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What is SEO
The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization 2021

What is the difference between SEO, SEA and SEM?

What is SEM

SEO, SEA and SEM are three acronyms that are used in digital marketing. These three acronyms are explained below. Let's start with SEM first.

SEM stands for S.earch E.ngine M.arketing (search engine marketing) and includes all marketing activities the purpose of which is to make a company or organization more visible in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEM is divided into two branches: SEA (Search Engine Advertising) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

Sometimes the term “SEM” is used as a synonym for “SEA”, neglecting SEO.

From our point of view, there is no reason to exclude SEO from the SEM. It is true that SEA and SEO work differently, but their purpose is basically the same: to make a company or organization more visible in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) and to attract Internet users to the website of an organization or company.

What's the difference between SEO and SEA?

SEA stands for S.earch E.ngine A.dvertising and deals with paid ads displayed on SERPs. In the case of Google, paid ads are displayed at the top and bottom of the SERPs, whereby the term "ad" is used to distinguish it from the other search results:


Paid ads are usually displayed one at a time, although they can also be displayed side by side, as in the example below:

Paid ads in SERPs are placed via an advertising platform. In the case of Google, the ads are created using the Google Ads platform.

The process of creating a paid ad is pretty straightforward. First, the advertiser selects a keyword. This keyword triggers the ad if it matches or is closely related to the search query entered by the user. The advertiser then creates ad text and selects a landing page. Ultimately, the advertiser chooses a budget for their ads and a bid that represents the maximum amount of money they are willing to pay for a click. The advertiser only pays when a user clicks on an ad, not when the ad is only shown to a user.

The process of serving paid ads to a user is just as simple. Every time a user enters a search query, an auction takes place, deciding which paid ad comes first, which second, and so on. The position of paid ads is determined by a number of factors including their bid and the quality of the ad copy and landing page.

SEO, on the other hand, stands for S.earch E.ngine Optimization (search engine optimization) and comprises all marketing activities, the aim of which is to improve the position of a website or web page in the organic search results. Organic search results are results that are displayed in SERPS, for example in Google search results, and are not marked as “ad”. Here is an example from Google:


Whether a website ranks high or low in organic search results also depends on a number of factors traditionally referred to as “ranking factors”. Although search engines do not publicly disclose the factors used by their algorithms to rank web pages, some are now known.

This includes:

  • Quality and usefulness of the content. The more valuable the content is for internet users, the higher the chances of appearing on the first organic search positions.
  • Website speed. A fast website is more likely to appear in the first organic search positions than a slow website.
  • Website architecture and ease of use. Websites with a simple architecture that are easy to navigate and use are likely to perform better than websites that are not architecturally and user-friendly.
  • Keyword relevance. Websites that contain keywords that internet users are searching for have a higher chance of getting to the top than websites that completely ignore terms entered by users in search engines.
  • Backlinks. A website linked from other reputable websites is more likely to get a better organic position than a website that does not have links to itself.

Unlike paid ads, website owners don't pay search engines when a user clicks on an organic search result. Hence, it is common to associate SEO or online search results with free online traffic.