SEO vs SEM: Which is Better for Your Business?

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SEO vs SEM are marketing processes that are used to generate brand awareness and website traffic through the use of search engines. By optimizing content and effectively utilizing digital space, many businesses are able to promote their services and see more success for themselves.

SEO vs SEM: Which is Better for Your Business?

Search optimization is an essential marketing strategy for brands trying to attract attention, drive website traffic, and grow their business. But search optimization can be a difficult strategy to manage if you don’t know how to compare SEO vs SEM.

The tactics may sound the same, but they are two very different approaches to search optimization. If you use the terms SEO vs SEM interchangeably and don’t know the differences between the two, you won’t be able to communicate a clear and effective strategy for improving your visibility in search.

This post will give you a clear understanding of the definition and value of each. It will help you answer the following questions:

  • What is search marketing?
  • What is SEM?
  • What is SEO?
  • SEO vs SEM- Which is better for my brand?

You’ll also discover SEO and SEM basics and strategies that will help you improve your visibility and performance in search. Take a look at our SEO vs. SEM infographic to help you visualize the differences between the two.

What is Search Marketing?

Before you can create a strategic search optimization strategy, you need to understand the terminology for this type of marketing. So let’s start at the top.

Search marketing relates to any tactic that helps a brand get attention by appearing on search engine results pages (SERPs) . It includes efforts to get higher rankings and increase search visibility so you can drive more traffic to a website or specific webpages.

There are two major categories within search marketing:

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

Because these terms can be interchangeable and mean different things to different marketers, always clarify the terminology before working with search partners. Discuss the definitions with your marketing partners to ensure that you are approaching the strategy with the same understanding.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a way to funnel in relevant traffic from the search engines by using PAID tactics to gain visibility in SERPs. is often considered the part of search marketing that So incase you are wondering “is SEM the same as paid search or PPC?” then the answer is yes.

SEM often refers to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and marketing. And while there are many PPC platforms in the search and social arena, by far the most sought-after and prominent option is Google Ads (formerly known as Google Adwords).

The aim of SEM is to help advertisers to be seen in the search engines and drive the right kind of traffic on SERPs without having to wait for it. Hence, in order to be a success with SEM, it’s pertinent to have a strong, dynamic SEM strategy to get the best return on investment (ROI).

A paid SEM strategy includes both the activities involved with setting up and optimizing ads as well as setting a budget or financial forecast that pays for the placement of ads.

Google Ads which are formerly Google Adwords is the search engine provider most commonly used for this strategy. With this strategy, brands conduct keyword research and create campaigns that has an objective of getting 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 each time a user clicks on the ad.

What is SEO?

SEO is included under the SEM tent, just that SEM as a whole includes other marketing strategies. While there is this overlap between the two, they’re not quite the same. Hence, let’s take a close look at these two.

SEO Search engine optimization (SEO) is a technique used to optimize a website to receive organic traffic from the search engine result pages.

Although organic search traffic is not paid, the process of search engine optimization may incur costs. Depending on the competition going on in the market you’re targeting.

The aim of SEO is to attract relevant visitors to your website that are interested in your products or services. However, optimizing to acquire targeted organic traffic is only one part of the task. The other part is getting this traffic in higher quantity by targeting multiple and relevant keywords.

Therefore, search engine optimization, is the part of search marketing that uses natural scheme to gain visibility in SERPs. With SEO, brands don’t pay for placement on SERPs. Instead, they use a variety of strategies that prompt search engines to show their content near the top of SERPs because the result is extremely useful and trustworthy.

SEO techniques are often grouped into three major categories.

SEO vs SEM – Which is Better For my Brand?

Now that you have compared SEO vs SEM, it will be easier to decide which scheme is right for your marketing strategies. To help you decide which is right for your brand, use what you know and as well consider the following.

The competition

Look at what your competitors have been up to how they are performing in their search marketing before you make a decision on how you can best compete with them. Research what search terms they rank naturally for. Consider if you can execute a plan to outsmart and top their SERP placements.

Also, take a good look at what paid terms they are using to drive traffic to their prospective sites. As you perform this research, look for gaps that you can fill and areas where you will be unable to compete in both paid and organic search.

This competitive analysis template can help you get a complete look at how you stack up to the competition in search and uncover opportunities for growth.

How well you know your Business

Eventually, if you have been in business for a while and already know what your customers want and how to best reach them. it is an easy way to build a long-term SEO strategy that will provide value over time.

If you aren’t sure how consumers and competitors will respond to your contribution or content, you may want to put into consideration an SEM campaign that allows you to test your ideas, products, and services.

Length of your typical customer buying cycle. 

If your products and services have a short-term customer buying cycle, meaning your customers know what they want, search for it, and buy it, it makes work easier for you as you may benefit from SEM ads that put your product right where customers will see it.

Whereas, in Longer-term buying cycles, where customers have to research and compare for weeks or months, may not perform as well with SEM, as there isn’t an immediate buy after seeing one ad.

Average cost-per-click in your industry.

Before deciding if SEM is right for your business, research and consider how much you’ll need to spend to show in paid search results. As keywords have differing cost-per-clicks based on competition.

If your cost-per-click is low, it might be the right tactic for you. On the flipside, a very high cost-per-click might make you decide if you’re better off by focusing on SEO.

Age of your business.

If you just opened your business and launched your website, it’s going to take a bit of time to develop your SEO and begin to appear organically in the search.

While that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put together an SEO strategy, it does mean that you could benefit from an SEM strategy until you build your SEO. SEM is an effective way to drive traffic while building organic SEO.

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