Ask a digital marketing guru what are some of the building blocks in their field, and the answer will unmissably be SEO and SEM. SEO and SEM both have the same holy grails – to attract new customers, drive traffic to a website, and build and reinforce brand authority for a company.
But what’s the difference between SEO and SEM? Simply put, a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy uses organic methods to help rank a company’s website in Search Engine Page Results (SERPs), while a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategy uses paid methods for the same goal. If you’re asking yourself as an entrepreneur or a new business owner, “Which one of SEO vs. SEM is better for my website” keep reading to get the full juice.
Let’s Define Them – SEO & SEM.
Defined multifariously, SEO is a set of structured practices that organically allow a company’s website to be ranked high in SERPs. These could include a bevy of techniques like keyword research, backlink building, on-page/off-page SEO, technical SEO, white hat/black hat SEO, and more.
SEM pulls in different types of search advertising like running paid ad campaigns, using selective and paid keywords, and google ad techniques. SEM methods pay search engines ( per click) to display a company’s website for a set of keywords.
How SEO Drives Traffic to Your Website
The acronym SEO starts with “Search Engines”, like Google and Bing, which play a mammoth role in helping people find relevant, up-to-date, and valuable information online. Google uses a process called “Crawling”, by which a fully-automated software regularly explores the web to find and add pages (and their associated text, photos, and videos) to the Google index. Crawlers are the biggest targets for SEO, as they match keywords against countless pages of info to match the searcher’s intent. Companies use SEO strategies to improve their website’s visibility to crawlers to try and boost their ranking. With quality content as the common denominator, some of the SEO types are:
- On-page SEO: The most paramount of all types, on-page SEO activities include optimizing webpage content like written content, photos, videos, titles, headers, and meta tags. Although text content performs the heavy-duty work in on-page optimization through keywords, you may miss out on potential ranking opportunities if you don’t include images and other content types.
- Off-page SEO: A strategy that involves pulling in content from outside your website to build “Domain Authority” is called off-page SEO. Link building, backlinking, social media sharing, and other types of online PR typically fall under this category. In off-page SEO, it’s necessary to focus on perking up your website’s authority in your business. For example, if a partner company writes a blog post and includes a backlink to a blog on your website, this sends signals to search engines that your content closely relates to a specific business or keyword.
- Technical SEO: Some technical aspects of a website contribute to its ranking, like site loading time, mobile-friendliness, security, time stamping, and crawlability. When you work on optimizing these aspects, it’s called technical SEO.
One of the bull’s eye-hitting weapons of SEO is digital diagnostics. Without this figuring out what’s missing vs. what’s required, a new website could run into difficulties getting ranked. But with a meticulously designed diagnostic framework, it’s possible to hit big home runs in your ROI on SEO. Check out this case study where a 47% increase in SEO traffic boosted online sales by 102%.
How SEM Drives Traffic to Your Website
Tried SEO for some time and have not seen desired results? Maybe it’s time to notch things up through Search Engine Marketing (SEM). SEM uses paid methods on search engines to build visibility and rank higher than organically ranked competitors. Often used interchangeably with Pay-Per-Click marketing, SEM employs platforms like Google Ads to reach out to a company’s target group (TG). The focus here is to not only increase the number of searches that land on your website but also increase conversions to sales.
SEM implementation normally begins with full-blown keyword research, followed by competitor analysis. Then the company/agency could deploy any of the following digital ad campaigns: search ads, Gmail ads, YouTube ads, etc. Here’s SEM in action – when Toyota launches its new Camry by running a unique digital ad, its competitor Honda knows this ad will push users to do Google searches. Honda then could run a pay-per-click campaign against the keyword search “new Toyota Camry” and offer its own Accord car as an alternative and drive some of that traffic to its webpage.
With paid SEM, getting clicks and conversions is possible in a short span of time. You will be in full control of when and who to show ads to, slowing down or speeding up web traffic to your site, and even making the right channel for implementing SEM strategies. Check out our case study on how SEM helped an educational institution receive 3x applications using just a quarter of their marketing budget.
SEO vs. SEM – which one has better ROI
An umbrella of factors plays a role in determining the difference between SEO and SEM. Still, a basic one is – the budget you’re willing to shell out for digital marketing, i.e., Return of Investment (ROI). ROI can be tracked through website traffic (using Google Analytics), online sales, Social Media hits, etc.
As a general rule of thumb, ROI is better with SEO in the long run since it’s free to implement and lasts longer in an overall digital marketing strategy. It takes consistent effort and time (sometimes many months) to implement and see results, but once they come in, the results are quite long-lasting. A 2019 study found that organic clicks drove ten times more traffic than did ad clicks.
SEM impacts your results almost immediately. You could expect clicks within even a few minutes once your SEM ad campaign goes live. People whose buyer persona reflects alternative buying behavior could even convert into a sale for you! However, your visibility on SERPs will stop once your campaign is done, so the strategy isn’t really one for the long term.
Is it better to use SEO and SEM together?
Yes, there are indeed massive differences between SEO and SEM, but a combination of both tends to work marvelously for your digital marketing efforts. Here are how they can join hands:
- SERP Visibility: When customers look for products/services on search engines, SEO & SEM work together to give them the best results. Some companies use them in tandem to appear multiple times on SERPs.
- Keyword Research (KR): SEO & SEM give results depending on the relevance of keywords searched for. So when used together using KR, the ROI, especially for new websites, can be quite spectacular.
- One for the Other: Sometimes, results from an SEM effort can give valuable data points (like keyword performance, conversion rates, etc.) on how to approach an eventual SEO strategy.
Which one is better for your business?
If you’re a new business and want to get the best bang for your buck, ask yourself the below questions, and you will arrive at the best possible SEO vs. SEM answer:
- What industry are you in, what’s your TG, and who are your closest competitors?
- What is your specific digital marketing goal – short-term website traffic or organically building long-term domain authority?
- What investment are you looking to lay down for SEO/SEM?
In a nutshell, SEO and SEM go hand-in-hand to run your digital marketing engine, but by asking yourself the right questions, your company can easily outshine the competition and get ahead. A rock-solid KR strategy, some out-of-the-box ad campaigns, and some patience are the key ingredients towards acing the SEO/SEM efforts.