SEO vs. SEM: Boost Website Traffic & Get Found on Google

What is the difference between SEO and SEM? There are a lot of acronyms floating around in the digital marketing world. It can be difficult to keep them all straight. This blog will focus specifically on SEO, SEM and PPC. Each acronym means something slightly different, but all are important components for how to be found on Google.


1. What is SEO and SEM? Let’s start with the basics.

We’re going to break down the differences between SEO vs. SEM. But first, let’s start with a general overview of each term and how they help your business boost website traffic. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) stands for search engine optimization. When looking for how to improve SEO for small businesses, start first with your website and keywords. SEO is all about organic search results based on what users search for on Google or Bing. Google narrows in on specific keywords in a web search and determines the best ranked results based on a business’s website, content, and overall site performance.


Search engine marketing (SEM) stands for search engine marketing. SEM is often confused with PPC advertising. However, search engine marketing is the umbrella term for getting traffic through paid search (like Google Ads and Pay Per Click (PPC)) and SEO. SEO and paid search are components of SEM as demonstrated by the image below.




2. Important components of SEO and SEM.

Since most business owners and marketers use SEM to refer to paid search, we’ll spend most of this blog comparing SEO (organic search) with the paid component of SEM for small businesses, which includes Google Ads and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). When you search for a keyphrase in Google, you’ll notice that the top search results have “Ad” listed below. That’s because Google automatically puts paid search results higher than organic search results.




The components for paid SEM start with bidding on certain keywords that are included in your ad copy. The more you’re willing to bid, the better chance you have of showing up in the paid search results. A #1 paid search ranking is never guaranteed. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is pretty self-explanatory. You pay for how many clicks you receive on your ad. However, the price of each click depends on the “quality score” that Google gives your ad. The higher the score, the less you pay per click. The quality score is based on whether or not your ad will match what someone is searching for. Click through rate (CTR), quality of overall ad account and quality of landing page (the website page your ad links to) all play a role. 


SEO, on the other hand, relies on two important factors: on-page SEO and off-page SEO to rise up on the page rankings. On-page SEO revolves around the quality of your content, your keywords, meta titles and descriptions, and page experience. Off-page SEO is the work that you do to build quality backlinks that bring users to your site from other reputable websites. Both are important to boost website traffic coming from organic search results.


3. How long does it take to see results?

When choosing between SEM and SEO, your timeline is the first place to start. If you want to get found on Google fast, go with paid search. Because this is a paid advertising strategy, you’ll start to see immediate results from bidding on strong keywords. However, this does not mean that you’ll see conversions increase. The quality of your website will impact how long visitors stay on your site and potentially purchase something or contact you. Don’t invest in paid search until you’re confident that your website is fully optimized for a great user experience. Otherwise, you might lose more money on paid search than you make back, leading to negative ROI. 


SEO for small businesses takes time, energy and consistency. According to one study by Ahrefs, it could take up to two years of intentional work to obtain that coveted #1 position in the organic search results. Oftentimes, users automatically start with the paid search results instead of taking a look at organic search. While it is hard work to improve your SEO, the work that you do will remain on the site going forward, unlike the temporary advertisements through PPC.


4. How much does SEO and SEM cost?

SEM is very useful if you have a larger marketing budget and you’d like to see fast results. When done well, SEM for small businesses can bring in website traffic that converts to sales with a great ROI. Keep in mind that the traffic will obviously slow down after you stop paying for the ad, while the traffic that you grow with SEO will continue to grow. Set a smaller monthly budget (around $200 to $400) when you first start SEM so you don’t get carried away. 


While SEO doesn’t cost money, it does cost time and energy. Even if you hire a company to help you with your SEO, the results won’t be immediate. Great results take time to produce. But once you start ranking, you’ll see traffic increase without paying a dime. 


5. When should you use SEO vs. SEM?

If you have a large marketing budget and you want to boost website traffic immediately, start with SEM while you continue to work on improving SEO. It’s also a great idea to use paid SEM when you launch a brand new website that doesn’t have SEO built up yet. If you are on a tight budget but want to increase your site visits, invest your time and energy into quality SEO.


If you can find less competitive keywords to rank for, you might see your visits increase more quickly 

In conclusion, it’s a good idea to use both paid and organic search tactics to draw more visitors to your website. Remember, Google is the tool to bring people to your site, but your website must be professional, clear and attractive to keep them from bouncing right off. It’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest Google updates because SEO and SEM are never set in stone. 


Do you need help with SEO or SEM?

Reach out to our team today to schedule an initial appointment with our SEO experts.


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