SEO vs. SEM: Which Deserves More Effort?

All businesses want to drive traffic to their website. These days, a website is the only way to get found and gain leads. If you ask any business what they’re doing to boost their website visibility, we’d bet they’d say search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM). Both SEO and SEM have their own advantages and drawbacks. To learn the difference between SEO vs. SEM and apply the best digital marketing techniques to your business, keep reading.


What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the strategic effort to achieve high website authority, and webpage rankings per specific keywords, on a search engine like Google, Bing or Yahoo.  SEO tactics include on-page optimization, content crafting and link building.

The higher the credibility and authority a website receives, the higher the search engine ranking and incoming traffic. The first page of Google’s search results is the holy grail. This is where the bulk of search traffic comes from—aka, where your business wants to be.


The Main Drawback of SEO

Doesn’t SEO sound swell? Well, the only drawback is this: there is no guaranteed time frame for achieving results. Depending on your industry, can take anywhere from a few months to years to see any noticeable result.

Benefits of SEO

Although time is a major factor in reaping SEO benefits, most small business owners lean towards SEO strategies because it leads to quality results.

Here are some of the benefits of SEO:

  • Since there is no budget required, you can start this project anywhere and anytime.
  • Results are long-lasting, given you can maintain and defend your ranking position.
  • Organic links are trustworthy and attract more clicks than paid links.
  • SEO tends to bring in better quality traffic leads

What is SEM?

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is generally referred to as paid search advertising or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, in which a business pays to display their ads on search engines whenever users do a relevant search.


How Does SEM Work?

SEM works through platforms like Google Adwords, where you can select the keywords you’d like to pay for (on a cost-per-click basis), and create relevant ads to match those keywords. Users who click on your ads will be directed to the website links you want to promote.


Drawbacks of SEM

SEM isn’t for every business because it requires:

  • A continual investment to maintain the rankings of your ads.
  • A decent-sized budget (At least $200 a month).


Benefits of SEM

If you do have the budget for a healthy PPC campaign, we recommend implementing a strategy as soon as possible. Here’s why:

  • It’s possible to gain top rankings for competitive and high traffic volume keywords immediately.
  • You can target narrow and niche markets through a variety of targeting options (like locations, time of day, languages, devices and more).
  • You can test the profitability and conversion rates of many keywords and use the data to optimize your SEO campaigns.
  • You can create engaging ad formats such as banner, video and shopping ads.
  • Your campaigns are scalable and there is no limit to how much you can earn.
  • You get fast results by gaining control of your ad rankings.


Bottom Line: SEO vs. SEM

There will always be a debate about which online marketing technique will dominate over the rest. Usually, those wanting speedy results will lean towards SEM and those preferring deep-rooted long-term benefits will stick with SEO.

But, who says you can’t have both?

According to Search Engine Land, businesses using paid ads and organic listings together can better increase engagement and conversions and get more visibility on the first page of Google.

If your business coordinates both channels effectively, you’ll see how SEO and SEM can enhance each other’s campaigns.

All in all, when it comes to SEO vs. SEM, we say—they’re better together.

Is Your Business Ready to Jump to the Next Level?

Kai Pham
Kai Pham
Kai is a graduate from UC Riverside who is passionate about digital advertising. He has managed accounts across various industries, including ecommerce & professional services with advertising budgets ranging from $1,500 to $20,000 per month. His main focus is using paid search techniques to increase revenue of businesses while decreasing advertising costs. Additionally, he has experience in display advertising, shopping campaigns, re-marketing campaigns, ecommerce analytics, landing page optimization, and conversion rate optimization.

Kai enjoys innovating marketing strategies and staring endlessly at spreadsheets of complex data. In his free time, he enjoys movies, eating raw organic foods, and reading tech news.

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