SEO vs. SEM? Why You Should Use Both in Your Marketing Strategy

Digital marketing has forever altered the way the inbound methodology is executed. With so many ways to increase brand awareness, credibility within your industry, and trust with your customers, it’s more important now than ever to understand how different areas of digital marketing work together. 

Digital marketing encompasses your website’s design, content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Each of these distinct areas work together to create an inbound marketing machine that can generate quality leads for your business.

In this post, we take a closer look at SEO vs. SEM to determine the differences in both strategies, as well as how they can be used together to create a successful digital marketing strategy.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is a way to improve your website’s performance on search engine results pages (SERPS) with the intent to increase traffic to the site organically, or without having to pay for these results.

3 Types of SEO 

There are many factors that affect the overall ranking of a website that can be grouped into three categories. Each of the individual parts work together to ensure a successful SEO strategy. They are: 

1. On-Page SEO

On-page SEO, also known as local SEO, refers to optimizing the individual pages of a website so that search engines can determine what the website is about. This includes all of the content on the site. 

In order to have good on-page SEO, it is important to conduct keyword research and choose keywords that are targeted to the content on the page. It is best to pick words that have a high search volume to gain visibility, as well as low competition to have a higher chance of ranking for the keyword. 

After you have chosen your keywords, you must create high-quality content that is centered around those particular terms. When creating the content, be sure to use the keywords naturally throughout the copy, so that search engines are able to get a better understanding of what the webpage is about. 

2. Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO helps build a website’s reputation, authority, and relationship with other websites. When indexing a website, these elements are taken into consideration to determine the credibility and quality of the source. By getting quality backlinks from authoritative sites, setting up a Google My Business Page, and earning positive reviews on your listing, you can increase the success of your off-page SEO ranking and improve brand awareness.

3. Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the technical changes made that allow crawlers to index and rank the site more efficiently, all while improving the user experience. These elements are the foundation of your website. Some ways to improve your technical SEO include aiming for quicker site speed, ensuring it is mobile-friendly, using canonical tags to prevent duplicate content, and optimizing your sitemap for crawl efficiency.

What is SEM? 

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is another important element of digital marketing that is used to increase traffic to your website. When it comes to SEO vs. SEM, SEO focuses on increasing traffic organically, while SEM uses paid methods to attract new visitors. Oftentimes, SEM is referred to as paid search (PPC) simply because it is the main component of SEM. PPC is used to essentially “buy” real estate at the top of a search engine results page in the form of advertisements. 

Specific targeting is one of the added benefits of using paid advertisements. When you create a PPC advertising campaign, you will also need to conduct keyword research to guarantee that your ads are being shown to your target audience. By only showing your ads to people who are already searching for what you have to offer, you increase your chances of attracting valuable leads. Not only that, but you can also spend your money more efficiently and stay on top of your marketing budget.

Once you have a set of keywords that you would like to target in a particular campaign, you will then create ads that incorporate those keywords. You will want to create ads that are eye-catching and make users want to click and learn more. Just like SEO, monitoring your PPC campaigns is crucial to ensure you’re reaching the right audience, getting conversions, and again, staying on budget. 

SEO vs. SEM: Which Strategy to Use? 

Now that you have a better understanding of both SEO and SEM, it is time to decide what strategy to use to reach your business goals. We recommend that you use both SEO and SEM because when used together they can significantly increase the success of your marketing efforts. While they are different, they share one common goal –– to bring website users to your site.

Keep in mind that SEO is a long-term strategy that requires consistent monitoring and updating. So, while the investment in SEO is well worth it, it can take a bit of time to notice improved performance. On the other hand, SEM is somewhat of an instant strategy that can provide faster results. This can be especially beneficial if you want to target particular keywords that have a lot of competition. By using both strategies you are addressing both short and long term outcomes. 

One of the first things you need to do is think about your overall business goals. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what is going to be most effective in helping you reach those goals. 

Once your goals are defined, we recommend performing a website audit to determine what is working well on your site, and what needs to be improved. You can use tools such as Google Analytics, SEM Rush, Screaming Frog, and Lucky Orange to analyze your current online presence in more depth. Once you have gathered the necessary insights, you can then put together a plan that addresses the current issues. 

Overall, it shouldn’t come down to SEO vs. SEM, but rather SEO and SEM. When combined, they help to strengthen your overall inbound marketing strategy by attracting top-of-the-funnel leads and nurturing them over time to be customers, and promoters, of your brand.

Improve Your Inbound Marketing Efforts

Our team of experts have put together a bundle of our most popular ebooks that will guide you through the process of improving your inbound marketing efforts. It consists of our latest SEO Guidebook to help you optimize your website, a list of 25 website must-haves, and 30 lead generation tips and tricks to include in your strategy. These three guides will help you increase website traffic and improve the quality of your leads. 

If you’re interested in taking your digital marketing efforts to the next level, download your marketing bundle by clicking the button below.

This post was originally published on February 19th, 2018 and rewritten on September 3nd, 2020.