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SEO vs SEM: Which Is Better?

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Digital Marketing is a rapidly changing field. The process of education is a never-ending one, and without it, it’s easy to get left behind. It becomes more evident than when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)—two of the core fields of Digital Marketing. Are you confused which is better, SEO vs SEM? If yes, educate yourself with this quick primer.



What Is Free SEO and What Is Paid SEM?

There are multiple definitions of SEO and SEM. In some cases these two are even used interchangeably, which is not precise because they are very different and even sometimes SEO is included as a subcategory of the broader SEM umbrella, which is somehow confusing. Therefore, to avoid confusion, here is how we define SEO. SEO involves all the link building activities and on-page optimization, the purpose of which is to achieve good rankings in organic search engine result page, while SEM is everything else you pay for, such as Pay-Per-Click traffic.

When to Use SEO

As we all know, SEO does not not involve spending money but it isn’t mean that it is cheaper alternative. When you consider how much time you spend for link building and for onpage optimization, you don’t regard it as free anymore ‐ time is money and these free SEO activities waste  so much time that you already know how expensive ‘free’ can be. Despite of it, there are cases when you just need SEO. These cases include:

• When using less competitive keywords, especially long-tail keywords

In case of less competitive keywords, your investment in SEO is more likely to succeed because you have not spend much time and effort to achieve good rankings. This especially holds true in the case for long-tail keywords because even if you bid on them, you will hardly get many clicks. For long-tail keywords it is possible to be ranked well in organic search even without any special SEO activities ‐ just include the long-tail keyword a couple of times on the page and it will be more likely to get to the top of search results even without having many such backlinks.

seo vs sem


• When you do not have a good budget

Another case when SEO is not only the better but the only option is when you are on a low budget and you have enough time to spent on SEO. When your budget is too limited, you might be able to buy some cheap PPC clicks but basically 200 or 300 clicks per day will not make a huge difference anyway. In this type of case, you should invest your time in SEO and when your budget allows it, you can shift to PPC.

It may seem like SEO isn’t very useful, but this isn’t so. SEO is useful and even if you can afford to spend your money on PPC, never ditch organic rankings completely.

When to use SEM

When you start seeing that free SEO alone is not delivering the results you want. This thing especially holds true after update to the search algorithm, such as the Panda update, when your site that used to rank well for your keywords before, now gets buried down the search results. At these times, almost everybody turns up to and paid search. It works best in the following cases:

 • Competitive Keywords

Competitive Keywords are very hard to conquer when it comes to SEO. If you have in mind how much time SEO takes for competitive keywords, then PPC is much cheaper than SEO. It is obvious if you start with SEM and $3-4 dollar clicks, the costs will be large but if you try competitive keywords on some of the Adwords alternatives first, you will have more chances achieve better results for a fraction of the money you have spent on SEM.

• Lots of traffic is required in a short period of time.

SEO takes a lot of time to see results. If you need traffic at any specific time, you will surely wont wait. For instance, if you sell Diwali stuff and your keywords are well competitive, you can end ranking well organically but it’s not good to rank well for Diwali-related keywords in February. Therefore, in October you might want to drive more traffic with PPC.

seo vs sem


• Better exposure

If you want to get better exposure, you need to consider SEM. Paid listings for a given keyword are displayed above organic ones, so you will get more exposure, but you also must have in mind that generally users are more likely to click on organic search results rather than on paid listings because people believe organic listings as more authentic

• To find keywords for SEO

Sometimes when you launch a campaign, you see that some of the competitive keywords you thought would do great for you, actually don’t convert. It’s quite logical that if a keyword is competitive, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will convert well.The best you can do is spend some money on AdWords campaign and see if particular keywords convert well or not. If they do, then increase your free SEO efforts and your SEM budget for it.

seo vs sem

Long-term performance: Organic vs Paid

SEO and SEM complement each other brilliantly. Each of these has its strengths and weaknesses and win-win approach is to use both. What you need to do is experimenting a bit till you find the right combination and should do ongoing performance analysis of results Once you find the perfect combination, you will be getting your desired traffic. Hope this helps to resolve your query on SEO vs SEM?

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  • There is 1 comment

    • 2 years ago

      Deepak Singla   /   Reply

      DigitalVidya articles are always informative.
      Here I would like to say that both SEO and SEM are vital to be implemented since both work parallelly. If one is the heart, the other is the backbone of online marketing. For me the mess lies in website looks. If it goes wrong, the whole marketing will be less effective since stunning looks pull the traffic making easier for the marketers to execute marketing techniques effectively so here choosing a good website builder like TemplateToaster becomes pretty important.
      Coz in the end customer satisfaction is the best satisfaction to achieve.

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