SEO and SEM: What is the difference?

Do you know the famous quote “The best place to hide a body is page 2 of Google search results?”

If not, take the time to think about it before reading on (because we find it really funny). If so, you already understand the importance of ranking well on search engines to avoid falling into oblivion!

In fact, 75% of users go no further than the first page when they Google something (Imforza). Knowing that, it isn’t surprising that companies want to be ranked as high as possible on this infamous page 1.

But how can you improve your Google ranking?

With web referencing. An SEO (search engine optimization) strategy helps to raise your ranking in search engine results (SER).

When Google receives a request, it scans all web pages to determine which ones correspond best. The pages are then ranked in order of relevance, the first one being the most likely to help the user.

The good news is that it is possible to optimize your web referencing so that Google finds you!

In this post, we will look at the various types of referencing, as well as the components of SEO. Suffice it to say that by the end, SEO will no longer be a mystery to you!

Natural referencing (SEO) and paid referencing (SEM): what’s the difference?

There are two ways to improve your positioning on Google: organic referencing (SEO) and paid referencing (SEM). Each has its own advantages and meets different goals.

So-called natural, or organic, referencing is when the positioning of a page is entirely determined by Google. To rank well in organic referencing, the search engine must find that your page is a relevant answer to the user’s request.

In other words, it doesn’t cost anything to be well referenced organically. However, you should know that doing SEO well requires lots of time, knowledge and constant effort. You can do it yourself or let an SEO expert agency take care of it. A good first step to improve your SEO is to perform an SEO audit of your website.

Paid referencing is like a shortcut to natural referencing (SEO). In fact, you can pay a certain amount, via Google Ads, to appear at the top of page 1 of Google, above the organic results.

Google ad results

Great, right? Yes, but…

This type of referencing has certain disadvantages. Yes, your link appears in first position, but it is labelled as an “advertisement,” which indicates to the user that you have paid to attract their attention. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but know that web users generally trust natural results more than ads: 70% to 80% of people focus only on the organic results of their research (Imforza).

Of course, when you stop paying, you’ll fall as low in the results list as you were before you started the paid campaign.

This is why we think that using only paid referencing is not an effective long-term strategy. We usually advise our clients to invest in optimizing their natural referencing and to use paid referencing occasionally, when they want to increase their traffic for a specific campaign for example.


Natural referencing components

As we have just seen, Google includes many criteria in its analysis. They can be divided into two categories: on-site and off-site referencing.


On-site referencing

These elements relate to everything that is found on your site. It includes several technical aspects, such as the weight of your images, your download speed, cross-device accessibility, content structure, URLs, metadata, image titles, page titles, etc.

It also refers to elements that you control less, such as bounce rate, visit length, number of pages per session and site age.

On-site referencing also has a content element. Of course, content includes texts and images on your various pages, but this element relates more specifically to sites which have, for example, a blog section or a news section that is fed regularly.

There is a good reason why content marketing is so popular with brands! Yes, it is a relevant and interactive way to advertize its products and services to an audience, but the content is also an excellent web referencing tool.

Creating content enables you to position yourself with more relevant keywords, increase traffic to your site and provide answers to users who ask questions on search engines. These are all important elements for Google when it does its ranking!


Off-site referencing

Off-site referencing deals with external elements found on other sites, but that still contribute to your referencing. More specifically we are talking about inbound hyperlinks, that is to say hyperlinks from other sites that direct web users to your site.

Why are these hyperlinks important? According to Google’s logic, if other companies or editors quote you, it means that you are relevant. The more reputable the site is that mentions you, the better the impact on your SEO.



In conclusion, we would like to remind you that optimizing your web referencing is a long-term effort. You may not see results right away, but it will pay off in the long term. It is important to always keep it in mind, to follow best practices and to keep up to date about the evolution of search engines.