Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are two different aspects of online marketing that companies use to improve their visibility. Though they share some similarities, there are some significant differences between the two.
In this blog, we’ll explore those differences in depth and help you decide which one is best for your company.
Let’s jump into it.
SEO vs. SEM
SEO and SEM are terms often used interchangeably, but they refer to two types of digital marketing activities. SEO focuses on optimizing a website so it ranks higher in organic search results.
SEM goes beyond that by also including paid search advertising. Both SEO and SEM are essential for any business that wants to be visible online, but the focus of each one is slightly different.
Overall, SEO takes longer to see results than SEM, but can be more cost-effective in the long run. Because of this, businesses typically use both SEO and SEM to achieve a greater ROI.
Benefits of SEO
Since the early 2000s, SEO has been an important part of online marketing as businesses strive to reach new customers and compete in a global market. While many techniques can be used to improve SEO, some of the most common include:
- Keyword research
- Link building
- Content optimization
When done correctly, SEO can help a website attract more visitors, convert more leads into customers, and improve overall ROI.
An effective SEO strategy integrates all of the tactics listed above. While keyword research is a great start to bringing in your ideal leads, the content written using these keywords should align with what the users are looking for. Once you get an interested user to your site, you can use internal links and CTAs relevant to the content they’re reading, encouraging them to explore your website further. If they see value in what your company offers, they can submit their contact information to receive a free demo or additional sales and marketing materials.
The main benefit of SEO is that it relies on an organic approach, which means it’s more cost-effective than other marketing strategies. However, that budget-friendly approach comes at a different cost: time. It takes time for websites to begin ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). Also, there’s no clear-cut strategy for reaching the prized top spot on a search page.
How Long Does It Take for SEO To Start Working?
Typically, the time it takes for SEO to start seeing results is about four to six months, but it could take even longer. Newer, low-authority websites can take up to 18 months to see the benefit.
Benefits of SEM
Where SEO falls short, SEM is there to pick up the slack. Here are some benefits of a solid SEM strategy for your business:
One of the main benefits of SEM is that it increases a company’s online visibility. Through paid search advertising, businesses can target customers based on their interests and demographics. This ensures that your ads are seen by the right people, which can result in more conversions.
SEM is cost-effective compared to other marketing strategies. With SEM, businesses only have to pay when their ad is clicked on, which means they can control their ad spending.
Another benefit of SEM is that, unlike with SEO, businesses immediately see results. If you want a quicker ROI from your inbound marketing efforts, an SEM strategy may be your best approach.
SEM also gives businesses more control over their advertising. With SEO, companies are at the mercy of the algorithm. But with SEM, they can choose when and where their ads appear. This allows you to better target your ideal customer based on a decision maker’s interests, location, and other demographics.
Last but not least, SEM can lead to an increased ROI, since businesses can boost sales and conversions by driving more traffic to their website.
To see the most output from your SEM strategy, you need to know exactly what you want to accomplish. Each type of SEM ad is different, and the price varies based on where the ad is targeted (display ad, search ad, social ad, etc.). Once you understand the profitability of each service you want to advertise for, make sure you prioritize ads for your services where the ROI makes the most sense.
How Long Does It Take for SEM To Start Working?
As we mentioned earlier, SEM can take effect almost immediately. However, on average, it takes about two to four weeks before your campaign really starts to take off. This is because SEM is optimized for best-performing keywords and users.
Tools like Google Ads can optimize your SEM efforts, but they first need to generate data from your campaigns. After the first few conversions, the ad can start picking up momentum because people have found value in it.
When you sign up for an SEM campaign on Google Ads, you can choose your timing and budget. Based on the keywords you’ve chosen and your competition level, you could see your ads showing up on SERPs almost immediately.
When Should You Implement an SEO Strategy?
While both strategies are essential to a well-rounded marketing plan, there are times when it makes sense to lean more on SEO.
For example, an SEO strategy may be a better inbound marketing solution for localized B2B companies in HVAC or roofing because they can establish themselves as thought leaders in their service area. This type of strategy is known as local SEO. To learn more about local SEO, read our blog here.
Here are some instances when you should consider an SEO strategy:
You Want To Rank High on SERPs Organically
There’s something to be said about people choosing to click on organic results rather than ad content. Consumers are savvy and may actively avoid going to a site with the word “Ad” next to it. So, if part of your brand or overall marketing strategy is to seem more genuine and less salesy, then SEO may be the best solution for you.
You Have the Time and Patience for SEO To Take Effect
Similar to the above, if you believe organic content will perform better over time than paid content, then it might make sense to be patient and wait for your SEO-optimized product pages to rank highly on SERPs.
You Want To Target Long-Tail Keywords
If your product requires a lot of keywords and you just don’t have the budget to use that many in your SEM campaigns, then an SEO strategy is exactly what you need. Since products can be written about in blogs and articles, you can optimize for more or longer keywords than you might get with SEM.
Your Website Doesn’t Have Any Traffic Yet
If your website is relatively new, it may be more difficult for you to compete with more established brands, making SEM too costly. Instead, build a strong SEO presence with organic content and use that to gain momentum later on, when your business growth strategy is more established.
You Want To Generate New and Sustainable Business Opportunities
The thing about SEM is that once you stop paying for it, it goes away. That’s not the case with SEO. Once your page is on top of the rankings, it could stay there for a long time. However, it’s important to continue updating content to keep it timely, relevant, and valuable.
When Should You Implement an SEM Strategy?
SEM costs more than SEO, but the outcome is worth the price—for a short time period. Here’s when to consider using an SEM strategy:
You’re in a Highly Competitive Space
With all the competitors in your industry and region, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd. An SEM strategy allows your business to be seen over competitors, increasing your likelihood of generating more inbound leads.
You’re Looking To Grow Rapidly
SEM is a great way to get leads through the door. However, it’s not a sustainable method for predictable long-term growth. If you want to generate as many leads as soon as possible, SEM is your ideal approach.
You Want To Target Short-Tail Keywords
With SEM, you’re less likely to catch entire search phrases. Instead, you’ll want to focus on short-tail keywords so your ad pops up more often. You only get charged when users click, so it’s not necessarily going to cost you more money to be seen more often.
You Have a Limited Budget
One of the best parts about SEM is that your budget can stretch further than most marketing because your ads only appear to those who are already searching for your products or similar ones. If you have a limited budget and want to maximize your reach, then SEM is for you.
You Need Results Immediately
When you’re willing to pay, companies will make sure you do less waiting. Google is no different. If you need results immediately or you’re trying to capitalize on a specific season, then SEM can help you achieve those results quickly.
When Should You Use Both SEO and SEM?
The ideal option is both. However, from a time or financial standpoint, that may not make sense for some companies. Perhaps the better answer is to deploy both at different times.
When you need immediate results, use SEM. When you can sit back and be patient, use SEO. This round-robin approach could propel your SEO strategies in the future, and the gains you make can increase exponentially over time.
Regardless of your choice, it’s essential to be consistent and evolve with the platforms. Stay updated on new algorithm changes or tools that can make your job easier.
Advanced Tools To Support Your SEO and SEM Campaigns
Whether you’re a team of one or dozens, there are tools out there that offer great features for users. Consider checking out some of these:
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool you can use to track your website’s appearance in Google’s search results. You just need to verify your website by adding a code to it or going through Google Analytics. Once you’ve confirmed your website, you can submit your sitemap for indexing. Search Console can help you understand how people see your website and make improvements so it appears higher in Google search results.
Google Trends allows you to track how often people search for a particular keyword. You can use this information to determine if people are still interested in that keyword. If the interest is going down, you don’t want to spend money on ads for that keyword.
It’s also powerful to know whether people are interested in your product or service in a particular area. This way, you can focus your paid advertising in that area and save money in the long run.
SEMRush is an excellent tool for finding out what keywords you can rank for. You can use it to track your website’s performance, see how much traffic you’re getting, and find out where your competitors are marketing their products and services. By determining how much of a presence your competitors have in different parts of the country, you can decide how much money you want to put into specific keywords.
SEMRush can help you find your main paid search competitors. It can also show you the keywords they’re bidding on and the ads they’re using. This information is essential when creating your own paid search strategy to outrank other businesses on the search engine results pages.
You’re paying for ads because you want to make money. The HubSpot Ads tool helps you see how your ads are affecting your customers. You can see which ads work and which ones don’t and determine how those ads are related to the other parts of your marketing.
Do you want to know what keywords your competitors are buying and testing on Google? With SpyFu, you can. You can see which keywords they’ve bought on Adwords, what organic keywords they’ve ranked for, and what their ad variations look like from the last 12 years. Plus, you can monitor your own SEO rankings across multiple search engines.
SEO and SEM are both critical aspects of digital marketing, but they serve different purposes. SEO is a long-term strategy that helps you rank higher in the search engine results pages, while SEM is an immediate strategy that helps you place ads at the top of those same pages. Both of these can be powerful tools for driving traffic when used together.
At Abstrakt, our digital marketing specialists have the expertise to build an SEO and SEM strategy that yields growth for your business. When you’re ready to optimize your inbound marketing strategy, contact the business growth experts at Abstrakt!
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