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SEO vs. SEM Advertising

Many people confuse SEO (search engine optimization) with SEM (search engine marketing) because they are two very different sides of the same coin. Both SEO and SEM are designed to increase traffic to your site. The idea behind both strategies is that an increase in online traffic will increase the number of sales on your site. Both of these methods have shown results in increasing online sales, but they work in incredibly different ways.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO works to increase your ranking on Google or other search engines through website optimization and backlinking.  Having a higher ranking will get you more traffic to your site. The first link on a Google search gets the majority of hits; the second link gets around half as many, and so on.

Website optimization involves the following:

  • Page Title & Description Creation
  • Sitemap Creation
  • Robo.txt Creation
  • 301 Redirects
  • Setting Up Google Webmaster Tools
  • Content & Article Writing

Given the complexity of search engine optimization, most companies will hire an SEO specialist to perform the above tasks which involve initial fees as well as monthly maintenance fees.

The biggest drawback of SEO is that it can take a long time to see results. In most cases, it can take up to 6 months to gain significant ranking increases. At the same time, though, the efforts of SEO will last for quite some time while bringing in traffic at no additional costs.

Search Engine Marketing

Like SEO, SEM seeks to gain traffic from search engines, but through very different means. SEM uses tools such as Google AdWords, and Pay-Per-Click Advertising to create traffic for your site.

Google AdWords is a powerful platform designed by Google to display your ad when certain keywords are searched on Google and their partners.

Most SEM platforms, such as Google AdWords, are relatively easy to set up on a basic level and are generally charged on a pay-per-click basis. SEM allows you to show up on the first page of searches for your targeted keywords within hours vs several months. You are also able to easily manage your marketing budget, determining how much you want to spend on a monthly basis. The budget doesn’t necessarily impact your position as this is determined by per-click bids and relevance which means you could advertise your website even with a limited budget.

The drawback of search engine marketing is that, unlike organic search results obtained through SEO, you must pay for each click to your site and continue to pay as long as you keep your campaign running. Also, given the high level of competition, it is important to create a quality campaign with tightly themed ad groups, high converting ads, and proper setup.


So, in the argument between SEO and SEM, which is better?

Statistically, it is actually beneficial to utilize both SEO and SEM when marketing your business. When a user searches a term on a search engine and sees your company at the top of the paid listings as well as the organic results, they are 28% more likely to convert versus only seeing your listing in one or the other.

If it comes down to choosing one or the other, you should determine how quickly you want to start increasing your traffic and sales. SEM will grant instant gratification while SEO will take several months. Many companies will actually start using both at first; SEM to provide traffic while they wait for their SEO results, and later stop the paid advertising in favor of the free organic traffic as a result of their SEO efforts.

If you have additional questions, feel free to contact us!