SEO vs SEM: The Differences and How to Choose
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SEO vs SEM: The Differences and How to Choose

In this era, SEO may be a familiar word for people, especially for marketers and entrepreneurs. 

However, sometimes, people myth that SEO and SEM are the same things, which is not. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two different things.

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Before we dive in, let’s have some understanding about SEO and SEM.

What is SEO

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the practice of getting targeted traffic to a website from search engine organic rankings. 

SEO included tasks such as creating high-quality content, optimising content around specific keywords, and building backlinks. 

In simple words, SEO refers to improving site rankings in the organic section of the search result. In common, SEO also refers to unpaid search results.

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What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) included both organic area and paid area.

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SEM tap in both SEO and pay-per-click (PPC) to get more traffic from the search engine. SEM is a broad term that includes SEO and PPC. SEO falls under the umbrella category of SEM.

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What are the differences and common between SEO and SEM

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The difference between SEO and SEM is SEO focus 100% on the organic result only while SEM focus on both organic development and paid impact.

That’s why SEO is a practice of continuously optimising the website to rank in the organic, non-paid search engine results page (SERPs).

Besides SEO, SEM also included PPC, which is the paid search. This make SEM different from SEO.


However, both SEO and SEM have the same objectives. Both SEO and SEM aimed to be listed on the first page of the search engine and attract more traffic to their websites.

How long it takes to see the result?

In terms of duration, SEO will take a longer time to see the results than SEM, especially when compared to PPC. 

SEO may take few months to years to see the results. However, by targeting long-tail keywords and implementing SEO best practices, the result can be seen within a few months.

In contrast, the investment in SEM, especially in PPC, can pretty much lead to an immediate result. Usually, the result can be seen within a day.

The Costs


There is a myth that SEO is free. Yes, there is no payment for someone to click through your site in the organic search result. However, it is not easy to let the audience spot your site on the first page of the search results. It took a lot of money, time and effort to get in the top ranking. 

The keyword research and content creation itself consists of a lot of money, time and effort with no guaranteed payback. 

Therefore, seeking professional help and advice may increase the ranking in SERPs in a cost-efficient and time-efficient way.

BigDomain can help you get “FOUND” in the top search engine such as Google/ Bing! We are the Top in SEO Malaysia and Digital Marketing Malaysia. 


In the case of the SEM approach, which only includes 100% PPC, the money is spent up-front with a guaranteed result. Thus, in the short term, PPC is usually less expensive than SEO.

However, PPC has a fatal flaw:


But with SEO, once the site rank, it’s pretty much set. The investment is all up-front; once the site rank, the investment in maintaining the current rankings is comparatively low.


How to choose?

When to choose SEO?

There are four types of scenarios when you should go for SEO

01. When you only have a limited budget

When you only have limited budget, it is better to spend on SEO rather than burn out all the marketing budget just in few weeks.

02. When your content is impressive enough to attract traffic to the site.

If you are confident that you can write AMAZING content on customers’ search for in Google, SEO is probably your best bet.

03. When you have sufficient time to wait for the rank to grow.

Remember that SEO took a longer time to show the results. If you required an immediate effect, SEO might not be the best choice.

04. When your site has good backlinks

Good link building in the content will also increase the rank of your content.

When to choose PPC?

There are three types of scenarios when you should go for PPC

01. When you have a consistent Ad budget.

Remember that when you stop paying PPC, your traffic goes zero. A consistent Ad budget ensures the durability of your paid search traffic.

02. When you have the ability to manage an Adwords account

In practice, managing a Google Ads account is no joke. You need to manage a huge amount of data to ensure your Ads work.

03. When you have the ability to launch and test landing pages

In order to get the most out of PPC, you need a way to quickly launch many different web pages. And run an A/B test to find out which performs best.

When to choose SEM?

Remember that SEM includes SEO and PPC. You should do both when you have sufficient human resources to manage both PPC and SEO.

Final Takeaway

  1. SEO and SEM are different concepts. 
  2. SEO is under the umbrella of SEM. 
  3. SEO focus on organic search.
  4. PPC focus on paid search.
  5. SEM focus on both SEO and PPC.