SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference and Why You Should Care

SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference and Why You Should Care


The difference between SEO and SEM is simple. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the practice
of optimizing content to be discovered through a search engine’s organic results. And SEM or Search Engine Marketing, is
traditionally SEO plus Pay-per-click advertising, but some people just look at it as PPC today. Now, you might be thinking that SEO is the way to go since organic traffic is free, consistent, and passive. But it’d be short-sighted to think that it’s the only
way to grow your business through search. So today, we’re going to be talking about some
search engine marketing strategies and when and where you should be using SEO, PPC, or both. Stay tuned. [music] What’s up SEOs? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that
helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors and dominate your niche. Search engines are in my opinion, the best
traffic source. In fact, around 5 billion searches happen
on Google every single day. It’s also been reported that search engines
drive 10 times more traffic to shopping sites than social media. And for you local business owners, 72%
of consumers who did a local search visited a store within 5 miles. Now, to explain why SEO and PPC are both important,
let’s play a game of “would you rather.” Would you rather be able to instantly rank #1
for any keyword or have an unlimited PPC budget to pay for ads? Why SEO of course… [audience cheering] Naw bruh. PPC. [audience cheering] Now, I certainly don’t have an answer to this,
but let’s unpack both sides. From a pure SEO perspective, you need to remember
that search engines are businesses. They need to make money in order to operate. As a result, most, if not all platforms will give
premium placements to paying customers. For example, commercial keywords like “insurance,”
have a ton of value and therefore, a ton of competition, so the entire fold is pretty much covered in ads,
making organic results near invisible. So assuming you ranked organically for this keyword, a searcher would have to scroll down for a while before even entertaining the thought of
going to your page. Now, let’s make a case for PPC. Sure, if you had an infinite budget, you’d be
ranking #1 at the top of every page, right? Nope! Google doesn’t show Ads on every page
for every search. There needs to be some sort of commercial
intent in order for Ads to appear. For example, key in something with clear
commercial intent, like “buy red sox tickets,” and you’ll see Ads galore. Type in an informational query, like “what
to do in Boston,” and you won’t see any Ads. So if you were to opt-in for an infinite Ads
budget, but no SEO, you’d be missing out on a ton of opportunity to get traffic. And another thing to note is that commercial
keywords generally have less search volume than informational ones, which would even
further limit your pool of relevant traffic. As you can see here in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer,
the informational query gets searched nearly 27X more than the commercial one. So now I’m guessing that your answer to unlimited
SEO traffic vs PPC traffic is probably tougher than you might have initially thought. But this is why we have yet another acronym,
SEM, where we can combine the two strategies and truly take our search engine marketing
to another level. Let’s go through a few strategies that should
give you a good idea of when and why to implement SEO, PPC, or both. First, try running Ads for keywords that are
too competitive to rank for… at least for now. There are likely keywords in your industry
that you won’t be able to rank for in years. For example, if you were creating a brand new
supplements store and you wanted to rank for things like “buy protein powder,” then
your chances of a Top 3 ranking are slim. You’d be competing against the likes of
Amazon, GNC, and Walmart to name a few. Now, it doesn’t mean that you should abandon
SEO altogether and just run ads. But since ranking for competitive terms will
likely be a long play, PPC can help get the ball rolling immediately. And there are three massive benefits to using
PPC while you’re working to rank your pages. First, you can immediately start generating
revenue since you’re paying for traffic. This will hopefully help get some cash flow coming
in, but do note that just because you advertise, it doesn’t mean you’ll have a positive return. Oftentimes, it can take months and a lot of lost
dollars to find a campaign that works for you. Second, you get an opportunity to test and
optimize for conversions. Most ad platforms have conversion-tracking features. Afterall, if publishers can see that their ad spend
is returning positive ROI, they’ll keep spending. So use this as an opportunity to get insights
on things like the average cost per conversion. Run controlled tests to improve your conversion rate. And as you start producing profit from your
ads, scale out to other platforms. And third, you can get valuable keyword data. Within Google Ads, they have a report called,
“Search Terms.” Within this report, you can see keywords that people
are bidding on and see conversion numbers with them. This can help you get an understanding of
whether the keywords you want to target will actually produce conversions. As a hypothetical example, let’s say that you
were bidding on “protein powder,” and getting a ton of traffic because it’s a popular query. But in terms of net profit, you weren’t profitable. Within the Search Terms report, you might find
that a keyword like “grass fed whey protein” sends a lot less traffic but converts at
a much higher rate. So what I recommend you do is to export the
search terms report from Google Ads. Then use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’
Keywords Explorer, where you can paste up to 10,000 keywords at once and get all their metrics. Now, I don’t have an Ads campaign on protein
powder, but to illustrate my point, you’ll see that the Keyword Difficulty score is
much lower for “grass fed whey protein.” So it would be worth investigating and potentially
creating a new page for. That way you’ll likely be able to get some
traffic from organic search faster. We have a full tutorial on keyword research
where I outline a detailed step-by-step process to assess ranking difficulty, so I highly
recommend checking that out. Now, another reason you might use both SEO and
PPC is if the search results pages are covered in Ads. As you already saw in the “insurance” example,
competitive keywords generally have a lot of people willing to pay top dollar to appear at the top. And even if you’re ranking #1 through SEO,
the organic results are so far down that they may not even get clicked. Now, to put this into perspective, you’ll see that
on average, we’ve ranked in the #1 position for the keyword “local business seo.” But if you look at our Click through rate,
Search Console tells us that people only click our result 0.5% of the time! And if we look at the search results, you’ll
see that there are a bunch of ads, making it look like our #1 organic result is actually #4. As you can see, the majority of ads are for
local SEO services, so if we had an agency offering services like this, I’d definitely consider
putting some money into ads to get more clicks to our pages, and hopefully more customers. Finally is to own as much real estate as possible. And this is similar to the strategy that we’ve
just went through, but for a different reason. These days, a typical SERP will have some Ads at
the top, some SERP elements like featured snippets, “People also ask” boxes, and then the organic
search results. Now, while this might feel annoying for SEOs in
particular, I want you to look at this as an opportunity to rank in SERPs with monopolization in mind. For example, you’ll see that The Blog Starter
is paying for Ads, owns the featured snippet, and has the #1 ranking position. And to me this makes a lot of sense for him to put
his time and effort into since he’s likely making a lot of his money from this page. At Ahrefs, we’re fully committed to providing
the best educational resources on SEO. So you’ll see that for the keyword “SEO tutorial,”
we own a spot in the video carousel and then the #1 organic ranking position. And if we decide to go the online course route, I’m sure we’d put money into testing ads for
various keywords. Another example of us using SEM is on YouTube. Last year, we made a video that’s been really
helpful to those who are new to SEO. And since our main KPI for YouTube is engagement, we advertise for that keyword and we own
the #3 organic position. So the way I like to look at the topic of SEO vs.
PPC is not so much which one should you use. It’s more about looking at the differences and seeing
how they complement each other to create a dominant search engine marketing strategy, aka. SEM. Now, if you’re relatively new to SEO, I highly
recommend watching some of our videos which I’ll link up in the description. Or if you want to see us make some PPC tutorials,
let me know in the comments. And if you enjoyed this video, make sure to like,
share and subscribe for more actionable tutorials. So keep grinding away, go and dominate your
industry, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial.

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13 Replies to “SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference and Why You Should Care”

  1. Sir can we rank our site number one on google in Pakistan with pk domain if our competitors has com domain with high da

  2. Thanks Sam. Would definitely love to see PPC tutorial.
    Query: Do I need to create a different landing page for Ads (Google+Social Media) or I can keep my home page as well? Typically have doubt whether the inorganic traffic will affect negatively on ranking or positively?

  3. This page is pure gold , keep on with the good job and definitely make a PPC guide!
    and it might help if you would make a term guide like for example what’s srep and ROI

  4. Interesting question about YouTube SEO, but no answers so far (literally nowhere): What if I have my target audience in two countries? Let's say in the US and Spain. I can add subtitles, I can translate the title and the description. That's okay. But what about tags? The top 3-5 tags are the most important ones, but the thing is someone from Spain will be using different keywords than someone from the US. Shall I add tags in both languages? What if I have 10 languages? Or shall I create separate playlists for different countries with the same videos?

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