Before we dig too deep into this topic, let’s establish some definitions:

SEOSearch Engine Optimization according to Wikipedia, is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid search results. Often called and art or science (or both), it is the way of optimizing websites in such a way that they ranks highly in the search results for the desired keywords.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing according to Wikipedia, is a form of internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages through the use of paid placement, contextual advertising, and paid inclusion. This involves an entire industry dedicated to driving traffic to a desired object through search engines and search-affiliated networks.

So how many people have told you they provide both SEO and SEM services?

It’s OK for people to be both SEO and SEM experts (really meaning they are an expert in both organic and paid search marketing). But it’s not OK for them to tell you that they provide both SEO and SEM services, since if they are providing SEM services, they are providing SEO services by default.

Consider this when looking at any major search engine results; you will always see two different types of results display on these pages for any given keyword – paid and organic results. The organic results are generated based on very complex algorithms (generally different from search engine to search engine) and the ranking for any particular site are often times improved through the implementation of well designed, well thought out and skillfully implemented SEO campaigns.


Paid Search Marketing (or Paid Search Optimization, or pay-per-click) is responsible for the placement and optimization of paid results. Paid results can be displayed on the search engine results pages and also any other site that agrees to be a part of search network and displays relevant advertisement.

So to clarify this further, we will use Google as an example. Google offers two programs for website advertisers: Google Adwords and Google AdChoice (formerly known as Google AdSense).

Enrolling in the AdChoice program results in the website owner agreeing to display advertising on their web site for a share of the advertising revenue – technically becoming a part of search-affiliated networks.

Through Google Adwords, advertisers may choose to display ads on Google search engine results pages only.

Aside from search engine and search network, other worth-mentioning Google properties include Google places, Gmail, Google mobile network and Google social networks. So the task for paid search marketing expert is to figure out how to use company’s budget to get higher conversions and ultimately higher ROI by optimizing ads and landing pages and testing ad placement on all those properties.

As you can see, SEM consists of SEO and Paid Search Marketing. Yet in real world Paid Search Marketing is often confused with SEM. So when people say that they “do both SEO and SEM” what they really mean is that they “implement both SEO and Paid Search Marketing strategies”.

Hope this post helped you to clarify the confusion between SEO and SEM.