SEO vs SEM: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better for Your Business?

seo sem

By the end of 2019, global digital ad spending is expected to reach $333.25 billion. For the first time, it’ll account for approximately half of the total global ad market.

Clearly, businesses are taking their digital marketing seriously. This is especially true when it comes to their SEO and SEM spending.

Is it time for you to step up your SEO or SEM game? Are you still unclear about what these techniques are and how you can use them to grow your business?

Read on to learn more about the difference between SEO vs SEM and which you should focus on more as part of your business’s online marketing strategy.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s an online marketing approach that focuses on improving a website’s ranking on search engine results pages (also known as SERPs).

As part of their SEO strategy, businesses use various techniques, such as keyword optimization and specific web development practices, to help boost their website’s ranking and help it show up on the first search engine results page (preferably as close to the top as possible).  

SEO is all about improving one’s search engine ranking in an organic way. In other words, you don’t pay for ads to help promote your website.

What Is SEM?

SEM, which is short for search engine marketing, does involve the use of paid ads to help boost a website’s ranking on search engine results pages. SEM includes strategies like pay per click (or PPC) listings and advertisements.

Many people use the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably. In general, though, if you’re talking about anything that involves paid advertising, you’re referring to SEM. 

SEO vs SEM: Pros and Cons

From a digital marketing and business growth perspective, both SEO and SEM come with their own benefits and drawbacks. The following are some of the most noteworthy pros and cons you ought to keep in mind:

SEO Pros and Cons

SEO is generally considered to be better for building brand awareness and getting your business’s name out there for people to see. It helps you use the right keywords and meet people where they are by showing up on their search engine results pages when they’re looking for something using a specific word or phrase. 

SEO strategies like writing blog posts, creating helpful videos, and building backlinks also help you to establish your business as an authority within a particular niche. This, in turn, helps you to build credibility and establish trust with your audience. When you do this, it’s easier for you to make sales and create lifelong customers.

SEO is also more affordable since you don’t have to pay for ads. It’s not totally free since time and money is often required for creating high-quality content and a functional website. It’s cheaper than SEM, though.

Of course, SEO does have some downsides, too. For example, it takes longer to see results from your SEO efforts. It also can be very competitive. You may be vying against several different businesses that want to rank for the same keywords as you, so you’ll need a solid marketing strategy in place to combat this issue.

SEM Pros and Cons

SEM allows you to appear “above the fold” or at (or near) the top of search engine results pages much faster than SEO. Because you’ll be at or close to the top, you’ll be exposed to a wider audience and more people will be likely to visit your business’s website.

With SEM, you also have more control over how your ads show up and who sees them. This makes it easier for you to reach your target audience and increases your chances of making a sale.

SEM is also better, in most cases, for showcasing products. You can use SEM to show pictures, ratings, and prices for your products. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that people will click through to your website and make a purchase.

You also have more control over what you spend when using SEM. A downside to this approach is that it costs more money. At the same time, though, you have a lot of control over the total amount of money you spend. This makes it easy for you to set and stick to a marketing budget for your business.

Another potential downside to SEM is that your competitors have access to your campaign. They can see what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and this makes it easy for them to emulate your approach.

Putting SEO and SEM Together

As you can see, neither SEO nor SEM is a perfect digital marketing technique for someone looking to grow their business’s online presence. They each have their pros and cons.

Some businesses make the mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket. They might focus only on SEO and unpaid search techniques, and others might focus only paid approaches, assuming they’ll help them get to the top faster.

In reality, limiting yourself to one approach is not an ideal marketing strategy. You can get farther, faster if you combine your SEO and SEM efforts and make both a priority.

This expert recommends making both SEO and SEM top priorities. You shouldn’t neglect paid search by focusing on the free and low-cost SEO approaches, but you also shouldn’t neglect SEO techniques that can help you build a loyal following and establish credibility.

Look for overlap between the two approaches, especially when it comes to keyword usage and optimization, to refine your strategies and reach more people. 

Master Your Online Marketing Today

As you can see, there are quite a few layers to the SEO vs SEM debate. Each of them has its own benefits and drawbacks.

You don’t have to choose just one to focus on as you’re crafting your business’s online marketing strategy, though. SEO and SEM can work together to help you reach a wider audience and expand your business’s reach.

Do you want to learn more about either (or both) of these techniques? If so, check out the Digital Marketing section of our site today.

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