SEO vs SEM Which is Better? - Stars Commerce

SEO vs SEM Which is Better?

The online marketplace continues to grow at lightning speed. You’ll find that nearly every industry is online, and any business that wants to thrive must make themselves easy to find in a quick Google search. This makes gaining a competitive edge in your industry in the market.

Digital marketing encompasses a wide range, which fall mainly into two categories: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Below are the primary differences between SEO vs SEM and why it’s recommended you combine both to excel in the digital industry.

What Is SEO?

SEO is a component of SEM, but SEM is not just SEO as it also encompasses paid search marketing. Think of it like this – a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square.

SEO, also a component of inbound marketing, is all about optimizing a website to improve search engine rankings and organic traffic. The goal is to ensure that when someone searches for a product or service, the business you’re marketing shows up in search results. For example, if someone searches “Italian restaurants in Thailand” into Google, they’ll see a variety of listings. Ideally, you want the Thai restaurant you’re marketing to also show up on the first page of search results. For any business to appear in search results, they must do more than just have a website built – they need a skilled digital marketer to implement SEO.

There are two primary types of SEO which you’ll learn in this blog.  The two primary types of SEO are:

On-Page SEO:

  • Keyword research and placement
  • Content creation and optimization
  • Header tags, title tags, meta description tags
  • Images and ALT text
  • URL structure
  • Conversion optimization
  • User experience
  • And so much more!

Off-Page SEO:

  • Link building
  • Increasing traffic from social media to your website
  • Guest blogging
  • Asset creation (infographics, videos, etc.)
  • Press releases
  • And more!

What Is SEM?

While SEO is targeted for industry and locality, SEM (search engine marketing) empowers marketers to hyper-target their demographics with paid search engine advertising. SEM is often considered to be only paid search, but SEO is technically a component.

Chances are you’ve seen ads off to the side or at the top of search results in Google, all with minor indications they’re ads. These are examples of SEM at play. If the words people type into Google match the keywords you’re bidding on, your ad can appear in search results. Unlike SEO where the money isn’t being exchanged with search engines, with SEM you pay when someone engages with your ad, like by visiting your website or calling the listed phone number.

At Stars Commerce our expert marketers can create hyper-targeted paid ads on all social media channels, but the most popular and effective way is with Pay-Per-Click ads (PPC). The most popular and effective PPC method is Google Ads. Once your ads are running, you can get reports to see how they’re performing and adjust settings on the fly. 

What Is PPC Hyper-Targeting?

To truly understand how effective PPC can be, you must understand how demographic and hyper-targeting works differently in SEO and SEM. In SEO you can utilize general industry and local keywords to drive organic traffic to your website. For example, take “hair salon in Bangkok” – the industry is indicated, and Bangkok ensures that you’re attracting the right local traffic. But what if a hair salon offers many services? This is where PPC comes in.

With PPC you can hyper-target your customers by a variety of interests and needs. This includes where they live, their age range, gender, parental status, and income range. Your PPC ads will only populate for users searching for your keyword who also fit your hyper-targeted demographic. Your ads are only charged when someone clicks on them, and PPC is so effective at hyper-targeting that Stars Commerce as digital marketers also offer this marketing service. 

Which Is Better, SEO or SEM?

While there are many differences between SEO and SEM, the most effective way to grow a company’s online presence is with a strategic approach that includes both. If a company is online-only, strategic SEO and SEM is the most effective way to grow their business.

SEO focuses on optimizing a website to increase organic traffic and improve its search engine ranking. SEO techniques involve optimizing the website's content, structure, and technical aspects to make it more appealing to search engines like Google. The goal of SEO is to improve the website's visibility in SERPs for specific keywords and phrases.

On the other hand, SEM includes both paid and organic strategies to increase a website's visibility in search engines. SEM involves paying for ads or sponsored listings on search engine results pages, as well as using SEO techniques to improve the organic search engine ranking. The primary goal of SEM is to drive traffic to a website, increase brand awareness, and generate leads.


In summary, SEO is a subset of SEM, and it focuses only on improving organic search engine rankings, while SEM encompasses both paid and organic strategies to increase website visibility in search engines.

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