The two terms are closely related, as both refer to practices intended to achieve the same goal: drive more visitors to your online content. However, they go about it in slightly different ways. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about organically increasing your site’s ranking over time. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), on the other hand, tries to achieve this by taking advantage of paid digital marketing models such as Pay-Per-Click ads.
It is good to point out that sometimes the term SEM is used as an umbrella term to encompass both approaches. Meaning that people talking about SEMmight be referring to the implementation of organic SEO techniques, combined with paid digital marketing.
It is an important distinction to make since each practice comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. And depending on your goals and budget, one might fit your needs better than the other. So, let’s go over some of these differences to help you better gauge which approach might suit your particular situation best.
Advantages of an SEO focused approach (Organic growth):
Costs: Most SEO strategies can be implemented without the need for direct investment, especially if you take care of them yourself, which suits your need for advertisement on a tight budget.
Endurance: Many of the systems and changes you put in place while working on your content’s search engine optimization will remain in place and viable for a long time. This means that even if you hire an agency to take care of it for you, you’ll keep benefitting long after you have ended their services.
Branding: Having well-placed pages on organic results drives more credibility and user awareness to your content than advertised links. While it takes longer to get there, this might provide increased CTR and conversions as you begin to be placed as an authority on the subject.
Challenges of an SEO focused approach (Organic growth):
Windup: SEO strategies usually take longer to take hold and start showing results, which might be an issue when you are on a schedule or trying to bring awareness to your content in the least amount of time possible.
Time investment: Effective SEO can’t be accomplished overnight, and there are usually many involved tasks that require constant gauging, fine-tuning, and upkeep. This means that proper SEO is very involved and time-consuming.
Advantages of an SEM focused approach (Paid Advertisement):
Instant Positioning: One of the critical benefits of PPC ads is positioning. In Google, ads results appear first even before the top organic result, which gives your content a significant advantage when it comes to catching potential viewer’s attention.
High targetability: On platforms like Instagram or Facebook you are offered an ample array of variables to make sure your ads are reaching precisely the people whose attention you are trying to attract. Categories like age, sex, and interest can help make sure your message reaches your audience.
Customization: While you have little control over how your content is displayed on organic search results and which pieces of content will get featured, PPC ads are highly customizable. You are in full control of what will be presented and how. This means that you can make use of powerful copywriting and marketing strategies to capture a viewer’s attention in a reliable, consistent manner.
Challenges of an SEM focused approach (Paid Advertisement):
Costs: While an adequately configurated PPC campaign doesn’t have to be expensive (and can offer good ROI numbers) the fact that you need to pay every time someone interacts with the ad might present a challenge. Particularly in the beginning when you are fine-tuning the ad into efficiency.
Competition: Even after you have attained the perfect ad that gives you the results you want, competitors can come around and copy it, or simply outbid you and make it less effective. Something that is nearly impossible to do with organic growth strategies.
As you can see, both approaches can be very powerful, and their effectivity relies on the goals you are pursuing, and the resources you have to achieve them.