means paying for ads on the Google network. The goal is to get targeted traffic to your website by paying as little as possible for each visitor. The idea is to track whether a visitor converts into a paying customer, so you can calculate whether the ads are paying off.

If you search for “SEO service”, these results will be displayed:

You can see that they are all marked as “ad”, which means that these companies pay to be displayed there. You can basically pay Google to show your website as the first result.

As I mentioned earlier, the important thing to know here is whether you are making or losing money. Let’s make an example:

You offer a product with a profit margin of 30€.

You place an SEM ad campaign and pay an average of €2 per click.

Your conversion rate is 5%, i.e. out of 100 people who visit your website via the ad, 5 people buy your product.

Let’s do the math…

Cost: 100 x 2€ = 200€

Revenue: 5 x 30€ = 150€

So according to this calculation, we are losing money with this ad. What can we do? Reduce the cost per click or improve the conversion rate 😉

All of this and much more is part of search engine marketing or as most people call it “paid search”.


Now that we roughly know the difference between SEO and SEM, which is better? Which path should your company take?

Search Engine Optimization and Marketing - SEO vs SEM

Advantages of SEO

  • Organic growth over time (the more content you create and the more keywords you target, the more traffic you will get)
  • Highly targeted traffic (you decide which keywords to optimize for)
  • Added value for the visitor (if you are serious about SEO, you need to create content. This content can be very valuable for potential customers).

Disadvantages of SEO

  • It takes time (it takes time to increase your traffic with SEO, it doesn’t happen overnight).

SEM advantages

  • Fast results (you can place an ad and get visitors after a few hours or a day at most)
    Scalable (if you know your numbers, you can just invest more money and you will get more results)

SEM disadvantages

  • No money, no results (of course you need a budget to invest in paid search. If you stop paying, the traffic will stop too).
  • It takes time to set up a good campaign (some of your budget is lost until you find the right keywords, etc.)
  • Scalable only up to a point (paid search is scalable, yes. but only up to a point. there’s only so much traffic, and others pay for ads too, so if they outbid you, the cost of ads per click goes up)

So which of these two strategies should you choose for your business? As every SEO likes to say: It depends 😀 My answer is: Do both! SEO is a medium and long-term strategy, and if you want to get results even at the beginning of the digital marketing journey, invest in SEM. If you are satisfied with the results you get with SEO, you can even stop doing SEM. But again, it’s your decision as a company and it depends on what fits better into your company’s strategy.

If you would like to discuss what the best strategy is for your business, simply schedule an appointment.

the difference between seo and sem and their advantages and disadvantages