One of the biggest questions new business owners ask is, “how do I get people to find me online”? The short answer is to use SEO and SEM to help people find you. If you’re like me when I first started out, you’re thinking, “Well, yeah! But how exactly do I do that?” Well, friend, the answer to that, unfortunately, isn’t an easy one. Knowing when and how to use SEO and SEM strategies depends on many factors. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of paid and organic strategy to help you understand.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, includes various methods of generating traffic by organic search results (Ladicicco, 2018). The most common form of SEO is the use of keywords and links in a brand’s content, including the website, blog, and video content. Think of SEO as a specialized breadcrumb trail that leads people to your website; some people use pumpernickel while others use rye or coconut bread, each one appealing to a different (and specific) audience.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

On the other hand, Search Engine Marketing is paid advertising specifically designed to use search results to position your brand in front of potential customers. SEM is more like a neon sign that points to your brand and makes it stand out above all any other brand. Brands promoted by SEM can be found at the top of search results with an ad icon next to it.

Similarities Between SEO & SEM

This is where many people get confused about which strategy to use. Both SEO and SEM are based on intent marketing (using keywords to guide searchers toward your website) and drive interested traffic to your site (Varagouli, 2020). Additionally, both strategies will help boost brand awareness by showing up in search results and putting the brand in front of relevant viewers (i.e., those most likely to click through to the website). Both SEO & SEM require users to know their audience in terms of how and what they’re searching for; using appropriate keywords and phrases is imperative to make the most of either tactic. Furthermore, neither strategy is evergreen; both require testing, tweaking, and updating to remain productive.

SEO Pros & Cons


SEO yields long-term, cumulative results that continue to increase over time, like an investment account. Websites benefit from SEO efforts by typically having cleaner, more professional-looking sites with higher-level content to over visitors. Also, as websites rise organically through search results, they receive higher traffic and elevated trust levels from search engines and their users.


While SEO results are long-lasting, they also take time to gain footing, so users can expect a 6-month wait until they see any traction. Additionally, the amount of back-end work it takes to implement SEO can be time-consuming and requires technical skills to link everything together. Another downside of SEO is that organic traffic is more challenging to track than pay-per-click (PPC) traffic, making it harder to decipher what’s working and what needs to be adjusted.

SEM Pros & Cons


The most common reasons for using SEM are the ability to precisely target a specific audience. Speed is also an excellent asset for SEM, with platforms such as GoogleAds making it quick and easy to design and implement a campaign. Analytics can be seen within 24 hours of launching an SEM campaign, and the data available far outweighs that of SEO. Furthermore, SEM is easily tested, and feedback can be used to quickly adjust tactics as you go to ensure success.


With improved targeting comes a higher price, and SEM campaigns can run up the bill pretty quickly. Since most SEM campaigns are done as PPC, you’re only paying for those who click on the ad; however, once your daily budget is reached, you risk the ad not being shown until the next day, meaning you could lose out on any number of potential visitors. Due to its expense, SEM tends to be a short term tactic that only boosts awareness in short bursts, with results decaying once the ad stops running. The need for constant adjusting also makes SEM more high maintenance, as analytics will need to be checked frequently to keep engagement up. Additionally, because SEM ads are marked in search results, they typically don’t incur the same amount of trust as organic results, giving them a lower click through rate (CTR).

Combining Efforts

When we combine SEO and SEM, we essentially get the best of both worlds: long-term optimization compounds over time and short-term bursts of engagement that help move your website up the rankings. Building SEO into our website, blog, and content helps create and maintain a path to our brand; the more optimized content, the broader and easier the trail becomes. Using SEM to regularly increase engagement is like putting billboards along that path that highlight your brand and why viewers want to stop in and check it out. Both strategies work together to get your brand to the top of the search results, a.k.a the first page of Google.

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Ladicicco, S. (2018, May 8). SEO & SEM: Weighing the Pros and Cons: Fusion Group USA Blog. Fusion Group USA.

Sun, D. (2019, January 29). SEO or SEM? – examples, differences, pros & cons (comparison table). Equinet Academy.

Varagouli, E. (2020, July 24). SEO vs. SEM: What Is The Difference and How It Affects You. SEMrush.

Posted by:Amy Clark

Hey, sunshine! I’m a proud entrepreneurial mama with three kids and a hunky husband. I worship chocolate like a deity, drink homemade lattes like my life depends on it and think jeggings are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st Century. A photographer, educator + military spouse, my happiest days are spent helping creative-based small business owners reach their business goals. Have questions about photography, business or life with 3 littles?- feel free to email me!

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