What is Search Engine Marketing
What is SEM? A Basic Guide to Search Engine Marketing
July 7, 2021
Essentials of Keyword Research in SEM
Keyword Research In SEM: Look Its Role and Importance
July 11, 2021
SEM vs. SEO: A Comparison

SEM vs SEO: Key Comparison Between SEM and SEO

So, as we have learnt till now, as a universally accepted norm in the online marketing realm, whenever we pay a fee to run an online advertisement on search engines (Google, Bing, etc.) the online channel we utilize is Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Ads appear only till a paid ad campaign is running on an advertisement platform.

A decade or so ago, even Search Engine Optimization (SEO) was considered a part of SEM. However, as with SEO the results are obtained organically and no upfront fee is involved, overtime, SEO has managed to segregate itself from SEM and has developed its own niche in online marketing.

What separates the two most popular online marketing channels, SEM and SEO and what brings them together? Well there are quite a few pointers and this discourse will throw valuable insights into those.

SEM vs SEO: The Differences

  • SEM is paid but SEO is Free
    For any SEM ad campaign to run, a carefully analyzed bid amount on the basis of prevalent competition needs to be specified beforehand. However, SEO is not driven by ad campaigns. For SEO, well-optimized web pages instead of ad campaigns are required so no upfront fee of any type comes into play.
  • SEM is costlier than SEO
    An average mid-size business spends anywhere in the range of $750 to $2000 a month for SEO and in the range of $9000 to $10000 for SEM. However, the amount may vary based on type of industry, goals, and overall strategy a company adopts for SEO and SEM respectively.
  • SEM is jiffy but SEO is patience
    SEM generates leads as soon as an ad campaign is created, bid price is set, and the campaign is launched on preferred search engine. So, with SEM, the results are generated in a jiffy. However, SEO is all about patience. 3-6 months of sustained efforts are required to first get an optimized site ready. Work also needs to be done to get the most relevant and competitively priced keywords on board, and get credible back links for the site.

SEM vs SEO: The Similarities

Although the strategies adopted to make SEM and SEO workare worlds apart, there are quite a few similarities between the two online marketing channels:

  • Both SEM and SEO aim to get visibility on SERPs
    Both SEM and SEO aim to get visibility for a business’s products and/or services on SERPs. Whether it’s through ad campaigns or through optimized webpages, the objective is to give the business the traction it needs to grow on SERPs.
  • Both SEM and SEO work on keyword research
    Keyword research is an inherent part of both SEO as well as SEM. Whether the discussion is centered on ad campaigns or optimized web pages, well-researched keywords are the backbone for both. Keywords reflect what the users are searching for. A business’s offerings are based on what’s in demand. So, ads or web pages should be created keeping these keywords in perspective.

SEM: Advantages over SEO

  • SEM Delivers Instantly
    Unlike SEO, which takes a few months to deliver, SEM delivers almost as soon as the ad campaign is launched.
  • For Testing, SEM is Better
    Since in SEM, ads start performing as soon as they go live, it’s an extremely good medium to test the performance for keywords. SEM also gives you flexibility to modify the ad or the geographies its targeting. You don’t get such flexibility in SEO.
  • Overall, SEM is flexible
    With SEM you can launch and manage as many ad campaigns as you want. With precise and nifty analysis, you can identify the ads that are working better at specific geographies during a given timeframe. You can stop, pause and restart the ads, increase or decrease the bid amount and even modify the landing pages these keywords are targeting. You don’t get such flexibilities in SEO.
  • SEM acts as a feeder to SEO
    The high performance keywords identified during testing of campaigns can be used in build a long-term SEO strategy. This is because methods and best practices adopted to perform keyword research is the same in both the online marketing channels. 

SEO: Advantages over SEM

  • SEO Builds Trust
    For sure SEO takes time to materialize. However, the time it takes is worth the deal as with this comes trust and credibility, which goes a long way to improve the ranking of web pages on SERPs. For example, it takes time and effort to get high authority sites to link back to your site. But this time and effort is worth the pain as the value of this back link is nothing less than gold.
  • SEO works 24*7
    Unlike the ads of SEM which cease to perform the moment the campaign is stopped, the page continues to appear on the rank it has got through SEO, round the clock. So invariably, the page continues to drive traffic to your site, 24*7.
  • SEO requires no ads
    Unlike SEM which requires an upfront amount to work, there are no such charges involved in SEO. However, SEO is a never ending process of producing quality content, reaching out to high authority sites for quality back links and optimization of overall site structure.

SEM: Disadvantages In comparison to SEO

  • SEM works only till the ad campaigns work
    The moment the ad campaigns stop SEM stops to generate results.
  • In the long term, SEM proves to be costlier than SEO.
    Please refer to point 2 in SEM v SEO: Differences. SEM requires constant flow of revenue which may be difficult to garner for a lot of organizations worldwide.
  • SEM only targets ready to buy customers: SEM only targets customers who have an intention to buy a product or avail a service. Unlike SEO, SEM cannot nurture current users into future buyers.

SEO: Disadvantages in comparison to SEM

  • SEO is not a one-time-effort
    Aim of any SEO effort is to make a webpage rank on top of the SERP for a set of keywords. However, equal effort needs to be placed to maintain that rank. Beating competition, day in and day out, is not an easy task to perform.
  • SEO takes time
    Even an extremely well thought off SEO strategy takes time to materialize into something tangible; probably 3-6 months minimum. On the contrary SEM delivers results almost instantly.

SEO vs SEM: Which One Is Right for a Business?

As SEO takes time to deliver, it’s best for any business to start with SEM. Identify high performance keywords by testing them on various ad campaigns.

Once a significant number of keywords have been identified, pass them to the SEO team who develop a long-term strategy to direct relevant traffic to your site, organically.

In the long-term, you would have a high-performing SEO strategy which would drive relevant leads of users who want to know more about your business, your offerings and in many cases make that purchase as well. Ad campaigns would work in tandem with an optimized budget that would generate ample leads for the business to be a going concern.

SEM vs SEO: To Conclude

In nutshell, it’s best to have an online marketing strategy at place that would have an optimum mix of SEO and SEM. Ideally, a business should start with SEM to generate those all important leads to convert and eventually generate revenue. After a while though, let SEO take charge and SEM play second fiddle.