SEO vs SEM’s main difference is that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is focused on improving a website in order to get traffic from organic search results. On the other hand, the goal of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is to get traffic and perceptibility from both organic and paid search. SEO is where you focus mainly on ranking in the organic results. SEM is when you tap into both SEO and PPC in order to get traffic from search engines. SEM is a broad term that includes SEO and PPC, which means that SEO falls “under” the umbrella category of SEM. The Internet changed everything. Adapting to this new reality is essential for any company that wants to position its brand in this new world.
SEO is the practice of continually enhancing a website in order to rank in the organic, non-paid search engine results pages (SERPs).
Google uses 200 plus ranking signals in their algorithm. That said, SEO can be divided into four main subcategories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO and User Interaction Signals.
On-Page SEO: This is where you improve your website around keywords that your target customer searches for in Google, Bing and other search engines. For example, one on-page SEO best practice is to include your main keyword in your title tag, Meta description and webpage URL.
Off-Page SEO: Off-page SEO is all about getting trust and authority signals from other websites. This mainly involves building high-quality backlinks to your site. But Google may also use other off-page signals to size up your site’s authority, like E-A-T and social media sharing.
Technical SEO: Here’s where you make sure that Google and other search engines can crawl and index all of the pages on your website. Technical SEO also includes things like making sure your pages load quickly. And that your site architecture is set up correctly.
User Interaction Signals: The way that users interact with your site helps Google figure out if your page is a good match for someone’s search. For example, if your page has a high bounce rate, that could be a sign that your page isn’t giving someone the answer to their query. And if Google considers your page a bad fit for that keyword, they can drop your rankings down a little bit. Or completely off of the first page altogether.
• Remember: SEM is a high-level term that includes SEO. So everything that I just outlined above for SEO also applies to SEM. But in addition to SEO, SEM also includes PPC. And PPC is a field that has its own set of features, best practices and more.
Whether you use Google Ads or Bing Ads, paid ads in search is all about bidding. With PPC, you bid on a specific keyword. And when someone searches for that keyword, your ad shows up.
The rankings of the ads are usually proportional to how much someone is bidding. So if you’re the highest bidder, you’ll appear above all of the other ads.
And when someone clicks on your ad, you pay whatever amount that you bid. The amount that you pay when someone clicks on your ad is known as cost per click (CPC).
Quality Score: Quality Score is a super important Google Ads metric. It’s basically Google’s way of figuring out if your ad is a good match for whatever someone’s searching for.
Google calculates Quality Score based on a combination of click through rate, the quality of your landing page and your Google Ad account’s overall Quality Score. And if your ad has a high Quality Score, you’ll get a discount on each click.
Ad Copy: Writing compelling ad copy is a HUGE part of doing well with PPC. Why? Great ad copy=high CTR. And a CTR means a good Quality Score. Which means that you pay less for the same click.
The opposite is also true. If your copy doesn’t push people to click, your Quality Score will suffer. And your PPCs will start to get super expensive.
Ad Groups and Account Management: Here’s where you use the data in your Google Ads account to optimize your ad spend.
SEO vs. SEM: How Long It Takes to See Results
One of the main differences between SEO and SEM is speed.
The fact is: SEO takes time. A lot of time. Especially if your site is new and doesn’t have a lot of backlinks yet. In fact, an analysis by Ahrefs found that it takes an average of 2 years to rank on the first page of Google. And many of the top-ranking pages were first published more than 3 years ago.
This doesn’t mean that you should expect it to take 2 years to rank in Google. If you target long tail keywords and implement SEO best practices, you can start to see some results within a few months.
For example, when I launched Backlinko in early 2013, my website had essentially zero domain authority. But thanks to a ton of hard work and a focus on SEO, I was able to get some organic traffic within months. It did take years for my rankings and organic traffic to really climb.
On the other hand, if you focus your SEM efforts in PPC, you can start to see results pretty much instantly. You can run an ad in the morning, and start to get traffic and conversions in the afternoon. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll get an ROI on day 1. In many cases, it can take months of testing and tweaking to get a positive ROI from PPC. Even so, there’s no question that PPC starts working much more quickly than SEO.
SEO vs SEM: How Much They Cost
A lot of people are drawn to SEO because it’s “free website traffic”.
And yes, you don’t pay when someone clicks on your site in the organic search results. But make no mistake: SEO is NOT free. Not even close.
For example, let’s take a quick look at one of my pages that’s currently ranking #1 in Google for “on page SEO”.
#1 is a great place to be. I’m getting traffic from that keyword literally every day. And I don’t need to do anything or pay anything for that traffic to come in. But it took A LOT of money, time and effort to get that #1 ranking.
At a high-level, I had to build up Backlinko’s Domain Authority by consistently putting out world-class content. And promoting that content with email outreach. Over the short-term, PPC is usually cheaper than SEO.
The big issue with PPC is this:
When you stop paying, your traffic goes to zero.
But with SEO, once you rank, you’re pretty much set. Your investment is all up-front. Once you actually rank, you don’t need to invest a lot of money into maintaining your current rankings. So yeah, when it comes to cost, SEO and PPC have their pros and cons. Which is why most businesses use a marketing strategy that includes a mix of SEO and PPC.
When to Focus Just SEO
• You Have a Very Limited Budget: If you’re a startup or small business with a tiny marketing budget, you probably want to focus on SEO. You may not see an ROI on your SEO budget for months or years. But it still makes more sense than burning through your marketing budget on PPC ads that may only run for a week.
• You Can Rank For Informational Keywords: Informational keywords are terms like “What is X” or “How to X”. Although these types of search queries don’t convert super well, they get a lot of search volume. So if you feel like you can write AMAZING content on topics that customers search for in Google, SEO is probably your best bet.
For example, my entire business has been built on ranking for informational keywords that my target audience (pro marketers) search for.
You Can Wait: SEO and content marketing takes time to kick in. So if you can play the long game and wait 6-12 months to see legit traffic start to roll in from Google search, go with SEO.
You’re good at Link Building: Creating high-quality content is a key part of ranking in Google. But it’s not enough. If you’re serious about ranking, you’ll need to also use a few different link building strategies to get other sites to link to you.
When to Focus on PPC
You have a very limited budget: One of the nice things about PPC ads is that you can set a strict budget. That way, it’s impossible to spend more than you planned.
That said: it’s easy to burn through that budget quickly if you don’t know what you’re doing (and if you’re just getting started with paid ads, you won’t).
Which means that you need a regular monthly budget that you can play with to figure out what combination of keyword targeting, ad copy, landing pages and bids work best for you.
You Can Manage An Adwords Account: On the surface, PPC sounds super simple. Bid on keywords. Get traffic.
But in practice, managing a Google Ads account is no joke. You need to take into keyword-targeting, ads, Quality Score, ROI, conversion rates and process all of this data to make decisions on how to get the most out of your ads.
You Have the Ability to Launch and Test Landing Pages: One of the first things you’ll learn about PPC is that you need targeted landing pages for each ad. Or at least each ad group. So to get the most out of PPC, you need a way to quickly launch lots of different web pages. And run A/B tests to figure out which one is performing best.
When to Do Both (SEM)
When should you tackle SEO and PPC at the same time?
Let me answer this question with a real-life example:
When I launched my first website, I was running all of my SEM myself. I was writing content and optimizing it for search engines (SEO). And managing my Google Ads account (PPC). So in addition to being “Founder”, I was also “SEM Manager”.
And because I was trying to do my site’s SEM myself, SEO and PPC suffered. It was too much for one person to manage.
But if you feel like you have the staff to manage both PPC and SEO, go for it. Otherwise, I’d pick one or the other.
Frequently Asked Questions
1- Is SEO a part of SEM?
SEM Marketing has two components, SEO marketing, and PPC marketing. Although SEO is technically part of SEM, many people when referring to SEM they mean the process of using PPC ads to get traffic from search engines. In general, Search engine marketing is a critical digital marketing channel.
2- What is SEM in digital marketing?
Search engine marketing (SEM) is a digital marketing strategy used to increase the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engine marketing is also alternately referred to as paid search or pay per click (PPC).
3- Is Paid Search SEO or SEM?
Search engine marketing, or SEM, is meant to cover both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search, also known as PPC (pay-per-click) or CPC (cost-per-click). SEM still refers occasionally to paid search with a minor emphasis on SEO, but that’s even rarer than using the term properly.
4- Is Adwords a SEM?
The most well-known (and effective) platform to use is Google AdWords. Bing Ads and Yahoo Search Ads are also both SEM platforms that you can use. It’s important to note that—while all SEM platforms utilize a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model—not all PPC is SEM.
5- Is SEO paid?
SEO is that SEM is a paid strategy and SEO is an organic strategy. Like most things in the search industry, the definitions related to search marketing have evolved. Some marketers may consider SEM to be an umbrella term that includes both paid and organic strategies.
6- What is SEM example?
A SEM campaign is an advertising strategy that generates ads in search engines such as Google to position ourselves in the top positions of search results. Giving Google as an example, to make a payment strategy to position ourselves, we will have to create a SEM campaign within Google Ads.
7- What is SEM good for?
SEM can also be helpful for analyzing traffic and discovering search intent. By analyzing the data from your PPC search campaigns, you can see patterns in search terms, which ads receive the most clicks, and the number of conversions for each ad so you can identify important trends.
8- How much does SEO cost?
The cost of SEO services varies depending on what is included. Most SEO projects in 2021 cost between $750-$2,000/month based on the scope of the project. A one-time project will range between $5,000-$30,000 and hourly rates for consultants fall between $80-$200/hour.
9- What is the principle of SEM?
The working principle is based on the generation of electron-hole pairs by the backscattered electrons which escape the sample and are absorbed by the detector. The amount of these pairs depends on the energy of the backscattered electrons.
10- Why is SEO so expensive?
SEO is so expensive for three reasons: It takes time to show results, it requires a lot of resources to build and maintain a campaign, and it often relies on the expertise of an SEO specialist to develop and grow your strategy.
SEO vs SEM: The tactics may sound the same, but they are two very different approaches to search optimization.
Approved by Sarah Taufiq