SEO vs SEM which is superior? These two terms are often portrayed as competitors, but the truth is they are very different and you will most likely benefit from both depending on the nature of your business and how established your online presence is.

Let’s start by defining each term as these marketing acronyms can seem daunting at times. SEO is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Search engine marketing (SEM) is the practice of buying traffic through paid search listings, it involves pay per click (PPC) ads that display on a search engine results page (SERP) and social media marketing (SMM) which is shown on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.

SEM and SEO play two very different roles but also complement each other, however running search engine ads will unfortunately not improve your organic rankings.

Why do I need both of these?

In general terms, SEO is a must for all businesses all the time, the ability to appear higher on organic rankings takes time to build up and there are three main ways to optimise this through: Technical SEO, On-page SEO and Off-page SEO. A cohesive strategy targeting all three of these areas will greatly improve your online presence, read how to create an effective B2B SEO strategy here.

SEM whilst also very useful is ideal to implement when your objective is to generate leads or brand awareness. Results are quantified, available immediately and vary depending on the marketing budget allocated to the campaign. The traffic generated from SEM is highly targeted/customisable to your chosen demographics and ad format with options including:

  • Geographic targeting
  • Display advertising
  • Text ads,
  • Remarketing
  • Behavioural targeting

The two largest platforms for SEM are Google and Facebook with each following an auction and ad ranking system in their own unique interfaces.

When do I need each of these for my business?

In general, terms, if your business is in its early stages, and you are relatively new to building an online presence then a large emphasis should be placed on SEO. Also if you have a large amount of incoming traffic but fail to convert and generate leads from this then more effort should go towards optimising your organic rankings.

Alternatively, if you have a great conversion rate but not enough traffic to your website then SEM is ideal. Search engine marketing can start producing results immediately while SEO can take months, even years to see the benefits. SEM is generally more cost-effective as you can easily quantify your results and can start generating leads even with a low investment. However both of these practices are heavily reliant on each other as SEM cannot succeed without efficient SEO, this includes optimising landing pages, the layout of your website and having quality content.

Final Thoughts

As Yesler puts it a solid SEO strategy and strong paid search strategy should work together seamlessly to cover each other’s weaknesses. Thus making you a lead generation machine keeping you one step ahead of the competition and steadily climbing up the Google rankings.

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