SEO vs SEM - Choosing the right strategy for you

Search engine optimization is a very crucial digital marketing strategy to place your brand at the top of the search results. It helps in increased visibility to boost traffic to your site. Though this may seem straight forward, there are some drawbacks in this too. It takes a pretty long time for SEO to catch Google’s attention and then come forward in SERP. While, although “paid” unlike SEO which is completely dependent on strategy and time. While some industries / businesses work best with SEO as they have the time and need the strength of Google’s listing, there are some who need immediate attention and leads who choose the paid campaigns ways. This does not mean you do not need both, in fact, you absolutely have to

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a digital marketing strategy that is organic and uses tactics to place the brand among the top results of a search engine. For SEO, brands don't pay and it is done using the below techniques:

  • On-page SEO - targets a specified keyword of the pages on a website and appeal to the search engines. Strategies include content creation and keyword optimization.

  • Technical SEO - uses the non-content elements of your site and improves the backend of your brand. Strategies include data, security and crawlability.

  • Off-page SEO - links to other high quality sites to build your brand's reputation. The main strategy here is link building which in turn build the site's credibility.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is often referred to as paid marketing and it involves strategies to optimize the ad and pay to place your brand's ad. This is also commonly referred to as PPC (Pay per click) marketing. The SEM process goes like -

  • Perform a keyword research

  • Create campaigns

  • Place ads at the top after a search

  • Pay as per the number of clicks

Are SEO and SEM similar?

Both of these are search marketing strategies to offer more visibility to your brand. Here are a few similarities:

  • Place your brand at a prominent position

  • Drive traffic to your site resulting in more conversions

  • Analyse the most popular keywords to target them

  • Continuous testing and optimization is a must


Then why choose between SEO or SEM?

Irrespective of the similarities, there are a number of differences which will force your brand to choose what suits you best:

  • SEM is a paid tactic and appears as an "Ad". SEO results appear as a search option

  • SEM results include ad extensions, while SEO results appear as featured snippets

  • SEO is absolutely free, SEM is paid of course

  • SEM is target audience specific, SEO is keyword specific (indirectly the target audience’s thought process)

  • SEM results are immediate, SEO takes time to grow visibility organically – slow and steady

So how do I choose?

Once you have understood the difference between the two search marketing strategies, it is important for you to analyse which is better for your brand.

  • SEM is better for brand's with higher competition

  • SEO is better for those who know the target audience and want long term benefits

  • SEM is better for short-term, higher budget strategies, while SEO is preferable for higher valued industries that would like to establish their brand on the internet well

  • For newbies, SEM will help put you on the map immediately at least for a short while, while SEO helps establishes your brand

Plan and choose your strategies or as you dive deeper, you may understand that a combination of both works for you! It is a must have an SEO strategies for any small to huge organizations in the world of Google (or any other search engine like Bing) – its race and the brands that occupies the first page always are seen with a stronger value. SEM is required for the same brands, say when they introduce a new product or when they need to generate leads sooner for some reason or other, there is no way to depend on inbound leads that ae organic and may or may not come at the time you wish for it.

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