Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are often confused with one another. Most of the times it’s tough to know which is which.
If you’re also wondering what is the difference between SEO and SEM and which one works better in taking your online business or website to the next level in 2021, this detailed post is for you.
Let’s dive into the details to find out more about SEO vs SEM.
Table of Contents
The Difference Between SEO vs SEM: Which Is Better in 2021?
What is SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing website pages to improve their SERP (Search Engine Results Page) rankings. To put it simply, SEO revolves around optimizing the website to improve its visibility for search engines results.
Search engines like Google have two major functions:
- Crawling and building an index of a ton of search results
- Providing search users with a ranked list of the websites which are highly relevant
Whether you know it or not, Google crawls billions of pages every single day. Crawling and indexing the billions of documents, pages, files, news, videos, and media on the web and providing answers to user queries, most frequently through lists of relevant pages that they’ve retrieved and ranked for relevancy is what most search engines like Google do.
There are basically two types of SEO:
- On Page Optimization
- Off Page Optimization
On page SEO
On Page Optimization or On page SEO refers to all the things that you can do on your website to help you rank higher in search results such as page titles, URL, image alt tags, internal linking, meta tags and descriptions etc.
Here are a few important on-page SEO factors.
- Implementing SEO friendly titles and meta descriptions
- Use search engine friendly URLs
- Updating the sitemap regularly
- Using schema tags (or use a plugin like an author review to get star ratings for product reviews)
- Checking and minifying validation errors (HTML validation/CSS validation)
- Using custom error page for your website (to keep your site more useful and unique to your website visitors)
- Check for broken links and remove them (you can also use Broken Link Checker plugin)
- Make use of breadcrumbs for better navigation and optimization
Off Page SEO
Off Page Optimization or Off-page SEO refers to all the things that you can do OUTSIDE your website to help you rank higher in search results such as building high-quality links, social media promotion, forum submissions etc.
It basically tells Google what others think about your site. Based on the links that you have on your site, the search engine assumes that you have great content. Here are a few important off-page SEO factors.
- Social networking sites
- Social bookmarking sites
- Guest posts (to build quality links)
- Video marketing
- And the list goes on
Importance of SEO Traffic
Most people still don’t understand the importance of SEO traffic.
So what SEO traffic does? In a nutshell, it makes your website more visible and crawlable for search engines like Google, which helps to drive organic traffic to your website which ultimately helps you increase your overall website leads and sales.
If done right, SEO is an ultimate weapon for you to reach the first page of SERPs organically. If done right, you don’t need to invest millions of dollars like most brands do to bring high-quality visitors to your sites from search engines.
Whether you know it or not, Google processes over 40,000 search query every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. That’s a lot of searches, right?
Just imagine how helpful it can be if people can find your website on the first page of SERPs while making searches with relevant keywords such as “best credit cards”, “real estate agents in London” and so on? You’ll be literally making thousands of dollars every single month.
That’s why you should never ignore the importance of SEO traffic.
Pros and Cons of SEO
If you’re still wondering about the importance of SEO, you should check out the list of following pros and cons of SEO.
Pros of SEO:
- Increases your website online visibility
- Gives you long term benefits
- Helps you with brand awareness
- SEO is often considered as one of the cost effective methods to promote business
- Helps you with more leads and sales
- Users who come from search engines like Google have higher conversion rates (as they tend to buy more often when compared to any other channel including social media)
Cons of SEO:
- The biggest con with SEO is that it takes time. Unless you’re using paid ads (such as Google AdWords), search engine traffic generally takes a lot of time (usually months). So if you’re someone who’s looking to get more search traffic, you need to prepare a long term strategy as you can’t expect quick results with SEO.
- SEO is constantly changing. Mainly Google is coming up with a ton of new algorithms (it makes 500 changes every single year to provide better results to users), so what works today may not work tomorrow. You need to constantly keep an eye on Google latest updates and prepare accordingly.
- SEO is hard. From site audits to broken links to building links, fixing your broken links to keyword research to competitor analysis, SEO is a huge ocean. Unless you spend few years, you simply don’t understand the whole thing.
5 Best SEO Strategies for 2021
If you want to get more search traffic to your sites mostly for free, you definitely need to know few working SEO strategies so you can get more organic visitors to your site, online stores etc. Here are few of the best SEO strategies that work like a charm in 2021 and beyond.
1. Creating in-depth and 10x content
10x content (also known as pillar content) is the cornerstone of your content. You can treat them like pillars to build a highly profitable website in the long run.
“10x content” is a term which was first coined by Rand Fishkin in reference to content that’s ten times better than anything published in your niche.
“[10x content] is the idea that, because of content saturation, content overload, the idea that there’s just so much in our streams and standing out is so hard, we can’t just say, “Hey, I want to be as good as the top 10 people in the search results for this particular keyword term or phrase.” We have to say, “How can I create something 10 times better than what any of these folks are currently doing?” That’s how we stand out.”
Rand Fishkin, “How to Create 10x Content – Whiteboard Friday”
So if you really want to take your blog or website organic traffic and rankings to the next level, creating 10x content is the way to go.
Here are a few key factors that play a huge role in creating 10x content.
- Number of words (make sure your content contains at least 2000 words as 2000+ word articles tend to rank well in search engines like Google, according to many case studies)
- The overall content quality (don’t fill your content with fluff, the overall quality of your content should be top notch, problem-solving and helpful for your target audience)
- Number of social shares (social shares impact your overall search engine rankings, so try to get as many social shares as possible from sites like Facebook, twitter etc)
- Backlinks (your backlinks influence the overall rankings of your blog posts and the more backlinks you get from authority sites, the higher your content will rank for your target keywords)
2. Google featured snippets optimization
Google featured snippets are becoming a trend now. According to Ahrefs, 12.29% of search queries have featured snippets in the search results. Only 30.9 percent of featured snippets rank at the very top placement in the organic results. 99.58 percent of the featured snippets are already in the top 10 positions in Google.
If you’re wondering, featured snippets are direct answers to users queries on Google search.
If you’re looking to get more out of SEO, you must find out ways to get rankings for Google featured snippets. Firstly, you need to get top 10 rankings for your target keywords. Only then, you’ll have higher chances of ranking for featured snippets on Google search results.
Getstat claims that 70% of snippets came from sites outside of the first organic position. So it’s required that the page is ranked in the top 10, but it’s not required to be #1 to be featured. That’s why you should pick easier to rank for keywords so you can get first page rankings.
3. Backlinks are evergreen
Google gives top priority to backlinks. If your website is attracting lots of quality and relevant links, your website rankings will go up no matter what industry you are in.
That being said, building links is not so easy as you need to put extra efforts to attract links to your sites.
Here are a few certain ways to build links in 2021.
- Start creating in-depth content so you can attract links naturally. You can also do blogger outreach and ask for links (if your content is too good, most people will link to you). But before you ask for any links, make sure to link to their contents, comment, and work on building relationships with bloggers.
- Use your competitor’s backlinks. You can use tools like Semrush to find your backlink sources and figure out ways to attract those links.
- Write guest posts as guest posting is the evergreen link building strategy which works like a charm no matter what niche you’re in.
4. Long tail keywords are vital
Long tail keywords usually contain 4 or more keywords.
For example, “best real estate brokers in Delhi” is a 6 word highly profitable long tail keyword. If you can get first page rankings (or top 3 slots in Google search) for such keywords, literally your business will thrive organically.
The #1 reason to focus on finding long tail keywords is there is more competition for common head keywords, but much less for specific long tail keywords. For instance, it’s hard to rank for “fitness,” but easier to rank for “best fitness apps for iPhone”.
You can use tools like Semrush, Ubersuggest etc to easily come up with a ton of useful long tail keyword ideas for any industry.
5. Content optimization plays a key role
As said above, finding long tail keywords definitely helps you increase your traffic and sales. But there’s another most important thing which is content optimization.
Many people that search using long tail keywords typically are looking for a specific product or something and other people have already spend a lot of time doing research and narrowing down to their specific item.
It means searchers are still in research mode because they are not sure about what they want.
For example, a person searching for iPhone may not sure about which version of iPhone he wants whereas a person searching for iPhone 10 is sure about what he wants, leading to a high conversion rate. That’s the reason why you should target and optimize your content around long tail keywords.
That being said, once you’re done with keyword research, you should put your primary keywords in the following places to better optimize your content.
- Page Headers
- Subheadings such as h2, h3 and so on
- Paragraph text
- Alt image tags
- Internal and external links
- URL and so on
So that’s all for SEO. Let’s now dive into the details of SEM to see what it really offers.
What is SEM?
SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of increasing your website visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through paid advertising.
To put it simply, SEO is where you’ll be mostly generating traffic through unpaid or free listings whereas SEM is where you’ll be primarily buying traffic through paid search listings.
Do you know why most people prefer SEM over SEO?
Paid traffic converts 50% better than free organic traffic. Yes, that’s true. Here are few more interesting stats about SEM.
- PPC traffic converts 50% higher than organic traffic
- 36% of searches have local intent
- 66% of buyer-intent keywords are paid clicks
- An average of 200% ROI for paid advertising
- 65% of customers click on ads when purchasing
Types of SEM
There are three main types of search engine marketing (SEM) which include;
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC) or Google ads
- Local SEO and
- Organic SEO
Let’s briefly talk about the above 3 types of SEM so you can understand better.
1. PPC or Google ads: PPC ads are widely used in SEM because of their conversion rates. People who visit a website after clicking on a PPC ad are 50 percent more likely to make a purchase compared to visitors who clicked on an organic search result.
These PPC ad rates depend mostly on the industry you are in and the type of keywords you select. For example, credit card related PPC keywords usually are expensive considering the fact that they produce excellent ROI and high returns for every dollar spent.
2. Local SEO: PPC campaigns and ads which are optimized for local have an impressive ROI when the ads are either relevant to searcher’s physical location or to a location of interest.
So if you’re running a local business, it’s better to target local audience by targeting keywords which include your local location details.
3. Organic SEO: Organic SEO is where you can get organic rankings by doing proper on-page optimization, building links, influencer outreach and so on.
Importance of SEM Traffic
So what’s the importance of SEM traffic? Is it really matters?
Yes, it does as said above, SEM gives you an ultimate ROI when compared to SEO.
While spending money on SEM to get more visitors and sales to your site, it’s important to track down the following things;
- Click through path for confirmed sale or click-through rates
- Exit pages of your website
- Entrance pages of the website
If you’re spending $100 on SEM (for instance on PPC ads) and generating $200 for each campaign, you are getting a 100% ROI where you can continue doing your SEM campaigns.
Similarly, you need to track down your ROI and spendings to see if SEM is working well for you or you might want to give a try to SEO.
Pros and Cons of SEM
Here are some of the pros and cons of using SEM for your websites or online business in 2021 and beyond.
Pros of SEM:
- One of the fastest ways to generate more traffic
- SEM gives you the highest returns when compared to SEO (that’s why billions of dollars are being spent by companies and businesses worldwide)
- It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, you can use SEM to generate leads and sales to your websites
- By targeting the right keywords, you can expect a lot of better results and quicker success with SEM
Cons of SEM:
- It costs you money. Yes, SEM involves in paid ads, PPC ads, Google ads and so on. You can’t get results with SEM without spending money unlike SEO (which you can also use free listings to get traffic in the long run)
- The ROI of SEM depends mostly upon the keywords you select. It gets really expensive and gives you less ROI if you’re targeting the wrong keywords with heavy competition.
5 Best SEM Strategies for 2021
Here are few of the best SEM strategies that work like a charm in 2021 and beyond.
1. Analyze your competitors’ keywords and backlinks
One of the best SEM strategies is to keep an eye on your competitors websites. Find out what keywords they are using along with their backlinks sources.
Find out how to use the backlinks of your competitors to analyze which ones are worth acquiring. Make sure to determine how your competitor acquired the link from the website such as guest posts, blogger outreach, influencer marketing, blog comments, resource page links etc and replicate the same.
Similarly, you also need to find out their top performing keywords (including paid keywords on Google search). You can easily find such keywords using competitor research tools like Semrush.
2. Ignore highly competitive and high volume keywords
One of the biggest mistakes most people make while using PPC ads is they mostly target highly competitive and high volume keywords.
They often fail to drive more leads and conversions to their websites. Do you know why?
They often ignore long tail keywords which actually perform well and convert high. Have a look at the below image to see the importance of long tail keywords.
As you can see, 70% of traffic comes from long tail keywords so don’t ignore them and focus on targeting PPC ads which include highly relevant and easier to rank for long tail keywords.
Another reason to consider long tail keywords is that majority of your competitors will not be bidding for long tail keywords which means, you get better conversions at better rates.
3. Mobile is not the same as a desktop (learn device customization)
If you are going to use PPC ads to get more out of SEM, you need to create Mobile-Only ads. Whether you know it or not, ads look different from screen-to-screen.
In Google AdWords, you can select a “Device Preference” and choose certain ads as mobile-preferred which allows to you show your content and clicks properly.
That being said, there are several things you can find here;
- Call Only: This option appears for the sole purpose of making phone calls, as opposed to directing users to a landing page.
- Mobile Text: This option runs simple, plain text ads on the mobile display. While they look similar to the text ads you’d see on a desktop, you can show less ads per page on mobile.
So make sure to use the device customization when using SEM to drive more sales and leads from search engines like Google.
4. Know when to bid
You must need to know when to bid your ads on Google to drive more profits and leads. For that, you need data (at least 5 to 6 months) based on the following things;
- The amount of traffic you receive
- The amount of clicks you get
- The amount of sales (or conversions) you generate
Based on the above data, take the insightful decisions to reduce the bid or pause the keywords at the combinations of days and time.
5. Landing page customization is crucial
Landing pages convert really better when it comes to paid ads. So if you’re going to use SEM tactics such as PPC ads, you must create landing pages to show your products, services or anything else.
Make sure to perform A/B testing on your ads to find out which of your landing pages are converting well. Here are few things you can use to perform A/B testing for higher website conversions.
- Body (including text and images)
- Call to actions (such as buttons and their colors, payment options etc)
Above all, perform A/B testing on the keywords you choose to get visitors to your landing pages from paid ads. You can also keep an eye on what paid keywords your competitors are using and consider giving them a try to see how your own paid ads are performing when compared to them.
SEO versus SEM: Which One to Choose And Why?
So which one is better among SEO and SEM?
That’s a tough question to answer. That being said, you should know your priorities. Make sure to find and analyse your website and budget needs so you can decide which one to go for among SEO and SEM.
To make things simpler for you, check out the following things to decide it by yourself.
SEO is great:
- If you are going to start a blog, create content and generate search traffic in a year or two (it really works great and gives you amazing results at free of cost)
- If you don’t have any budget to spend (SEO is mostly free unless you spend money on content marketing, link building etc)
- If you can wait for sometime (as SEO takes time to bring you traffic and leads)
SEM is great:
- If you’re launching a small business or any online business and looking to generate leads and search traffic to your sites almost instantly (SEM gives you incredible returns on every dollar you spend)
- If you’ve budget to spend (although you don’t need millions to spend on PPC ads you certainly need couple of thousands of dollars to be able to see noticeable results from SEM)
- If you’re looking for faster results in terms of search traffic and leads to your eCommerce or online stores
In a nutshell, if you’ve budget and looking for quicker results, SEM works great for you. If not, you should probably consider SEO strategies such as content marketing, link building etc to generate results.
Here are few questions around SEO and SEM you should be aware of if you want to get a better understanding of these two marketing channels.
1. What are the major benefits of SEO?
SEO (Search engine optimization) is one of the best ways to bring organic visitors to your online business, websites, e-commerce stores and so on. Here are some of the major benefits of SEO.
- Increases your website’s authority
- Increases your traffic
- Increases your sales and overall profits
- Gives you more online visibility
- Drives you long lasting results and the list goes on.
2. What is black hat SEO? What’s the difference between Black hat SEO vs SEM?
SEM stands for search engine marketing and generally refers to an online marketing strategy that focuses on SEO, Google AdWords, or a combination of both. You can learn more in detail about black hat SEO from here.
3. SEO vs SEM: Which is the best in 2021?
Both SEO and SEM are not totally different. SEO mostly involves in free traffic which is driving visitors from search engines through optimized blog posts, targeted keywords and so on whereas SEM mostly involves in paid traffic sources where you’ll be paying money for ads such as Google AdWords to get instant visitors to your site.
If you’re just getting started and have a budget to spend on search engines, SEM is the most effective promotional strategy but if you’re ready to wait for a few months and doesn’t want to spend much on ads, SEO works great for you.
4. Which one is cost-effective between SEM and SEO?
We can’t compare oranges with apples. Likewise, SEM and SEO are both really effective if done right. The key here is to find out what works best for your online business. SEO is organic and takes time to get results whereas SEM is paid advertising promotional strategy where you need to put money to get results.
That being said, SEO is cost-effective (but also involves things like link building, content marketing, lead generation and so on) when compared to SEM.
Browse more SEO Tutorials:
- Semrush vs Ahrefs: Which is the Best SEO Tool?
- How to do Keyword Research Like a Pro if you Don’t Know Much About SEO
- How to Improve Keyword Rankings in Google [Ultimate Guide]
- How Your Website Loading Time Affects Your Rankings on Google Search?
- SEO Checklist for a New Website to Get High Rankings in 2021
- How to do SEO for Law Firms and Lawyers?
Both SEO and SEM go hand in hand and both help you increase the visibility of your websites or online businesses in search engines like Google.
The only thing you need to remember is whether you’ve more time or money. If you’ve time, going for SEO is better and SEM works great if you want quicker results and budget to spend on PPC ads.
So what are your thoughts about the detailed comparison of SEM vs SEO for 2021? Share your thoughts in the comments.