The acronyms used in digital marketing are confusing. SEO, SEM, PPC, PSA… And even if you figure out what they stand for, what do they actually mean?

Take the first two: search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). To make matters more confusing, these terms are often used interchangeably. Is there a difference between them? And, if so, what is it, and why should you as a small business owner care?


SEO and SEM are both techniques used to drive traffic to a website and increase its visibility.

The key difference is that SEO uses free (or ‘organic’) tactics. SEM uses paid advertising to achieve this same end.

Both SEO and SEM should be key parts of your small business’ marketing strategy. Done well, SEM produces immediate results, while SEO is a longer-term investment.

Tips to improve your SEO

SEO refers to optimising your website so that it ranks higher on search engines’ results. While the algorithms that the search engines use are continuously being tinkered with, one thing remains constant: the more relevant your content is, the higher your site will place.

So how do you show Google and other search engines that your content is relevant?

  • Incorporate keywords into all your site’s metadata (such as title, description, heading tags and image tags)
  • Make sure your copy is well written and includes keywords placed naturally.

Search engines also reward sites that prioritise user experience (such as fast page loading speeds and easy-to-navigate design) and that link to authoritative sites.

Tips to improve your SEM

SEM is about paying to appear at the top of the search rankings. In Australia, Google Ads is the most popular platform for doing this. SEM allows you to attract targeted traffic to your site. As such, the better you target your ads, the better your campaign results will be.  

So how do you do that?

  • Use selective keywords – while there’s a delicate balance between volume and cost here, in SEM you should usually discard keywords with small search volumes
  • Make sure your ad copy is well written and appeals to customers
  • Apply key performance indicators to any campaign, such as click-through rates and cost per clicks

SEM is a harder technique to get right than SEO. It takes practice, and you need access to tools such as Google AdSense (its keyword planner). 

It can often be worth hiring a specialist small business marketing agency like Hunter & Scribe to help with your digital marketing. Contact us at [email protected].