SEO vs SEM

    SEO vs SEM, which is the superior strategy for maximising brand reach and sales? This is a common question that many business and website owners have. We are all pretty familiar with the term SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is a digital marketing strategy that helps businesses and websites rank on the first page of search engines such as Google.

    While the definition of SEO is clear, what does SEM stand for? What does it include?

    SEM is Search Engine Marketing. In reality, Search Engine Optimization is a subset of Search Engine Marketing. There are primarily two types of Search Engine Marketing – Search Engine Optimization and Pay Per Click (PPC).

    • Search Engine Optimization involves ranking a website in Google’s organic search results.
    • PPC focuses on ranking the website in paid results. Paid results can be distinguished by the Ad tag Google attaches to them.

    We’ll use an example to help you understand. A search for the query: free domain name resulted in the following paid results. These were achieved with a Paid Advertisement Campaign, which falls under the umbrella of SEM.

    free domain name

    Typically, these paid advertisements take up at least 3-4 position on the first page. When you scroll down, you come across results that do not have the Ad tag. These are the organic results, usually obtained with the help of SEO. SEO also falls under SEM.

    If you look at both results, you’ll notice they have at least one result in common:

    It seems Hostinger is using SEM, both paid and organic marketing techniques, to target their visitors.

    free domain name 1

    What Is The Difference Between SEO And SEM?

    To emphasise the difference between SEO and SEM in digital marketing, we’ll focus on SEO for its organic results and SEM for its paid results. Before getting into the details, here is a table that aims to simplify the distinction between the two.

    SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation.SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing.

    SEO is a subset of SEM.SEM is a broad concept that includes SEO and PPC.

    SEO strategies take longer to show results.If you are looking for immediate results, SEM is the way to go.
    SEO packages are relatively inexpensive and suitable for companies with lower budgets.It is relatively expensive and suitable for companies with lower budgets
    SEO checklist includes on-page SEO, off-page SEO, keyword research, link building, and content.SEM checklist includes things like setting a budget, analysing ad copy and creative, keyword research, and improving conversion rate.
    It offers long-term benefits to a website.Websites can enjoy the benefits of SEM in the short term.
    There is no limit to the traffic potential. Traffic potential is limited depending on the budget.
    SEO is focused on improving visibility and SERP ranking.SEM is used to drive sales.
    You may face less competition.The competition is very high, depending on the niche.
    To ensure a successful SEO strategy, you need to build on Google's E-E-A-T principles.The success of an SEM strategy depends on the right keywords used, the budget, and the quality of the landing page.

    SEO vs SEM: How Much Does it Cost?

    SEO: Search Engine Optimization

    Of the two, SEO is more affordable and sustainable. However, many assume that it is quick and cheap, which is not true. As an SEO Company in Mumbai, we can tell you from experience, that SEO requires a lot of time, effort, and monetary investment over time. It includes enriching your website with valuable content and promoting it through several digital marketing strategies.

    Determining the cost of SEO includes several other factors, including the niche or industry and the duration of the campaign. According to Search Engine Journal, hiring a top-notch SEO company could cost you over 500 USD per month.

    SEM: Search Engine Marketing

    With SEM, people usually tend to invest in PPC, which appears costly when you consider the upfront price. In contrast to SEO’s monthly investment, the cost for an SEM campaign can usually amount to over 9000 USD per month. Keep in mind once you stop the PPC campaign, your website will stop getting traffic/leads. However, PPC can also give a great initial boost to your website. If you have decided to opt for PPC, we offer personalized PPC services in Mumbai that help you get significant ROI.

    Read our SEO vs PPC guide to understand how they differ and which one will help your brand flourish.

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    SEO vs SEM: How Long Does it Take to Work?

    With SEO, businesses will have to wait at least 4-6 months to see any improvement. In contrast, with SEM, businesses can get instant results.

    Since SEM usually consists of Advertisements, once the ad is live, businesses can expect to get hits right away. These ads are created with advanced tools that help you pick a target audience, who is highly likely to convert.

    However, there’s a chance that you’ll have to keep experimenting with the audience pool until you get it right. At times like these, it is better to test short SEM campaigns before rolling out the final one.

    Similarly, with SEO, it could take more than 6 months to see any results. Although it takes time to see results, SEO usually results in higher CTRs compared to SEM’s paid ads.

    Let’s take a look at Capsicum Mediaworks’ Case Study for Short Break Company:

    These SEO stats were achieved over a period of 1-3 years. Short Break Company now ranks on the first Google page for all the essential high-converting keywords.


    While there are advantages to ranking in Ads sections, it has its share of disadvantages, including lower trust compared to organic results. If your business is interested in getting a quick influx of traffic in a short time, consider SEM. If the goal is to bring in long-term and steady quality visitors, SEO would be the better choice.

    SEO vs SEM: Credibility and Trust

    Studies claim that Technology and other Business-to-business companies tend to generate double revenue from organic searches compared to other internet marketing channels.

    Furthermore, a study found that organic search brings 53% of traffic, whereas paid searches result in only 15%.

    This data is in favour of SEO which helps you rank higher on organic searches. It shows audience behaviour, a telling sign that indicates they find organic searches more trustworthy and credible. Hence, you should focus on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content.

    Further read: 5+ Reasons Why You Should Invest in SEO for Your Business

    However, let’s not discredit the value of SEM. Despite its downsides, around 93% of digital marketers have stated that they invest in search ads.

    For example, consider this advertisement for the keyword phones under 15000:

    Phones Under 15000

    It shares results from at least two well-known online retailers, Amazon and Samsung. Both are authentic sources where people can purchase phones. Established brands use SEM to improve their already skyrocketing revenue. People are more likely to trust an advertisement from an established brand than a new company they have never heard of. That is why new companies should focus on establishing their brand to increase brand exposure within their market.

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      SEO vs SEM: Testing the Campaigns

      Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

      When we search for the best VPS hosting in India, the first few results above the fold are advertisements created with the help of a targeted SEM campaign. This is how users will come across the results facilitated by the PPC campaign.

      Best VPS hosting in India is a highly competitive keyword, and hosting is also a competitive industry. In order to be featured in Google ads, these businesses must have invested a lot of time and money experimenting with attracting the right audience.

      Best VPS Hosting in India

      SEM offers a vast scope for experimentation. You can run an experimental paid advertisement campaign, refining elements of it until you get it right. Once you have refined the advertisement, you can successfully implement your advertisement. It can help you get the best out of your investment.

      Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

      Now, when you scroll down a little, you’ll come across the organic results for the best VPS hosting in India. These results were achieved through a diligently implemented SEO campaign. Since this result is sharing information on the top VPS hosting platforms instead of trying to sell you a service, these results automatically appear more trustworthy.

      Best VPS Hosting in India

      In comparison to SEM, SEO doesn’t offer the same level of refinement. Businesses have to depend on the SEO expert or SEO agency they hire for the purpose. Their expertise in the field, gained through years of study and practical knowledge, will help your brand grow.

      SEO vs SEM: Which is Better for Your Brand?

      Typically, choosing SEM would mean investing in both SEO and PPC. While using both strategies to some extent might seem ideal, it is not feasible for all businesses. You’ll have to run an SEO audit to identify the issues with your website and correctly determine which strategy is better for your business. Feel free to reach out to us for a hassle-free SEO audit services in Mumbai.

      However, two things can help you get a clear idea of what your brand needs:

      • Consider the Business Objectives

      Online stores usually have clearance sales or huge 2-3 days planned events created to receive huge traffic. For such events, paid digital marketing would be an ideal choice. This way, the business can create a Google ad targeting customers looking to buy the products sold by the online stores. The stores can also plan a Display ad campaign.

      In contrast, if you are looking to build sustainable traffic long after the campaign has run its course, consider investing in SEO. Start-ups with little-to-no brand exposure can take advantage of the benefits SEO offers. With the help of SEO, start-ups can have a level playing field with established brands within their niche.

      • Consider the Budget Constraints

      Businesses that plan on investing in SEM might consider both SEO and PPC for their digital strategy. Now, based on the pricing we have already mentioned, the pricing for such a tailored campaign could cost a business over 9500 USD a month. It includes 500 USD for SEO and 9000 USD for PPC.

      This amount can be on the higher end for start-ups and small-scale businesses with a tight budget. However, there are SEO agencies that offers better pricing and deliver what they promise.

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      Should You Invest in Both SEO and PPC?

      We have previously shared an example of how Hostinger ranked in both organic and paid results for the keyword – free domain name. When you put SEM to full use, you get the best out of paid and organic searches. Additionally, you could also use PPC data to refine your SEO campaigns. Creating a digital marketing campaign by combining both SEO and PPC should help you achieve quicker and long-term results.

      Blog Author
      Nirav Dave

      Nirav Dave is the Co-Founder & Partner at Capsicum Mediaworks, an SEO Agency based out of India that specializes in all things Web Design & WordPress Development. He Worships WordPress and Loves to read anything and everything about this exceptional CMS.

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