Should I invest in SEO or SEM? Online strategy comparison

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Everyone talks about SEM and SEO as the miracle solution to online success. But what is it really about and where should I invest my money and efforts? SEO or SEM comparison


If you are entrepreneur or if you have to make marketing related decisions, you certainly know that everyone talks about SEM and SEO. But do you really know what these are all about? And which one should you consider investing money and time in?

Here is an introduction to SEO VS SEM.


SEM - Search Engine Marketing

SEM means Search Engine Marketing. It corresponds to all activities developed online that aim to increase your website traffic and conversion. SEM contains several segments, the most obvious of all being SEA (Search Engine Advertising) and corresponds to online advertising (Adwords, display banners, ads networks, etc.). Other activities such as online partnerships or paid articles might fall under SEM as well.

SEM has three major characteristics: it is paid, quickly efficient and short term.

Paid, because all activities under SEM are generally paid. The concept is always to get people to give you visibility and traffic against payment.

Quickly efficient, because you do not need to build up a strategy: in exchange for your payment, your partner will provide you with immediate visibility that shall quickly translate into extra traffic and conversions*.

Short term, because unfortunately your SEM efforts will have impact as long as your budget lasts. When stopping your campaign it's effect will almost instantly vanish.

*Be careful: quickly efficient doesn't mean "instant miracle". Even though you should see an increase of traffic within a few hours, it might take longer to get extra conversions. SEM is all about optimization, trial and error: you will need to optimize your campaigns and reassign your budget based on results. You will need to reconsider the platforms you use for advertising, the message you send and the audience you reach. Do not except overnight success simply because you paid for it! SEO or SEM comparison

SEO - Search Engine Optimization

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It corresponds to all activities meant to improve your website (inside and outside) in order to increase its traffic and conversions. Anything that would impact these metrics would fall under SEO - website improvement (inside - following SEO suggestions, improving your website's loading speed, respecting the W3C regulation, using content strategies, etc.) and network improvement (outside - backlink building, network content creation, etc.). - Download FREE 16 SEO tips infographic


SEO has three major characteristics: time consuming, slow to show results and long term.

Time consuming, because even though the first audit and round of improvements should be fairly easy, it will take a lot of efforts to start building back links and efficient partnerships that will bring you the traffic you need.

Slow to show results, because it takes time for Google to revise your website, notice the improvements and act accordingly. It might take up to 6 months to really see the results of your efforts. Just make sure you do not fall for "easy quick fixes" that usually only get you blacklisted! Check here for a list SEO bad practices.

Long term, because all you do today will have impact in the long run. If you improve your website, create backlinks and generate content, Google will notice it and give you a better organic ranking, even long after you stopped improving your site. SEO or SEM comparison

Quick summary: differences between SEM and SEO






Money consuming

Time consuming


Immediate but short term

Slow but long term


Easy to analyze and control

Takes time to see effect, difficult to optimize


In-house for small campaigns, outsourced for larger ones

Outsourced for initial audit, in-house afterwards SEO or SEM comparison


Conclusion: should I invest in SEM or SEO?


You should have a continuous SEO strategy running in the background. Never stop it! You might want to invest more or less time in it based on your resources but keep running it: it will always be beneficial in the long run. Don't get discouraged if you see no immediate results!

SEM should be more of a "on-need" strategy. You could constantly run it to improve your results but ultimately it is more an "on-demand" strategy to help you boost your results when needed. However, keep in mind that SEM is also about campaign optimization. Do not completely cut it on change your budget entirely from one day to the other: it would biased your results and make the analysis less reliable. - download content marketing infographic

If you have a better understanding about SEO and SEM, it is time for you to read about SEO and SEM best practices to increase conversions!


Julien Rio.

Last update: 2024-07-19 Tags:

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