Debunking the “SEO vs. SEM Which is Better” Conversation Skip to Main Content

Debunking the “SEO vs. SEM Which is Better” Conversation

By: Cynthia Melendez-Flynn

The Difference Between SEO vs. SEM

We’re debunking the “SEO vs. SEM” mindset and replacing it with a marketing mentality guaranteed to make you more money: “How SEO and SEM work together.”


“I only have so much budget so between SEO vs. SEM which is better for my business?”

You’d be surprised how often this phrase is muttered into existence. While it’s common to think SEO and SEM are one-or-the-other marketing activities— that assumption is furthest from the truth. No matter your budget size, the key to digital marketing success is understanding how both SEO and SEM work independently to support the other.

Read below to understand SEO and SEM basics, what is meant by SEO and SEM, and how they work independently to improve the other.

What is SEO?

Search engines constantly reinvent themselves to provide online searchers with the most relevant answers to their questions. SEO, short for search engine optimization, is the online strategy to help your business appear in search results when customers search for your services online.
The goal is maximizing the number of visitors driven to your website from search engines like Google without having to pay for an ad.

The higher your website appears on search engine results pages (SERPs), the more Internet users will go to your website. There are many considerations that demand fine-tuning to achieve this, however.

Boiled down, there are 3 types of search engine optimization:

  1. On-page SEO
  2. Off-page SEO
  3. Local SEO (also known as local search)

Let’s break it down.

Top 3 SEO Benefits for Business Owners

  1. Higher search engine rank
  2. Greater online presence and brand awareness
  3. Boost organic traffic to your website (organic means you don’t pay when people click to your website from SERPs)

On-page SEO is a website optimization technique focused on optimizing your website content so it is relevant and useful to people searching online and if so, a search engine will rank it higher.

The process involves incorporating specific keywords into your website’s copy, title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, image alt tags, etc., in a way that sounds natural and unforced. These key terms are based on the words Internet users type into search engines to find your services.

On-page SEO efforts include:

  • Keyword-optimized web page content and copy
  • Routinely posted blogs with keyword optimization
  • Keyword-optimized page URLs
  • Mobile-responsive website design
  • Optimized page load speed
  • Content technically accessible by Google’s web crawlers
  • Social sharing integration within your content
  • And more!

Top 3 SEO Audit Tools

  1. Moz
  2. SEMRush
  3. Yoast (plug-in for WordPress)

Off-Page SEO

Google determines how your website will appear in its results based on how well your website achieves the above factors, but also based on how the rest of the Internet perceives your website.

This is based on the same logic used during your high school’s prom king and queen election: popularity begets popularity.

The more high-quality, popular websites that link to yours, the more credible and relevant search engines will assume your content is. Link building is the off-page SEO strategy built on this premise. The goal? Attract and obtain high-quality links to your website’s content through the following:

  • A high-quality white hat SEO link profile (I.e. Linking to high-quality sites & having other high-quality/authoritative websites link to yours, like how we link to other articles through this blog post)
  • Social media sharing
  • Social bookmarking (I.e. StumbleUpon, Reddit)
  • And more!

Beware Black Hat SEO

Beware the black hat SEO technique of paid link building.

Google is smart enough to recognize black hat SEO tricks like this and will punish your ranking if guilt is suspected.

Local SEO

Local SEO is the SEO strategy for local business to help fill the information gap for searchers seeking services specifically in their area. In fact, 80% of consumers used a search engine when looking for info about local businesses.

Qualtiy of Local Search Traffic Case Study -- Key Takeaway: Website visits derived from local searches provide higher conversion rates compared to other sources of organic traffic

Local SEO includes everything from claiming your business listings (Google My BusinessYelp, etc.) to managing online ratings/reviews.

For many of our clients, we track local search traffic separately and local SEO visits are the highest quality organic (unpaid) visits they get, as displayed by the graph.

Increase your chances of getting found by local customers by working with a Local SEO company with proven results. Reach out to us for a targeted approach guaranteed to supercharge the revenue your business generates from your online marketing efforts!

Let’s Get Started >

What is SEM?

When comparing SEO vs. SEM, SEO is the process of obtaining a higher organic rank in search engines to entice a click to your website. SEM, on the other hand, allows you to cut to the chase as long as you’re willing to pay for that “click.”

SEM is the fastest way to get in front of your customers when they want to make a purchase. Paid search ads can be laser-focused so they only appear to highly-qualified searchers.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

PPC advertising is key to understanding the relationship between SEO and SEM. In PPC advertising, you only pay when a user clicks on your ad. A well-managed, optimized PPC campaign awards your business an amazing ROI compared to other paid advertising platforms where you may be paying for impressions reach that includes people who are not in the market for you what you offer.

In Google Ads, PPC advertising is based on keyword auctions. Advertisers bid on keywords searchers use while googling for products or services. Every time a search is made an auction occurs where Google decides which advertiser’s ad content is most relevant to the keyword and determines which ads appear at the top of the SERP.

Google Ads ranks PPC ads during auctions based on 2 factors:

  • Keyword Bid— The maximum bid you specify for a particular keyword.
  • Quality Score— The relevance of the searcher’s keyword to your website & the user experience your ad provides.

Quality score is the key to how a well search engine optimized website from an SEO standpoint supports SEM. Without a keyword-optimized website, Google has difficulty matching your content with what a searcher is looking for; meaning your website will suffer from a poor quality score, which immensely raises the amount you’ll pay for every click in SEM PPC campaigns. (Myth buster – the person with the biggest budget and willing to pay more for the keyword, doesn’t always end up with the highest ranking ad.)

Types of SEM Ads

Other major types of search engine marketing include:

  • Display Ads
  • Gmail Inbox Ads
  • Google Shopping Campaign Ads
  • Native Ads
  • Remarketing/ Retargeting Ads

Search engine marketing’s greatest strength is it offers advertisers the opportunity to get ads in front of motivated customers ready to buy at the precise moment they conduct a search. No other advertising medium accomplishes this, which is why SEM is so effective and an amazingly powerful way to grow your business.

Top 3 SEM Benefits for Business Owners

  1. Get in front of customers looking to buy from you
  2. Excellent ROI
  3. Greater online presence and brand awareness

The SEO and SEM Key Takeaway

The best way to improve your SEM? Improve your SEO.

Likewise, the best way to improve your SEO? Narrow down the best keywords to optimize your website with from those in your SEM efforts that get the best Click-Through-Rates (CTRs). SEM is a powerful way to validate the keywords that will drive productive traffic to your website before you embark on a full-fledged SEO campaign.

It’s not choosing between one or the other. It’s understanding both work together to improve your online visibility while improving your digital marketing ROI.

ROAR! On the Web

Need help maximizing ROI from your SEO and SEM efforts? On average, our PPC clients experience 61% more leads and SEO clients receive 59% more Google traffic after partnering with us.

Our proven strategies get businesses like your ROAR!-ing on the web in no time!

Let’s Get Started >

Optimize Your Digital Marketing Strategies With ROAR!

At ROAR! Internet Marketing, our experienced digital marketing agency can help transform your digital marketing with proven strategies and techniques. Contact us today to schedule a zero-obligation consultation with our digital marketing experts.

"*" indicates required fields

First and Last Name * Required
Which service(s) do you need? * Required
Which services are you looking for?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.