SEO vs SEM

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is primarily focused on optimizing a website to get more free traffic from organic search results.  Search engine crawlers understand a well-optimized website, and that boosts the chances of higher ranking in search engine results pages (SERP).

The main pillars of SEO

Search engines consider many SEO factors to rank websites, the majority of which no one knows what they are. However, the main component of SEO can be divided into three categories. That is:   

Technical SEO

Refers to all changes you make to help search engines crawl, index and rank your website effortlessly. Some of the changes you can make include optimizing robots.txt for crawl efficiency, improving page speed, and using hreflang tags for multilingual content.  

Refers to the process of optimizing a website to help search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website more effectively. Technical SEO has nothing to do with website promotion or the actual content of the website. Specifically, technical SEO focus on optimizing the infrastructure of a website. Some of the changes you can make include optimizing robots.txt for crawl efficiency, improving page speed, and using hreflang tags for multilingual content.

On-site SEO

On-site SEO refers to the practices of optimizing individual webpage and content for specific keywords. Here are some of the things you can do:  

  • Adding keywords in crucial places
  • Using short and descriptive URLs
  • Matching search intent
  • Writing simple and easy to read content and more

Off-site SEO

This refers to actions you take outside your website to boost its trust among search engines or simply to increase its rankings within SERPs. These actions include:

  • Getting backlinks from authoritative and relevant sites
  • Building citations
  • Optimizing your Google My Business listing*

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM), on the other hand, focuses on methods that increase your visibility in search engine results pages through both organic traffic and paid traffic (PPC advertising). 

Through PPC advertising, you pay to appear on search results instead of ranking organically through SEO. For example, through Google Ads, your ads can appear in the Google search result. You just pay for ads to appear on the Google results page, and you only pay for the clicks on your ads. That explains why the entire process is called Pay Per Click (PPC).

Is paid search the same as SEM?

Paid search or simply PPC is a component of SEM, but you will find many marketers who equate PPC to SEM and vice versa. SEO is also a component of SEM. So, basically, SEM is broader term, combining both PPC and SEO efforts. Without knowing or understanding your current ranking position, you won't necessarily create the most effective PPC campaign. You might rank number one in position for a certain keyword and if you plan on using ads for the same keyword, it might not make sense. Essentially, they need to work together.

Do Google ads help SEO?

Google ads or paid ads do not contribute to your ranking; however, they can help in connecting with a broader audience online. You can, however, understand what keywords or phrases convert the most, and learn how to I crease your ranking position. 

Which is better, SEO or SEM?

Long-lasting results

SEO guarantees long-lasting results when done well. If your site ranks well for target keywords, you are guaranteed to enjoy all SEO benefits, including free traffic round the clock. With PPC, you pay to rank, and when you stop paying, the traffic disappears.

It is good to note that SEO is not totally free. There are costs involving SEO, for example, when you hire a freelance writer or an SEO expert. If you plan on writing the content yourself, consider the hours you will spend preparing that content. If using SEO tools, like SiteGuru (saying hi), you pay to use it. You may also have to hire a designer to prepare engaging images. Basically, don’t be fooled that SEO is entirely free. 

More time to work

You need to be patient to reap from SEO. Sometimes you can wait months at a time or year or two for your SEO to pay off. PPC is instant. 

Included channels

SEM encompasses SEO, PPC, local, display, and more, while SEO online focuses only on  organic search engine optimization. 

Targeted

SEM is usually targeted. You don’t pay for ads without an audience in mind. With SEO, you can create content for the general audience. 

As you can see, if you need to get traffic faster, opt for paid advertising. But if your focus is long term, then SEO is your answer. But don't just consider wanting faster results. SEO can have a longer ROI. An article you spend time and wrote can rank well with SEO for years. So once you spent the time or budget on SEO, it's a growth and long term strategy.

But is it ok to use both approaches at the same time?

Yes, it is recommended to use SEO and PPC at the same time because sometimes PPC works best, and other times, SEO is the better option. Here are ways to use PPC, SEO, or both to increase traffic and visibility.

Runs ads for keywords that are too competitive

As mention earlier, it can take years to rank some keywords. While it is ok to be patient, when it comes to competitive keywords, it makes sense to focus on PPC. Consider when you want to rank for competitive keywords like “recurring billing software” against well-established brands. If you need quick results, PPC guarantees you a position. However, depending on your industry the cost of acquisition can create an obstacle for your overall ROI. Therefore, it is ok to start with PPC as you focus on SEO or invest in some quality content to rank for that position. 

Here are some benefits of using PPC when focusing on SEO:

  • Instant revenue: PPC pays off immediately. For example, you can pay for ads in the morning and start making sales in the afternoon.
  • You can test and optimize for conversions: The majority of ad platforms have tracking features that will allow you to carry out various tests and optimize until sure what is working for you.
  • You get valuable keyword data: The “Search terms” report in Google Ads shows conversion data for the keywords you’re bidding on. With this data, you can know which keywords are actually paying off and are the easiest to rank for organically.

Use SEO and PPC for ad-heavy keywords

Investing in SEO and PPC do pay off well for ad-heavy keywords or profitable keywords. For example, have a look at the results of "invoice software"

invoice_software_Google_Search

As you can see, PPC dominates, and SEO probably gets little attention. However, this does not mean SEO is not effective. A deeper look at the organic traffic to the current top-ranking page for this keyword “SEO agency” shows that it gets roughly 3,500 monthly organic visits and the cost per click is $21.02. That explains why it is wise to invest in both SEO and PPC. You might not want to consider using PPC since the cost per click might be too much.

invoice software keyword

Use SEO for informational keywords

People often search for information on the web. This means they are more focused on learning, not buying. Now put that into consideration, it is then ok to use SEO for informational keywords. Using PPC on that particular keywords makes no financial sense as you are likely to get low or no reward at the end of the day despite investing heavily.

Use PPC and SEO to monopolize the search results

Organic search results continue to be pushed down by Google’s efforts to display more SERP features like People also ask, video carousels, and featured snippets. This can hurt your effort to rank higher, but remember it is still possible to appear in many SERP features, including video carousel, featured snippet, and video snippet. 

Basically, how you choose to monopolize the search results is up to you, but the key is leveraging SEO and PPC to the fullest.

Conclusion

SEO or SEM? These two tactics are very crucial in achieving the desired results. At one point, SEM will work best, and other times SEO will be the king. Knowing when to use each to achieve the best results is the game. You can even manage them at the same time if you feel you have the muscles to do so. Need further support? We are here to help.