You wish to expand your business and get more sales online. In the quest, you take the help of Google, and you get suggestions like SEO, SEM, etc. The options seem pretty interrelated with just a difference of one word. 

You are more confused than before because you don’t know which one to choose, SEO or SEM. In fact, you even don’t know the fundamental difference.

Here is what you have been looking for… The much-needed explanation!!

How exactly SEO differs from SEM?

SEO differs from SEM in many aspects, an important one being ‘SEO provides organic results while SEM is a paid strategy.’

Above could be the best answer for people who have a little know-how about the two online business growth strategies, but this simple-looking topic has more explanation to come forward. Therefore, let this blog start with some basics about SEO and SEM, further dwelling into differences, similarities, and everything you need to know about them both. 

SEO – Search Engine Optimization

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is an essential practice of making your website discoverable on Search Engine Result Pages. It is more of an organic approach to building a website’s credibility and authenticity so that the website complies with the algorithm of search engines and ranks in the top five SERPs. 

SEO actually brings visibility to your website, so that target customers find it easy to locate your services and make the purchase. 

Four building blocks of SEO

SEO further includes various sub-strategies to improve the quality of the website and strengthening E.A.T (Expertise, Authority and Trust) principles as coined by Google. It involves checking various parameters and bringing improvisations. Therefore, you should hire a skilled SEO expert for your website because he will take less time to show beneficial results. 

Let’s look at the four building blocks:-

  1. On-Page SEO – As the name suggests, the whole work is done on the website. It helps search engines understand the website’s core services and other factors like H1, title, Meta tag, image alt tags, keywords, meta description, URL, internal linking, speed, etc. Moreover, the mandatory changes that are done under on-page optimization are – 
  • Optimizing meta description, alt tags, and title tags
  • Writing well-researched and in-depth content
  • Optimizing website’s speed 
  • Making URLs short and descriptive
  • Heading tag optimization
  • Image tag optimization

2. Off-Page SEO – Under this subcategory of SEO, activities are done outside the website. You can take it as credibility building of the website with techniques like link building, social media marketing, guest blogging, and brand mentioning. 

Some activities that are carried outside include –

  • Generating backlinks from authoritative sites
  • Citation building
  • Building positive reviews
  • Improvising Google My Business listing
  • Popularizing brand on social media

3. Technical SEO – A website is nothing but a structure prepared with codes. Its smooth functioning and proper working depend on factors like the website’s speed, crawlability, data structure, indexing, and security. If a website is not perfect in the aspect of its technical features, it is not taken as a credible source by search engines. Therefore, the technical SEO optimizes the technical factors and makes the website more credible. The work includes-

  • Page speed improvisation
  • Canonical tagging to avoid duplicate contents
  • Hreflang tagging for multilingual website 
  • Optimizing crawl efficiency

For successful SEO strategies of your business, all these core pillars must be considered. Having said that, it is only possible when you have an expert right beside you like RankingXpress Digital

4. Content – As the saying goes, your website is ‘Kingdom’ and content is the ‘King.’ A soulful and authoritative content represents your website to the core and helps your target audience to understand your takeaways. Therefore, the website content should be crisp and purposeful. It must go by the service industry, linking all the broken ends.

Content on your website can be further broken down into three categories –

  • Credibility Content – Help people understand your USPs.
  • Marketing Content – Increases the engagement on your website.
  • Introductory Content – Tells people about your services, business areas, and expertise.

As the content hold this much importance, it needs to be qualitative, trendy, relevant, speaking of usefulness, and keyword optimized. You can further as other elements like media to make it more appealing.

You may read our recently published blog: Is SEO Worth the Expense?

SEM – Search Engine Marketing 

Unlike SEO, SEM or Search Engine Marketing is a paid service to gain visibility on top SERPs. Often people find SEM synonymous with PPC, which most people do not coincide with. According to them, PPC is one of the sub-strategies that are involved in SEM.

The popular strategies involved in SEM are –

  • Search Advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Video Advertising
  • Shopping Ads
  • Remarketing
  • Service advertising
  • PPC

SEM deals in paid services like Google ads, Bing ads, Gmail ads, YouTube ads, search ads, etc. The whole campaign starts with the research of most searched keywords that are targeted later to attract traffic. 

The noticeable difference between SEO and SEM

SEO and SEM are strikingly different from each other. The differences can be shown well with factors like cost incurred in running campaigns, time-taken to show results, click-through rates, credibility and authority added, visibility, etc. 

The table

Factors SEOSEM
Marketing Type InboundInbound and Outbound both
Cost involved FreePaid as the clicks
SERP ranking Appears in organic search results with featured snippetsListed on the of SERP with ad extension
Time taken in results Takes timeShort and immediate
Click-through rate HigherLower
Visibility Shown to everyoneShown to target users
Credibility HigherLower

Although the table has precisely defined how SEO differs from SEM, yet a few factors need to be discussed briefly. So let’s get started. 

Cost Involved – SEO v/s SEM

SEO has been a favorite strategy for generating organic traffic 24/7. The process gives your website the required organic traffic and recognition. As the traffic increases, the website’s credibility also increases paving ways for better recognition and sales. 

On the other hand, SEM or PPC is a money constraint technique. You need to pay for it to keep running and targeting credible users. Once the paid campaign is over, the traffic disappears and sales go down. So, at this point, you can consider SEO a free-of-cost traffic generation process in spite of SEM. However, you will have to hire experts for better SEO results and pay for high-quality content. Overall, after paying for a skilled expert and high-quality content, SEO will still be more cost-effective. 

Time-taken to show the results – SEO v/s SEM

The speed of showing results could be a contrasting difference between the two strategies. If precisely put, SEO takes time while SEM does not! Especially when you have launched a new website, it will take a lot of time. 

According to experts from RankingXpress, a new website may take 1 year on average to rank first on Google SERP. But that depends upon the brain working behind the SEO campaign. An expert campaign maker can produce results as soon as in 3 months only. Being said that, it is very crucial to choose the right-brainer to plan your SEO campaign. 

Now, as you talk about SEM, results are instant. You may start seeing conversions from the afternoon if you have paid for the campaigns in the morning. But results of SEM are short-lived till you are actively paying for the campaign.

The key point to note here is that – ‘traffic scores nil when you stop the payment!!!’

Which should be your go-getter? – SEO v/s SEM

Well, this is a pretty tough question because both contribute to your earnings at one point in time. On the one hand, SEO builds the credibility of your website; SEM brings you sure sought conversions. 

So, the question should be – when to focus on each campaign

For example, if you are a new service in the market and have just launched a website, you need to adhere to SEO and bring more organic traffic. Having SEO right from your budding entrepreneurial phase will help ease your budget and get organic visibility on SERPs. 

Later, after six months or so, when your website has gained enough authority and credibility, and you have a consistent budget, invest in SEM, manage Adwords account and launch landing pages. 

Your decision must also depend on factors like –

  • Pre-defined goals 
  • Existing performance
  • Budget margins
  • Adding lifetime value to website and customers

The similarities: SEO v/s SEM

You have seen contrasting differences between SEO and SEM; you must also understand the similarities both strategies could have.

  • Both SEO and SEM improves your website’s visibility and helps your website rank higher in SERPs
  • Both strategies work well in bringing relevant traffic to your website and encourage click-through rates. The only possibility is that SEM has a higher click-through rate than SEO.
  • You learn to understand your users and their tilts.
  • SEO and SEM both require keyword research.
  • Both strategies require constant monitoring and optimization.

Can SEO and SEM be combined?

Generally, experts suggest not combining both strategies and working with them at one time. However, if you still plan to combine both, you must have the ability to differentiate and integrate both channels.

  • Focus more on SEO

Your first focus should be search engine optimization for traffic generation within six months. Later you can find the need for paid campaign and work accordingly.

  • Use SEM insights power SEO campaign

You can use SEM insights as a testing bed for your SEO. With the help of SEM insights, you can see test conversion rates, keyword performance, etc.

  • Gain top rank on SERPs with both

Gain viability on the top of the SERP and in between organic search results with both strategies.

The final put

SEO and SEM are two totally different strategies that cannot replace each other’s worth. People will have to understand the difference and value of these strategies to generate more business and gain over competitive advantages. 

All in all, you will require a highly experienced Digital Marketing Agency like RankingXpress Digital. The SEO services experts and PPC services experts here will guide you in every decision being taken for the betterment of your website.

You can read our recently published blogs:

7 Tested Techniques to Improve SEO Ranking on Google

Complete SEO Audit checklist to boost website ranking

Do you want more traffic?

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About Ranking Express

The name “RankingXpress” has been inspired by the very basic concept of digital marketing. “Ranking” plays a huge role in SEO and the overall digital marketing strategy. From the very beginning, we felt that marketers and businesses need a comprehensive learning platform that helps them to drive their digital success quickly and expeditiously. So, we founded this informative platform for you and named our blog “RankingXpress.”

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