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SEO vs SEM – and Which is More Suitable for Your Business?

November 09, 2020

SEO vs SEM – and Which is More Suitable for Your Business?

Digital Marketing is essential to any business in this day and age, especially for those that aim to have an online presence. A key aspect of digital marketing is search marketing, a tactic used to gain online traffic and presence on search engines such as Google, Bing & Yahoo. With over 5.6 billion searches daily on Google, it is paramount that you consider search marketing in your online business strategy!

With that being said, search marketing has two different approaches – Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). While they sound the same, both approaches are vastly different. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses organic tactics to show content nearer to the top of search pages. This is done by optimizing site elements (mobile friendliness, site architecture, and keywords) and building a website’s reputation by acquiring high quality backlinks (makes the website more trustworthy and reliable).

On the other hand, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) uses paid tactics to make it to the top of search pages. SEM is done by paying for ad spaces to display your listing higher up on the page. The cost of the ads depend on how competitive the keywords are, search volume and time of day the ads appear. In this article, we’ll be helping you choose between the two strategies!


#1: Budget

budget for google ads


Your budget is often the determining factor when deciding on marketing tactics – and it’s no different here! Deciding between SEO & SEM (or both!) is largely based on how much you’re willing to spend.

For those with a lower marketing budget, a SEO campaign is most definitely the way to go. With a much higher click-through-rate (CTR) than SEM, SEO is something that any business should consider in their marketing arsenal. However, it’s benefits only begin to show when your listings are amongst the first 5 organic results – which is more often than not an arduous task to complete.   On the other hand, SEM would suit a larger marketing budget. There is no denying the value SEM brings, having your listing displayed at the top of the page is highly beneficial to any business. The downside though, is the high costs it can occur. On average, SMEs invest about $10,000 a month on SEM alone.

While both have their negatives and positives, the two strategies actually complement each other and make the ultimate search marketing strategy!   Take for example a relatively new website, it would benefit much more from an SEM campaign as it may take a long time before its SEO rankings are established. The SEM campaign can bring in traffic while the SEO is being worked on in the background. After establishing a respectable SEO ranking, the SEM campaign can then be toned down to supplement the SEO  as organic traffic takes over!


#2: Urgency

Urgency for time


Another aspect to consider is how urgent the situation is, are you able to spend a substantial amount of time growing & optimizing your strategy? Or do you need to hit your KPIs as soon as possible? Not only do the two strategies differ in cost, they are also different in the time it takes for returns to show.

SEO is not very effective in the short-term as it takes anywhere from weeks to months to acquire a high ranking organically. However, once your ranking is established you’ll be set up for a long time. Traffic generation will then be constant with minimal maintenance and optimizations.

Conversely, SEM is drastically faster to set up compared to SEO. A Google Ads marketing campaign can take less than an hour to set up and start driving traffic. The downside to this is that your campaign only lasts as long as your budget, when it runs out – so does your traffic generation. A stark difference to SEO, where traffic can be driven continuously as long as you have a high organic ranking.


#3: Business Goals

business goals ticks


Last but not least, the decision between the two strategies will also depend on your business goals. Is the marketing campaign for a long-term business? Or is it only for a one-off event or temporary website? These business considerations will greatly affect which strategy you choose!

In business cases whereby you’re launching a promotional campaign, SEM is the way to go. With a short duration and need for customer conversions, time is valuable and you can’t afford to wait for results. SEM is not only easy to set up, but results can be had instantly.

In contrast, SEO would suit long-term businesses where instant results are sacrificed for long-term gains. Patience is key here as SEO is much harder to set up and takes more time compared to SEM.



No matter your choice, both strategies require expertise, experience and dedication to properly set up and deploy your preferred marketing strategy. Not only could it be expensive, it can also be difficult to hire your own marketing specialist to oversee your marketing campaigns. Also, don’t forget about your Web Development, or eCommerce website development if you are running an e-commerce store. Without a website, neither of the two options discussed in this whole article is possible! Looking for a digital marketing services vendor?

Here at FirstCom Solutions, we are always ready to help identify your target audiences and strategize your marketing campaigns, be it SEO or SEM. Contact us today!