by Roger Wilsher

October 13, 2020

Marketing 4 min read

SEO or SEM: Which is Better for Your Business?

Everyone uses search engines to find information and solutions. In fact, with Google handling over two trillion searches daily, it’s important to help people find you. 

That’s why you’d use SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and/or SEM (Search Engine Marketing); to get found online. 

Yet there is a lot of confusion over the differences between SEO and SEM.  

Should your business rely on one and ignore the other? 

Understanding SEO & SEM 

Understanding SEO and SEM

Understanding SEO and SEM can be a struggle. Some people make this worse by using both terms to mean the same thing.  

The fact is the two are different if connected! 

SEO increases the number of visitors by helping a site rank higher in the search results.  

Meanwhile, SEM is the umbrella term for internet marketing that boosts a website's visibility in search engine results. SEO and paid search ads are part of these tactics.  

However, many marketers use “SEM” to refer to paid search advertising alone. 

More About SEO 

Google describes SEO as a process that aims to maximise the number of visitors a website attracts. It does this by making sure the site shows up high on search results. 

Google makes frequent changes to its algorithm, so the SEO business is in a constant state of flux. Yet, one aspect of SEO stays the same: it includes both On-Page and Off-Page activities. 

On-Page SEO 

On-page SEO involves the optimisation of individual web pages. This involves optimising both a page’s content and HTML source code.  

RECOMMENDED: 7 Tried-and-True On-Page SEO Tips Your Website Needs 

Off-Page SEO 

Off-page SEO refers to the raising of a site's rank through activities away from the website. For example, off-page SEO may be when someone with high influence in your niche retweets a link to your blog post.   

RECOMMENDED: Guest Posting Essentials: Everything You Need for Blog Success 

What about SEM? 

SEM boosts a site's visibility with paid search ads. These ads display your website on the ad section of the search results for specific keywords. 

SEM includes many search marketing methods and tactics. These can include pay per click (PPC) adverts and listings, as well as social media marketing (SMM). 

PPC is the process of buying advertisements and sponsored links. It’s possible to bid on chosen keywords when buying PPC ads on search engines like Google. These are then shown in the Google results. 

It tends to be that the more you bid for a keyword, the better chance there is for that keyword to appear on the first page. 

Earning vs. Buying Online Traffic 

SEO vs SEM

The debate about whether SEO or SEM is better is as old as the internet itself.  

Inbound marketers like to argue organic SEO is the best option. They say that true SEM is not able to succeed without organic SEO. 

But there are situations where the SEM component PPC makes more sense than SEO.  

One example is when a site is first launched and calls for immediate visibility. PPC campaigns take less time to establish an audience than is possible with SEO on its own. Yet PPC is expensive.  

It works best when used in tandem with SEO, which is less costly. SEO establishes credibility that you may not be able to create with PPC on its own. 

Neither SEO nor PPC will guarantee a slot on the front page of Google. But the two can help deliver your site to your desired audience. 

How much effort you devote to SEO and PPC depends on circumstances, budget, and your business. 

Speed 

The main benefit of PPC is the speed with which a business can advertise on the search engines. Plus, a business can appear on the first page for any number of target keywords within a matter of minutes.  

Cost 

On the contrary, the biggest disadvantage of PPC is the cost.  

This is because the price of keywords can varyOne click on a campaign may cost a few pennies, while on another campaign it could cost a few dollars. 

PPC accounts for as much as 87% of advertising spend, according to the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organisation (SEMPO). SEMPO also says a mere 11% goes in the direction of organic search: $10 billion spent on PPC and only $1 billion on SEO. 

Click-Throughs 

People are 8.5 times more likely to choose a result discovered through organic search compared to PPC.  

Search engine users have learned the difference between paid and organic results. They now recognise organic results are usually more trustworthy and more useful. 

Conversions 

PPC comes into its own with conversion rates. Here PPC does seem to perform better – but the difference is only slight.  

Paid search results are 1.5 times more likely to convert click-throughs. But the landing page and the text is bound to have been well-optimised by the advertiser. 

Which is more effective? 

SEO vs SEM

The comparison above shows that SEO brings better results. 

SEO is a lot cheaper and attracts more click-throughs than PPC. Visitors trust organic search results more than PPC adverts.  

With SEO, a top rank in search results may not occur overnight. But businesses will see many benefits in the long term when they use it effectively. 

But because SEO is a long-term effort, practising it can consume time and effort. To let yourself focus on other business priorities, let the experts do it for you. 

Is paying for SEO services worth it? What should you be looking out for 

Seek SEO experts that: 

  • Examine your website and assess how it performs.   
  • Conduct local SEO so your site ranks better on facilities like Google Maps  
  • Offer management packages like social media, content creation, PPC and other elements related to SEO 
  • Provide useful analytical tools that help discover how well your site is performing 
  • Uses monitoring tools that ensure your site is fast and online as much as possible 

In the end, it’s about balance 

Choosing to reach out to your unique audience with either SEO or SEM will depend on your marketing goals. 

Accounting agencies that need local business and are not in a hurry tend to find SEO works in the long run. New businesses trying to establish themselves fast may find PPC ads get more immediate resultsBusinesses that want better returns in the short and long terms would do best balancing SEO and SEM. 

Knowing your goals and objectives will help you create an effective online marketing strategy. It will guide you towards using the methods that are right for you. 

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