SEM vs. SEO: Which Approach is Best for Your Business?

Blog > Marketing > SEM vs. SEO: Which Approach is Best for Your Business?

Although people sometimes use the terms “SEM” and “SEO” interchangeably, they are two wildly different strategies used in digital marketing. We want to explain how they are similar and how they are different so you can decide which one, if not both, would work the best for your business. Keep reading to find out more about SEM vs. SEO.

What is SEM?

SEM, short for “search engine marketing,” refers to the use of paid advertisements to market a business and increase visibility in search engine results pages, or SERPs. These are also known as pay-per-click ads or PPC ads. Business owners pay search engines like Google to display their advertisements to potential customers when they are searching for the company’s targeted keywords.

Although SEM is a paid strategy, it’s not quite as simple as just paying for top placement. Every time a search is performed, the search engine runs an instantaneous auction to determine who, of all those competing to appear for the specific search term, is best suited to be shown. In the auction, the search engine considers the quality of your ad copy, the relevance and user experience of your desired landing page, and how much you’re willing to spend to win the user’s click.

What is SEO?

SEO, or “search engine optimization,” is another marketing tactic that can be used to help your website appear on search engine result pages organically. Most commonly, SEO involves targeting specific keywords in a website’s written content to ensure that search engines understand the purpose of each page and can rank the site properly in search engine results. Content, however, is not the only factor that influences SEO. Other influencing factors include: domain authority, core web vital performance, site speed, image alt tagging, and so much more.

A great way to improve SEO on your website is through a blog. A blog provides a place where you can add content to your site, but you can’t just upload 500 words and expect to get that number one spot. For a blog’s content to positively impact your SEO rankings, you need to optimize your content for search engines. There are a variety of strategies behind how you should write a blog post to help with SEO.


These marketing strategies may sound similar, but there are some key differences between the two. SEM is a business owner using paid strategy to appear in searches, whereas SEO is a business using free, organic strategies to appear in searches. 

Businesses also use SEM to appear on search result pages, but a huge strength of using this marketing strategy is that it puts ads in front of customers who are ready to make purchases. By targeting customers searching specific keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business, you are more likely to reach that person when they’re ready to make a purchase or influence their buying decision.

SEO, on the other hand, is a long game marketing strategy. You use certain tactics to ensure your website and pages rank for targeted keywords. Then, if you’ve implemented SEO best practices effectively, search engines can move your pages up to the top spots on SERPs. Instead of paying for instant top spots, you try to reach the top spot using organic strategies all throughout your website. 

If you think of marketing as a funnel, you can think of SEO as a way to drive traffic to your website at the top of the funnel where users are looking for information and gaining awareness. At the bottom of the funnel, SEM is used as a way to drive conversions at the bottom of the funnel where customers are much closer to making a buying decision.

Using SEM and SEO Simultaneously 

So which strategy is best for your business—SEM or SEO? The short answer is both! Instead, the question should be how to most effectively incorporate both approaches. These strategies serve their individual purpose, but pairing them together will increase your visibility even more. You want to use best SEO practices all throughout your website (ie: targeting keywords in blog posts, etc). By optimizing the content on your website, you are more likely to rank high in organic search results. Using PPC ads to supplement your SEO strategy will send additional traffic to these same highly optimized pages.

SEM and SEO are necessary if you want to drive traffic to your site and get people to buy your product. Not sure where you should start? Contact us to begin developing a paid ad strategy or run an SEO audit on your site today.

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