SEO vs SEM: which is better?

By Alex J | Friday, 22 July 2016

Even though social media is steadily dictating users' browsing habits, a lot of us still rely on search engines.

In fact, people rely on Google so much that the name was included in the Oxford Dictionary. As a website owner, you still need to rely on search engines in order to attract viewers to your site.

But with a new site to manage, it can be hard to determine which marketing strategies to try – even harder to determine which of them would work.

One of the common questions new site owners ask us is when to implement SEO (search engine optimization) or SEM (search engine marketing) strategies.

The truth is the two are very similar.

Both strategies heavily rely on search engines to attract more viewers (SEO is actually a component of SEM). The differences between them are SEO aims for more organic results while SEM takes advantage of paid ads on search engines.

Now that we know the key differences, the next question is whether to implement SEO or SEM strategies. To help you determine the answer, here's a run through of the pros and cons:




You can spend less to earn high rankings. You just need to be aware of effective trends.


As long as you play your cards right, there is a chance that visitors will become your customers.


If your site lands on the first page (especially along the upper half), it could be recognised as an authority domain.



This is especially true if competition is tough. It could take a while before you achieve the same results as your competitors.


You are constantly on the whim of search engine updates. For example, when Google rolled out the Panda and Penguin updates, previous authority sites not only lost their ranking but were also penalised.


As mentioned previously, you never know what to expect with these software updates. What works one day might not work on the next.




Even if your site does not rank high in the organic search results, there’s a chance that your paid ads will still land on the first page.


With paid ads in particular, you can set the time, date, and even device.


You can input specific keywords relevant to your ads and your business.



Depending on the niche or industry, the price for ads might be expensive – even more so if competitors’ ads are dominating the first few pages.


It can be a hassle to keep tweaking your ad settings just so they rank.


In terms of reputation, most users actually prefer the organic search results over the paid ones.

Ideally, it would be better to implement both SEO and SEM marketing strategies. However, if you can't do both, it's best to analyse which of them is easier to do given your current situation. You could always take advantage of both SEO and SEM strategies once you have enough money or following.