Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two of the biggest marketing channels businesses consider when trying to improve traffic to their website.

If you are trying to make a decision about whether to go with SEO or SEM, this guide will help you make a decision.

We'll take a look at:

  • What exactly is SEO and SEM?
  • What's the main difference between the two?
  • What's the advantage of doing SEO over SEM and vice versa?

Let's get started!

What is SEO and SEM?

Let's first briefly take a look at what SEO and SEM are:

SEO Explained

Search engine optimisation, or more popularly known as SEO, is an effective way to bring organic traffic to your website. To be successful, you'll need to work on areas where Google thinks is important.

This usually means optimising your site's on-site and off-site SEO. This usually involves creating relevant content on your site surrounding your target keywords as well as getting qualified backlinks from authority sites.

For SEO to work on the long-term, you'll also need to keep up with Google's algorithm updates

While you don't pay for ads to get traffic with SEO, you do need to put in the time and effort to see the results. 

SEM Explained

Search engine marketing (SEM), on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. You bid for relevant keywords in search ad networks like Google Ads, Bing Ads and so on. SEM ads show up at the top of search results just before the SEO results.

Though, that doesn't mean you will be successful just because you pay for ads. You still need to apply a relevant strategy for you to get long-term results.

What's the main difference between SEO and SEM?

With SEM, you always need to pay to play. When you stop paying for Google Ads, your ads will stop showing and your website link will disappear from search results. With SEO, on the other hand, if you are able to successfully rank your website within the Top 10 of search results, they'll usually stay there without any payment to search engines.

SEO vs SEM: Which should you go for?

Like all strategies, my answer is: it depends.

If you have a brand new website and don't mind waiting 6 - 12 months for results, go with SEO first. This will give your business a good runway for growth if you don't have a budget for SEM down the road.

On the other hand, if you want to get results straight away, I'd recommend going with SEM. This will give you some quick data on if your target audience is interested in what you are doing or not.

On the long-term, you'd want to combine SEO and SEM strategies together for a more holistic marketing approach.

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