SEO vs. SEM: What’s the difference and which one should you focus on?

We've summarised what it really takes to get your business to the top of Google search results.

All Silvercode websites are fitted with basic SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

Our websites are all built with basic SEO best-practices, which most businesses find sufficient. However, if you’d like to further improve your website’s visibility in search engine results, there are two main strategies to choose from:

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

This strategy targets paid search results (Pay Per Click Advertising). Paid advertisements are optimised to take your website straight to the top of search results for specific keywords or phrases of your choice.

Comprehensive Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

This strategy targets organic search results. This involves hiring a dedicated SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) agency to improve your website’s organic search ranking through a variety of techniques.

Paid vs. Organic Search Results

What’s the difference?

The most important thing to know about search engine results is that the results are divided into two main areas.

Paid Search Results (shown in green)

The first area is typically shown prominently at the top or side of the search result page and includes paid advertisements based on what words were typed into the search.

Organic Search Results (shown in red)

The second area, shown below the paid advertisements, includes the organic search results. The order of the results is determined by the search engine’s own algorithms. While the formula of these algorithms is always a closely-guarded secret, it is widely assumed that they factor in such things such as how many other websites link back to the page, the text and image content on the page, the number of visitors the page receives, the age of the page and so much more.

Paid vs. Organic Search Results

The pros and cons.

SEM / Search Engine Marketing (Paid Search Results)

  • Get your website to the top of Google quickly. Results are typically achieved within just 1 week.
  • Choose your advertising spend. Pay Per Click advertising platforms are a budget-friendly option for any business size.
  • Results can be completely guaranteed, but will instantly cease when your SEM campaigns are turned off.
  • Pay Per Click platforms such as Google AdWords, Facebook Marketing and Bing Ads are official advertising platforms, the use of which poses absolutely no risk to your website’s organic rankings or reputation.
  • The use of Pay Per Click advertising may have a positive effect on your organic rankings over time.
  • Pay Per Click advertising makes it possible to achieve total and complete tracking of your spend investment, which is something that SEO cannot provide.

Comprehensive SEO / Search Engine Optimisation (Organic Search Results)

  • SEO usually requires a set monthly investment that you cannot choose.
  • Your SEO work will stay in effect on your website after you cease paying for monthly SEO consultancy services. However, your rankings may begin to decline if your competitors continue on with their own SEO activities. SEO should be considered an ongoing/permanent expense to truly maintain – else you will need to do some of the work yourself to maintain it after you stop paying a consultant.
  • In Google’s own words, “No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google”. Extreme caution should be taken when dealing with any SEO consultant who guarantees any particular result.
  • If at any time your competitors invest more time or effort in their SEO strategy, they may overtake your rankings.
  • Your investment may take up to a year or more to fully flourish. SEO is a long-game, yet highly effective tactic.
  • SEO comes with the risk of causing your website to be permanently blacklisted from Google should your SEO consultant use deceptive/frowned-upon methods. Always choose your SEO consultant carefully.

Our Recommendation

Search Engine Marketing vs. Comprehensive Search Engine Optimisation

The most optimal strategy, provided you have a budget that will allow it, would be to have both tactics running in tandem.

If you have a smaller budget, you may want to begin with SEM as you can control your budget closely.

If you are prepared to make the investment, SEO may offer a higher return on a long-term basis.

About The Author

Steph

Experienced WordPress developer and technical content writer with extensive experience in the information technology and web services industry. Specialising in WordPress development, corporate blog management, content creation, corporate website management, website hosting & infrastructure, project management and business administration.

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