When the topic of SEO vs SEM arises, some experts may argue that SEO is the best way to go as it offers higher quality leads at a cheaper cost when compared to SEM. However, it isn’t so simple. Every business is different and has unique needs. For example, your small business may not have a big ad budget and it may also lack the resources needed for doing effective SEO.
Most businesses are aware that the search engines can drive massive traffic to their web properties. Not just any traffic, but traffic that actually converts into leads and sales. Even though there are other ways to gain online exposure, Google still leads the pack when it comes to helping you get the best bang for your marketing buck. This is mainly due to its huge user base and market share.
A website or URL’s ranking for keywords or keyword combinations varies from search engine to search engine. A domain may rank for a certain keyword in the top 3 on Bing, but not even be on the first page of the Google search results for the same keyword. Of course, the same is true of all search engines – Bing, Google, Yahoo and every other search engine uses its own method for calculating rankings and therefore ranks websites differently.
All too often, people dramatically overthink the most basic keyword research concepts; keyword generation should start simply with answering the question of "What products or services do you sell?" If you sell dog food online, the root words dog and food alone would be very poor keywords because on their own, neither dog nor food do a remotely good job at describing what you sell. Though this example makes it obvious, many times we have to fight through our urge to include those bigger, broader root keywords.
SEO may generate an adequate return on investment. However, search engines are not paid for organic search traffic, their algorithms change, and there are no guarantees of continued referrals. Due to this lack of guarantees and certainty, a business that relies heavily on search engine traffic can suffer major losses if the search engines stop sending visitors. Search engines can change their algorithms, impacting a website's placement, possibly resulting in a serious loss of traffic. According to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, in 2010, Google made over 500 algorithm changes – almost 1.5 per day. It is considered a wise business practice for website operators to liberate themselves from dependence on search engine traffic. In addition to accessibility in terms of web crawlers (addressed above), user web accessibility has become increasingly important for SEO.
The key distinction is that SEM is a broader strategy which combines paid search and SEO tactics. So, if you set up a PPC advertisement, but don't take steps to optimize the ad or the website it links to, this is a standard example of paid search. However, if you optimize your site and your search content with solid keywords, then you put money behind it to boost it on targeted audience's search pages, then you're dabbling in SEM.