SEO vs SEM: How and When Should Your Business Be Doing These

SEO and SEM are the two strategies you can use to promote your business in Google. What do the two terms mean, however, what are the differences, and when should you use them.

The fact is, there are differences between the two and both strategies are appropriate in different circumstances, primarily based on your objectives.

That said, you can use both together, enabling you to achieve multiple objectives.

Let’s start at the beginning, though – what are SEO and SEM and how do they differ.


SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. This applies to the organic (non-paid) results in Google search. SEO involves strategies and actions designed to improve your position in organic search for keywords related to your business, industry, products, and services.

In practical terms, this means getting as close to the top of page one of Google as possible.

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It applies to paid methods of promoting your business in Google search. Two of the most common methods of doing this are via Google AdWords and Google Shopping.

Google AdWords applies to all businesses and lets you target people searching for specific keywords in your location.

Google Shopping applies to ecommerce retailers. It involves uploading your product data feed to Google. When people search for products in your data feed, your listing can appear as a Google Shopping ad on the search results page. This listing includes an image, product rating, and price.

When Should You Use SEO?

SEO is a medium-to-long term marketing strategy. Often, it can take several months for an SEO strategy to begin bringing higher levels of traffic to your website. The results you achieve, however, are long-lasting.

In other words, if you get to a high position on page one of Google for a keyword, that will bring you traffic for as long as you retain the position.

So, you should use SEO when you want to make lasting improvements to your website’s appearance in search and when you want to get increasing levels of consistent and regular traffic to your website over the medium-to-long term.

When Should You Use SEM?

SEM is a much more immediate advertising and marketing strategy. Most SEM campaigns work on a PPC (Pay Per Click) model, so you only pay when a user clicks on your ad. This means you will start getting traffic to your website very soon after launching a new campaign – often on the same day.

The results from SEM, however, are not long-lasting. In other words, you will only get traffic to your website while there is an active campaign. Once you stop paying Google, the SEM-related traffic stops too.

Joined Up Approach

The most effective way to get maximum results from Google is to have both an SEO and SEM strategy. The SEM element will bring traffic to your website immediately, helping you generate immediate sales. The SEO element will then work in the background, improving your website’s ranking in search and gradually increasing the volumes of organic traffic you get from Google over the longer term.

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