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Google search results are divided into two sections: paid search results and organic search results. The main difference is that the goal of SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is to get traffic ad visibility from paid and organic searches. On the other hand, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) focuses on optimizing a website to get traffic mainly from organic search results. In this topic we will be discussing SEM vs SEO, and when you use them.

The idea of SEO is to rank a website in the organic search results. 

You can also get your website in the paid area of the search result via pay per click (PPC). 

SEO is where 100% of the focus is on rankings in the organic search results.  

SEM is when you chose both SEO and PPC in order to get traffic from search engines. 

So, SEM is a broad term that includes both SEO and PPC.  

SEM vs SEO: Main Features 

SEO Overview: SEO is continues process of optimizing the website in order to rank in the organic/ on-paid search engine result pages (SERPs). 

Google uses its algorithm to track the ranking factors, this being said the SEO can be divided into four main sections: On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, technical SEO and User interaction. 

On-Page SEO: 

This is where you optimize the website with target keywords to keyword searches in search engines (Google, Bing etc). The best practice of on-page work includes optimizing title tag meta description and page URL with focus keywords. 

Off-Page SEO: 

Off-page is about gaining trust from other websites with higher domain authority. It involves building backlinks to your website.  

Technical SEO: 

Technical SEO includes fixing issues the page speed, making the pages crawlable to search engines and making sure site architecture is set up correctly.  

User Interaction Signals: 

The way user interacts with your website helps Google figure out if the pages are a good match for someone’s searches. For example, if a page has high bounce rate then it could possibly be a sign that your page isn’t providing the right answer to the query. Moreover, if Google considers your page a bad fit for that keyword, also they can drop your rankings down a bit or completely off of the first page. 

SEM Overview: 

SEM is a high level term that includes SEO and PPC. So, everything we just explained above for SEO alos applied to SEM. Here are a few terms for PPC. 

Bidding: Paid ads in search engines are all about bidding, with PPC you have to bid on a specific keyword. Whenever someone searches for a keyword your ad shows up. 

PPC rankings of the ads are usually proportional to how much you are bidding. So, if you are the highest bidder, you’ll appear above all of the other ads. When someone clicks on your ad, you pay when someone clicks on your ad is known as cost per click (CPC). 

Ad Groups: An ad group might contain one or multiple keywords that are the focus. 

Campaign: A campaign contains one or multiple ad groups, it has the option to edit the ad that will be displayed on SERP. 

When to Focus on SEO? 

Now the question is that should you go for PPC or SEO for digital marketing efforts? Or you should go for the combination? 

When to Focus Just SEO? 

If you just have small business or a start us with low budget, you probably want to focus on the SEO. You may not see any ROI (Return of Investment) on your SEO for months. However it still makes more sense than throwing the budget on PPC. If you have good budget and your website is quite good in terms of user experience then you may want to try it for a week to test if there is ROI in it. 

SEO and the content marketing take time to get ranked. So, if you can play a long game and wait for 6-10 months to see a good traffic to roll in from Google search, go with the SEO. 

High quality content is the key part of ranking in Google, however, it’s not enough. You’ll also need a few link building strategies to get other sites to link to you. 

When to Focus on PPC? 

One of the best things about PPC is that you can set a budget limit. That way, it’s impossible to spend more than planned budget. 

You also need to get proper information about running the PPC to avoid spending budget on useless keywords. Because, on the surface PPC sounds simple, bid on keywords and get traffic! 

However, in practice, managing Google ads is a serious matter. It requires to take the keywords, ads, ROI, conversion rates… and process of all this data in order to make decisions on how to get the most out of the ads. 

When to do Both (SEM)? 

Handling both SEO and PPC is the best option if you have the staff to manage. However, it will be much time consuming to write the content, making the site Google friendly. With on-page work and with the combination of Google Ads (PPC). Otherwise, pick one or the other.