What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM?
April 8, 2021 Rudra Kumar
Marketers today are yet to conclude whether SEM is better for business marketing or if they should stick to the good old practice of SEO. You can use both SEO and SEM to attract website visitors. The only difference between SEO and SEM is that you will get free organic traffic with SEO, whereas with SEM or PPC, you will have to pay for each website visitor.
Considering the cost, the answer may seem straightforward, with SEO taking the coveted title home for the ideal business marketing strategy. But the answer is not as simple or straightforward as it may seem.
If you’re a marketer looking for answers or a business owner trying to choose between SEO or SEM, you have landed in the right place.
Read on to learn the key differences between SEO and SEM. This blog will decode both practices and help you find the ideal solution for business marketing that works best for you.
What is SEO and SEM?
The practice of optimizing website content for search engines is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It includes the combined usage of technical SEO and on-page and off-page optimizations. Publishing keyword-optimized content, matching user’s search intent, and engaging in back-linking practices are some of the common SEO practices that a company must execute to achieve desired results.
If you’re asking yourself the question: ‘What is Search Engine Marketing?’ here’s the answer:
Search engine marketing is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements. These advertisements appear on search engine results pages. It includes a healthy mix of different digital marketing practices such as PPC advertisements to meet the conversion goals of a business.
What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?
The difference between SEO & SEM can be explained in the following way:
SEO is the practice of attracting website traffic through organic means. When a company scales website traffic through organic means i.e. through SEO, it implies that it does not have to pay money for each website visitor.
On the contrary, SEM or search engine marketing refers to the digital marketing practice of increasing a website’s search engine visibility either by getting organic traffic through SEO or by generating paid traffic through PPC. It is an umbrella term that incorporates the best of both SEO and PPC.
SEM and PPC are often used interchangeably and in this blog, we will go with this consensus.
SEO vs SEM: What is Better for Business Marketing?
If you’re asking yourself questions like ‘what is the difference between SEO and SEM?’ and what is better for business marketing, this section can help.
We believe that SEO and SEM are equally powerful digital marketing tools that are unique in their ways. When looked at from the perspective of business marketing, it makes sense to evaluate the effectiveness of both SEO and SEM based on the following criteria:
- Turnaround time
- Cost attached
- Potential risks
SEO vs SEM: Which is More Time-Effective?
Time effectiveness of SEO:
A study by Ahrefs shows that it takes upto two years to rank your website on the first page of Google on average. Many of the top-ranking pages that are trending on Google and other SERPs today were first published over three years ago. If you’re a new website, can you wait three years to attract visitors? The answer is no. That is why most people end up adopting a mixed approach combining SEO and PPC.
Time effectiveness of SEM:
On the contrary, getting results from your PPC campaign can take anywhere between 3-9 months. In comparison to two years, the results are swifter and faster. In fact, at Techmagnate, we have achieved tangible results from our PPC campaigns in as short a time as two months. Read our PPC case studies to learn how we achieved our conversion goals for different clients. Once you go to this page, press Ctrl+F and enter ‘PPC’ to browse through the breakthroughs we have achieved for our clients.
SEM is more time-effective than SEO. If time is of the essence here, deploy SEM or PPC marketing campaigns to achieve quick results. If time is no barrier, then we recommend that you invest in a good long-term SEO strategy.
Is SEO more cost-effective than SEM or vice versa?
Cost-effectiveness of SEO:
Many people are drawn to the charm of SEO because of the free organic traffic that comes with it. Unlike PPC, you don’t have to pay for every website visitor.
However, in a world where time is money, SEO might eventually end up costing a lot over time, especially if your website is new. Since your website’s DR also plays a prominent role in attracting website traffic, you will have to invest more effort in backlink profile building, rolling out SEO-friendly content on a timely basis, engaging in social sharing optimizing your website content, and more.
You need to hire writers to write content and SEO strategists to conduct competitive and keyword research for you. Then you would need web designers to deploy your website and make necessary optimizations to it. All this with no sure-shot guarantee that your SEO strategy will be a success.
Cost-effectiveness of SEM:
When you engage in PPC advertising, you spend money instantly, but you can quickly track your performance and optimize your PPC campaigns. All you have to do is bid on the right keywords and wait for the website visitors to come rushing in. The only downside is that once you stop your PPC campaign, your website visitors can go back to zero. This is not ideal for any business, and paying for website visitors for months is no solution either.
The upside of SEO is that once you rank your website on SERPs, website visitors are guaranteed. The downside is that it takes forever. Looking at SEM, the upside is that you get quick results. The downside is that it’s not a sustainable business model for the long run, as you will potentially burn through your marketing budget and more.
Looked at it this way, we can say that SEM or PPC is more cost-effective for a short-term strategy and SEO is more cost-effective for a long-term strategy.
SEO vs SEM: What are the risks?
When deploying SEO or SEM, you should be aware of the risks that are associated with it.
Risks of practising SEO:
The greatest risk of SEO is the constant changes in Google’s algorithms. Losing your website ranking and website visitors when these algorithm changes happen is a real possibility if you don’t adapt to the latest changes early-on. For example, Google is making core web vitals a critical ranking factor in 2021, which means that you need to optimize your web page’s core web vitals to maintain your rankings on Google.
Since Google is the biggest search engine, it is critical for business websites to optimize their strategy according to its ever-changing algorithms. This means that you need to constantly update your SEO strategy, which can prove challenging if you don’t have skilled SEO experts within your organization.
Risks of practising SEM / PPC:
With PPC or SEM, the biggest risk that comes attached is the advertising cost. CPC is increasing every year, and without a perfect PPC strategy in place, you stand the risk of paying too much money without the certainty of meeting your conversion goals.
Both SEM and SEO come with risks of their own. Choose either of these strategies for your business model based on the risk that you are willing to take. We generally recommend SEO for startups who are stranded for budget. On the contrary, we highly recommend SEM for mid to enterprise-level businesses who can afford to splurge on an effective PPC strategy.
SEO v/s SEM: Which one should you use?
Having done a comparative analysis of SEO and SEM in terms of the costs attached, time taken, and the risks associated with it, we would say that you should use both practices simultaneously.
Both SEO and SEM have advantages and disadvantages. Choosing one over the other would mean missing out on the benefits that come with either. Make sure that you strike a healthy balance between the two, and focus your energy on implementing SEO and SEM best practices.
When should you use SEO or SEM?
Are you still confused? We’ve got you covered.
Here are some key pointers indicating when you should use SEO or SEM:
- Use SEM for overly competitive keywords: Keywords with high search volume are often called competitive keywords. Ranking for these keywords can take forever, especially because authoritative websites with a good domain ranking are already ranking for these keywords. So if you want to target these keywords, use SEM or PPC campaigns to gain visibility for your content or advertisement. Doing this should do the trick.
- Use SEO for low-moderately competitive keywords: For keywords with a decent search volume, SEO can be your go-to strategy as ranking for these keywords will not be as challenging.
- Use SEM if you have a sizable marketing budget: If you do marketing for an enterprise-level business with the resources to experiment on PPC advertising and figure things out, use SEM. Likewise, if you have a sizable marketing budget and can afford the growing CPC costs that comes with SEM or PPC advertising, use SEM.
- Use SEO if you have a limited budget: If you’re a startup or a small business with a negligible marketing budget, it is best to focus your effort on SEO. While it may take months or even a year or two to see tangible results, it is still way better than blowing up the negligible money you have on an SEM or PPC ad campaign that may only run for a few weeks.
- Use SEM if you want to meet your conversion goals quickly: Let’s say that you’re a product or service startup that has just launched your website and wish to market your business and meet your conversion goals in a quick turnaround time. In such situations, when the timing is of the essence, we recommend that you use SEM to meet your conversion goals quickly.
- Use SEO if you don’t have time constraints: Once perfected, the rewards of SEO lasts for a lifetime, given that you stay updated on the latest trends in SEO when the algorithm changes happen. So if you don’t have a deadline to achieve your goals, invest your time and energy on a kickass SEO strategy. You won’t regret it.
- Use SEM if you can manage an Adwords account: Running PPC ads is no joke. If the cost of advertising is more than the benefits received, there is no point in engaging with PPC advertisements. You need someone on the team who can efficiently understand and process data. It would help if you were hands-on with keyword bidding, ad copies, quality score maintenance, conversion optimization, SEM audits, and more.
- Use SEM if you can launch and test Landing pages: Without a targeted landing page for each PPC advertisement, your ads won’t convert. And without conversions, there’s no point in running an ad campaign. The success lies in conducting A/B testing. This means that you and your team need to be hands-on with PPC and ad content creation. You should also have an adept website design team to make and launch as many landing pages as needed. If you’re able to successfully launch at least 2-3 landing pages simultaneously for A/B testing, your SEM ads will most likely result in success.
In this blog, we have presented a complete picture of the utility of using SEO and SEM to help you choose a strategy that works best for you. Having deep-dived into both practices and having explained the SEM SEO difference, we can say that SEM’s benefits do not necessarily exceed the advantages of SEO and vice versa.
They both have their unique advantages and disadvantages. Wisdom lies in adopting both SEO and SEM practices simultaneously to explore the benefits that come with both.
If you don’t know where to begin and are looking for the best SEO agency for outsourcing your SEO and SEM campaigns, get in touch. We’d like to hear from you.
We hope that you enjoyed this blog. Do leave a comment below to tell us what we can add to this blog.