SEO and SEM: which one do you need for your business in 2021?

You may hear the terms "search engine optimization" and "search engine marketing" thrown around from industry to industry.

However, there has been a longstanding debate about which is better for businesses: SEO or SEM. Since it is necessary to plan an effective online engagement strategy, it is time to explore both strategies and learn the truth.


SEO, or search engine optimization, uses organic tactics to gain visibility on the SERPs, causing search engines to display content near the top of search results, making it valuable and authoritative. SEO often comes in 3 categories (which can be combined into one strategy):

  • On-page SEO optimizes each individual page of a website to target specific keywords and rank higher through keyword research, content creation, and optimization.
  • Technical SEO optimizes the non-content elements of a website as well as the site as a whole. With better site speed, indexing, crawlability, security, mobile-friendliness, etc., this optimization improves the backend structure and foundation of a site.
  • Off-page SEO gives authority to a website by building links and connecting to other high-quality websites, ensuring trustworthiness and reputation for users on the web. line.
the keys to understand seo

2# SEM

SEM, or search engine marketing, uses paid tactics to gain visibility on the SERPs, including setting up and optimizing ads with a given budget. Every time a user clicks on a paid ad, the brand is charged.

In short, SEM is often referred to as "paid search" or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. A good example of SEM is Google Ads, which allows brands to conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target keywords that are popular in their industry, products, or services.

So, now that we know about SEO and SEM, it's time to look at the similarities that unite them, as well as the differences that separate them.


  • Both help brands rank high in search results, which is the ultimate goal for brands when it comes to offering their products and services online.
  • Both can drive more traffic to a website by employing tactics that help brands increase click-through rates (CTR).
  • Similarly, both require you to know your target audience, using buyer personas and psychographic segmentation.
  • Both allow you to find popular keywords to target. They also allow you to view keyword competition to see what target keywords your competitors are using.
  • Both require ongoing testing and optimization to help you increase performance, which means you shouldn't leave them alone.


  • While inorganic SEM search placements include an "Ad" icon, organic SEO lacks that distinction.
  • While SEM search results have ad extensions (i.e. phone numbers, extra links, and featured text) attached to them, SEO search results include featured snippets.
  • When users click on a SEM result (paid placements), the brand pays every time per click. Whereas, when users click on an SEO result, the brand pays nothing for a single click.
  • Through SEM, you can select which é Audiences you want them to see the search results based on the filters that you (and the publisher) set: age, location, income, habits, etc.
  • With SEO, it takes time to see results. But with SEM, you will see immediate results. Through paid SEM ads, you can show your results to the public with just a few clicks. Whereas, SEO can take time for brands to see results before they can rank on search engines.
  • SEM is easier to test as you can turn paid ads on and off at your convenience, review your ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content. SEO is not flexible enough to make quick changes to run a good test.
  • A SEM strategy ends once you turn off ads and stop paying to show results. But with SEO, the strategy can be extended over time and leave lasting results.
  • SEO is better than SEM with CTR if you can rank high. Otherwise, it is better to use SEM to get more clicks.

So… Which is better?

Is SEO better than SEM? Or vice versa? Well, the truth is that what is right for your brand depends on the following:

  • Observe how your competitors are doing and how they are performing in your search marketing. And based on your observations, you can use the payment terms you discovered to drive traffic to your own site.
  • Know your industry. If you've been in business for a while and already know your customers, you can start building a long-term SEO strategy that will provide value over time. However, if you're not sure how users will respond to your content, consider creating a SEM campaign to test your ideas, products, and services.
  • Determine the length of your typical customer buying cycle. You can base this cycle on what your customers want, how they search for it, and how they buy. SEM ads are better for shorter customer buying cycles while SEO ads are for longer cycles.
  • When it comes to the average cost per click in your industry, SEM and SEO work in different ways. While SEM is good for low cost-per-clicks, SEO works well with very high costs-per-clicks, which may make you decide you're better off focusing on SEO.
  • Consider how old or new your business is. If you have just launched your business, your website will need time to develop its SEO and appear organically in search. That means you may want to set up a SEM strategy to drive traffic until your SEO is gaining ground.
  • Consider the state of your website. Look for opportunities to make an impact with little work. In other words, look for ways to develop an organic SEO strategy before funding a SEM campaign.


So now that you've delved deeper into SEO and SEM, you can see how there's no right or wrong way to get customer traffic for your business.

In fact, while some things are good with SEO, others might be better if you use SEM. Again, it all depends on what your business needs to get more clicks and sales.

By: Joseph Angersoen
17 de February de 2021
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With more than 20 years of experience working in technology, web design and development, marketing and data analysis. We offer solutions to the challenges of today's competitiveness in an increasingly digitized world.

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