The Relationship Between SEO & SEM

A relationship that’s not so complicated

Elvis Kolawole
4 min readDec 10, 2019

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) tend to be vital pillars for most modern digital strategies. Some marketers prefer to think they are not so intertwined and should be thought of as mutually exclusive. However, studies have shown the opposite to be the case and even Google is starting to recognize this as well. For the benefit of those who might not understand, let’s briefly run through what SEO & SEM are:

What’s SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to a series of processes and actions taken with the aim of ranking websites higher in organic search engine results, thereby resulting in higher organic traffic. This usually requires little or no direct monetary investment to implement. That being said, seasoned marketers tend to invest in tools for keyword research, copywriters for excellent content, and anything else that would significantly boost their chances of getting better rankings.

SEO Search Results

In the above picture, the indicated “Organic” results are the fruits of good SEO. The results at the top of the page are from paid search campaigns [which we’d discuss shortly].

What about SEM?

Search Engine Marketing is a fancy buzzword that refers to all activities around paid search advertising. Unlike SEO which is focused on delivering organic results, SEM ensures that your website/landing page shows up as an Ad whenever a certain search query is submitted. You can refer to it as Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC), essentially because you pay for clicks to your sites over sites that are present in organic search results.

SEM Search Results

As you can see in the above image, the Search Ads are denoted with the “Ad” icon right next to the search result. These Ads show up when an advertiser pays a fee for the intended search result to appear on the results page when certain keywords are part of a search query. The most common PPC platform is Google Ads, although you can get impressive results on Bing & Yahoo as well.

How Do They Complement Each Other?

By now, one can probably deduce that the main difference between SEO & SEM is the fact that one requires compulsory monetary investment, while the other does not. The common denominator here is that they play out in search engine results. They are both great in helping to achieve your business goals, so they do not impede each other even when done simultaneously. Therefore, let’s take a look at how they complement each other; shall we?

· Abundance Of Data: digital campaigns are always a data-driven sport in all cases. When you do SEO & SEM campaigns, you gain a whole lot of invaluable data that might have missed out on if you only did one without the other. This can include key insights on keywords, landing pages, etc which can inform your decision making in subsequent campaigns.

· User Experience: making your site seamless to use and user-friendly is one of the main building blocks of good SEO. Doing this would ensure that more of your site’s visitors stay for longer and complete your intended actions. This, in turn, means that you get more value for the money you spend in PPC campaigns. Google Ads has a metric called the “Quality Score” which is partially derived from the user experience on the site. A low-quality score would see you paying more for clicks, and vice versa. Great SEO helps to guard against this.

· Site Optimization: a technical SEO audit on your website (or just a landing page) would reveal all the potential flaws in the site that can negatively affect rankings. Fixing issues like dodgy coding, excessive loading time, broken links, etc are bound to have a positive SEO effect with ripple effects. On the other hand, this would help you get better user engagement, a better quality score and ultimately more conversions for your PPC Ads.

· More Clicks, More Visibility: When you do an excellently targeted PPC Campaign, there is bound to be a section of visitors to your site who become frequent visitors. The activities of these people can drive more links and social signals to your site. This will thereby help increase the traffic and organic rankings. In the same vein, a good SEO campaign has been shown to improves your click-through rates and ultimately boost conversions from PPC campaigns.

As different as they may seem, it’s clear that SEO & SEM complement each other nicely. They share more in common in comparison with their differences; like a typical happy couple! While both are important for your business growth, it’s essential to understand that one might be more vital to your digital strategy than the other; this depends on the stage your business is in. This would help you focus your energy and resources in a way that will ensure optimal results.



Elvis Kolawole

I’m a part-time digital strategist, part-time entrepreneur, & full time Strawberry! 🍓