SEM VS SEO: Ad Placement

Currently, a typical search engine results page looks like the following: #image

It will have ads at the top, organic results right below that, and ads and then at the very bottom of the page again. Google used to have ads on the side of the page too, but they change this to offer a better user experience on mobile devices.

The ads currently have a small yellow square says at next, so you should see the right away. You may be doing SEO for your website or a client’s website. Either way, in SEO, our goal is to be number one. If we can’t be number one, our goal is to be as high as possible near the top of the search engine results page. The further you are to the top, the more of the share of traffic you will receive.

Ad Placement changes

Google has changed the positions of ads to maximize revenue in response to the evolution of technology. It is possible they may modify the placement of ads in the future as well. However, they likely won’t change the ad placement very often.

Regardless of where the ad placement is, just be aware that those spots are for ads. You have to pay for each click you receive from these ads. Since Google is so popular, it makes sense that they make most their revenue from ads. Since Google is getting billions of searches a day, it gives them the opportunity to make a lot of money off from ads.


SEM is a common term used to describe paid ads marketing. SEM stands for search engine marketing. With SEM, marketers will bid on keywords or different queries to appear in the top ad positions. Depending on the bid price they will have to pay that price every time somebody clicks on their ad. This cost per click model is called PPC, or Pay Per Click.

How SEO Differs

In SEO, instead of bidding on keywords and phrases, we optimize our content. We focus on each web page for a particular keyword or phrase, so that we can earn organic rankings in Google.

If our content is high quality, the content is well optimized, and several offsite factors are in place, we can achieve steady rankings without having to pay for each click. The fact that you don’t have to pay for each click are why many people call SEO a free traffic source. I like to think of it as passive website traffic because there is always an upfront cost to setting up an SEO campaign. So SEO is not really “free.” It is just drastically cheaper in the long run compared to PPC.

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