SEO & SEM: Understand Which Strategy is Best For Your Business

SEO & SEM: Understand Which Strategy is Best For Your Business

SEO and SEM are two different channels of search marketing that help businesses reach their target audience on search engines. Both SEO & SEM are parts that come under the umbrella term of Digital Marketing. SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It is a technique used to increase the visibility of your website and gaining higher ranks in SERPs (search engine result pages). Search engine marketing taps into both SEO and PPC for getting more traffic to your website:

  1. PPC (Pay per click): paid strategies to appear in search results (you pay to search engines like google to run ads)
  2. SEO (Search Engine Optimization): organic strategies to appear in search results ( you appear because the search engine finds your website relevant for users)

SEO and SEM: The Definition

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization that refers to various techniques used for garnering more traffic to your website and hence increasing the visibility of your website. In the case of SEO, brands don’t have to pay for their placements on SERPs (search engine result pages). Search Engine Optimization company generally uses an array of tactics that prompt search engines to show their content on the top of SERPs as they are found credible and authoritative by search engines. SEO is often grouped into 3 categories: On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, and Technical SEO. Delve into our detailed guide for SEO for in-depth knowledge of SEO. 

SEM includes everything that entails in SEO along with the PPC campaigns. You can also get your website in the paid area of the search results page through PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising on platforms such as Google Ads and Bing Ads. PPC campaigns are initiated with comprehensive keyword research and competitor insights. PPC includes setting up and optimizing paid ads to increase conversions and ROI(Return On Investment). Various kinds of PPC campaigns include the following: Search Ads, Display Ads, Gmail Ads, and YouTube Ads. But a lot of people use SEM as a synonym to PPC, so for the ease of your understanding, we will refer SEM as PPC in this article.

SEM vs SEO: The Similarities

  1. Both help in ranking better in SERPs: The basic function of both SEO and SEM is to help a brand appear in prominent positions in relevant search results. The common goal of various tactics of SEO and SEM used by best SEO agencies or SEO firms is to help a brand or business show up in the search results for specific keywords or terms which are related to the brand’s industry, business, or offerings. 
  2. Both are designed for driving more traffic to the website: Both SEO and SEM are extremely helpful for gaining more visibility i.e. Driving more traffic to your website. All the strategies and tactics related to SEO & SEM are employed by best SEO agencies to increase the CTR(Click-Through-Rate) and get more traffic or users to click on the search results. 
  3. Both SEO & SEM require knowing your audience: For succeeding at both the strategies, you have to have a good understanding of your audience and their patterns and behavior. A good Search Engine Optimization company will focus on getting to know your audience and their needs by using buyer personas and psychographic segmentation. Analyze what your audience is searching for before going about making valuable content that consists of various solutions related to your brand. 
  4. Both require keyword research to unravel the popular terms: Performing a thorough analysis of keywords is imperative to the success of both SEO and SEM. Good keyword research refers to looking for keywords with high popularity to determine the top keywords or buying keywords that your ideal audiences search for. Comprehensive and detailed keyword research also comprises looking at keywords that are targeted by your competitors. This helps in determining the keywords that you need to compete with other companies that belong to the same industry. 
  5. Both SEO and SEM target specific keywords: The core of both tactics is keywords. Hence both the strategies focus on targeting specific keywords that are identified during keyword research. All the SEO agencies or SEO firms will have extensive knowledge and research on the keywords relevant to your industry. 
  6. Both require testing and regular optimization: When discussing SEM vs SEO, you should be aware that neither of these two is a strategy that you can set and forget. Both SEO and SEM require continual testing, monitoring, and optimization for boosting the performance. 

Difference  between SEO and SEM

  1. SEM search result have ad extensions but SEO search results have featured snippets: Organic results in SERPs and paid results in SERPs look very different. Paid ads in SEM offer ad extensions that allow you to enhance a standard search ad with site links, callouts, phone numbers, and more. Unlike organic search snippets in SEO, ad extensions of these paid ads in SEM, you can have far more control over how and when these are displayed.
  2. You pay for every click: In the case of SEM, every single time the user makes a click on an ad, an advertiser pays for it. Hence SEM works on CPC (Cost Per Click) or CPM( Cost Per Thousand impressions). In the case of SEO, the advertiser doesn’t need to pay anything as the users click on an organic listing. 
  3. SEM drives result faster than SEO: The rate of ROI is different for SEO & SEM. When your SEM campaign is live, you can see immediate results within a few clicks. Your ads will be immediately displayed on search results with SEM campaigns. On the other hand, SEO can take time to bear results. It might take a few months to see organic results after you start an SEO strategy.
  4. SEO adds value over time SEM doesn’t: Both SEO & SEM are extremely beneficial for adding value to your business and contribute to ROI (Rate Of Investment). But the result of SEO is cumulative. SEO adds value over time and the ROI is compounded with passing time. Your SEO strategy will be built over time and the results will be long-lasting. In the case of SEM, the visibility will stop as soon as you stop the paid ads.
  5. SEM results show to select a target audience and SEO doesn’t: You can specify your target audience through SEM whereas that is not possible in the case of SEO. Through SEM you can select the categories of audiences by whom you want to be seen. It is possible to assign filters based on age, location, income, habits, and more via SEM but through SEO it is possible to specifically target or choose who will see your search results. 
  6. SEM is better for testing than SEO: SEM is considered as a great strategy for testing as you can immediately turn off SEM paid ads. You can revise your ad copy, target new audiences, and change the landing page content for testing your new tactics. You can see the differences in your strategies immediately because of the flexibility. This flexibility cannot be accomplished through SEO as it takes too much time to make changes as well as to monitor results. 

SEO and SEM: What is Better for your Business

SEO and SEM both have its advantages and disadvantages. There is no one strategy or formula that fits all businesses. Depending on your business goals, timelines, and budget, you have to decide which strategy would be most beneficial for your business or if there is a need to use both the strategies alongside to complement your digital marketing efforts. Consider the following to make an informed decision as to which strategy is better for your marketing strategy: 

  1. Consider your competition: You have to have a thorough understanding of what your competitors are doing and how they are performing in their search marketing. Research the search terms or keywords that they rank organically for.  Also, consider researching the paid terms that they are using to drive their traffic to their own website. While doing your research, look out for the gaps that you can fill.
  2. Consider your knowledge of your industry: If you have been in business for a while and you are well aware of what your customers want, you might want to add value to your business over time. Planning a good SEO strategy helps you in doing that. On the other hand, if you are not sure enough about the response of your customers and competitors, you can consider an SEM campaign that allows you to test your ideas, products, and services. 
  3. Consider the length of your typical customer buying cycle: If your customers have a short buying cycle that means your customers know what they want. In that case, you might benefit more from SEM ads. In the case of long customer buying cycles, customers research and compare for weeks or months and hence SEM is not a good option to opt. 
  4. Consider the average cost per click in your industry: Before going about investing in SEM, consider research on how much you’ll need to spend on your paid ads for the expected results. All the keywords have some varying cost per clicks based on the competition. A decent cost per click is always a preferable strategy.  
  5. Consider the age of your business: If you have recently launched your website or business, it might take some time to rank higher in the relevant SERPs organically. In this case, you can consider an SEM strategy besides building your SEO strategy over time. SEM is an effective way to drive more traffic to your website while building an organic SEO strategy. 
  6. Consider the current status of your website: Research your website before launching any search marketing campaign. This helps in understanding where your website has the potential to grow an organic SEO strategy. 

SEO or PPC: What to Focus

Once you have answer to the above listed questions, it would be much easier to understand the strategy that works best for your business. Below we have listed down the instances that you should consider

When to opt for SEO

  1. Budget constraints: If you have recently started your business or if you are a start-up, you should focus more on SEO. SEO is a long-term strategy that might take months or even years and the ROI is not instantaneous. It makes more sense to use SEO rather than burning through your market budget on PPC that might only run for a week.
  2. You can rank for informational keywords: Examples of informational keywords such as “What is X” or “How to X” are very common types of keywords that have a high search volume. If you can craft content on Google for customers on topics that they mostly search for embedding informational keywords, SEO is probably the best option.
  3. You can wait: SEO takes time to show results. So if you can wait for 6-12 months, you can see some legit traffic rolling into your website. In this case, SEO is the best option rather than paying for SEM.
  4. If you are good at link building: Crafting high-quality content is an imperative part of ranking good in Google. Besides that, you also need a few different link building strategies to get other sites to link to your website.

When to focus on PPC

  1. If you have a consistent ad budget: If you have a monthly for your ads, you can figure out the combination of keywords, ad copy, landing pages that can work best for you. One of the best things about PPC is that you can have a fixed budget.
  2. You can manage an AdWords account: PPC might sound super simple on the surface but in practice managing, a Google AdWords account is not a joke. The following should be taken into account while managing a Google AdWords account keyword targeting, ads, quality score, ROI, conversion rates. These are the factors that are responsible for processing all of the data for making decisions and how to get the most out of your ads.
  3. You have the ability to launch and test landing pages: One of the most important things that you need to learn about PPC is that you need to have target landing pages for each ad. To get the most out of your PPC, you need to launch a lot of different webpages. It is necessary to run A/B tests to figure out which one is performing the best. 


SEO and SEM are two completely different channels and they can’t be used together. Hence it is important to understand the purpose of SEO and SEM as a part of your wider marketing strategy. An in-depth understanding of both is necessary to drive success and gain a competitive advantage. If you are looking for SEO experts or an SEO company in India, we would be glad to hear from you. Chammach has over a decade of experience in the field of digital marketing and has been instrumental in making brands such as PS Group, Onething, Wysa successful with its strategic approach.

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