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What Is SEM? Why You Need to Stop Ignoring SEO’s Cousin

What Is SEM? Why You Need to Stop Ignoring SEO's

What Is SEM? Why You Need to Stop Ignoring SEO’s Cousin

Just how coveted is a spot near the top of a Google results page?

Consider this: In 2019, American businesses will spend over $75 billion on SEO.

Although SEO is an effective marketing practice, it’s also a tedious one. Even marketing experts admit that it usually takes 1-2 years to see a positive ROI from SEO efforts.

If you’re looking for faster results, it’s not all hopeless. SEM can help you drive high levels of targeted traffic to your site much more quickly than SEO.  

Are you scratching your head and wondering “What is SEM?” Read on to learn the difference between SEM and SEO, as well as how your business can benefit from SEM!

What Is SEM?

Not so long ago, search engine marketing (SEM) was a term that referred to both paid and organic methods of improving search engine visibility.

Today, however, when marketers mention SEM, what they’re most likely talking about is the practice of purchasing web traffic via paid search platforms like Google Ads and Bing Ads. Search engine optimization (SEO), on the other hand, is the practice of getting visitors to your website through organic results.

Two common synonyms for SEM are pay-per-click (PPC) marketing and paid search advertising.


Almost half of all small business in the United States use SEM. And of the businesses that use SEM, 86 percent also use SEO.

Should you use both? Let’s take a closer at some pros and cons of SEM and find out how it stacks up against SEO.

What Are the Benefits of SEM?

The following are a few notable advantages SEM has over an organic SEO strategy:

  • Guarantees immediate web traffic
  • Converts at a higher rate
  • Makes it easier to measure ROI
  • Isn’t affected by Google algorithm updates

However, keep in mind that SEM can be significantly more costly than SEO. This is especially the case in industries where keywords cost up to $100 per click. As a result, SEM is a short-term solution for most small businesses.

Also, you may have to constantly tweak your SEM strategy when you start out. But once you find a PPC strategy that works, you can scale up your efforts.

Which One Is Right for Your Business?

While it’s important to learn the difference between SEM and SEO, the best approach involves using both practices. SEM works well in the short term for businesses with bigger budgets, whereas SEO provides a competitive advantage in the long run.

If you run a startup and want a steady stream of leads from the get-go, consider investing in SEM.

You should also focus on building up your organic search credibility in the meantime. This way, you can eventually stop relying on SEM to obtain all of your leads.

Avoiding SEM Mistakes

When conducting keyword research for SEM, it’s critical to think about searcher intent.

If you’re looking to sell products, for example, target transactional keywords, not informational keywords. People searching for high commercial intent keywords are ready to make a purchase, so they’re more likely to convert.

Now that you know the answer to the question “What is SEM?”, want to make sure you get your money’s worth from Google Ads? If so, before you launch your next search ad campaign, check out our 8 essential PPC strategies!