Industry Terms


Search engine optimization (SEO) has become a hot topic in the online world. If you have a practice website, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the benefits of SEO for getting more traffic. An equally important—but less talked about—topic is search engine marketing (SEM). Just like SEO, the purpose of SEM is to boost traffic and enhance brand awareness online. Although the two acronyms have the same overarching goal, they are not synonymous with each other. So, what exactly is the difference between SEO and SEM?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

To put it simply, SEO is a type of SEM. It’s an organic method for getting traffic to your website by helping the search engine crawlers better organize your information within its results. To optimize your website, you have to implement different strategies through the use of keywords and website development. Based on how these strategies affect your search engine rankings, you can adjust them to find what provides the most favorable outcome.

SEO is a tactic that takes time to show results. Although it is a highly cost-effective method for gaining traffic, it requires careful planning and knowing what to change if the search engines aren’t responding like you had hoped (i.e. displaying your website near the top of Google). Over time, as you implement best practices for your website’s SEO, you have the potential to attract more people to your site and ultimately your practice.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

As stated above, SEM includes SEO, but it goes beyond this natural means of gaining traffic. SEM also entails the use of paid advertising, like Google AdWords or Pay-Per-Click (PPC). This means you’re buying space within the search results to put your website in front of organic results. The most valuable SEM strategies incorporate the use of best SEO practices as well as the purchasing of ad space.

In general, paid search advertising tends to provide faster results upfront compared to SEO. However, it only works for as long as you are paying for those ads, which is why laying a strong foundation of SEO is crucial for your long-term success. With that in mind, paid advertising can still be extremely effective considering you are specifically targeting who you want to reach; therefore, you are not only controlling how often your site appears in search results, but also how relevant it is to those searching.

Combining Organic and Paid Search Results

We now know that SEM is the effort you put into boosting awareness of and traffic to your website through search engines. SEO is the organic method of achieving this, while paid advertising is a way to buy your way into the search results. To get the most out of your practice website, you should combine the different areas of SEM into one cohesive strategy. By doing so, your website can continue to gain speed as more and more people find your information within their searches.

If you want to increase your practice’s online visibility, but aren’t sure where to start, contact our team of experienced SEM professionals! We would love to help you develop an all-inclusive online marketing plan to make the most of your website and online presence.

Like this article? Get more industry tips delivered to your inbox each month.
Katie Nagel


Katie is a Senior Writer at Rosemont Media with a passion for healthy living. Growing up in Illinois surrounded by corn fields, Katie started her transition west by attending Augustana College in the Quad Cities, where she received her BA in Business Administration and Communication Studies. After earning her degree, Katie made her way to San Diego to experience the bliss of living in paradise as she pursued a career in marketing. Six years later, she journeyed back to the Midwest to where she now lives in Chicago. In her free time, Katie enjoys being outdoors, exploring the brewery scene with her husband, and writing articles focused on fitness and nutrition in her healthy living blog.