What are the differences between SEO vs SEM?

When we are building our digital marketing campaigns for clients we are often asked about the benefits of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) when compared to SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and where is the budget best allocated to deliver the return on investment.

Both SEO and SEM form part of holistic digital marketing strategies in different ways and when beginning a digital marketing program both should be considered in their own merits, for the task and client in hand.

Here’s the key points.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation is the process of optimising a website to give it the best chance of success in the organic listings. The search engines reward websites based on trust, trust that they are the best source of content for the search query. The search engines are only interested in delivering accurate results (otherwise they would become irrelevant) and so building trust with them is key. By this very nature achieving strong positions can take time, as there is always competition ahead of a new website or digital marketing process.

The SEO process takes time and so will not deliver a quick win for a client, so managing expectations is key for any digital agency like Ascensor. Setting a web page up forms part of the onsite optimisation, this is bread and butter for professional agencies – all web pages should be set-up to meet search engine expectations, there are no excuses with this. Having a properly set-up website demonstrates to the search engines that you are professional and this helps to build trust.

Content marketing and offsite optimisation are the processes of promoting content both on and off the website. Users visit the website having read your content and by engaging with the content, repeat visiting and demonstrating interest, shows the search engines that you are a useful resource for people looking for the information you provide, this builds trust and this is rewarded with search engine positions.

Search Engine Optimisation takes time and so it’s important that a digital marketing strategy is designed to support the goals of the business.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing is the process of advertising on the search engines, using the various sponsored areas. Typically, SEM involves pay per click, this is typically through Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Yahoo etc. Taking Google as an example (as their Google Adwords program is more evolved than the competitors), there are various opportunities for website owners to advertise. These include paying for text adverts (there are typically 8 adverts per SERP – Search Engine Results Page) and these can place within Google’s search partners as well as the main search engine and Google Shopping (feeding product catalogue content from a website).

Other opportunities for search engine marketing include using display advertising (this can be through Adwords as well as setting up Google Remarketing or Facebook Retargeting), advertising within YouTube (on other peoples videos and your own).

There are many ways to advertise online, the benefits of working with a professional digital agency in Leeds like Ascensor are that you can be presented with all of the various opportunities that there are, based on your current assets, goals and budget, to minimise risk and maximise return.


Both search engine optimisation and search engine marketing methods are valid in a strong digital marketing campaign. They are different in that SEO takes time to deliver results, but will then generally yield a lower cost per acquisition in the long term. SEM delivers traffic quickly when properly set-up and managed, and over time becomes more and more efficient (reduction in cost per acquisition) but requires continuous management.

With any relationship trust has to be earned, and it is trust that is the vital ingredient for both SEO and SEM success – the more trust your website advertising has the better it will perform (it will be lower cost and more effective).

At our digital agency in Leeds we can help you build an effective SEO & SEM strategy to enhance your search engine visibility and boost your conversions. Get in touch now and find out how.

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