Connect with us


SEO vs SEM: What Is the Difference and Which Is Better For Your Business



SEO vs SEM What Is the Difference and Which Is Better For Your Business

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Do you want to see explosive results from your digital marketing efforts? You need to have an online presence. Internet Live Stats estimates that over 3.5 billion searches are done daily on Google alone. But to the marketers, the question is, what is the best way to get your brand among the search engine results?

The answer to that question depends entirely on the type of results you need. If the goal is getting organic traffic on your website in the long term, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the way to go. Otherwise, to get fast, paid results, use Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

So, where should you invest, SEM or SEO? Both strategies have some similarities and some differences. One of their biggest similarities is they aim to drive traffic to your website or online business for more leads and conversion. However, they approach it in different ways. However, knowing when to employ either strategy could mean the difference between a soaring or sinking digital marketing campaign.

So, what is search engine marketing? What is its difference with search engine optimization? Between SEO and SEM, which one is better for your business? Read on to understand what the two strategies mean and when they can best be used in your business. But before diving deeper, let us understand what they both mean.

SEO vs SEM What Is the Difference and Which Is Better For Your Business

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization or SEO refers to a digital marketing technique used to increase the quantity and quality of the organic or unpaid traffic to a business website. The goal is to increase the visibility of your website by ranking it higher on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). SEO encompasses many practises that make a website more attractive to the search engines, like publishing relevant and quality content, making the site more responsive, optimization of graphics, among other practises. We can group SEO into; on-page, technical, and off-page SEO.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM is a collective term that describes the techniques enabling your website to get attention on the SERP while increasing its traffic. Search Engine Marketing comprises several paid strategies to be present in a search like PPC (Pay Per Click) ads and other paid ads on the Google-specific platforms (Google shopping, Google My Business, etc.).

While SEO strategy focuses its attention on organic traffic ranking, Search Engine Marketing uses pay-per-click and other paid ads to gain visibility and get traffic on the search engine results page. The fundamental difference between the two is the payment. SEO is unpaid, while SEM is a paid strategy.

As pointed out earlier, the primary aim of the two strategies is to deliver more traffic to your online business. However, they differ in the way they get the traffic. Let us look at their differences to know which one between SEO and SEM is better for your digital business.

SEO vs SEM What Is the Difference

Technology photo created by –

The Differences Between SEM And SEO

1. While SEO Only Displays Featured Snippets, The Search Results On SEM Allow For Ad Extensions

There are ad extensions in SEM search results. The extension is directly beneath the search result and may include the callouts, lead forms, site links, and location. By directing the users to the page, they want to visit based on their intent; the ad extensions help increase the amount of traffic your website gets. Conversely, only the features snipped are present on the Search Engine Results Page.

2. For Testing, SEM Is Better Compared To SEO

You can turn the paid ads on and off in search engine marketing, making it a brilliant choice for testing. You can do things like targeting a new audience, choosing the content for the landing page, or changing or modifying the ad copy to test and get the immediate difference in your marketing strategy. Search Engine Optimization does not allow for this kind of testing. Therefore, it means you can quickly change the game plan if the selected SEM strategy is not working.

3. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Allows For Audience Selection While SEO Does Not

Control is critical in business. Although both SEO and SEM digital marketing techniques allow audience targeting, only SEM allows you to select a specific audience. When putting together the paid ad campaign, users can set up several filters like age, income, and location to narrow down the person who will see the ad.

Audience optimization can reduce the cost per click while improving the quality of leads generated by your website. With SEO, you cannot select an audience down to such detail. However, you can target the audience in SEO based on their search intent by using long-tail keywords.

4. While SEO Results Are Unpaid, You Pay For All User Clicks On SEM Results

As we introduced earlier, one of the fundamental differences is payment. While all search results in SEM are paid, SEO results are unpaid. Because Search engine marketing is a paid ad campaign, it means that every time a person clicks on the result; they charge the business some money. Search engine optimization results are free and do not charge the business anything when a user clicks on the organic results.

5. With SEM, You Get Immediate Results While It Takes Time To Get Results In SEO

You can get easy and quick wins almost immediately because you pay to remain on top of the SERP. You can also tweak the audiences when the data indicates low traffic at a certain period. Although the results in SEO are long-lived, it could take you from months to years before your business ranks at the top of the SERP.

Which One Between SEM And SEO Is Better For Your Business?

The answer to this question depends on several considerations like the business goals, what your competitors are doing, your margins, the current state of your website, among other several factors. If you want immediate results, SEM is the way to go. However, the benefits of SEM may be short-lived. The results of SEO are long-lasting as people come to trust your brand.

SEM is preferable if your website needs a lot of SEO improvement, has no content, or has poor loading speeds. If there is high competition for keywords in your industry, SEM should be the way to go. Search engine marketing is also helpful when a business wants to test a new service or product. If you plan on increasing the monthly or weekly sales with scalable and immediate wins, the SEM strategy will yield the best results.

SEO comes in handy to build trust, credibility, and awareness regarding your brand. Because of the strategies involved, it is best to improve your website and drive long-term growth in your business.


Regardless of the strategy you select, the ultimate goal is to generate more traffic and leads for your business. However, there are scenarios where SEM is preferably better compared to SEO, especially when launching a startup or a new product.

SEO is an incremental process where you improve all the aspects of the website, including content quality, comprehensiveness, and authority. It is a free strategy. SEM is a paid ad service that will deliver you results immediately if you execute them properly.

Mike is a senior SEO strategist at Nine Peaks Media, a B2B SEO agency that helps SaaS, software, IT and technology companies rank on the first page of Google with effective content marketing strategies. Nine Peaks offers performance-based inbound marketing, conversion rate optimization and search engine marketing services.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *