And that is whether to focus your efforts on SEO vs SEM.

In other words, should you invest in search engine optimization, or invest in search engine marketing — a.k.a. pay per click or sponsored ads.

First of all, let’s understand these both, shall we?


What is SEO vs SEM in Digital Marketing?

SEO and SEM are marketing processes used to generate brand awareness and website traffic through search engines.

By optimizing content and effectively utilizing digital space, many businesses are able to promote their services and see more success for themselves.

SEO is included under the SEM umbrella, but SEM as a whole includes other marketing strategies as well.

While there is this overlap between the two, they’re not quite the same. Let’s take a closer look at both.


Search engine optimization (SEO) is a method to optimize a website to receive organic/natural traffic or visitors from the search engine result pages.

Although organic search traffic isn’t paid, the process of search engine optimization may incur costs.

Depending on the competitiveness of the market you’re targeting.

The aim of SEO is to attract relevant visitors to your website that are interested in your products or services.

However, optimizing to receive targeted organic traffic is only one part of the equation.

The other part is getting this traffic in higher quantity by targeted multiple, relevant keywords.


Search engine marketing (SEM) is a way to funnel in relevant traffic from the search engines by buying paid or sponsored ad listings.

So if you’re wondering “is SEM the same as paid search or PPC?” then the answer is yes.

SEM often refers to pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and marketing.

And while there are many PPC platforms in the search and social arena, by far the most popular and successful option is Google Ads (formerly known as Google Adwords).

The aim of SEM is to help advertisers gain visibility in the search engines and drive the right kind of traffic without having to wait for it.

In order to be successful with SEM, it’s important to have a strong, dynamic SEM strategy to get the best return on investment.

SEO vs SEM: Why is Important?

Both SEO and SEM are powerful processes that can help businesses see substantial growth.

By correctly utilizing search engine space, you’re able to tap into a large audience that’s already there.

Specific keyword research, website management, and targeted advertising alike all contribute to the effectiveness of search engine campaigns.

And implementing any one of these will help you see rises in search engine results page (SERP) rankings, brand awareness, and quality leads.

Now all you have to do is decide which process is the better fit for your business, and get the ball rolling.

SEO vs SEM: The Question is … Where Do You Start?

When the topic of SEO vs SEM arises, some experts may argue that SEO is the best way to go, as it offers higher quality leads at a cheaper cost when compared to SEM.

However, it isn’t so simple. Every business is different and has unique needs.

For example, your small business may not have a big ad budget and it may also lack the resources needed for doing effective SEO.

In order to gain clarity as to what your business should choose and why, you have to focus on building a solid online marketing strategy that is tailored to you.

Because when you have the right marketing strategy at hand, you’ll know what your target customer is looking for and also know the best way to reach them.

It doesn’t matter how big or small, or how old or new your business is.

What ultimately matters is the type of audience you’re going after and how you reach them.

So let’s go ahead and look into the pros and cons of both, SEO and SEM.

As it will give us a better idea of what to expect, and the channel that you should explore for your business.

Search Engine Optimization: Pros and Cons

Every online marketer swears by search engine optimization and its effectiveness.

Prior to the infamous Google Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates, SEO made a lot of black hat or unethical marketers rich. But things are no longer that easy.

Google has upped the game, and now, it’s all about the kind of quality and the amount of value you’re able to deliver.

Here’s how optimizing your website for the search engines and getting organic traffic helps you:

1. Brand Awareness

If your customers don’t recognize your brand, they don’t know it.

By building awareness of a brand, you not only affect the bottom line of your business but also improve the long-term prospects.

The aim is to get on top of the mind of your potential customers.

seo vs sem brand awareness

There are a number of ways to increase brand awareness of a brand, such as social media promotion, offline marketing, etc.

But search engine optimization has its own place when making your target customers aware of your products/services.

How, exactly? By putting you in front of your preferred audience when they search for your target keywords.

The words that people use to search Google are more than just words.

They’re a doorway to your business. By ranking for these keywords, you get more visibility.

When people see your website in the search results, again and again, it contributes to brand awareness.

Use the following steps to find the most relevant keywords:

Step 1: Make a list of seed keywords that you will use to find the right keywords that you want to your website optimize for.

Step 2: Once you have a bunch of seed keywords, move on to create an extensive list of potential keyword phrases that you would like to target using a keyword research tool such as the Google Keyword Planner.

Step 3: Analyze and choose keywords based on the amount of competition (both quality and quantity) and the number of monthly searches.

2. Stronger Branding

The Internet gives you an opportunity to connect to your target audience by providing them with the information they’re looking for.

The content that you publish on your blog, for example, can help you build a solid relationship with prospects or potential customers looking to learn more about a topic related to your niche.

People may use commercial search terms or other informational search queries about your niche market.

When they find your content, they immediately view you as a market authority. Which indirectly has a positive effect on your branding.

As you can see, Google is used by many Internet users as a research tool to help them make better purchase decisions.

What better way to assist these would-be buyers than supply them with answers to their questions?

Regardless of the market, you are in, you will build a better brand just by helping them out with useful content.

Building a better brand starts with serving your audience in the best possible way.

And by doing so, you automatically become a go-to resource, which is favored by Google and other search engines.

3. Increased Trust and Credibility

Google works really hard to make sure only the best websites show up first.

And every loyal Google user knows that the big G won’t let them down when it comes to serving the best results. Which makes it highly reliable in terms of service.

By trusting Google, people also trust the websites that manage to rank high in its result pages.

Being found on the 10th page of the SERPs may not do much for your site.

But by hitting the first page, you automatically earn “credibility” and “trust” points from search users.

Prospects that are looking for your service or product will trust your site more easily and find it more credible when they see it in the organic search results.

And since a lot of people are accustomed to ignoring sponsored ads and going for organic search listings, your job of standing out from others becomes easier.

Also, if you’re a business that is heavily dependent on user reviews, then being visible in the SERPs with a bunch of positive reviews can immensely help your business build credibility.

In order to increase your chances of hitting page one of Google, make sure you’re doing the following:

1. Use relevant keywords in the URL to describe the content of the page.

2. Use your main keywords at the beginning of the title tag of your page.

3. Us the right keywords in the meta description of your page and make sure it is enticing enough for users to click-through to your site.

4. Use your primary keyword(s) in the H1 tag of your page.

5. Finally, use your main keywords along with related long-tail keywords in the first few paragraphs of the page.

4. More Traffic

This goes without saying, but by using SEO, you can drive lots of targeted, ready-to-buy traffic to your website.

Your business website may be selling the most niche product, but if it manages to rank for the right keywords, you will get traffic for a long time to come.

The best part about organic SEO traffic is that if it takes time to dry out.

In other words, once you do the initial hard work of ranking it, it doesn’t take much effort to maintain this.

The most reliable way to increase search engine traffic is to create great content that your audience is looking for.

For example, if you’re a pest control company, you may write a bunch of quality blog posts on getting rid of pests.

The idea is to educate your prospects and move them towards buying from you. This is exactly where SEO intersects with content marketing.

SEO today is all about content marketing. It’s about how you leverage content to grow your brand and educate your target prospects about it.

Here’s how you can go about implementing content marketing for better SEO results:

1. Get different people on your team to create unique content.

This not only allows you to create diverse content related to your niche but also gives you an opportunity to rank for multiple keywords.

2. Before creating any content, make sure you know your brand, understand your target audience, and be aware of your marketing goal.

This helps you produce content that ranks well and helps your potential customers.

3. Focus on crafting remarkable content, rather than creating content just for the heck of it.

Even if you’re operating in an obscure niche, understand that Google will always favor quality content over quantity.

It doesn’t matter if you’re publishing less, as long as you’re not publishing superficial content that lacks in value.

4. Publish data-driven content that offers real advice backed by proof.

People and as well as search engines will make your content more credible and worthy if it combines real data.

5. Answer burning questions of your target audience with your content. It is a proven way to deliver high-quality content that ranks well in search engines.

Your audience will love your content because you’ll be addressing their pain points.

And also due to the evergreen nature of the content, it’ll attract backlinks from established websites.

Building traffic using SEO isn’t rocket science, but it can seem complicated, especially when you’re not sure about what to do.

Do get in touch with us if you want to generate more traffic with SEO.

We actually helped a small business generate $96,664.98 worth of SEO results in 5 months, and we can help you too.

5. Lower Costs

If there’s one thing that you don’t need to worry about when doing SEO, it’s having to invest a lot with little results.

Yes, there are definite costs involved in running a successful SEO campaign, but they are much lower.

The reason for this is simple: the level of brand awareness that you can build with SEO.

And, the kind of laser targeted traffic that you can drive would cost you with other marketing methods.

So even though SEO is not cheap, it’s reliable enough to justify the costs. Which makes it a winner.

6. Better Return on Investment

Paid or sponsored ads usually charge you for a click, while SEO doesn’t require you to pay for impressions or clicks.

But do keep in mind that quality SEO isn’t exactly free.

Depending on the target market you are in, you will have to invest time and money into getting the desired results.

And if you’re not an SEO expert, then you would have to work with a reputable SEO company to do it for you.

Having said that, search engine optimization can give you a better return on your investment when compared to traditional marketing or advertising.

It lets you tweak your efforts and improve your results over-time without losing much.

What’s more, with a bit of patience, it even gives a better return than pay-per-click advertising in the long run.

Here’s how you can improve your SEO ROI:

seo sem

7. Higher Sustainability

A business that survives in the long term, needs a marketing strategy that is equally reliable.

Having a sustainable means to get targeted visitors to your product page or for your company blog can prove to be a huge benefit. And SEO is just that.

sem vs seo

While SEO doesn’t guarantee that you will keep receiving traffic on autopilot for a long time, it does give you the peace of mind that doesn’t come with PPC marketing.

Once you rank for a particular keyword, you can keep doing the needed on-page and technical SEO to maintain your rank.

By being more sustainable, SEO can help you dominate a market segment without burning a hole in the wallet.

8. Higher Quality of Click-Through Rate

Placing a top sponsored listing in the search engines may require you to put a lot of money at stake.

And still, it doesn’t guarantee that your ad will attract a higher number of clicks.

Why? Because the biggest contender for a PPC ad in the SERPs is not the other ad but is the organic search listings.

Since more users tend to click on organic search results, you will end up getting a higher click-through rate.

seo vs ppc

Of course, your CTR depends on a number of factors, but you definitely have a higher chance of getting more clicks on your organic listing than you would have on a sponsored one.

So by focusing on improving the performance of your search listings, you’re getting the bigger piece of the traffic pie for a longer time.

9. Broader Reach

Let’s face it, no matter how well you know your audience, it’s not easy to predict everything that they will type in the search engines to find you.

The amount of search engine queries Google receives every day goes on billions.

This means by focusing only on some of the keywords, you are leaving a large chunk.

When you focus on SEO, you have a broader reach.

The more quality content you publish on your website, the more people will be able to find your site.

And the more people find your site, the more traffic you’d drive to your product or service page.

Unlike PPC, you’re not limited by budget or the number of keywords you’re targeting. 

10. Competitive Advantage

Any experienced SEO expert can tell you that getting your website ranked in the search engines isn’t a walk in the park.

It doesn’t happen overnight and takes a ton of focused effort to see results.

If done right, this one factor can work in your favor by giving you a strong strategic advantage.

Since there is an obvious barrier of entry for anyone trying to beat you once you’re established.

You won’t have to worry about having competitors “buying” their way to the top.

Their only option is pay-per-click ads, but then again, it isn’t the same as getting a higher position on the SERPs.

Again, this is assuming that you took the right steps and were patient enough to solidify your place in the top search results. 

The above benefits of SEO sound great, right? You would think that SEO is the obvious winner of the SEO vs SEM debate.

Well, like any online marketing strategy, even SEO has its own drawbacks.

Here are some that you may experience if you choose to focus on it.

Takes More Time

SEO can be darn slow when compared to PPC, especially if you’re not an established player.

Once you’ve figured out what keywords to rank for and do all the hard work, you’ll have to wait for the traffic to start coming in.

Depending on the number of keywords you’re targeting and the content you’re publishing, it can take weeks or even months.

Can be Highly Competitive

For a business that’s just started to experiment with SEO.

The results for the chosen keywords may be dominated by established players that are almost impossible to dethrone.

This is when it becomes important to re-think the keywords you’re targeting and go for long-tail keywords that have less competition.

May Require a Firm Content Strategy

Publishing quality content on a regular basis can help you attract targeted organic search traffic.

But creating great content that gets ranked higher in the search engines isn’t easy.

If your business doesn’t have the necessary resources, developing strong content assets can prove to be a challenge.

Which affects your ability to have a working content strategy.

Needs Regular Backlinking

Gone are the days when you could build a bunch of irrelevant backlinks to your webpage and have it shoot up the search engine result pages.

Today, link building goes hand in hand with the type of content you’re publishing.

But it doesn’t stop there. Your business also has to regularly reach out to other websites to get backlinks that are worthwhile.

Although every link you get matters, quality link building doesn’t happen just like that.

You’ll need expert help to get your off-page SEO right.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the SEO vs SEM dilemma – search engine marketing.

Search Engine Marketing: Pros and Cons

SEM or PPC is one the most widely used forms of online marketing methods.

But it has both advantages and disadvantages that your business should know about.

Let’s look into the pros before moving on to the cons.

1. Reach the Top

The above-the-fold area of the SERPs is where most of the attention is focused.

One of the biggest advantages of paid search ads is that you’re able to grab the attention of your target audience by positioning yourself on top of the page.

sem vs seo

Regardless of whether the user chooses to click on the ad or not, they will not miss seeing it.

But, as long as you have a well-crafted ad that’s relevant to the keyword, you can see decent results.

Trying to achieve the top slots in the organic search results with the help of SEO takes a lot of time and effort.

So if you have the moolah to bid on the right keywords using PPC, you can literally pay your way to the top of the SERPs.

2. Have More Control

Sponsored listings or PPC ads give you more control over the results you achieve.

You’re not limited in any way. By tweaking and testing every little detail of the ad, you will be able to improve the overall performance of your campaign.

seo vs sem

Unlike with SEO, the marketing messages that you want to deliver can be more persuasive and promotional.

You not only control how this message is crafted but also where you want to take your prospect.

Every single element of the ad can be customized to ensure you get the highest click-through rate.

3. Showcase Products Better

Organic search listings contain plain text and nothing else.

So if and when you’re selling a product on your eCommerce website, you have no option to display the product picture to entice the potential buyer.

This can affect the overall conversion rate of your product and lead to a low click-through rate.

seo vs sem

However, things change for the better when you’re using Google’s Product Listing PPC Ads.

These visual shopping ads allow you to show a picture of the product in the ad listing.

Due to the visual element in the listing, the likelihood of the user clicking on the product increases.

Which ultimately can increase your click-through rate and conversions.

4. Increase Brand Visibility

When you’re trying to drive traffic to your website, it’s crucial that you get only relevant people to see your listing.

Or else there’s no use getting a ton of visitors. When you’re doing SEO, you may or may not get the right people to visit your website.

But it’s not the same with PPC ads.

Your ads are laser targeted towards users who are actually searching for your product or service.

Getting seen by people who are interested in your niche or brand helps you boost your brand’s visibility.

Which indirectly affects the amount of business you get.

Even if a lot of people are not immediately clicking on your ads, they may search for your product in the future.

Either way, the paid ads will help immensely in terms of getting in front of your target audience and filtering out anyone who is not a part of it.

5. Control Budget

Investing in search engine marketing or pay-per-click ads is different than investing in SEO.

Because when you’re putting money into SEM, you’re basically controlling your budget at every step.

By having strong control on the budget, you don’t lose a lot of money in the long run.

PPC gives you the ability to fix your daily budget depending on how much you’re willing to spend.

And since you can start off with a small amount, you don’t have to put a heavy investment at stake before testing the waters.

Once you know a certain campaign is giving you a good return on investment.

You can ramp up your budget and increase your ad spendings without worrying about incurring losses.

6. Display Laser-Targeted Ads

Reaching out to potential customers gets easier when you know that you’re not letting the wrong people see your ad.

But PPC ads are not limited to just one type of targeting, which helps you tailor your ad campaigns for the best results.

When talking about pay-per-click marketing, the most common targeting option that gets talked about is keyword targeting.

However, if you know your audience well enough, you can go beyond that and target the ads based on:

So for example, if you’re running a holiday sale in your eCommerce store for people based in the USA, you can precisely design your ad for them.

This level of targeting is highly beneficial to businesses that are time-bound or location-bound.

If done right, targeted PPC ads can give a huge return on investment.

7. Achieve Quick, Measurable Results

Anyone promising quick results with SEO is a snake oil salesman.

Because SEO is a process in itself that takes a certain amount of patience and commitment.

It takes time to build a certain level of organic visibility, no matter how good you are.

However, with a properly created PPC campaign, results can be analyzed and any conversion-related problems can be fixed within no time.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see massive results from a PPC campaign that’s been running only for a few weeks.

When and if you have the budget, getting quick results with PPC is not only possible, it’s completely doable.

8. Get Real-Time Feedback

PPC is extremely helpful when it comes to getting constructive feedback from your target audience.

By running a PPC campaign, you get instant feedback that removes any guesswork.

This type of agility is not possible to achieve with SEO. Because agility requires speed, and paid search listings have it.

For instance, before launching a new product or service.

A business can create a simple landing page to gather feedback from the target audience.

Or it can run a survey asking a bunch of targeted questions.

Or it can even go a step further and create a minimum viable product to see how the target users are interacting with it.

With a bit of creativity, PPC ads can help gather real-time feedback that can be used to improve the end product or idea.

9. Split Test for Better ROI

As we all know, one of the main drawbacks of traditional advertising is the lack of data. It’s hard to know what’s working and what’s not.

For example, you may run the best ad in a newspaper or magazine, but you don’t have access to critical data about the ad’s performance.

Search engine marketing lets you split tests or A/B different ads against and each other.

You are able to test every small element of the ad and as well as the landing page.

Right from the titles to the color of the call-to-action button to the images, everything can be tested in real-time with the help of PPC ads.

seo vs sem

Having access to such crucial data not only helps you get a better return on investment from your PPC campaign.

But also gives you the needed knowledge to get improved results in other marketing areas such as SEO, email marketing, etc.

10. Experience More Stability

There are many different updates happening in the SEO world from time to time.

This is to ensure that the users are seeing only the best search engine results against their queries.

However, due to such frequent changes, your website’s position in the organic search results can be affected.

And sometimes, you may lose rankings that you built over a period of time.

Pay-per-click ads are more stable and predictable.

Even if there are any changes or updates, they don’t make a huge difference to how you run your ads.

They are subtle and in sync with the needs of advertisers.

This means managing a PPC ad campaign and improving the ROI in the midst of any changes is easier.

11. Generate Low-Cost Leads

When running a PPC ad, the cost of a lead is dependent on multiple factors.

However, if you manage to get the basics right, and optimize the campaign effectively, the leads you generate from your PPC campaign can prove to be high quality and low cost.

The cost of a lead comes down even further when working in a small niche that doesn’t have heavy competition.

For instance, if you’re an interior designer looking for more business in your area.

You may find it easier to get leads with PPC ads — given that you’re targeting the right keywords.

Now, search engine marketing or PPC advertising has its own share of disadvantages, which you should be aware of if you’re planning to take a plunge.

Can be Expensive

Unless you’re eBay or Amazon, PPC can prove to be an expensive affair.

You may initially not feel the pinch of it, but over time, the costs keep growing.

If you’re not doing enough testing with your ads, you may end up losing a chunk of your ad budget without any great returns.

Simply focusing on the wrong keywords or markets can make a huge dent in your wallet if you are lenient with your ad budget.

Needs Continual Investment

Although the organic search isn’t free, it doesn’t require you to constantly feed it with advertising dollars.

Pay-per-click ad campaigns need a continual investment to keep them up and running. You keep getting results as long as you keep coughing up more money.

If your campaign is successful and is offering good ROI, investing it on a regular basis makes sense.

But not when you’re losing money and you’re only putting in more just in the hope to turn the tables.

This is why it’s always important to keep an eye on your acquisition costs.

Allows Competitors to Review Your Campaign

Yes, pay-per-click ads aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But for competitors who want to copy your ad campaign or understand how your sales funnel works, it won’t take much time.

Your ads, your keywords, your landing page, your strategy, nothing remains a secret when you’re running PPC ads.

It’s out there in the open, ready to be analyzed and scrutinized by any of your competitors.

This may not make a huge impact on the performance of your campaign, but it does matter.

Remember, making a campaign successful requires a range of skills.

Everything from monitoring bids to tweaking the ad copy needs professional help.

If you’re new to PPC and don’t want to lose money on your campaign.

We at Lyfe Marketing can assist you in launching a PPC campaign with a high ROI.

SEO vs SEM: Which Should You Choose?

Your business, regardless of its size, has a unique audience.

You may be able to reach out to them with SEO or SEM, but the results depend on your business and marketing goals.

For some businesses, SEO makes complete sense while PPC is out of the question.

And for some SEO may not seem viable when compared to the benefits of PPC.

If you are an accounting agency that needs to generate local business and is in no hurry to do so.

Building and executing a solid SEO strategy can work out great in the long run.

But if you’re a lawyer competing with other legal agencies in the competitive SEO space, you may be better off buying PPC ads to get better results.

It is essential to analyze your existing goals and how they correlate to your overall business objective.

You have to create an online marketing strategy that clearly guides you towards leveraging the right method.

Balancing SEO and PPC

If you are a business that truly cares about creating a strong online presence and getting better returns in both, short term and long run.

Then you should balance both SEO and PPC together.

Your SEO efforts could cover up for the shortcomings of PPC and vice versa.

By incorporating both marketing methods into your business, you may end up getting the best of both worlds.

Here’s how you can do so:

– Collect conversion-related data from your PPC campaign and use it to convert your organic search visitors better.

Also, keywords that worked for you in PPC are best to optimize your website for, so using them for SEO purposes makes sense.

Your PPC campaign will end, but the rankings you achieve for the same keyword will remain for quite some time.

– Work on both paid ads and organic search listings to double your traffic by increasing your visibility in the SERPs.

This especially gives great results when you’re aiming for competitive keywords that need a bigger PPC budget.

– Use keywords that are too expensive for you to invest in or are not delivering a lot of traffic for SEO.

This way your PPC efforts will only be directed towards keywords that have a better ROI.

– Ad copy that is performing well can be used in the meta description of your website’s organic listing to increase the click-through rate.

Also, the organic traffic you generate to your content can be directed towards proven, high-converting PPC landing pages.

– Test different keywords with PPC ads before investing in them to improve search engine rankings.

The purpose of running small test PPC campaigns for these keywords is to find out whether they are worth optimizing for.

– By being active in both, SEO and SEM, you’d be able to reach out to more potential customers and build even more brand awareness.

Which ultimately results in higher visibility and better returns.


Knowing your business and its long-term goals are important to create a digital marketing strategy that gives results.

But by focusing on SEO and SEM, you are automatically taking a better approach than your competitors who are focusing on only one of these powerful methods.

This of course differs from business to business.

But if you want to improve your chances of success, then it makes sense to have an optimum search strategy that involves both, SEO and SEM.

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