SEO vs. SEM: Understanding the Differences and Choosing the Right Strategy
As an SEO consultant, a question that I frequently find in my client’s heads is the fact that they are not clear about the difference between SEO positioning and SEM. Therefore, they do not know if it would be more feasible to invest and bet more strongly on organic or paid positioning.
SEO, SEM, and PPC. These terms have been used interchangeably for quite some time. But are they really the same?
I wanted to focus this article on clarifying the definition of each of these strategies and providing you with a clearer understanding of the characteristics, differences, advantages, and disadvantages.
So let’s get to it!
What is meant by SEO, SEM and what exactly is PPC?
SEO is the optimization of websites for search engines whose objective is to make it easier for search engine “web spiders”, “bots” or “spiders” to understand your website in order to show it in the SERPs or organic search results, a result when people search for a specific term (“query”).
We must bear in mind that the main mission of search engines is none other than to satisfy the demand for information from users. Therefore, these will show the results that you think can best serve the user’s search intent.
On the other hand, SEM is search engine marketing (Search Engine Marketing) and consists mainly of paying for ads to appear in the first search results when people search for information.
In general, SEM stands for PPC, which is pay per click (Pay per click), since you pay each time someone clicks on your ad.
Each one is complex in its own way and I don’t want to extend myself too much because it could be a post of more than 5000 words. But I am sure that with the following image, you will understand perfectly what is SEO and what is SEM.
The section at the top of the search results is usually ads and has a small ad box at the beginning of the link.
Organic search results, or SEO, look pretty much the same, except for the ad box next to the link.
However, there are different types of search results depending on your search. You can find the following types of results in the Google SERPs:
- Google Maps results (some are SEM and some are SEO)
- Product results (these are mostly SEM, Google Shopping )
- Rich Snippets or enriched fragments (can be SEO and SEM)
- Knowledge Cards/Graph (always SEO)
- Featured Snippets
This is what the various SEO and SEM results look like in Google searches. Different parts of each search results page (SERPs) are available for SEM and some are only for organic results.
Differences between SEO and SEM
The first thing that will come to mind about the difference between SEO and SEM, surely, is the cost. The traffic derived from an SEO strategy is “free” traffic and SEM requires a lot of investment to generate traffic to your website, right?
SEO is not free, the investment required to develop an adequate SEO strategy is different and the reward is not so fast. However, the benefits derived from SEO are with a much more long-term projection. Not only that but there is much more trust in organic search results than in ads.
The biggest difference between SEO and SEM comes from the longevity and investment of each.
SEO positioning takes a long time to “explode” and start giving results, while SEM is quick to generate results but keep in mind that those results will last as long as your investment.
In other words, as long as you pay you will be up and getting results. Results will disappear as soon as the money stays in your pocket.
SEO, a priori, requires more resources at the beginning of the project (either in time or money depending on whether you do it yourself or not), but once you get traffic, you will continue to get it with minimal maintenance and cost.
However, SEM will continue to cost you money as long as you want to get traffic and results from your strategy.
Each one has its benefits and drawbacks as you can see. The difference lies in the acceleration time and the long-term investment, as we can see in the following results curve.
There are challenges for both SEO and SEM. Before deciding on one or the other, you must understand the main aspects involved in each one.
Aspects to assess in SEO and SEM
Both SEO and SEM have their own complexities and aspects to assess. It doesn’t always come down to cost or time. Both should be linked to the quality, strategy, and objectives that we seek with it.
With SEO, even if you do everything right on your website, you won’t always make it to #1 in the search results (SERPs). As for SEM, you should not limit yourself to just launching an ad to your “homepage ” or “Landing” and expect to be successful.
So what are some of the challenges in both strategies?
Necessary Optimization in SEO
SEO actions applied must continually evolve to keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithms. But one thing is constant: SEO is made up of optimizations within the page (SEO OnPage) and outside the page (SEO OffPage or Linkbuilding) that is, “on the site” and “off the site”, these being its two main pillars.
On-Page SEO Elements
- Optimized metadata, which includes the SEO title tag of the page, the meta description, the header tags (H1, H2…), and the ALT tag of the images, will incorporate the keywords for which we want to position.
- Contents (texts) correctly optimized through strategic keyword research (Keyword Research) that most interest our business.
- URLs of “clean” pages (without underscores or characters) and with the chosen keywords for which we want to be above the “rankings”.
- Loading speed optimized and recommended, below 2 seconds.
Integration with social networks to share your content.
Off-Page SEO Elements
- “ Link building”: Creating, “earning” or “buying” links (be careful with this practice) will help increase the authority of your website and, consequently, will help you obtain better positioning.\
- Social signals (for example, increasing traffic to a website from social networks)
Attract the attention of “social Bookmarks” such as Reddit, Digg, “Quora” or “Meneame”.
- Create high-quality, valuable content that your target audience might find useful, such as blog articles. This helps establish some authority over time and results in more organic traffic, more opportunities to get backlinks, and most importantly, more conversions.
Pay attention to on-page and off-page optimizations to ensure that your website gains positions and gets the organic traffic you deserve.
Considerations in an SEM Strategy
SEM strictly involves gaining search visibility through paid ads on search engines like Google. These ads are commonly known as pay-per-click (PPC) ads.
PPC advertising allows you to target potential buyers through relevant ad copy and keywords that match their search queries. PPC ads show up in search engine results (SERPs) alongside organic results. They give your business the opportunity to increase the visibility of your website, landing pages, blog posts, and more.
However, there are different types of SEM ads that you should review:
- Search network: These ads are all those that are displayed within the search results as they can be; the text ads themselves, dynamic search ads, Google shopping, or video ads.
- Display Network: These other paid ads are those that are included within the network of millions of websites that are available to Google, and basically, we would be referring to “banner” type ads in a very specific context and with segmentation. high.
What are some examples of SEM strategies?
Google AdWords is by far the most popular search engine platform for ad spending. Consider other opportunities, too, like ads on Bing or Yahoo search ads. Regardless of the network you decide to invest in, there are some key strategies for successful SEM:
- Launch advertising campaigns with a specific audience (for example, geographic, sector, etc.) in mind.
- Create ad groups consisting of keyword variations.
- Write relevant ad copy using those selected keywords.
- Establish an investment budget.
- Track metrics like clicks, impressions, click-through rate, and average cost per click.
There are other considerations when launching and maintaining an SEM ad campaign, but these five are especially important for any “newbie.” If you want to increase your SEM efforts to complement your SEO strategy, consider Google Adwords.
So which is better for me: SEO or SEM?
You may have already decided which one is for you at this point. Or maybe you decided you could invest in both strategies, good thinking!
I think I’ve made it very clear that implementing both is the most reasonable decision you can make in many cases.
No, SEO and SEM are not mutually exclusive. It is more than likely that time and money will play into your decision. You may want to use SEM in the first months of your online business life, while you are developing your SEO strategy. After the SEO starts to pay off, you can evaluate whether to continue with the momentum that SEM offers you or focus only on SEO.
However, chances are you never plan to stop investing in SEM or SEO. In the end, as long as you have a clearly positive ROI (Return on Investment), it makes sense to continue.
The strategy I have used for a long time is to focus on SEO first. Make that investment first because it takes more time to get started, but you will have ample results in the long run. From all this, you will learn to be more confident in SEO than in SEM.
Once you’ve started to establish some “roots” in SEO, it’s time to take “action” and implement a successful SEM strategy.
Whichever route you choose, it’s always good to consult with a professional about your needs and approaches. That will give you a good idea of the path you should take to get the best results with your digital project.
Finally, we hope we have resolved the doubt of many. And of course, thank you for giving your time to explore this blog article about Understanding the Differences and Choosing the Right Strategy Between SEO and SEM. See you soon!