There are many ways to drive traffic to a site but basically the two most important are SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). While there are some similarities between SEO and SEM – i.e. they both revolve around keywords, they are fundamentally different.
In order to learn how to use them successfully, here are some tips about how to distinguish between the need for SEO and SEM.
There are multiple ways to explain what the distinction between SEO and SEM. In some cases they are even used as synonyms, which cannot be called precise because they are very different, or SEO is included as a subcategory of the broader SEM umbrella.
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SEO involves all the link building and on-page optimization activities the purpose of which is to achieve good rankings in organic search, while SEM is everything else you pay for, such as PPC traffic. You might ask if this means that paid links belong to SEM. No, they don’t – they are simply black hat and they belong neither of the two between SEO and SEM.
When to use free SEO?
Free SEO might not involve spending money but it isn’t the cheaper alternative. When you consider how much time you spend for on-page optimization and for link building, you don’t regard it as free anymore – time is money and these free SEO activities waste much time. Nevertheless, there are cases when you just need SEO. These cases include:
i. Less competitive keywords, especially long-tail keywords: For less competitive words, your investment in SEO is more likely to pay off because you don’t need that much time and effort to achieve good rankings. This is especially true for long-tail keywords because even if you bid on them, you will hardly get many clicks. For long-tail keywords it is possible to rank well even without any special SEO activities – just include the long-tail keyword a couple of times on the page and it’s not unlikely to get to the top of search results even without many (or even any) backlinks.
ii. When you are on a tight budget: The second case when you choose the first between SEO and SEM is when you are on a tight budget and ideally you have all the time in the world. When your budget is too limited, you might be able to buy some cheap PPC clicks but basically 100 or 200 clicks won’t make a huge difference anyway. In this case, you just invest your time in SEO and when your budget allows it, move to PPC.
SEO is useful and even if you can afford to spend tons of money on PPC, never ditch organic rankings completely.
When to use paid SEM
Sooner or later you see that free SEO alone doesn’t deliver the results you want. Almost everybody turns to PPC and paid search. However, even when the times aren’t drastic, SEM is a good alternative. For instance, it works best in the following cases:
i. For competitive keywords: Competitive keywords are too hard to conquer organically. If you have in mind how much time free SEO takes, for competitive keywords PPC is much cheaper than organic. Of course, if you start with AdWords and $3-$4 clicks, the costs will be huge. But if you try competitive keywords on some of the AdWordsalternatives first, you will most likely achieve better results for a fraction of the money.
ii. When you need lots of traffic in a short period of time: Free SEO takes lots of time to see some effects. If you are under time constraints, you will hardly want to wait.
iii. For better exposure: Most experts think that it is Top 5, or even Top 3 for a particular keyword that matters. In other words, if you manage to make it to the 7th or 10th place, this won’t be as good as getting into the Top 5. If you want to get better exposure, you need to consider paid listings. Paid listings for a given keyword are displayed above organic ones, so you are getting more exposure, but you also must have in mind that generally users are more likely to click on organic results than on paid listings because they feel organic listings are more authentic.