Even though social media is steadily dictating users’ browsing habits, many of us still rely on search engines.  

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 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 more challenging to decide which of them would work.  

One of the common questions new site owners ask us is when to implement SEO (search engine optimisation) 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 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.  

To further understand what differentiates the two, we’ve made a guide to help you understand how they differ. 

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) boosts a brand or site’s visibility with paid search ads. These ads, often known as pay-per-click ads (PPC), place your website in the ad section of search results for specific keywords.  

A paid SEM strategy involves creating and optimising ads and setting the budget for ad placement.  

With many consumers going online to shop and research every day, SEM is a tried-and-tested strategy to increase your business’s reach. It gives immediate results and is arguably the fastest way to drive traffic and customers to your website. 75% of brands say that PPC is a huge driver for their businesses.

How SEM works?

With SEM, you purchase an ad with search engines like Google or Yahoo. The search engine will then display your ad for a relevant user search or enquiry based on the keywords you optimised. These paid ads usually appear at the top or alongside search engine results, giving them more visibility and prominence than organic search results. 

Now, SEO, on the other is different. While SEM may deliver fast results, SEO takes time. This brings us to the next point.

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the process of using organic tactics to boost your site’s visibility and rank better in SERPs. This means brands don’t have to pay for placement in the SERPs, unlike SEM.  

With the average person conducting 3-4 searches per day, it is safe to say that search is a primary source of traffic for every brand and marketer. Thus, making SEO a vital tool for online marketing. 

RECOMMENDED: The Crazy Easy Guide to SEO Essentials

How SEO works?

Search engines want to provide high quality and relevant results to users. So, to do this, search engines use bots to crawl and scan pages on the web, collecting and indexing their information. Think of an index as a library full of information that helps users find what they’re looking for.  

Ultimately, the main focus of SEO is to optimise your website to get quality and relevant traffic minus the cost.

Crazy Domains SSEO Banner

By incorporating and improving SEO for your business, you expand your site visibility and target and reach potential customers.  

As you can see, both SEM and SEO are vital elements when it comes to online marketing. So, 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: 

READ: [UPDATED] How Search Engines Work, and How to Make Them Work for Your Business 

SEO vs SEM: Which is Best for You?





You can spend less to earn high rankings. You 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 high – even more so if competitors’ ads dominate the first few pages.


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


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



It’s all up to you!

 Ideally, it would be better to implement both SEO and SEM marketing strategies in your online marketing. However, if you can’t do both, it’s best to analyse which of them works for you, given your current situation.  

If you don’t have enough budget or are not ready to invest, you can always opt for SEO. But if you want immediate results, you should consider SEM. Still having second thoughts? Refer to the comparison in the article to help you.