The ad auction process takes place every single time someone enters a search query into Google. To be entered into the ad auction, advertisers identify keywords they want to bid on, and state how much they are willing to spend (per click) to have their ads appear alongside results relating to those keywords. If Google determines that the keywords you have bid on are contained within a user’s search query, your ads are entered into the ad auction.
In some contexts, the term SEM is used exclusively to mean pay per click advertising, particularly in the commercial advertising and marketing communities which have a vested interest in this narrow definition. Such usage excludes the wider search marketing community that is engaged in other forms of SEM such as search engine optimization and search retargeting.
Look at your short- and long-term goals to choose whether to focus on organic or paid search (or both). It takes time to improve your organic search rankings, but you can launch a paid search campaign tomorrow. However, there are other considerations: the amount of traffic you need, your budget, and your marketing objectives. Once you’ve reviewed the pros and cons, you can select the search strategy that’s right for you.