What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

As a full service digital marketing agency, a common question we receive from our clients is “Where will I see more success: SEO or PPC?” The answer isn’t as black and white as many would hope it to be.

When done correctly, both SEO and SEM can help get you on the front page of search engines for industry related keywords. But neither option is perfect. You need to look at your digital marketing strategy and your prospective customers to determine whether paid search, organic search, or a combination of the two is best for your company.

Below you will find the pros and cons of SEO and SEM, as well as some tips for choosing the right marketing tool for your business. In addition, we will also be going over how to integrate both SEO and SEM for improved results on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Showing the difference between SEO and SEM on Google

Advantages of SEO: Improve your Organic Traffic

Here at Today’s Business, we think of SEO like buying a house. It’s an investment, and every dollar you put in builds equity (in this case, the foundation of your online visibility). It requires a long-term strategy, but after you put the time and effort into it, you will reap great rewards. Some of the advantages of SEO include:

  • You Potential Customers Trust You

When your site is high up on the SERPs for non-branded keywords, it creates a sense of credibility amongst potential consumers. Many users like to skip over the ads, as they see organic results being more trustworthy. In addition, the more positive reviews you have, the more likely you will see conversions. Online users trust other users!

  • Improved Click Through Rate (CTR)

As stated above, many users ignore the PPC ads. This means that a higher percentage of users click on organic results. While there are exceptions to this rule, for the most part, you will generate more clicks from a highly placed organic listing than a highly placed advertisement.

  • No Cost Per Click Fee

While developing a strong SEO strategy takes time, effort, and money, traffic from organic search is technically “free.” With SEM, in addition to paying to develop a strong strategy, you are also charged for each click.

  • SEO is Sustainable

Unlike paid search, organic traffic does not disappear when you stop paying for it. While it is important to always stay on top of Google’s ever-changing algorithm, if there are periods of decreased marketing spend, you will still be generating traffic with help from your past efforts.

  • SEO Gives You an Advantage Over Your Competitors

Increasing your organic traffic is neither quick nor easy. While this may seem like a con, it can also be seen as a pro. Once you have built up your SEO strategy the right way and are seeing results from it, your competitors can’t just buy their way in. If they want to compete with you in the organic results, they must take the time and effort to do so. If your competitors are relying on PPC, you can beat them in the organic results.

The Difficulty of SEO

Of course, showing up organically has some challenges you will have to overcome. If you’re a new business or website and your competitors have spent years working on their SEO, it’s going to be difficult to compete against them.

In addition, if your keywords show results dominated by giant corporations, like Amazon or eBay, you may need to rethink your strategy. SEO is a combination of both technical and creative tasks, and if you don’t have the resources to keep up with both, you will not see success.

Advantages of SEM: Instant Results with Targeted Visibility

If SEO is like buying a house, SEM is like renting a home. Every dollar spent is immediately consumed, and when you stop paying, you no longer have access to that space. Unlike SEO, PPC ads provide immediate results, as there are many ways for you to control both your budget and target market. Some of the benefits of SEM include:

  • SEM Provides You Important Marketing Intelligence

With conversion tracking and an integration with Google Analytics, you will be able to see which keywords convert, as well as at what percentage and cost. This intelligence can also be used to help with your SEO efforts (as well as your other digital marketing efforts).

  • You Can Control Your Budget

PPC ads allow for a tight control of your budget. You can set how much you would like to spend per day, and once you have spent it, your ads will disappear. In addition, most local businesses who are targeting a small geographic area may find that SEM is a low-cost way to generate leads for your business. The less competition you have bidding against you, the cheaper it will be for you to run ads.

  • Offers Laser Targeting Abilities

While SEO targets people who search for specific keywords, SEM has more intricate targeting abilities. Not only are PPC ads targeted for specific keywords, but they can also be targeted by time of day, day of the week, geography, language, device, and audiences based on previous visits.

  • SEM Brings Instant Results

While SEM still involves creating a strategy, you can easily see results in weeks, whereas SEO will take months to see success. SEM is perfect for companies who are offering a new product or service. While it may take months to show up organically for this new product, your PPC ads will begin to show up immediately. In addition, because of this almost instant success, it makes it extremely easy to test what types of ads, landing pages, and call to actions work best with your audience.

  • Higher Position on the SERPs

No matter if people choose to scroll past them or not, paid search advertisements show up before the organic results. So even if people aren’t clicking on your ads, they are going to read your ad. And if they can’t find the product or service they are looking for in the organic results, they may search for your company for more information.

The Challenges of SEM

Just like organic search, there are both advantages and pitfalls of SEM. One of the biggest disadvantages is that paid search advertising requires a constant cash flow. Once you stop putting money into your ads, they will disappear from the SERPs. In addition, depending on your targeting and competition, PPC can be extremely expensive.

Which is Better for My Business: SEO or SEM?

Like we said earlier, choosing between SEO and SEM isn’t a black and white answer. What may be the better choice for your business now may not be the best choice next year. When trying to decide on which service to choose, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need leads now?
  • Am I looking at the long game?
  • How is my website authority?
  • What is the competition doing?
  • What is the cost per click for my targeted keywords?

Having clear short and long term goals are essential to making this decision. Here at Today’s Business, we’ve seen more success from our clients who decide to choose both SEO and SEM.

Using SEO and SEM to Help Your Online Visibility

SEO and SEM work the best when they are used hand in hand. By combining both, you gain the pros of both service, while many of the cons are cancelled out. Some of the major benefits of having both an SEO campaign and an SEM campaign include:

  • You can use the keyword and conversion data you receive from your ads as an insight on how to improve your organic rankings.
  • If you plan on offering a new product or service, you can run ads until you begin to rank organically.
  • You can test your keyword strategy with your ads before investing in a long term SEO strategy.
  • The total number of sessions to your website increases.
  • You can use the data from your PPC A/B testing to improve your organic landing pages.
  • After a user finds you via organic search, you can use remarketing to stay in front of visitors after they have left your page.
  • If you decide to stop running your ads, you will not totally disappear from the SERPs.

In need of more assistance to decide which digital marketing option is best for your business? Don’t hesitate to contact us today! We will be happy to asses your current situation to see which service(s) will bring you the best ROI.