In the digital age, just about every company wants to grow their business through online marketing. There are many different strategies to help with that. Two of the most commonly employed are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The difference between SEO and SEM is a mystery for many people. Let’s look at each and see exactly what the differences are.

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The Main Difference Between SEO and SEM

There’s a subtle difference between SEO and SEM, sometimes referred to as “Push vs. Pull.”

  • SEO is a strategy that focuses on optimizing your website for it to appear higher in search results. This in turn can help you capture more organic, or unpaid, traffic. It can be said that these campaigns “pull” people into visiting your website through your site content.
  • While SEO can fall under the general umbrella of Search Engine Marketing, when we talk about SEM, we’re primarily talking about a method that focuses on using paid strategies, like pay-per-click advertising (PPC). This is a type of online marketing in which paid ads are “pushed” out to people searching for the product or service you offer.

SEO vs. SEM: How Long It Takes to See Results

Another significant difference between SEO and SEM is the amount of time it takes to see results.

SEO Results Timeframe

SEO takes time, effort, and patience. Sometimes, it can take a lot of time, particularly if your website is new. Depending on your domain authority, it can take as long as 3-6 months to start gaining traction with search engines. And if you’re just getting started in a highly competitive niche, it can take even longer.

Don’t get discouraged. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it will take two years for you to appear on page one of the search engine results. By targeting strategic keywords and working with a company or agency that utilizes SEO best practices, you can begin to see positive results in a matter of months.

SEM Results Timeframe

SEM, on the other hand, can provide results just about instantly. If your ad goes live in the morning, you can start to get traffic to your website in the afternoon. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll have a positive return-on-investment on the first day. It can take months of testing and adjusting your ads and keywords to get a positive ROI from your PPC efforts.

Cost Differences

When considering whether to implement an SEO campaign, SEM campaign, or both, cost is likely a concern. Here’s what you need to know about pricing for these two common digital marketing strategies:

SEO Costs

Some marketers are drawn to SEO because it generates “free” website traffic, since people don’t pay to click on your listing on the search engine results page (SERP). But SEO isn’t free. You’ll need to pay a fee each month to have professionals develop and implement an effective SEO strategy for you. This involves keyword research, competitive analysis, content planning and production, campaign monitoring and reporting, and more.

Monthly fees for SEO campaigns will vary depending upon the amount of time invested by the SEO provider working on your behalf. At ClickGiant, we provide flexible and affordable payment options to make successful SEO campaigns possible for businesses of all sizes.

SEM Costs

An SEM strategy that is 100% PPC can carry a handsome price tag. Total cost for PPC ad campaigns often includes your ad budget as well as an administrative fee to your agency who is managing your campaign. Typically, the ad budget is whatever you want to set it at. Your agency will likely make some recommendations for a starter budget based on competition levels in your market. The management fee may be a fixed cost or percentage of the total ad budget. The management fee is important, because the agency will be spending time testing, monitoring results, and making updates to your ads in an effort to improve conversions and ROI.

SEO vs SEM Costs

There’s a significant difference in the cost of SEO vs SEM. Once you stop paying for PPC, your traffic will go to zero. If your ads aren’t being shown and you’ve lost your online visibility, you’ve pretty much dropped out of the competition. PPC is most definitely a pay-to-play game.

But, with SEO, once you start ranking competitively, you’re pretty much set. Your investment in SEO is primarily up-front. That said, it’s advisable to continue to maintain your relationship with your SEO provider to maintain favorable SERP position and to find new avenues for continued organic growth.

When to Use SEO & SEM

Given that SEO can take some time to start gaining traction with search engines, a viable strategy is to implement both SEO and SEM (PPC) simultaneously. Paid ads can help you to start building traffic while you work to build domain authority and improve traffic on the organic side of the equation. As your organic traffic improves, you may decide to pull back on your ad spend—or keep it running if you are seeing a great ROI from your PPC efforts.

Many companies will start their online marketing efforts by using both approaches and reduce or drop their PPC program once they are enjoying the positive results of their SEO efforts. Others will choose to start with SEO, then ramp up a PPC campaign to further capitalize on their success. The latter strategy is recommended if there are serious content gaps or UX issues across the site. Before launching a PPC campaign, it is important to spend some time to improve the site’s content, which can help to improve conversions for both SEO and SEM visitors.

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At ClickGiant, we create digital marketing campaigns that lead to more clicks, conversions, and customers. Find out more about our custom SEO campaigns, PPC services, and how we can help improve your brand’s exposure online.

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