Basics: SEO vs. SEM and how they benefit your business

In this article you will learn about the basic purposes and benefits of implementing SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) into your web strategy and how to use them to grow your business.

Why It Matters

The issue that many businesses face is that they are spending good money on other marketing strategies like events, traditional advertising and social media campaigns, but aren’t seeing the increase in traffic to their website which is their main hub for information and product sales. Additionally, they aren’t receiving enough feedback through their other initiatives to make educated decisions about how to adjust their messaging and targeting strategies.


Now, you might think that SEO and SEM are too complicated or advanced for your business to implement. Or, perhaps more likely, you understand the value they offer to your business but simply don’t have the time, manpower or resources to put into pursuing them.

Let me quickly dispel these myths right now. Both SEO and SEM strategies can be implemented at virtually any price point and effort you are willing to invest. Additionally, most of the strategies are cheaper and easier than you think! This article is aimed at showing you the value each has to offer and to help you make an educated decision about which (or both) are right for your business to implement.

SEO and SEM Features Comparison

SEO – The Basics

Search engine optimization is the process of improving the quality and quantity of website traffic to a website or a web page from search engines. SEO targets unpaid traffic rather than direct traffic or paid traffic.

  • Organic
    • One of the key differentiators of SEO vs. SEM (or any other paid marketing) is that the traffic you receive on your website is completely organic. What this means is that people were literally searching for your business or service or something similar, found your site on Google (or another search engine) and visited your page. The upside to this traffic is that it comes from people who are already interested in what you have to offer and came to you. Think of it as a natural referral system.
  • Low Cost (potentially)
    • To set up basic SEO and implement good SEO best practices is quite inexpensive. Any good web developer will optimize your site for SEO once it’s built and upkeep will not cost you much. Of course, there are many levels to SEO strategy and if your company requires something more aggressive, then price becomes a factor. However, the results from proper SEO implementation are sustainable, which brings us to our next point.
  • Long-Lasting
    • Once a good SEO strategy has been put into your website pages, the results will continue to grow. Think of it as a passive source of income. If everything is running properly, then a constant stream of traffic to your site from qualified people will continue to flow.
  • Takes time to see results
    • A common misconception is that once you implement SEO best practices, the results will come in overnight. Unfortunately this isn’t the case as your website generally won’t see results for several weeks or months. However, if everything was set up properly, it will be sustainable and continue to grow.
  • Improves your brand
    • A fortunate upside to using good SEO on your website is that your company brand name will benefit long-term. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, your name and offering will be listed next to similar companies when people search for your products. For example, search for “sunglasses brands” and a list of sites and businesses that sell sunglasses will appear. If your company employs strong SEO strategy then your products will be in the same search results as your competitors. Secondly, if your business consistently comes up in search results, it gives viewers the impression that you’re an established brand that people can trust.

SEM – The Basics

Search engine marketing is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages primarily through paid advertising. AKA, paid search results.

  • Paid
    • As in the description, SEM is similar to SEO in that the results are displayed when people search for a specific thing on Google or another search engine. For SEO the search results happen organically based on content on your website or keywords. For SEM the results come from written ads that are structured like search results and appear based on paid keywords. The benefit of SEM is that you can target very specific audiences who are searching for the exact thing you offer.
  • Adaptive Budget
    • For SEM the sky’s the limit on paid ads. However, for many businesses having a steady small budget can give their website and business a regular boost of new customers without breaking the bank. For larger businesses, using bigger budgets they can direct large amounts of traffic to their site or landing pages where their products are offered. For businesses that are just starting out or are having trouble gaining new leads or sales, SEM is a great way to reach an audience which are already searching for the products/solutions offered.
  • Time Limit
    • Another aspect of SEM is that it is time limited. This is both good and bad compared to SEO. The benefit is that if you don’t have the budget or need for gaining new business through the SEM channel, you can simply stop putting money into it. The downside is that the results only come while your campaigns are active.
  • Immediate Effect
    • As mentioned before, you can boost your business quite quickly with highly targeted SEM campaigns. If your keyword targeting, budgeting, message and sales funnel are all well-tuned, the increase of revenue for your business is immediately apparent. Also, unlike some other marketing initiatives, the cost/benefit correlation is clear.
  • Boosts Leads
    • With SEM you have an increase of traffic to your site from qualified people who have interest in your business offer. This boost in leads is easily taken advantage of by employing landing pages, email collection and lead magnet strategies.
  • Hyper Targeting
    • One of the major benefits to SEM is the ability to constantly optimize your results. Since you are using search keywords and creating your messaging based around them you’re targeting can happen on multiple levels. For the keyword targeting you can adjust/add/remove any keywords that are working (or not). For your budget, you are bidding on the keywords to be shown on more search results. So your budget can be further optimized to show more on keywords that are performing well for your business. Also, for your messaging you can constantly optimize by testing your ads against each other for best results (attract the right kinds of visitors to your website).
The Outcome

The world of SEO and SEM can get complicated very quickly. However, I hope this article was able to shed some light on the differences between the two tactics and help educate you on which is right for your business. To sum it up, the ultimate goal for both SEO and SEM is to drive more traffic to your website in order to increase leads and sales. The other main goal is to take the valuable information you gain from using these tactics and apply it your marketing and sales strategy. By learning what topics and products your audience is searching for informs you where to dedicate your efforts into the future.

Next Steps

Depending on your business type, these strategies may or may not be right for your business. Generally every business should have some basic level of SEO in their website and marketing materials. However, paying for a search engine advertising budget or hiring a new employee to do site SEO may not be the best solution.

At New Reality we would love to consult you on what you can do to grow your business and increase your digital presence in an effective and efficient manner. Send us a message and we’d love to talk about it with you!