SEO VS SEM: Which is Better for Business?

The terms SEO VS SEM may be familiar to internet marketing activists or business people. However, the differences between the two are often still ambiguous and confusing. At first glance it looks the same. However, like a coin, they are two different sides. SEO and SEM have different approaches to increasing a site’s visibility in search engines. Understanding how both work will really help you determine the right strategic steps so you can achieve your goals more efficiently. 

What are the definitions and differences between the two? How will each of these approaches impact your business? Check out the explanation below.

Understanding SEO

SEO ( search engine optimization ) is an effort to optimize a website to get top ranking in search results. This is a tactic used to convince search engines like Google to recommend your brand content when users search for certain keywords.

Quoted from Semrush , there are four key pillars in SEO so that brand sites can get the best results, namely technical SEO, on-page SEO, content, and off-page SEO.

Technical SEO : focuses on improving the technical structure of the website, such as the speed of the site, whether the website is mobile-friendly , etc.

On-page SEO : focuses on optimizing various factors that make it easier for search engines to identify the context of the content on your website. For example, about meta tags, image alt tags, etc.

Content : organic search will rely heavily on content. Interesting, useful and relevant content are criteria that must be met in order to rank in search.

Off-page SEO : this is a focused effort to gain credibility and authority in the eyes of search engines. This section is closely related to link-building and how your site links to other relevant, high-authority sites.

Combining the key pillars above will help you get the organic traffic you expect. Implementing SEO cannot be successful overnight, search engines will certainly need time to recognize and assess your site. This method is usually applied for large and long-term goals.

Understanding SEM

SEM ( search engine marketing ) is another alternative for optimizing a website so that the site appears at the top of SERPs ( search engine results pages ). This method is also called PPc (pay per click) and of course requires greater costs. The campaigns carried out usually require comprehensive keywords so it is important to have extra understanding and strategy in implementing this method. Campaign types can be Search ads, Shopping ads, display ads, etc.

Several things that need to be considered when implementing SEM are:

  • Targeted (paid) ad campaigns
  • Create copy with specific keywords
  • Monitoring success indicators such as cost-per-click (CPC)

Difference between SEO vs SEM

SEO and SEM are methods used to increase the visibility of a website in search engines. If applied optimally, both can provide quality traffic and leads. Basically, the two have many similarities. So what are the differences that need to be considered?

Click potential (CTR)

Audiences can easily differentiate organic content from SEM content through the “Ad” sign. Given that the audience is usually passionate about the content being promoted, the click-through-rate potential of SEO is ultimately considered greater than that of SEM. Even though both are on the first page, the possibility that people will click on paid ads tends to be small.

Target Audience

With SEM, you can target a more specific audience. This is done when setting up the ad at the beginning. You can choose demographics or other categories that suit your target audience.

This is different from SEO which is more dependent on the quality of brand content. Through this content, you can find out whether the content has targeted the right target audience or not.

Speed ​​of Results

As mentioned above, SEO optimizes organic search results. To get high traffic, you must provide quality and relevant content so that it is easy to find on SERPs. Even though it will last longer, SEO results cannot be fast.

Meanwhile, the speed of SEM results can be felt to be faster. By advertising, you can make adjustments in advance so that the results can be predicted and more measurable. In SEM, you can also turn off the ad if you feel the results are not suitable and then reactivate it after making adjustments.


The difference between the two also lies in the costs or budget incurred. In SEM, you need to spend a budget that is set at the beginning like advertising. Meanwhile, SEO can be implemented at minimal cost or even free because you will invest more in quality content to attract the attention of your audience. 

Trial ( Testing )

Paid advertising certainly requires testing or trial sessions. SEM will make it easier for you to do this, making it easier to understand your target audience. The data collected will later help you to improve your strategy so that the results are maximized. This will be more difficult to apply to SEO applications, considering how the algorithm works.

Despite the differences, we can agree that SEO focuses on an approach that uses organic methods. Meanwhile, SEM uses paid methods to get rankings in search engines. Both can be used to maximize a business’s digital marketing strategy.

Which one is right for business?

After knowing what SEO and SEM are and how they work, you finally need to decide which method is better to apply to maximize business development. Try considering the following things:

Goals to be achieved. If you want fast traffic results to increase sales, SEM is the right choice. If you want to build long-term growth , then you should maximize SEO applications.

Know the current performance of your business website. If your organic visibility is good enough, you can use SEM to optimize visitor numbers and generate leads. Successful SEO is the right foundation for optimizing SEM so that it is easier to increase conversion rates.

Combine the two. The two don’t have to be separated, you can maximize the potential for business growth. Use insights from your SEM strategy for a better SEO approach. Maximize previously unsuccessful content with SEM optimization.

So, now you understand what SEO and SEM are, including the differences between the two. Understanding this will help you to develop a more appropriate and efficient digital marketing strategy. Business can continue to grow and develop.

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