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SEM vs SEO: Which is more important for your business?

A question we often get from our digital marketing clients is about SEM vs SEO and which of these would benefit their business more. In order to make that decision, you would have to consider the pros and cons of both. You would also need to look at how these relate to your unique business needs. But before that, it’s important that you understand the key differences between SEM and SEO.

Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is also often referred to as Google advertising, paid search advertising or pay-per-click advertising (PPC). SEM is a form of digital marketing that uses paid advertising to increase website traffic and search visibility. In other words, businesses will pay for their ads to show on search engine results pages (SERPs), along with the organic results.

With SEM, you can target specific keywords of your choice by bidding on them. When a user then searches for that keyword, your ad will appear in the search results. You will only pay Google or the search engine if the user actually clicks on your ad and goes to your website.

Search Engine Optimisation

So, what is SEO? Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is another form of digital marketing. It can be described as the ongoing process of optimising a website to improve its organic visibility and rankings in the SERPs. The aim of SEO is to make websites more discoverable for search engines and to bring more traffic to the website organically.

There are different types of SEO strategies used to improve a website. These include technical SEO, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. All of these need to be incorporated in your digital marketing strategy in order to improve the overall SEO of your website.

What is the difference between SEM and SEO?

In short, the biggest difference between SEM and SEO is that the former is paid for and the latter is organic. This means that with SEO, the goal is to bring traffic to your website through organic search results. With SEM, however, you are bringing traffic to your website by getting people to click on your paid ads on search engine results pages.

To the user, the obvious difference in the search engine results pages (SERPs) is that the paid ads will be shown at the top, and sometimes on the side, of the page. The word “Ad” would also appear next to the paid ads. And the organic results will be shown below the ads on the page. Both SEM and SEO, however, have pros and cons to consider.

Pros of SEM

One of the benefits or pros of SEM, compared to other forms of digital marketing, is its ability to show your ads to the users that are most likely to purchase. SEM also allows you to compete with some of your biggest competitors, whereas with SEO, it would take a long time before you would be able to outrank them organically.

Another important pro of SEM to consider is the fact that results are instantaneous. As soon as you start the SEM process, you can start driving traffic to your website and convert leads. With SEM, you also only pay for the ads when users actually click on them, which makes it a cost-effective marketing strategy.

Pros of SEO

One of the benefits of SEO is that it’s longer lasting. If your website is ranking high organically for a specific keyword in the SERPs, you won’t easily lose the ranking again. It will continue adding value and bringing traffic to your website for free for a long time. With SEM, however, the moment you stop paying for advertising, you’ll stop getting traffic.

Research has also shown that the organic results often get more clicks than paid ads, even though they are shown below the ads. A possible reason for this could be the fact that people tend to trust Google and other search engines to show them the most relevant and valuable results for what they are searching for.

SEM vs SEO: Which one is better?

One of the most common questions we get asked by clients is “which is better, SEO or SEM?” And as we’ve time and time again had to explain, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. As you’ve seen, both SEO and SEM have their own pros, as well as cons. The one that is better for your business would be entirely dependent on your unique business needs, industry and objectives.

For example, if you have a new online business and need to compete with other larger, already established businesses, SEM would probably be best. SEO takes time and SEM would be able to increase brand awareness and get you in front of potential customers almost immediately. On the other hand, if you have a small local business and not much competition, SEO would most likely be more beneficial. Because it is free and long-lasting, good SEO can be enough to bring in leads and website traffic over time without having to spend much money.

Ultimately, both SEM and SEO are important. It truly is more about what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it. If you do need to make a decision between SEM and SEO, make sure you consider your short, as well as long-term, goals. Ideally, an integrated approach that includes a mix of both would be the best solution.

SEM and SEO: Why combining the two is best

In most cases, we would suggest using a combination of SEO and SEM. Not only do they benefit a business in different ways, but they also complement one another. In other words, SEO can actually have a positive effect on your SEM, and vice versa. These two strategies have proved to be most effective when they are working together.

One of the ways that they can be used together to drive results is by using paid ads to push blog content for SEO to reach more people online. This leads to more people landing on your website, potentially becoming customers or linking back to your content from their own websites. This in turn, improves your website’s SEO. Good SEO can also have a direct effect on SEM, as it can lower paid advertising costs.

You are also able to use keyword and conversion data from SEM to drive your SEO strategy. For example, important keywords that are too expensive or competitive for PPC could be included as organic keywords for SEO instead. Alternatively, you could focus on both and ensure that your website shows up in the organic results, as well as ads.

Not only will this increase the amount of traffic to your website, but it will also increase awareness and trust if you have strong paid and organic visibility. Another advantage of using them together is for remarketing purposes. Once someone has been to your website via organic search, you can use paid ads to remarket special offers to them or get them to return and purchase.


So, if you’re still thinking of digital marketing in a way where you view it as SEM vs SEO, you need to start rethinking things. As you’ve now seen, both SEO and SEM are important, each with their own pros. For the best possible results, however, it’s better to have an integrated approach and use them together. If you would like to find out more about any of our digital marketing services, please feel free to get in touch.

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