SEO vs SEM: The Prevailing Strategy

In the constant race to the top of the rankings, companies have strived to figure out if the SEM or the SEO approach is of a better value for their desire to get more customer attention. Considering that about 68% of clicks on a website for a particular topic usually go to the top 5 organic results, the importance of climbing higher in the query returns becomes very apparent.

The SEO Strategy

The basis of the SEO strategy is to achieve a higher ranking organically. That means implementing a variety of techniques specifically tailored for increasing the website’s search engine ranking. By using strategically implemented keywords (common terms users would normally use while searching a search engine) the website can increase its relevance for a great majority of search engine queries.

For example, if your website sells products for dogs, you could make sure your content features common terms that those searching for dog products would use as their search terms such as “dog products”, “dog food”, “dog toys”, “dog chews”, etc. Those are your keywords, and they act as a magnet by pulling the searching party to your site as you have “organically” featured terms that are relevant to them. But there is a fine line to the SEO strategy. Search engines look for keyword “overstuffing” and degrade the ranks based on those as this content is regarded as more spam than value.

Let’s take another example. If you own a barbershop, try to think about what terms you would use if you were someone seeking a barbershop. The terms” barber near me”, “barbershop” and “haircut” are obvious choices of course, but there might be some more unique keywords that a searching party may use. Perhaps some other services you offer like “straight edge shaving” or “haircuts for men” are less competitive, and therefore, should be utilized.

There are a few subsets of SEO:

  • On-page SEO is the focus on optimizing the site on its respective webpages.
  • Off-page SEO includes any activities that help boost website rankings via external sources (such as backlinks, positive reviews, or brand mentions on other websites).
  • Technical SEO strategies involve improving the technical aspects of the page like preventing duplicate content, improving indexing, site structure, site security, and enhancing page speed.

The SEM Strategy

While utilizing most of the same strategies as SEO, the SEM process also implements a PPC (pay-per-click) strategy to push the webpage up in SERP. This means that the company ultimately pays the search engine for the clicks it wants to get, and in essence, buys advertising space toward the top of the rankings. These sites are denoted with a small “Ad” icon, indicating that they paid to get to the top tier of the query results.

Comparing SEO and SEM

The two methods have quite a lot in common.

  • The ultimate strategy of both is the same, in that they both aim to get their site’s search results to rank higher and thereby drive increased traffic to their website.
  • Both strategies require a business knowing their audience and understanding the search terms used to get to search for their business’s particular niche to use more targeted keywords.
  • Both require continuous optimization tactics and staying on top of popular industry terms to adapt to ever-evolving keyword strategies.

SEO and SEM strategies do have some distinct differences as well.

  • With SEM, the results are shown to a specifically targeted audience as that is who SEM users pay to connect to, while SEO results in the page link shown to anyone who utilizes the triggering keywords.
  • Once a user clicks on a site utilizing SEM, the business pays for the click, while a site that leverages just SEO strategies does not.
  • If a business wants to test its service or product with a segment of the market audience, they could use the SEM strategy to do so, while a product with an established long term value is more suited for SEO.
  • SEM puts your website ahead of others in the search results, making a more immediate impact. With an SEO strategy, there is a lot more adjustment and time necessary to be invested in seeing your website rise in SERP.
  • There are higher costs associated with SEM, while SEO grows organically.
  • SEO has a higher click-through rate than SEM.

Making the determination of which strategy to use takes time and patience to research. Fast results with SEO are atypical as it is largely a learning process to get your website to that ideal point where it shows up in the top tier in SERP. SEM could get you there faster, but at a higher cost and the same adjustments would ultimately need to be made to keyword and website relevance as if you were using the SEO strategy.

Many websites have gone around and around with which strategy is more optimal for their business. Due to the cost-effective nature of SEO, it is often the prevailing strategy, even though it is more time consuming to perfect. In fact, 70% of marketers consider SEO to be a more effective method. While SEM can bring in short bursts of sales, SEO can be honed, adjusted, and developed over time, proving to be the superior digital marketing strategy.


Marketing is hard. Depending on which stage in the marketing process you’re in, SEO and SEM will both have their benefits — but SEO comes first and guarantees free organic traffic. Here at Jungle Communications, our tribe is made up of seasoned marketing professionals who have taken the time to implement the most up-to-date strategies to push your business to the top of the search engines.

If any of this has helped you become more informed, let’s set up a discovery meeting and figure out how to best boost your business’s search engine ranking to drive more traffic in your company’s direction.

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