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SEO and SEM: What they are, how they differ, and why use them

SEO and SEM are two words heard in any conversation about brand or product positioning on the internet. But what exactly are they?

First of all, it is important to know that SEO and SEM are acronyms for terms in English: 

  • SEO stands for search engine optimization. It alludes to how to put together your content to appear in the first results of search engines.
  • SEM stands for search engine marketing, that is, search engine marketing. It refers to advertising or sponsored links made in search engines.

These strategies are then focused on what is “search engine marketing. “And what is the search engines that dominates all queries on the internet? That’s right, our beloved Google.

I invite you to delve into the keys to SEO and SEM: what they are, their differences, and why it is important to include them in your digital marketing strategy.

What is SEO

As I mentioned above, the acronym for SEO refers to the strategies used so that content (be it different web pages, an online store, a blog, etc.) appears in the first results of Google.

This “optimization” in search engines implies understanding (and applying) what are the keys so that when displaying the results of a search, Google recognizes your content as one of the most relevant

Some of the most important topics are: 

  • Page load speed (the faster, the better).
  • Good browsing experience for the user.
  • Relevant content that adds value (you want to stay on your page as long as possible).
  • Use of keywords (that allow Google to recognize the theme of the content).

What is SEM

On the other hand, SEM is a search engine marketing strategy that refers to the direct investment of money. These are known as “Google Ads,” identified on the results page with the label “advertising.” 

These paid ads are booked for keywords you want to appear for if a potential buyer does a Google search for those terms. 

For example, if I have a sporting goods store: when someone searches for “Adidas Superstar shoes,” if I appear in the first results, a person will likely enter my store to look for those long-awaited sneakers. 

Then, from hiring these paid ads, Google shows in the first search results the content that one has included in the ad.

Why it is important to use SEO and SEM strategies

SEO and SEM strategies have become so relevant today (and that is why we hear them named so much) because positioning for the first results in search engines has become quite a fierce fight. 

Why is it key to be among the first results? Because there is an indisputable reality: the number of clicks, and therefore visits to your store or content, is much higher if one is at the top of the search results page on Google. 

Also, let’s face it, no one (or almost no one) gets past the first page of results. So if you don’t show up there, basically, it’s as if you don’t exist for the person who keyword research related to your brand. 

Differences between SEO and SEM

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The most important differences between these SEO and SEM strategies are:

  1. investment of money 
  2. The time to see results

Paid ad tactics, SEM, can be solved in the short term faster. Ads are created with the relevant keywords for your business, and a few clicks later, your content already appears in the search results. The issue here is cost. You will have to invest a specific amount of money upfront in paying for those ads.

That cost will depend on the keywords to select to advertise your product or brand. The more requested those words are, the more competition there will be, and a higher investment will be needed.

On the other hand, SEO’s content optimization tactics are more long-term as they require more time to be effective. It is because they work more organically or naturally. In other words, one builds the content in the best way possible (both for the public and for Google to recognize it), and as time goes by and the famous search engine identifies it as valuable, it begins to show more of it. 

SEO and SEM: How and where to start? 

I believe I have now persuaded you of the need for this sort of approach for your digital marketing strategy and the distinctions between SEO and SEM.

The next step is to analyze how and where to start in search engine optimization. These are my recommendations:

1) Define your main objectives: What are you looking to achieve? Immediate sales? Organic traffic to your store? Get subscribers to your newsletter?

2) Establish your conditions:

What budget do you have? Do you have any time requirements?

3) Determine what type of content you want to spread:

Do you need to promote a specific product? Do you want to make your brand’s blog known?

From these answers, it is time to order the priorities. Depending on what you want to achieve, you will find the right answer in an SEM strategy, an SEO strategy, or a combination of both.

Some tips on SEO and SEM

SEO and SEM are disciplines that require dedication. But once you understand how they work and the strategic relevance they represent in disseminating your online store or branded content, there is no going back.

For this reason, I want to give you some tips to keep in mind when you start planning SEO and advertising campaigns with SEM.

  • Your priority has to be the user experience:  Providing the most valuable information to the public is what will lead you to success. Seeing that the people who click on your link stay for a considerable time, Google will “reward” you with higher positions in the results.
  • On the other hand, you will benefit from having a loyal user (either a buyer in your store or a reader in your blog) and that, most likely, they will visit you again.
  • Do not try to fool Google:  The famous search engine has a fairly complex algorithm to choose the most relevant results to show for a certain search. If you try to trick it (for example, generating content only for the algorithm but not for the benefit of users), it will eventually find out and penalize you.
  • Measure everything you can:  The results measurement stage of any strategy you decide to carry out is key. This way, you will be able to evaluate how it worked and if it is worth continuing to invest in it.


I hope this information has helped you introduce yourself to the magical world of search engine optimization. Don’t let it scare you because the results are amazing once you start working on SEO and SEM strategies. Luck!

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