SEO vs SEM | Which one is better?


Picture of Tim Jones, CEO + Founder
Written by Tim Jones, CEO + Founder

In today's highly competitive business space, having a strong content marketing strategy is critical to the success of any company. You may have a top-class product or offer exquisite services. But guess what? If you don't have an effective online presence, your customers will not know about it.

The SEO vs SEM debate has been going on for years now. While some companies are still stuck in their ways, others have realized that they need both. The question is whether one is better than the other. This blog takes a deeper look at each strategy, demystifying their differences, pros and cons, unique features, when to use them, and how to choose one over another for your business. Let's kick off by looking at the basics.


What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process used to increase traffic to a website. It involves optimizing websites so that search engines can easily find and index them.

Search engine optimization works by improving the quality of content on a site and making sure that all pages are accessible via search engines. Content includes text, images, videos, audio files, etc. Accessibility means that the page is visible to all users who access it through search engines.


What is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a type of advertising that focuses on getting visitors to click on ads displayed on search results. These ads appear as sponsored links next to organic search results.

Advertisers pay Google, other search engines, and platforms to place these ads. When someone clicks on a link from a search result, they land on the advertiser's website.


How are SEO and SEM related?

SEO and SEM are related in the sense that:

  • They work together to bring more traffic to a website

  • Both help businesses reach new audiences

  • Both require adequate optimization and regular testing to deliver results

  • Both help website owners appear among the top search results

  • Both focus on increasing conversions


How is SEO different from SEM?

Below is a quick outline of the key factors that separate these crucial digital marketing strategies:

  • Focus. While SEO focuses on increasing visibility and traffic, SEM concentrates on driving conversions.

  • Targeting. SEO targets keywords, phrases, and intent while SEM targets specific keywords.

  • Cost. SEO is free but SEM costs money.

  • Timeframe. SEO requires time while SEM can be executed immediately.

  • Measurement. SEO measures its performance over time while SEM measures its performance immediately after the campaign ends.

  • Results. SEO produces long-term results while SEM provides short-term results.

  • Return on Investment (ROI). SEO generates an ROI within weeks or months while SEM generates an ROI within hours or days.

SEO vs SEM: Advantages and Disadvantages

There are many advantages and disadvantages to choosing either SEO or SEM. Below we take a look at the most important ones.


Advantages of SEO

  • SEO is free

  • SEO delivers long-lasting results

  • SEO allows you to track progress over time

  • SEO helps build trust with your customers

  • SEO is scalable

Disadvantages of SEO

  • SEO does not guarantee success

  • SEO is a process of trying, failing, and adjusting

  • SEO does not provide instant gratification

Advantages of SEM

  • The results are almost instantaneous

  • You can budget for how much you'd like to spend in advance

  • SEM expands your online reach faster

  • SEM is targeted

Disadvantages of SEM

  • SEM is not cost-effective in the long-term

  • SEM has a high level of competition

  • It takes a lot of time and skills to formulate the right SEM tactics

Understanding SEO and SEM Tactics

In this section, we will discuss some of the main SEO and SEM tactics used today. We'll also give examples of each one so that you get a better understanding of them.


SEO Tactics

  • Keyword Research. Keywords play a vital role in SEO because if you don't know what people are searching for, it makes it difficult to rank well. You need to use tools such as Google Trends and MozBar to find out which keywords your target audience uses when looking for information about your business.

  • Backlinks. Backlinks are links pointing back to your site from another site. Search engines consider backlinks when ranking websites. The more quality sites link to yours, the higher your page ranks.

  • Content Marketing. Content marketing involves creating and distributing content that is useful to readers. This type of content includes articles, infographics, videos, podcasts, etc. 

  • Optimizing Pages for Speed. Optimization refers to making changes to improve the speed of a website. These include things like removing unnecessary code and optimizing image sizes.

Other SEO tactics include optimizing for mobile, using structured data, using secure HTTP, conducting competitor analysis, and more. 


SEM Tactics

  • Optimizing for Local Search. This SEM tactic involves ads that are optimized for local directories and specific geographic locations.

  • Personalizing Your Ads. In order to make sure your ad stands out from others, you should personalize them by addressing your company persona's specific pain points and problems.

  • Leveraging A/B Testing. A/B testing is a way to test different versions of an advertisement or landing page to see which version performs best. For example, you could try two different headlines for your ad, or you could change the images or even the headline and text.

  • Using Retargeting Ads. Retargeting ads are those that follow users around the web after they've visited your website. They're designed to remind users about your brand and encourage them to return to your site.

How to Choose the Best Strategy for Your Business

There are several factors to keep in mind when deciding between SEO and SEM.

First, you need to decide what you're offering. What problem are you solving for your persona? What are you driving ads to?  Are you selling a product or service? Which product or service?

The next step is to determine how much revenue you want your company to generate through ads. How many clicks do you need to generate the number of leads needed to generate that revenue?  That should be what dictates the budget. The larger the revenue goal, the larger the budget should be.


When to Use SEO

If your goal is to get found organically for the products and services you offer and you have the time to wait for an ROI, SEO is the perfect strategy. It will take time but once you start ranking high in search engine results pages (SERPs), your opportunity to acquire new customers will increase significantly.


When to Use SEM

If you don't have the time to wait for organic results and you have a budget to use for ads, SEM is the better option. With SEM, you can quickly create targeted ads. Once you have created the ads, you can easily track the performance of each campaign so you know exactly what works and what doesn't.


Eternal Works is Your Go-To Digital Marketing Agency!

As we wrap up, it's critical to remember that both strategies can be effective, depending on your business-specific goals and needs. When it comes down to it, there isn't one strategy that fits every type of business. That's why it's a good idea to consult with a digital marketing agency that understands the ins and outs of both SEO and SEM.

At Eternal Works, we're a team of highly experienced digital marketing experts who specialize in helping companies like yours grow. We use our expertise to develop customized solutions that meet your business-specific needs. Whether you're looking for help optimizing your current campaigns or setting up a new one, we can provide all the guidance you need to make sure your business reaches its full potential. To learn more,  schedule a call today to speak with one of our experts! 

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