Comparing SEO vs. SEM: Differences, Benefits, and More


Search optimization is critical in today’s digital society. If you don’t have a solid optimization strategy, then it’s likely that your competitors are outranking you at every turn.

There are so many optimization acronyms floating around these days. How do you know which is right for your company?

It’s not as complicated as it may seem — we promise.

In this post, we’ll take a comprehensive look at the differences between …

  • SEO
  • SEM; and
  • PPC

… and how to leverage them all to get the best possible search engine results for your website.

SEO vs. SEM Comparison

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are separate strategies. While related, each should be a part of your company’s digital marketing strategy. 

To do SEM properly, you must also have an SEO strategy.

What do we mean? 

First, let’s get into the specifics of each SEO and SEM. Then we’ll come back to how they work together to increase your online visibility and drive traffic to your website.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. And that’s exactly what it is. 

It’s a strategy that organically increases your online presence. By optimizing your content, it’s now relevant to the search intent of Google’s users.

Simple, right? 

Not really. To successfully increase your organic traffic, you need a solid strategy. When implemented and executed properly, it should rank your company higher on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

This strategy should include:

  • On-page SEO — Optimizing individual web pages on your website using keywords to help the search engine understand the intent of the page.
  • Off-page SEO — Link-building strategies that give your pages more authority.
  • Technical SEO — Optimizing the backend of your website, such as speed, mobile-friendliness, site architecture, and more.

But, why SEO? What will it do for your company?

What Is the Goal of SEO?

The goal of SEO is to drive more traffic to your website. This presents you as an authority in your industry. 

Ultimately, you want more traffic to your website. But those visitors to your site won’t matter if your content doesn’t match the intent of their search. 

SEO not only increases the traffic to your site, but it also helps to convert those leads into customers. You’re giving them the exact information they’re looking for at the time.

And that’s the end goal … 

Drive organic traffic → Increase visibility → Generate leads → Convert to customers → Boost profitability. 

Ready to launch your SEO campaign? 

Contact one of the experts at SEOReseller to learn more about our white label SEO services. They’re designed to organically build brand awareness and increase your online presence.

What Does SEM Mean?

SEM stands for search engine marketing. 

It encompasses methods of digital marketing such as:  

Yes, that’s right. SEM includes SEO. 

However … 

For the purpose of this post, we are going to separate the two to give you a clear understanding of how both strategies work individually — and as a team.

What Is the Goal of SEM?

The goal of SEM is no different than the goal of SEO. However, SEM uses different marketing methods that go beyond SEO and include paid advertising as well.

So, why would you want to pay for advertising if SEO drives traffic organically?

At the end of the day, SEM and SEO have a symbiotic relationship. And when done properly, it’s the most effective way to improve brand visibility and get higher rankings in search engine results.

SEOReseller offers smart SEM solutions such as white label PPC campaigns

When you partner with us, we’ll personally manage your entire SEM campaign, including:

  • Keyword research and analysis
  • Building out the PPC campaign
  • Launching your PPC ads
  • Monitoring your traffic and CTR (click-through-rates)
  • And more

By combining our technology with our experience and methodology, we’ll maximize the value for you and your clients — and deliver the results you want.

SEO vs. SEM: The Difference

It boils down to the fact that SEO is organic and SEM is paid. Each has similarities that overlap, but also unique elements that separate them from each other.

For example …

Cost

While an SEO strategy may cost you either time or the services of a professional company, the strategy is long-term. And you don’t pay every time a user clicks on your page.

Whereas with SEM, you’re essentially paying for every click (PPC – pay per click), which can get costly. The strategy is short-term and intended to give temporary visibility or boost sales.

Both have their merits, but with SEM, you pay for lead generation and not all leads bring in sales. With SEO, your page remains active forever. 

You’re never charged when a user clicks on your page in an organic search result.

We wrote more about SEO Pricing here.

Timing 

SEM results in immediate visibility. SEO takes more time. 

With paid SEM ads, you have the opportunity to get your product or services at the top of the Google search. You’re in front of your audience immediately. The minute you launch your campaign, your ads show up in the SERPs. 

SEM can be turned on and off at any time.

SEO, on the other hand, is acquired over time and can take 3-6 months before you see the results of your campaign. 

The image below shows the organic traffic growth of a physical therapist who started their SEO campaign in April 2020 with a little over 1,100 visitors per month and now average over 43,000 organic visitors monthly.

Placement

When an SEM ad appears, it will generally have extensions, such as:

  • Additional links
  • Callouts
  • Phone numbers
  • Pricing
  • And more

Below you can see that the ad for swimwear includes additional links that may appeal to the user based on the original search.

When SEO search results appear, they may have a featured snippet (below). This snippet will give the reader a glimpse into the contents of the article. 

Google has determined that this particular web page contains the most relevant content to the original search. So it was placed in the number one position in the SERP.

Longevity

SEO is built to last and adds value over time. The strategy will grow and compound, resulting in lasting online visibility and lead generation.

SEM only generates leads for as long as you’re willing to pay for it. And in some cases, it can get very expensive with little ROI.

While they both serve a purpose, the lasting results of SEO make it a more worthwhile solo campaign. 

But combined SEM and SEO can pack a solid punch and give your business the organic traffic and lead conversion you desire.

SEO vs. SEM: How Are They Similar? 

Although there are some stark differences between SEO and SEM, remember that SEO is technically a part of SEM. But we’ll continue to treat them as two separate strategies throughout this post.

Let’s look at the similarities between SEO vs SEM marketing. 

Both strategies …

  • Improve your chance at ranking in SERPs
  • Increase traffic to your site
  • Utilize keyword research to determine the most popular search terms
  • Require you to have some knowledge and understanding of your target audience

… and require you to continually optimize and track your results.

Aimed at Increasing Search Engine Traffic 

The fundamental purpose of SEO vs. SEM is to create brand awareness and authority by appearing in the top positions on SERPs. 

The goal of each strategy is to help users find your brand when entering specific search terms that relate to the …

  • Services, 
  • Products; or 
  • Knowledge 

… offered on your site.

Designed to Drive Traffic 

Visibility is important. But what’s more important is driving more traffic to your website. 

Both SEO and SEM strategies are designed to increase click-through rates (CTR), ultimately increasing the number of users who view your content. 

Utilize Keyword Research to Understand Their Audience’s Search Intent

Keywords are the first step in both SEO and SEM. By targeting the keywords most searched by internet users, you can create your content to match the intent of that search. You’ll improve your chances of ranking on SERPs. 

Finding popular search terms (keywords) and then identifying how your competitors are performing for those keywords will give you a better idea of what you need to do to rank among — or better yet, above — your competition.

At the core of both SEO and SEM, you’ll find keyword research.

Using the keyword overview tool offered by SEMRush, we chose the popular search term “how to lose weight” to exhibit the importance of knowing the data behind each keyword before choosing one.

This particular keyword would be difficult to rank for if your website doesn’t have strong domain authority.

Finding a related keyword with a lower difficulty score would improve your chances of ranking in the SERPs. 

For example:

The related search term, or keyword, “how long does it take to lose weight” still has a high monthly search volume. But the difficulty is much lower and therefore, more attainable.

Must Be Continuously Optimized to Increase Performance

SEM requires you to continually fork out for PPC ads, display ads, and more. 

In addition, you’ll be required to ensure that your content is continually … 

  • Tested 
  • Monitored; and 
  • Optimized 

… to ensure peak performance.

SEO also demands the same attention — but without paying for your results. The process is slower in the beginning. But over time, SEO will continue to yield more organic traffic when optimized and monitored properly.

SEOReseller’s dashboard can give you a 360-degree view of the effectiveness of your campaigns. 

Built specifically for agencies and businesses looking to implement an SEO strategy, our dashboard allows you to see your progress at a glance, including:

  • Keyword rankings
  • Backlink analysis
  • On-page analysis
  • Organic traffic; and
  • Monthly trends

Contact SEOReseller for your free trial today.

Types of SEO

There are four pillars of SEO and when combined, have the greatest impact. 

They include:

When implemented properly, these SEO strategies promise to deliver long-lasting results and benefits, such as:

Search engine optimization is the best strategy to ace the competition with deliverables that stand the test of time.

Types of SEM

As you know, the term SEM technically includes SEO. 

But we’re focusing on the PPC tactics of SEM, which includes:

  • Bidding — Regardless of the type of ad you use (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), you must first bid on a specific keyword so that your ad appears each time a user searches for that specific term. When you get a click, you pay the amount you bid for it.
  • Quality Score — A high quality score depends on your click-through rate (CTR), landing page quality, and the overall score of your Google Ad account. It’ll earn you a discount for each click.
  • Ad Copy — Engaging and compelling copy is key to succeeding with PPC. Because it increases your CTR, it increases your quality score and profitability. 
  • Ad Groups and Accounting Management — Using the data in your Google Ads account, you’re able to optimize your overall ad spend.

SEO vs. SEM FAQs

Is SEO a Part of SEM?

Technically speaking, SEO is a part of SEM. 

Creating high-quality content that utilizes relevant keywords (along with search engine ads, such as PPC) will drive more organic and paid traffic to a website. SEM without SEO is simply paid advertising. 

The search engine results stop when the campaign ends.

Is Paid Search SEO or SEM?

SEM utilizes paid search advertising tactics, known as PPC. SEO focuses on driving organic search results through keyword research and content creation. 

SEM is a targeted campaign that places products or services in the view of the target audience, using:

  • Shopping ads
  • Display ads
  • Gmail ads
  • YouTube ads; and
  • Search ads

SEO vs. SEM: Which Is Better?

Assuming you’re only going to use one strategy (and we don’t recommend this), then it depends on what you’re hoping to achieve.

Let’s say your company is having a slow quarter and you need something that will bring in immediate results — this is where SEM comes in. It’s a quick and temporary tactic that can be used to kickstart sales or test a new offer.

SEO is focused on long-term growth and giving your website strong, organic visibility.

It may also depend on your profit margins. SEM can be expensive. You’ll need to estimate your CPC (cost-per-click) to determine if a PPC campaign will be at all profitable.

Should You Have an SEM Strategy and an SEO Strategy?

The best-case scenario would be to implement both an SEO and an SEM campaign. 

Look at it this way …

  • SEM is like hunting. You hit your target and it feeds you for a while. But, eventually, you run out of meat and you need to start all over again.
  • SEO is like planting seeds. You have to be patient and tend to your fields. But, if you plant enough, then over time you’ll grow enough to eat for years to come. 

But, if you do BOTH, then your plate is always full.

How to Decide Between an SEO vs. SEM Strategy for Your Company

SEO is the foundation of an SEM strategy. It leverages well-optimized content that adds value to your potential customers. 

SEM efforts are pointless without …

  • Blog content 
  • Landing pages; and 
  • Web pages 

… that are all optimized for search because your quality score with Google Ads will suffer.

Organic SEO improves your …

  • Rankings 
  • Increases your site’s credibility; and 
  • Provides users with engaging, quality content. 

However, some situations warrant focusing on SEM. 

For example, if you’ve just launched your company’s website and you want to quickly establish brand awareness through immediate visibility.

A strategic PPC campaign will help build your organic credibility, but you can’t rely on PPC over the long term. Think of it as a short-term solution to promoting your products and services while you continue to build a lasting brand presence with SEO.

Not sure which is best for you? SEOReseller can help.

Explore an SEO or SEM Strategy With SEOReseller 

Whether you’re …

  1. A business owner who knows the importance of combining an SEM and SEO strategy, but don’t know how to get started

OR

  1. An agency with your own clients and need help growing your business and increasing your bandwidth

SEOReseller is prepared to help you reach your SEO and SEM goals. 

Our full-service SEM and SEO are designed to drive traffic using white hat SEO and SEM strategies, including: 

  • A website audit
  • Keyword research
  • On-page optimization
  • Analytics tracking
  • Link building
  • Content creation
  • PPC ads
  • Remarketing ads
  • Display ads
  • And more

You can trust your entire digital marketing campaign to our team of capable specialists and our SEO and SEM management services.Contact us today to speak with one of our experts

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