SEO or SEM: which is the right choice for your business?

SEO or SEM: which is the best and most helpful marketing strategy for your small business? Well, in many ways it’s a matter of paying your money and taking your choice. SEM might work better for companies with larger marketing budgets, whereas SEO can be more effective for smaller businesses. In an ideal world businesses would probably opt for a complete marketing strategy that uses a mixture of both techniques.

However, before deciding which strategy would best suit your circumstances, it’s important to understand the differences between the two strategies.

Search engine optimisation

SEO is the art of optimising a website to make it more visible to the search engines .In other words tweaking a website organically so that it ranks higher on the likes of Google or Bing. It’s a vital tool that uses both on-site and off-site strategies to help businesses attract more attention online and thereby garner a greater number of customer conversions. The purpose of SEO is to review and develop a website. By that what we mean is developing a site that has web-friendly design, a clean code and search engine –friendly URLs. Ideally an optimised website should also have strong and relevant content, appropriate and targeted keywords, optimised Meta data, calls to action and strong link development.

Search engine marketing

SEM is generalised or umbrella term for a paid search engine marketing campaign. It includes everything from search engine AdWords campaigns, online banner adds, local, regional and national advertising, a complete link development programme, video, mobile, content marketing and a social media programme development, as well as search engine optimisation. Note that SEO is just one specific string to this bow.


How do you decide which strategy is best for you? Well, before you do anything you should ask yourself some important questions. Once you have the answers to these you should be better placed to make your final choice.

What are your ultimate goals?

This is arguably the most important question you should be asking yourself. It’s the question that will ultimately determine your digital marketing strategy. The more specific an answer you can come up with, the better.

Do you want more leads?

If you’re sole focus is on building the number of leads for your business then SEM is probably the correct choice for you. SEM can provide very accurate conversion/phone tracking solutions. However, it can be costly, particularly in sectors where competition is tight. That’s not to say SEO cannot be effective here though. The problem is SEO is more of a long-term strategy and lead tracking is not nearly as accurate or convenient.

Are you looking for greater website traffic?

If you want traffic immediately, then use SEM. However, if you want to increase long-term ongoing traffic, then SEO is the optimal solution. An on-site SEO strategy naturally increases the content and size of a website, and this has a positive increase in organic traffic. Off-site SEO will increase a website’s link structure, and this will have a positive influence in your organic traffic and will provide referral traffic from other links.

Is your goal targeting?

For location targeting, local SEO can be effective. Nevertheless, it can be a competitive arena and there are restrictions. With SEM, there are still restrictions, but they are not as problematic. With SEM you can target multiple locations, post codes, mobile devices, browsers, and networks.

What is your marketing budget?

Once you have determined your goals, you should then consider the question of budgets. SEM can deliver immediate results, but it can be costly. SEO on the other hand needn’t cost you a penny if you’re prepared to do the donkey work yourself. However, if time is short then search engine optimisation can be very time-demanding.

What is the time frame to achieve your goals?

If you want results fast, then SEM is definitely the way to go. If you can afford to be patient, then SEO is the best option. Think of the difference between the two as a sprint versus a marathon. SEO is a long-term investment and will require a lot of work, and there are no guarantees for results. If you’re prepared to be in it for the long haul, then SEO could be the best strategy for you. If you’re happy to spend the money to get results quick, then SEM is the way to go.

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