SEO vs SEM, what does it mean? | Banter Group

SEO vs SEM, what does it mean?

Digital marketing is full of the 3 letter acronyms… two of the most important are SEO and SEM. But what the heck do they mean and what’s the diff?

Search Marketing

Both SEO and SEM are part of a bigger concept – search marketing.

Search marketing is the process of obtaining traffic and visibility from search engines through BOTH paid and unpaid efforts.



Let’s start with the basics, S.E.O stands for Search Engine Optimisation. SEO is a practice that helps position websites within SERP’s. There we go again with those digital marketing acronyms! SERP simply stands for; Search Engine Results Page. Where your website is positioned or ranked on those search pages is determined by how well your website, social profiles and online presence is optimised with the keywords people are searching to find your services. Phew!

Oh, and Google has roughly 200 ranking factors in their algorithm. No, SEO is not set and forget, it’s not ‘build a website and they will come’, it’s not a job you tick off a list. It’s ongoing, it’s complex and it’s forever changing by search engines.

Here’s an easier way to think about it; the internet is a vast textbook full of information and the only way to find what you’re looking for, is to head to the back and check the index. The index being Google and how the author (you) marks up their chapter (website) with key terms to enter into the index. It also works the same way as references within literature. Other authors may ‘reference’ (link) your chapter within their chapter (website). Whether it be your key terms or terms from another source, they both contribute to your SEO.

SEO is an organic approach to search marketing. Organic being an unpaid effort and paid being… Search Engine Marketing. This is what SEO really looks like:

Off page optimisation


Here we are at our next 3 letter acronym… S.E.M stands for Search Engine Marketing and refers to the purchasing of results displayed at the top of SERPs and other ad real estate across the internet. Simply known as ‘paid search’ (and not to go off topic with more 3 letter words), but also known as PPC – Pay Per Click. Search engines, like Google, charge you per click on the paid search ad you create. You might know this as Google AdWords. Well, they’re now just called Google Ads, and yes, you can buy these on Bing too.

What’s Best?

So, what works best? Well… Any search marketing effort has to start with an organic approach. Get your SEO in order, ensure your website’s content and other links to your website are reflective of the search terms you would like to rank for within search engines, meet the requirements of a bunch of other aspects of the algorithm, and then should you think about a paid approach.

This is a several part blog series to explain why I Built My Website, Why Aren’t I On Page 1 of Google?

If you’re ready to jump into it, check out PART 1: 5 Quick Tips Regarding Linking Within Your Website