One of the main doubts that arise when creating a new project or enhancing an existing business is what web positioning strategy to follow, that is, whether to opt for organic positioning or SEO or for a paid positioning, which we also know as SEM. You tend to think of an SEO vs. SEM fight, but can they work together?

Do you have to do SEO or SEM first? Which is better of the two? Do I have to choose only one? Which one? These are just some of the questions that most often come to light in the first moments of proposing a strategy, beginning to think on many occasions that we are obliged to choose only one of the two. Crass error, because as I’m going to discover you are two totally and perfectly complementary strategies.

In this post, we are going to face SEO vs. SEM to see which one is better in each case and its main differences and similarities, in what moments we have to bet on SEO and what are the perfect occasions to opt for SEM.

Do you dare to discover with me this wonderful galaxy where Google is the king? Ahead!

What are SEO and SEM?

The first thing that users think when we talk about SEO and SEM is always something similar: SEO is free and SEM is paid. Meeeeec Error. SEO and SEM go far beyond this simple differentiation.

SEO is all that strategy aimed at improving and optimizing the visibility of our website in organic results. We do not pay directly for appearing in the search engines, but improving our website, optimizing the architecture or reducing its load time can lead to a series of costs that need to be addressed in order to have a quality website.

In spite of perceiving SEO as a completely free strategy, it is necessary to have an SEO professional who knows the needs of the web and who establishes a strategy as optimized as possible to guarantee the best results and avoid SEO penalties.

The SEM, on the other hand, consists of paid ad campaigns in the search engines. It is about bidding for the keywords that we want to appear in search engine results. However, although it seems as easy as this, it is also necessary to have a fully optimized and quality website to develop strategies with the lowest possible cost and the highest possible ROI or return on investment.

How do SEO and SEM differ in search engines?

The difference of SEO and SEM in the search results is very simple, to the point that there are many users who already know this difference very well, trying to avoid clicking on some of the first results from a payment strategy.

When we perform a search in search engines like Google, in the first results, if bids have been made for that search, a series of pages with a signal indicating Ad, corresponding to websites that are performing SEM payment campaigns, will appear.

If we do a little scroll down, we will start to see results without this signal, corresponding to the first organic results. The higher our website appears in SEO positioning, the more possibilities we will have for users to click on our page. Appearing on the second page is like being an expert in hiding: no one will find us.

Within SEM, in addition, there are services such as Google Shopping, thanks to which we can bid to show the products that we market in our ecommerce. These results of Google Ads for online stores are more attractive because they have images and even the price of the products in the results, differing widely from the SEO results in the search engines.

Common aspects of the SEO and SEM comparison

Although the general perception is to see SEO and SEM as the opposite, they have a series of similarities that must be stressed. All the analysis or previous research, a quality web and fully optimized, but above all time and dedication are key aspects with which it is necessary to count and work on any of the strategies we propose.

Research and previous analysis

We can not do any crazy strategy. Whatever technique we are going to perform to achieve visibility in search engines, it is more than necessary to carry out a previous investigation that allows us to tie the ends of our strategy so that it is as optimal, realistic and defined as possible.

Knowing the sector, studying the interests and needs of our target audience, search intentions and establishing specific, measurable and achievable objectives will only be some of the main cornerstones on which any of our strategies should be based.

Quality and optimized website

Having our site fully optimized is essential for our SEO or SEM positioning strategies to be effective. By this we mean to have a fast loading speed, correct and defined navigation architecture, a design adapted for mobile, that the contents are of quality or that the user experience is excellent, among many other things.

If our website is not worked or optimized for SEO, we will not be able to appear in Google’s results in any way. And in SEM, in addition to paying much more to appear ahead of our competition, we will not get conversions if the user experience of our website is null.

Can you imagine a website like Homer Simpson’s nowadays? Google would have gone crazy with such savagery. Well webs like these (and worse) we meet every day, so you better start optimizing your website if you want to start getting results with your page.

Keyword Research

It is about doing keyword research to know first hand what are the main keywords that we are going to target. In SEO, to develop an optimal and realistic strategy, we can not try to aim all as if we were Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. We must choose the most appropriate for each page, defining an optimized architecture and avoiding at all costs the cannibalizations of keywords.

On the other hand, a complete study of keywords in SEM is essential. This will help us understand which are the ones that will give us better results and a higher number of conversions. This will help us avoid high rebound rates or even economic losses. If we tried to target all at once without a previous investigation, the costs would get out of hand and our traffic would not be qualified.

They require time, dedication and a lot of mimes

All the actions that we carry out in our strategies must be fully thought and argued and we must be sure at all times of what we are doing. For this, it is essential to devote a lot of time to our strategies both before and after launching them. We can not leave any loose ends.

Once launched, we must spend a lot of time analyzing how they are working, the keywords that are ranking better, the conversions and objectives that each action is fulfilling, thinking about what we can improve and, above all, continuously optimizing our strategies to get the most out of it.

In all cases, it is about putting a lot of love and care into everything we do because that is the only way we can ensure that we will be successful in our campaigns. Same as Starbucks with their Coffee.

Differences between SEO and SEM

SEO positioning and positioning SEM are two strategies that, despite their similarities in the previous phases of its launch, have a series of clear differences that it is essential to know to finally know how we are going to work each of them.

These are two strategies that, despite appearing as polar opposites, are totally complementary and, depending on the type of business we have, the antiquity of it, our budget or our objectives, we can work both in one way or another, such and how are we going to see next?


The cost of SEO and SEM strategies is the main difference between the two. To get our website to appear in the organic results, we will not have to pay directly. Of course, it will be essential to have a web quality and fully optimized for the different keywords for which we want to position each of our pages.

Although SEO is usually associated with free, the most common way to achieve the best results in SEO is to incur some costs in order to optimize our website as much as possible in the eyes of Google. For this, it is essential always to have an SEO professional who carries out an SEO audit of the web and who knows and optimizes the priority points to get the best results on each of the pages and have an excellent team to develop a website.

On the other hand, in SEM it is mandatory to incur costs to appear in the results. We will have to bid for the keywords we want to appear for and, depending on the number of clicks and the bid we have made, we will pay more or less every month. If we do not get clicks, we will not pay anything. However, it is very important to the segment as much as possible and chooses the perfect keywords, or the costs will go through the roof.

In addition, the costs in SEM also vary greatly depending on the sectors in which we work. In highly competitive sectors, such as travel or insurance, the cost per click will be much higher than in others with less competition. Therefore, we must first analyze the sector in which we are in order to know first hand which strategy will be the most profitable one.


Whether you decide to do SEO, SEM or both, your content must meet some minimum requirements: it must be of quality, relevant and, of course, without spelling errors. You must avoid duplicate, plagiarized or worthless content for the user at all costs. If your content does not meet all these requirements, give it a spin and publish it only when it is perfect, since it is one of the most important aspects when working with any type of web positioning.

To position your page in organic results, your content must be unique, original and of value to the user, as described in this article about quality content. You should seek above all the naturalness and, therefore, avoid the saturation of your main keyword in all the text or, what is also known as keyword stuffing, practice penalized by our friend Google.

Although your texts and your content for paid campaigns should not leave aside that originality and quality of which we speak, in them you should not work so much optimization for your main keywords, but you should focus on giving them a much more commercial approach, directed to the conversion with the objective of recovering your investment. Includes calls to action, comments on the benefits of your product or service and offers value to the user, among other aspects, and thus get better results in your SEM strategies.


The number of keywords with which you work is also one of the main differences of this comparison SEO and SEM.

E-Commerce positioning, the number of keywords you work with must be limited, focusing each page on the main keyword in order to focus all the efforts of that content on that single keyword, also using semantic variations and related words. If we tried to position the same content for an infinite number of keywords, that content would end up not being relevant for any of the keywords used and our results will be null.

In contrast, in SEM, the number of keywords with which we can work is unlimited. However, a basic task of optimization in our payment campaigns is to try to limit as much as possible those keywords to stay with those that are really worthwhile, that is, with which we get a higher return and a higher return on investment.

Flexibility to implement changes

The ease with which changes can be made in our SEO and SEM campaigns is also another important point to consider. In our SEO strategies, if we change any aspect of our page, such as meta description, images or headings of the content, until the Google spider does not happen again (or the search engine that is), these will not be reflected. Changes in the results, being able to get to spend days and, even, weeks.

However, the changes made to our SEM campaigns are almost immediate. As soon as we make changes, either in the titles or in the bid, among others, they will be seen by the search engine and will be shown immediately when users do searches that activate our ads.

Traffic segmentation

If there is a really interesting aspect in SEM is the possibility of segmenting traffic, with the main objective of directing our ads towards our main target. For example, if we have a local business in Madrid, we can make our ads only show in Madrid and its surroundings, so that users in other cities can not see them.

This is important to focus our efforts on targeting those users who may be more inclined to make some kind of conversion on our website and avoid unnecessary expenses trying to reach users who will not convert. It would be useless if they announced themselves in the town of Frodo, showing their announcements to the inhabitants of Mordor. It would be an unnecessary waste of time and money.

However, in SEO the segmentation of traffic is more complicated. For example, if we want to segment locally, we could do it by including the city of our business in the title and the content of the page, but this can not prevent people from other cities from visiting our website through organic results.

Reticence to advertising

Another important aspect that must be taken into account is the distrust of many users to the payment results. The vast majority of people who search the Internet are well aware that the first results correspond to pages that are performing paid campaigns and, in many cases, unless they are very relevant to the user (such as search results). Transactional users may be reluctant to click on them, something similar to what happens with Display Ads.

For this reason, it is very important to work to the maximum extent of our SEM campaigns, attracting the greatest possible attraction of users and, above all, showing content and products that are totally relevant and consistent with the search carried out.

In addition, due to the rejection that many users show towards the advertising of Google and other search engines, it is very important to also work on the SEO positioning for words that we work with SEM, since this way we make sure to appear up to twice on the first page of the results, increasing our chance of success. Do you understand now why we said that SEO and SEM are complementary?

Visibility of the results

Related to what we were saying before, another aspect to take into account is the visibility of the organic results and the ones of the payment positioning. The results coming from paid campaigns will appear in the first place, having a more prominent place in front of SEO positioning. In addition, on platforms such as AdWords, we can configure our campaigns to display data such as our business phone number, location or even rating stars, making our results more visible and visible. All this without forgetting the possibilities offered by Google Shopping, being able to make our products appear in prominent places of the SERPs.

On the other hand, the organic results, although they appear behind the SEM results, can also stand out in multiple ways with the Rich Snippets, especially thanks to the micro labeling of our page. We can achieve that in our results appear stars of valuation, prices or even images, making the results of our website are much more attractive.

Reach the top positions

The way to get in the top positions for the desired searches also varies widely from one strategy to another. If we want to be in the first position in the payment results, we will have to bid more and, therefore, pay more to achieve that desired position. However, if we have a web optimized and relevant to the keyword from the start, the cost per click could decrease considerably.

Google’s positioning, however, we must work harder and optimize the page to get at least in the Top 3. Unlike SEM, it does not serve simply to pay more, but we must have an optimized website and a page according to the keyword for which we want to position. For example, it will be important to include the main keyword in the title as far to the left as possible, in the H1 of the page, in the first paragraph, in the conclusion of the content and even in the meta description.

Measuring results

The organic and payment positioning also has its clear differences when it comes to measuring the keywords that give better results, especially because in SEO the results that give us tools such as Analytics or Search Console are more than diffuse.

Since several years ago Google decided to hide in Analytics the words that brought us traffic under the veil of our hated not provided, it is increasingly difficult to know exactly which are the keywords that have a better organic performance on our website. That is why we have to resort to external tools such as SEMRushAhrefs or Sistrix to have a somewhat greater vision of the possible keywords that generate better results. Although these analyzes that provide us are not 100% accurate, it does allow us to have a certain approach that helps us guide us to take new steps in our strategies.

On the other hand, if we activate SEM campaigns, from the first moment we will have reports with keywords, being able to detect the ones that generate the most impressions of our ads or the ones with the most clicks and, above all, those that generate the most profitability, being able to make the modifications timely in real time to adjust our campaigns to the fullest. These reports can also help us for our SEO strategies, since we can detect our strongest and weakest points, in consequence, complementing our efforts in SEM with our SEO optimization. Are you already clearer why they are complementary?

Time to see results

The time it takes to see results is similar to the flexibility we mentioned earlier. As soon as we activate our SEM campaigns, we can begin to see results and adjust these campaigns to optimize them as much as possible according to our objectives. As the changes we make are going to be implemented instantaneously, we can make changes in real time to improve the results.

However, the same does not happen with SEO. Although we create pages to position certain keywords, it can take weeks or even months until those pages begin to appear in the first results for the keywords we want. The results, therefore, will not begin to be seen until later, and our objectives will take longer to be fulfilled.

That is why it is very important to establish micro-objectives in our SEO strategies and focus efforts on optimizing certain parts of our website to achieve small results progressively. Because the process is slow, it is much better to focus on a specific part of the web and gradually optimize the rest of the site. If we work the whole web at once, the results will take a lot longer to arrive.

Which is better for my business: SEO or SEM?

Given the main points in common and the great differences that both strategies can present, the key question arrives: why should you opt for your online business? We have to tell you that it will always depend on your business and the objectives you intend to achieve.

If you want to get immediate results, SEO is not for you, so carrying out payment strategies may be what you’re looking for. In projects that will be developed in a very short period of time, the SEM is ideal to be able to meet objectives. For example, it would not make sense to try to position by SEO a web project in which only one month will be worked. However, if you are looking for long-term profitability, organic positioning is undoubtedly the one that can most help you achieve your goals.

The ideal in all cases will be to reconcile both. Why choose one or the other when you can achieve much more optimal results if you still have the strengths and benefits of both strategies?

We advise you that if you are starting, invest in SEM, especially to capture the first visits and go facing the investment that requires the organic positioning of your website. See your website working for SEO and, once your business has started to take off by organic positioning, while you continue to dedicate efforts to the SEO of your business, you can use the payment campaigns to cover those weaknesses and weak points that present your SEO strategy.

That you still have doubts about which is the most optimal strategy for your business? Do not worry! At UBT we have a great team of professionals who will be able to advise you on the most optimal channels that you will have to work to boost your business and meet your objectives.