SEM or SEO: Which Is Right For You?

Categories: SEO / SEM

The digital marketing world is full of acronyms. Between CMS, CTR, CPC and many others, it can be hard to keep them all straight. SEO and SEM are two such acronyms that may appear to be similar, but refer to very different areas of digital marketing. Both create unique opportunities and challenges for those who employ them. The question is: which one does your business need?


SEO - Search Engine Optimization


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In short, SEO aims to make adjustments to your website so that it can be easily read and crawled by search engines. These adjustments will help increase click-through rates on your website, give you greater authority online, and increase your rank in the search engine results, among many other benefits. And that's only the tip of the iceberg. If you'd like an in-depth overview of all the inner workings of SEO, check out our blog post, What Is SEO, Anyway?


SEM - Search Engine Marketing


SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. Initially, this may sound very similar to SEO. At one time both terms did in fact mean the same thing. But now, SEM solely refers to paid search advertising. These are the ads that show up at the top of the results page whenever you use a search engine. This is also often called PPC (pay per click) advertising.


A Search Engine Marketing campaign is started by choosing an objective and a search engine to run ads on. (Unsurprisingly, Google AdWords is the most popular). The next step is to create ad copy and choose keywords to bid on, along with choosing a maximum bid for each keyword.

There are two major factors that play a role in determining your ad position in a search result; max bid price and quality score. Your max bid is the highest amount you're willing to pay per click for a specific keyword. Quality score is determined by how relevant the search engine feels your ad and destination page are to the keyword that is being targeted. Since quality score is partially based on how relevant your destination page is, you can already begin to see why SEO is essential in improving results for an SEM campaign.


Based on that information, (as well as your competitors metrics) the search engine will display your ad in the results pages when your targeted keywords are searched, Assuming your max bid is competitive, the ads most relevant to the keyword that also link to an equally relevant website will have a higher chance of ranking in the first few positions . Less relevant ads, ads linking to irrelevant websites, or ads with bid prices that are too low will show in a much lower position.


But Which Do I Need?


SEO and SEM do have quite a few similarities on the surface. Both deal with targeting the right keywords, making web pages relevant to those terms, and encouraging users to click through and convert on your website. But there is no universal solution when it comes to choosing between the two based on their differences. It depends on the goals you're trying to achieve with your digital marketing campaign.


SEO is the Long Game


SEO is more of a long-term strategy. Optimizing a website for specific terms takes time, both to implement and for search engines to recognize. It's not uncommon for it to take months of work to see significant progress. Therefore, SEO often works better for established businesses in smaller niches. These traits can make it easier for a business to establish themselves in organic search results. SEO also works well when a business already has leads coming in from other sources. This way the business can afford to spend some time building up a reputable online presence, without worrying about generating new customers right away.


However, the long term effects of SEO are unparalleled. Consistently appearing on the first page of Google is unquestionably desirable to many businesses, and it's something that can only be achieved by a strong SEO strategy.


SEM Starts Working Today


SEM tends to be more successful in the short term. When you begin an SEM campaign, your ads become visible to people searching for your keywords immediately. There's no delay like there is with SEO. Therefore, this often works well for businesses who will have trouble ranking organically, which can happen for many reasons. A brand new domain or new business will have to build an online reputation before search engines will give them authority in the results pages. Likewise, if your business is in a very competitive industry, ranking organically may be very difficult due to stronger competitors with larger budgets. And if you can't afford to wait weeks or months for SEO leads to come in, SEM may be a better route.


While the idea of having immediate results may sound appealing, SEM is not without its drawbacks. It has been shown that many users are skeptical of paid advertisements. Most users are more trusting of sites they navigate to from organic results. Additionally, many users ignore the paid search results entirely and only look at organic listings. While using SEM may get you leads sooner, in the long run you're missing out on a significant amount of valuable traffic if you ignore SEO.


Why Not Both?


The good news is that you don't have to decide between SEM or SEO if you don't want to. You can have the best of both worlds and use both of these strategies. In fact, you will likely get even better results using them together.


For example, if you optimize a web page for a keyword to increase your organic rankings, you can also use that page in your search advertising campaign. An optimized page will be seen as more relevant, and will potentially give your ads higher positions and a lower cost per click. Inversely, your ad campaign will be sending qualified traffic to your website. If your website is optimized for conversions, chances are greater that these visitors will then turn into customers.


In a perfect world, a business owner should employ both SEM and SEO as part of their digital marketing strategy. They both bring different aspects to the table that complement each other very well.  However, they each can create great results for you on their own as well, as long as you're well informed of the advantages of each.


Ready to talk to someone about an SEM or SEO campaign? Get in touch with 360 PSG today!

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