Nowadays, the Internet has been a haven for everyone, including businesses and marketers. Essentially, people search for things online, and websites would be prioritized based on what users are searching for. 

Now, when it comes to search results, sites are ranked by:

  • Relevance
  • Credibility
  • Brand or platform, etc.

But what makes the Internet run like a well-oiled machine? Well, two things, actually: SEO and SEM. But which one is better? 

In this brief guide, we will explore both SEO and SEM. Then, we will determine which of the two is most needed, when it comes to online marketing. 

Let’s dive right in! 

What Is SEO?

“SEO stands for ‘search engine optimization,’” says Marie Chance, a marketing blogger at Write My Dissertation. “SEO is when you optimise a website for receiving organic traffic from search engine results. This method doesn’t require paying for traffic to come to you. Instead, you use relevant keywords and phrases to bring people to your site. In this way, your site gets more credibility and, potentially, better exposure online.”

What Is SEM?

On the other hand, search engine marketing (SEM) will have you paying to make your website more visible in search results. Essentially, you put paid or sponsored ads at the top of the search results page. This is considered pay-per-click (PPC) because when users click on the ad or content, that’s a drop in the bucket for the marketers. Another form of SEM is when you use paid ad placement tools like Google Ads. 

Features Of SEO

Let’s go more in-depth on what SEO is, and the features it offers you. Where can it be used to get the best results?

On-page SEO: This will be the version of SEO you’re likely most familiar with. On-page SEO requires you to organise your page around keywords, which you should have researched to ensure you get the most effectiveness from them. Typically, you’ll use those keywords in your title tags, meta descriptions and webpage URLs. 

Off-page SEO: is another key part of SEO that you can’t neglect. This involves you having links to your site on other trusted sites online. It’s a way of showing that your site can be trusted, as it’s being referred to by other well-known sites. Google uses this as a metric when deciding how high to rank your site.

Technical SEO: Site design and architecture play a huge part in making your site a high-ranking one. Google takes lots of things into account, such as site loading speeds, ease of use, domain and page authority and so on. If you ensure that your site is designed to be easy to use, that helps your overall SEO. 

User interaction signals: Google will pay attention to how users interact with your site, so you should too. For example, if you have a high bounce rate, that shows that users aren’t getting what they need from the site. Also, if you’re using keywords that aren’t a good fit for the site, they may choose to bump you down the rankings. As such, you need to be paying attention to how your visitors are interacting with your site and improve the experience for them. 

You can find many SEO tools that help you in planning and drive the right huge website traffic and increasing conversions.

Features Of SEM

On the same tack, let’s take a look at the features of SEM, so you can better understand it and how it benefits you. 

Bidding: Using paid ads on any platform, such as Google or Bing, means that you’ll have to bid on specific keywords. In PPC ads, you’ll bid on a specific keyword. When someone searches for that keyword, your ad should show up. If you’re bidding more than your competitors, then your ad will show up before theirs in the rankings. When someone clicks on that link, you’ll pay the amount that you bid. That amount is known as Cost Per Click (CPC). 

Quality score: This is a Google Ads metric that you’ll want to be paying attention to. It’s how Google works out if your ad is the best fit for what a searcher is looking for. This is decided by looking at the click-through rate, the quality of your landing page and so on. It’s in your interest to have a high-quality score, as if it’s high, you can get a discount on each click you get. 

Ad copy: Having good ad copy feeds into your quality score. When you have good ad copy, people are more likely to click through and get what they’re looking for. If that happens, then you’ll get a better score and the price of those clicks will be driven down. 

Results Speed With SEO vs. SEM

Another thing you need to be aware of when comparing SEM to SEO is the speed at which you’ll get your results. 

When using SEO, you’ll need to be aware that it takes time. It’s not something that’s going to bring in the right audience right away, so you’ll need to be patient. This is especially true if you’ve just set your site up. You’ll need to set up and start building up those backlinks. 

In fact, on average it can take around 2 years to start seeing the results from an SEO campaign. As such, it’s going to take patience to keep up an SEO campaign and start seeing the results. 

With SEM, you will see results quicker, but you need to be aware that it’s not going to lead to instant success. You can set up those PPC ads in the morning and start seeing the clicks come through in the afternoon, but you’re not going to get an ROI right away. You will have to wait and keep playing with the ad until you get consistent results. 

The Cost Of SEO And SEM

Budget is always going to be a factor, so how much does each method cost? Many will start with SEO, as on the surface it’s ‘free’. It’s true you don’t pay to add keywords and get backlinks, but there are other costs. To get the best results, you’ll need to hire an SEO expert to really optimize your site. 

Of course, there are costs involved with SEM, as you’re paying for those clicks up front. That does help you budget, and when you compare the costs to SEO, it’s often cheaper. However, if you’re only using SEM and stop paying for ads, that site traffic will go down to zero. 

Guide To SEO and SEM: Which Is Better?

Now that we’ve introduced both SEO and SEM, which one is better for 2022?

SEO and SEM work in their own unique ways. With that said, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all marketers. Therefore, using either SEO or SEM depends on your campaigns and everything else in your company.

With that in mind, let’s consider when it’s a good time to use either or.

Use SEO when:

  • Getting traffic isn’t time-sensitive.
  • You have a reliable and continuous way to manage SEO.
  • You’ve found content gaps in your niche.
  • Your product or service isn’t anything short-term.
  • Your site is doing well. AND,
  • You’ve already established credibility among your target audiences.

Otherwise, use SEM when:

  • Things like traffic and generating leads are time-sensitive.
  • There’s a promotion or trend coming up, and you need to push a product or service into the market.
  • You have a daily, weekly, or monthly budget for ad spending.
  • You’re testing out a new marketing strategy and need results right away. 
  • Your average customer isn’t buying from you as much as before.
  • There’s high competition in your industry, and you need more traffic.
    • Maybe there’s competition for your main keywords.
    • Maybe people don’t see your site as trustworthy yet.
    • Maybe you and your marketing team aren’t seeing much organic traffic as before.

But with that said, don’t heavily rely on PPC. Otherwise, your site will lose value. You can’t “buy” your way to the top of search results. 

Remember that to make your site credible online, you need to: 

  • Produce relevant content
  • Conduct consumer outreach
  • Optimize existing pages to get more visits


So, there you have it!

As you can see, SEO and SEM can be great for businesses and marketers in many ways than one. They both have their pros and cons, and they have proven to be effective in various scenarios.

So, which is better? Well, that depends on your marketing campaign and endeavours. Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for online marketing. So, whether you use SEO or SEM is entirely up to you. The important things to remember are the following: 

  • Work to make your website accessible to everyone, no matter what device they use.
  • Think about long-term ROI.
  • Look for what’s responsible for rapid results.
  • Find effective SEO keyword terms.
  • Use SEM to bring you more relevant keywords.
  • Increase paid search ONLY if you need more organic traffic. 
  • Decrease paid search when you feel that you have good enough organic traffic.

By knowing the differences between the two entities and, possibly, incorporating both into your marketing strategies, your website will thrive and bring you much-needed traffic.

Good luck, marketers! 

Author Bio:

Madeline Miller is a writer and editor at the Personal statement help service. She writes articles about SEO, coding, and other tech trends.