SEO vs. SEM: What’s the difference and which one works best?

Digital Marketing Best Practices

Marketing continues to evolve thanks in part to digital tools and techniques. When the first website went live on the World Wide Web in 1991, it helped to usher in a new era of Internet advertising. Businesses now find themselves navigating the online advertising world of Google Ads, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

Which online marketing tool is best for growth in your market?

Marketing strategists generally agree that Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are vital tools for increasing brand awareness online. Which is best for your brand depends on individual marketing goals.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) first came to the digital marketing scene in 1997. Ranking high in search results was a relatively new concept at that time and was mostly directory driven. It more closely resembled an online Yellow Pages listing for websites.
Google defines SEO as: “The process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.”

Simply speaking, SEO drives traffic to a website organically through the use of strategically placed keywords and topics in the content on the website. This can include blog posts, product descriptions, information about your company and the services it offers. Well-placed SEO keywords should appear throughout all website copy. The biggest advantage of SEO is that it is free. There is no paying-per-click each time a prospective customer sees your business in a search engine and is redirected to your website. Working with a quality SEO agency to optimize your website will produce the best return on investment.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to paid search advertising techniques and tools, such as Google Ads, Bing Ads, and Yahoo. More commonly known as pay-per-click, this type of online marketing allows for targeting an audience based on keywords matching specific search criteria.

Key strategies for effective SEM include:

  • Launching ad campaigns for specific audiences
  • Identifying SEO keywords that target the intended audience
  • Writing relevant advertising copy using identified SEO keywords
  • Establishing an SEM budget
  • Monitoring ad campaign metrics (clicks, click-through rates and impressions)

Benefits of SEO and SEM

There are proven benefits of using SEO and SEM, especially among small businesses.

Optimising your website for search engines is the best way to extend your reach to your target audience, increase the visibility of your brand and allow for a better connection with new and existing customers. One of the most effective ways to optimize a website is through the use of SEO. Staying on top of the ever-changing rules of SEO engagement – especially where Google is concerned – is a necessary component of any successful SEO campaign. Companies that prioritise SEO on their websites are almost guaranteed to appear at the top of the search rankings (Internet Live Stats).

The top benefits of incorporating SEO and SEM into your marketing plan include:

  • Increasing website traffic
  • Increasing brand exposure
  • Extending reach to new markets
  • Extending availability

 

Choosing the Best Strategy

Seventy percent of marketers surveyed (databox.com) said SEO is more effective at driving sales than SEM. However, the best strategy for achieving maximum results involves combining SEO and SEM techniques to produce a stronger digital presence. SEO and SEM agencies can help identify and sort the best strategy for your business. 

SEO’s strength is in producing the kind of organic (free) results that are critical to longevity in the digital marketing platform. The benefit of using SEM lies in its ability to produce fast results. Linking the two together will result in a stronger digital marketing plan guaranteed to produce both quick results and long-term success.