SEO vs SEM: Which is the right digital marketing technique for your brand?

Search optimization or search marketing

Search optimization or search marketing is an important marketing strategy as far as brands trying to attract attention, drive website traffic, and grow their business are considered. However, search engine optimization can be a difficult strategy to manage if you do not know how to compare SEO vs. SEM.

Though the tactics sound the same, they are two different approaches to search engine optimization. If you tend to use these terms interchangeably without a deep understanding of the differences between the two, you cannot communicate a clear and effective strategy for improving your visibility in search.

Search Marketing:

Well, before you can create a search optimization strategy, you need to understand the expression for this type of marketing.

Search marketing is an umbrella term for any tactic that helps a brand or a website get attention by appearing on higher positions on search engine results pages (SERPs). It relates to efforts to get higher rankings and increase in search visibility so that one can drive more traffic to a website or specific web pages.

SEO is all about optimizing your website to receive higher-ranking positions in search results while SEM includes methods where you can get more visitors from a search engine like PPC advertising.

Search Marketing has two categories:

SEO, that uses organic strategies to appear in search

SEM, that uses PAID strategies to appear in search

The main difference between SEO vs. SEM is that SEO is an organic strategy and SEM is a paid strategy.

Though certain marketers may define SEM to be an umbrella term that includes both paid and organic strategies, to make your marketing plan clear, we recommend breaking the terms into their distinct categories.

Since these terms are interchangeable and mean differently to different marketers, always check for the terminology before working with search partners.

To begin with the comparison between SEO and SEM, it is important to know the exact definitions of these terms so that one can use them accordingly as per requirement.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the method of optimizing a website for obtaining free and organic traffic from search engines. The main purpose behind this is; an optimized website is more easily readable by Search engine crawlers and this helps in increasing the chances of ranking higher in SERPS.

On-Page and Off-page SEO

There are two main pillars of SEO; they are called on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO activities include rules you can apply on your website or blog so that it becomes search engine friendly.

On-page SEO optimizes every single page of a website to target a specific keyword to appeal to search engines. The strategies include keyword research, content creation, and keyword optimization. On-page optimization in SEO helps search engines read a page of content and, therefore, give it higher ranks.

For example, you need to use optimized titles, descriptions, keywords, well-formatted URLs, correct use of heading tags like H1, H2, and optimized images and many more.

Off-page SEO refers to the process of getting quality backlinks from other websites for increasing your website’s trust in the eyes of search engines.

Though for beginners, this may seem confusing but just think of it as a ranking system where the website with the most number of quality backlinks ranks higher. That is the reason why off-page SEO is also known as link building. One factor that should be considered is that it’s not the number of links you have got linked to your website that matters, but from where these links are coming, ie, the quality of backlinks obtained (and also a number of other factors).

Technical SEO optimizes the non-content components of a website along with the website as a whole to improve its backend structure and foundation. These procedures relate to site speed, mobile friendliness, indexing, crawling ability, site architecture, structured data, and security. Technical SEO improves both user and search crawler experience, which prompts higher search rankings.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing is a subset of your overall Internet Marketing Strategy. SEM is a process of marketing done with the goal of gaining more visibility in search engines either by getting more free traffic (SEO) or paid traffic (Paid search advertising).

Paid search advertising lets you essentially buy advertising space in the search engine results. So, you pay to appear in front of the searches instead of trying to rank higher and get free traffic.

Google Ads (earlier known as Google Adwords) is the most commonly used search provider for this strategy. Brands usually conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target the best keywords for their industry, products, or services. Therefore, when users search for those keywords, they see the custom ads at the top or bottom of SERPs.

The brand is charged only when a user clicks on the ad. This is why the process is also known as Pay-per-click or PPC. Though Bing and Yahoo have a similar system, it is not so successful and widely known as Adwords.

Importance of SEM Traffic

Since SEM traffic is targeted, it is considered the most important source of Internet traffic. Basically, it’s a widely accepted fact that people use search engines to find a solution to a problem, or an answer to their question or to learn how to do something.

Usually, when searchers click on a website from the search results or click on an ad, they are more likely to convert as a customer. The relevancy of the ads and the displayed websites makes SEM traffic more valuable than any other sources.

In spite of continuous efforts made by Facebook and Twitter in optimizing their advertising platforms to utilize the targeted traffic, the traffic coming directly from search engines has a better ROI.

Similarities between SEM & SEO

Helps a brand appear in search results.

One of the basic use of SEO and SEM is that they both aim to help a brand appear in prominent positions on SERPs. The goal of each process is to help a brand show up in search results when users search for specific terms related to the brand’s industry, business, or offerings.

Helps drive more traffic to a website.

The goal of both tactics is to gain visibility on SERPs, more importantly, to drive traffic to a website. Each method employs tactics to increase click-through-rates (CTR) and get more users to click on the search results.

Requires knowing your audience.

To succeed in both strategies, you must have a good understanding of your audience and their behavior. By using analytics, you can get to know your audience, discover what their needs are, and what they search for in Google. Then you can create valuable content accordingly that shows up when they go looking for solutions related to your brand.

Differences between SEO and SEM.

  • SEM placements have an “Ad” designation, which, usually, SEO doesn’t have. The Search results from SEM or SEO appears differently on SERPs. An ad icon appearing next to the placement often identifies paid ads.
  • SEM search results have ad extensions while SEO search results have featured snippets. The appearance of the search results of both SEO and SEM is different. SEM search results may have ad extensions, which can add on phone numbers, additional links, and callouts. Meanwhile, SEO results may appear with featured snippets in search.
  • Only when a user clicks on an SEM result you are liable to pay whereas you don’t pay anything when a user clicks on an SEO result. Since SEM results are paid placements; you must have a budget for continually showing your ads.
  • SEM results show up to a select-targeted audience only. Whereas, SEO results are not targeted. While both SEO and SEM uses strategies to connect with a select audience, you can clearly specify that target audience only through SEM. SEM lets you choose the type of audiences you want to see the search results by assigning filters based on age, location, income, habits, and more. Meanwhile, SEO doesn’t let you specifically choose who will see your search results.
  • SEO has a better click-through rate (CTR) than SEM if you get to reach the top. Typically the first few organic search results have the highest CTR. So you can outperform with SEM ads only if you can get to the top. However, if you appear on the second page of results or lower, you can still get more clicks through SEM.
  • SEM enables the testing feature when compared to SEO. Since you can turn SEM paid ads on and off, it’s a great strategy for testing. You can quickly revise ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content to test your new ideas. This flexibility allows you to test different strategies. However, you cannot accomplish this through SEO, as it would take much time to make changes and study differences in the results.
  • SEO is effective over time but SEM is not. SEM ads are active as long as you pay for your results to show up. Once you turn off your ads, your SEM strategy is over. Whereas SEO strategy grows and compounds over time and gives lasting results.
  • SEM provides immediate results while SEO takes its own time for results to show up. Through paid ads, you can just start to show your results in front of audiences with a few clicks. As soon as you launch your ad campaign, your ad starts showing in SERPs. You can turn ads on to increase visibility or turn them off to stop showing anytime, as per your choice. Conversely, SEO results are something that you achieve over a long time. It might take months before a brand starts to rank on search engines.

How to choose the best option

To decide which is right for your brand you should consider the following facts:

How well do you know your industry!

If you are aware of the market trends and already know your customer needs and the best ways to approach them, you may need to start building a long-term SEO strategy that will provide value over time. However, if you are not aware of your customer requirements or how they respond to your content then you might need to consider SEM that lets you test ideas and options.

Keep a check on your competitors!

Always keep a check on your competitors as to how they are performing on search marketing before you start competing with them on the same keywords. Search for the keywords they usually rank high. Also look for the paid terms they use to drive traffic to their websites. As you perform this search, look for gaps you can fill and places where you will be unable to compete in both paid and organic search.

Consider your business age:

If you have a newly launched website or business, then it’s going to take a while to develop your SEO and begin to appear organically in the search. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build your SEO tactics. Because you can’t benefit from your SEM until you build your SEO. SEM is an effective way to drive traffic while you build organic SEO.

Consider the average industry cost-per-click.

Before finalizing SEM for your business, research and consider how much you will need to spend to show up in paid search results. Keywords have varying CPC based on competition. If the cost-per-click is low, it might be the right strategy for you. On the other side, a very high cost-per-click might force you to keep your focus only on SEO.

Consider the length of your typical client purchasing cycle.

If your items and services have a short client purchasing cycle, which means your client’s search what they need, look for it, and get it, you may profit by SEM advertisements that put your item right where clients will see it. Longer purchasing cycles, where clients research and think about for quite a long time or months, may not execute with SEM, as there isn’t a prompt purchase in the wake of seeing one ad.

Consider the present status of your website.

When you make a marketing technique, search for the “low-hanging natural product”, or the open doors that will have the greatest effect with a minimal measure of work. So before you dispatch a pursuit advertising effort, explore your site to see where you may possibly grow a natural SEO technique that is as of now working before spending cash into an SEM campaign.

To get your full review of the SEO report or want any consultation, feel free to contact us. Get a detailed report regarding your site’s status as it includes on-page, off-page, and specialized SEO components.


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