When to use SEO and when to use SEM

SEO and SEM are two of the most important and complementary strategies of digital marketing. Both aim to improve the positioning of a website in search engines, mainly in Google, to obtain more visits, more conversions and more sales.

But what does SEO and SEM mean? What is the difference between them? When is it appropriate to use one or another strategy? In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about SEO and SEM, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to use them effectively according to your objectives and your budget.

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What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the set of techniques that are applied to a web page to improve its position in the organic or natural results of search engines. That is, SEO is the unpaid positioning of a website in search engines.

SEO is based on optimizing different aspects of a website, both internal and external, so that it is relevant, useful and of quality for users and search engine algorithms. Some of the factors that influence SEO are:

  • The content: It must be original, informative, updated and adapted to the keywords that users use to search for information on the topic.
  • The structure: It must be clear, logical and easy to navigate for users and search engines. It should include HTML tags, meta tags, internal and external links, friendly URLs, etc.
  • Speed: It must be fast and fluid to offer a good user experience and avoid abandoning the page.
  • Security: It must be secure and protect user and website data. You must have an SSL certificate, an HTTPS protocol, a firewall, etc.
  • Adaptability: It must be adaptable and responsive to different devices, such as computers, mobile phones and tablets, to facilitate access and viewing the page.
  • Authority: It must be recognized and valued by users and search engines. It must have references, links, comments, reviews, etc.

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What is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the set of actions carried out on a web page to obtain the greatest visibility through paid advertising campaigns in search engines. That is, SEM is the paid positioning of a website in search engines.

SEM is based on creating and managing ads that are displayed in search results, generally in the first or last positions, and that are marked with the label “ad” or “sponsored.”

These ads are created through platforms such as Google Ads or Bing Ads, and are activated when users search for keywords related to the product or service offered.

SEM is governed by the pay-per-click (PPC) model, which means that the advertiser only pays when the user clicks on the ad and accesses the website. The price per click depends on competition, demand and the quality of the keywords and ads.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of SEO and SEM?

SEO and SEM have advantages and disadvantages that you should know and evaluate before choosing one strategy or another. Below, we summarize them:

Advantages of SEO

  • It is economical: There is no direct cost for each visit, it only requires an initial investment and periodic maintenance.
  • It is durable: The results are maintained over time, as long as good practices are followed and the content is updated.
  • It is organic: Users trust natural results more than ads, and perceive them as more relevant and quality.
  • It is profitable: It has a high return on investment, since it generates qualified traffic and conversions in the long term.

Disadvantages of SEO

  • It is slow: The results are not immediate, but are obtained gradually and progressively, depending on competition and demand.
  • It is complex: It requires technical knowledge and constant updating of search engine trends and algorithms.
  • It is unpredictable: A fixed position or traffic volume cannot be guaranteed, as it depends on many factors that can vary at any time.
  • It is limited: You cannot control how or when the results are displayed, or the type of user who sees them.

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Advantages of SEM

  • It's fast: The results are immediate, since the ads are activated as soon as the campaign is created and bidding on the keywords begins.
  • It is flexible: You can control the budget, time, location, format and content of your ads, and modify them according to results and needs.
  • It is measurable: You can know the performance of the campaign and the return on investment, through indicators such as the number of clicks, impressions, conversions, etc.
  • It is segmentable: Ads can be directed to a specific audience, according to criteria such as profile, behavior, interest, funnel stage, etc.

Disadvantages of SEM

  • It is expensive: It has a direct cost per click, which can be high depending on the competition, demand and the quality of the keywords and ads.
  • It is temporary: Results are lost as soon as the campaign ends or the budget is exhausted, since the ads stop showing in search results.
  • It is artificial: Users may ignore or reject ads, and prefer organic results, as they consider them more natural and less intrusive.
  • It is dependent: It requires a dependency on the advertising platform, which can change its conditions, policies or prices at any time.

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When to use SEO and when to use SEM?

As we have seen, SEO and SEM are different, but complementary, strategies that can be used depending on the objectives, budget and time you have.

Below, we give you some guidelines to know when to use SEO and when to use SEM:Use SEO when:

  • Look for a long-term strategy that allows you to generate traffic and conversions in a sustained and lasting way.
  • You want to improve the visibility, reputation and authority of your website in an organic and natural way.
  • You have a limited budget or do not want to depend on an advertising platform.

Use SEM when:

  • Look for a short-term strategy that allows you to obtain results and sales quickly and immediately.
  • You want to launch a promotional campaign, a new product, a special offer or a specific event.
  • You have a sufficient budget and want to control and optimize your advertising investment.

Written by Moises Hamui Abadi : I am an entrepreneur, founding partner of Viceversa and SoyMacho. After leading several digital businesses and advising several other businesses; I decided to form MHA Consulting, a digital marketing consultancy dedicated to growing and enhancing digital businesses in more than 7 countries and generating more than 1,500 million pesos.

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