Which is better, SEO or SEM?

Which is better, SEO or SEM?

SEO versus SEM is often a discussion held in many marketing meetings across the board. Objectively speaking, neither practice is better than the other. Both, Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are disciplines that try to accomplish the same goal: Improving your content’s exposure. However, they go about it in slightly different ways. They approach marketing and lead generation using different approaches and strategies.

With that in mind, which of the two is subjectively better depends significantly on your specific goals. This must take content and the resources you have available to meet them into consideration.

Depending on your particular situation, one or the other can serve your needs better. Let’s take a look at each practice individually to see where they shine and where they lack. This will help you be better equipped to determine which one can serve you best.

Both approaches aim to increase your content’s exposure, that´s obvious. However, it might be useful to reiterate that SEO focuses on using techniques to organically grow your content’s prominence over time. On the other hand, SEM includes paid digital marketing tactics. These can have faster noticeable effects, but at the cost of monetary investment.

Common SEO practices

  • Keyword research and implementation.
  • Optimized content creation.
  • On-page optimization (design, load times, navigation, readability, etc.)
  • HTML and Coding improvements (Proper URL formatting, crawler-tagging, etc.)

Common SEM practices

  • PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Ads Campaigns.
  • PPC Listings.
  • Social Media Paid Advertising.
  • Metrics management and optimization.

Now, both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. They can accomplish wonders for your content when implemented in tandem. In fact, most SEO firms will most likely make use of both practices to different degrees at different points of the campaign. However, the distinction between them is mostly marked by the resources necessary for their implementation.


One of the great advantages that SEO brings to the table is its approachability. You can hire a company to take care of your SEO needs whenever you can spare the budget for it. But even if you don’t, there are plenty of SEO tasks that you can start implementing yourself.

On the other hand, SEM revolves around paid advertisement systems. This means that having an initial marketing budget to cover the setup and ongoing costs is an entry point hurdle to overcome.


Some of the basic SEO practices require little knowledge for you to try and implement them to some degree of success. There’s little chance you can hurt your efforts by trying SEO techniques by yourself.

SEM, however, is a bit more restrictive if you want to do it right. At least some knowledge of marketing and copywriting is necessary for PPC ads to be effective. You must understand how search engines and social media marketing platforms work if you want to take full advantage of them.


Another significant difference is that SEO grows your exposure over time, and remains working even long after you have stopped proactively implementing it. On the other hand, SEM practices like PPC ads only work as long as you can afford them. As such, there’s a genuine chance to hurt your marketing efforts with ineffective ads that you have to be constantly paying to keep up.

At the end of the day, which route is best for you depends much on what you want, and the resources you have to achieve it. If you are unsure, you should defer to the recommendations your chosen SEO company makes. After all, they are the true experts.