15 min read
Updated: October 18, 2022

What is the Difference Between SEO, SEM, and PPC?

Marketing is the promotion of business products or services to a target audience. It is about connecting with your audience in the right place, at the right time, which today is on the internet.

The digital marketing industry employs various tactics and channels to connect with customers. Search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing, and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising are part of a digital marketer’s arsenal needed to sell products and services through social media, SEO, email, and mobile apps.

The most successful digital marketers have a distinct idea of how each internet marketing campaign supports their goals. More importantly, they know which tactics are appropriate to use at any given time.

SEO, SEM, and PPC should be part of your digital marketing strategy. In this blog, we explain what they are and how they work to improve your online presence and maximize your revenue.

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What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing is a digital marketing strategy used to increase a website’s visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs). It is one of the most effective ways to expand your business in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

After all, how do you stand out among one billion websites online?

Search engine marketing intersects with SEO, as it includes strategies like rewriting the content of a website and its architecture to achieve higher rankings. However, it generally refers to pay-per-click marketing, where advertisers only pay for impressions that result in visitors, making it an efficient way for a company to spend its marketing budget.

Since consumers use search queries with the intent of finding information of a commercial nature, they are already in the right state of mind to make a purchase. PPC is more profitable in the short term compared to other advertising platforms like social media, where users aren’t explicitly searching for something,

You might consider search engine marketing an umbrella term covering SEO and Paid Search ads (PPC) and their efforts to direct organic and paid traffic to your website.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

There’s a good reason a lot of successful businesses always ask themselves “how SEO friendly is my website?” When properly applied, search engine optimization allows your site to be seen by search engines and, when a search term (keywords) is entered, offers the ability to rank very high on a search engine results page.

SEO efforts describe the process of making web pages easier for search engine indexing software, known as “crawlers,” to find, scan, and index your website. When marketers implement SEO service packages, they optimize a website’s technical configuration, content relevance, and link popularity, so its pages are more relevant and popular with search queries, and, thus, rank better.

There are four aspects of SEO used to drive organic traffic:

  • On-page SEO: Optimizing web pages and marketing content for specific keywords
  • Off-page SEO: Improving the authority of your domain through backlinks.
  • Technical SEO: Ensuring a website meets the technical requirements of modern search engines.
  • Local SEO: The most recent development in SEO, local SEO, is the practice of optimizing a website’s online presence for better visibility within local search results.

As expert marketers, we recommend starting with SEO since it is the most cost-effective tactic. Statistically, 41% of marketers worldwide say they get the highest ROI from SEO. In fact, organic search results account for over 50% of website traffic.

digital marketing tactics

What is Pay-Per-Click?

Pay-per-click advertising is an advertising model in which an advertiser pays a publisher every time an advertisement is “clicked” on. Offered primarily by search engines (Google) and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn), paid advertising reaches consumers at the right time: When they are open to new information.

A PPC campaign is non-intrusive and doesn’t interrupt what users are doing online. However, just like SEO, a lot goes into building successful pay-per-click advertisements. Advertisers have to select the right keywords, organize them into paid ad groups, and develop landing pages optimized for conversions.

With PPC advertising, marketers cannot simply pay more for their ads to appear more prominently than their competitors. Instead, ads are subject to an Ad Auction, an automated process that Google and other major search engine use to determine the relevance and validity of advertisements that appear on SERPs.

PPC campaigns encompass numerous types of advertising, such as:

  • Search advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Social media advertising
  • Remarketing
  • Sequential remarketing
  • Google shopping

The Elements of Paid Advertising

There are several components needed to make paid search ads work:

  • Account structure: PPC accounts are generally structured from campaign to ad group to ad. Having the correct account structure allows you to optimize ad spending. For instance, ads about watches would typically be grouped into the same ad campaign with similar keywords.
  • Bids: These determine how much your company will pay (at most) for an ad click. Google Ads offers automated bidding that helps your business accomplish its paid ad placement goals without overspending.
  • Quality score: This measurement is specific to Google Ad. A high-quality score means your digital ads are relevant to users, which lowers the price and ensures better ad placements.
  • Ad assets: These range from compelling ad copy to high-quality images and video to persuade a prospect to do business with your company.

SEO vs. SEM: Main Difference


SEO vs. SEM: Main Differences

The main difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is an unpaid strategy, while SEM is a paid strategy. With SEO, the focus is on bringing organic traffic to your website, whereas SEM focuses on capturing both paid and organic traffic.

Therefore, techniques aimed at improving organic positioning in search results fall into the category of SEO, and techniques aimed at appearing among paid search results are categorized as SEM.

Cumulative vs. Instant Results

An SEO campaign takes between six months to a year to yield results. It accrues value over time and leaves lasting results. It is a clear path to reliable and scalable growth. A well-optimized site with good link authority and excellent content can hold its search engine position, even if you stepped away for a few weeks.

On the other hand, search engine marketing works well in the short term. It’s excellent for driving traffic in short bursts, but your website’s visibility wanes as soon as you stop paying for paid search marketing.

SEM is Easier to Test

Part of the advantage of paid advertising is the ability to tweak campaigns (A/B testing) in real-time. When audiences are first targeted, it’s likely you’ll change the landing page content, whether it’s the copy or visual material, until it’s optimized to produce the best results.

These improvements can be made quickly. However, you cannot test SEO the same way due to the nature of search engine algorithms, which is why some marketers use PPC ads to test what works before implementing keywords into their SEO strategy.

Marked Ad vs. Organic Results

Organic results and paid results look different. Paid ad placement has an “Ad” icon in Google search results, whereas organic listings that appear underneath don’t. Paid ads appear as banners on websites, for instance.

They offer ad extensions allowing marketers to enhance standard search text with site links, callouts, phone numbers, review ratings, and more. In contrast, organic search results offer rich snippets that don’t overtly advertise a product or service.

Google Ads and the likes offer greater control over how and when ads are displayed. When it comes to SEO ranking, you have very little control over when your website ranks, only that it should appear for relevant keywords.

SEO vs. PPC Cost

With search marketing, an advertiser pays every single time a user clicks on an ad. Yet, you don’t pay every time a user clicks on an organic listing ranked due to SEO.

A well set-up PPC account can be a low-cost way to generate business leads, especially if you are a business targeting local SEO. However, if you are targeting keywords on a national or international level, costs can accumulate quickly.

Paid initiatives require constant investment, whereas SEO requires initial capital and then some for regular maintenance. If you have a solid acquisition cost, then PPC should be fine, but in contrast to SEO, it can feel like a rough deal if a campaign is poorly executed.


SEO vs. PPC: What is the Best for Digital Marketing?

Compared to PPC, SEO is very slow. As mentioned before, it can take months before you start seeing the results of organic strategies, whereas PPC will garner leads immediately. However, one isn’t necessarily better than the other, as they both achieve different results.

At Comrade Web Digital Marketing Agency, we encourage clients to invest in both (first SEO, then PPC). Think about it like this: Because a website can never be 100% “optimized,” SEO is an ongoing process. Keywords should be updated (if necessary) every three to six months.

Organic SEO builds credibility and trust over time (long-term). Some users skip ads, so when your website pops up through organic results, it increases credibility to prospects who are already looking for your services.

However, PPC is the way to go if you need short-term results. You don’t have to worry about a search engine’s algorithm impacting your position because you’re bidding for top spots. You just need to make sure you’re using the right keywords.

PPC also allows you to laser-target strictly potential customers, using a variety of demographics and online behavioral tendencies, including specific times of day, which you can’t do with organic SEO.

digital marketing tactics - SEO and PPC

The perfect digital marketing scenario combines both tactics because SEO and PPC complement each other in the following ways:

  • Effective PPC keyword research and data can be used in SEO.
  • After a prospect makes initial contact via organic search, you can remarket to them with PPC ads.
  • You can test a keyword strategy in PPC before using it in SEO.
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Ultimately, a combined approach that balances short-term gains with long-term growth is ideal. Many successful marketing campaigns integrate SEM, SEO, and PPC because they offer complementary benefits and ensure businesses get the most from their marketing spend.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how SEM, SEO, and PPC can improve your bottom line, then give us a call. As a full-service digital marketing agency, we provide exceptional ROI for our clients, who experience a 70% qualified sales increase on average when working with us!

What is the Difference Between SEM, SEO, and PPC?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a marketing niche related to search engines. Both pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) fall under search engine marketing efforts. The difference between them is PPC is a paid strategy, whereas SEO is non-paid. Utilizing both PPC and SEO as part of your SEM marketing efforts will supercharge your website's online visibility, and give your business the best possibility for success on Google and other search engines and platforms.

Should I Choose SEO over PPC?

Because SEO and PPC are two sides of the same coin, we generally recommend running both types of campaigns together. However, sometimes this isn't possible for businesses with limited budgets. SEO is the bedrock of digital marketing, and you should ideally ensure your website is SEO-friendly before investing in any paid initiatives. However, if you want short-term results, then running a PPC campaign can help drive traffic, but it shouldn't be viewed as a replacement for SEO. Bear in mind that dollar for dollar, SEO is likely to be the most profitable tool in your marketing mix. Digital marketing is a long-term business strategy, so for this reason, SEO should take priority.

How does PPC Impact SEO?

Running PPC campaigns alongside SEO has no technological impact on your positioning within SERPs; however, its indirect benefits can improve SEO. PPC ads help dominate SERPs, offer valuable keyword data, and increase visibility, complementing SEO efforts. For instance, searchers who see an ad may be more likely to click on the same company's organic listing.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you would like to discuss your project, reach out to our specialists.

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About the Author
Stan Bogdashin
Stan co-founded Comrade Digital Marketing and serves as its marketing strategist and IT expert recruiter.
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