There are two ways to get traffic to your website from Google. Paid and organic. Also known as SEO vs SEM.

Paid Traffic happens when you pay the search engine, Google or other search engines, basically, so they show your website whenever someone does a relevant search. This is also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

Organic Traffic happens when your website gets clicks for free because you have a piece of content so good that Google shows your website. This is known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

So which one is better? SEM or SEO?

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Obviously, both require an investment.

You cannot expect to launch your new website, publish a couple of blog posts, and see hundreds of visitors pouring into your site. That’s not how it works. You need SEO to see organic traffic.

You have probably seen proof of this on your own website. It’s been up for a while, but it’s not getting any leads. If you’re a local business, you can use our free SEO audit tool to see what your local business could be doing to get more traffic.

On the other hand, paying for traffic can get costly and get zero ROI if you don’t do it right.

So the question is not which is better.

The question between SEO and SEM is which one is right for you?

The Difference between SEO and SEM

To understand the difference between SEO and SEM you have to know what’s in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Don’t worry, I know it’s a lot of acronyms to keep track of, but I promise that’s the last one.

The SERP has basically three parts:

  • Paid Results
  • Organic Results
  • Knowledge Graph Box (though this one doesn’t always show up)

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Now that you understand that, we can see where everything goes.

What does SEM look like?

Think of a Google search you’ve done recently. Do you recall noticing how some of the results had the word “Ad” next to it?

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That’s Search Engine Marketing for you.

Paying a search engine means you get to show up before the organic results on a search engine results page.

Remember the three parts of the Search Engine Results Page? Paid Ads go at least on top of everything else, and sometimes at the bottom of the list and even to the right.

Visually they’re almost exactly the same. The difference is that because those paid ads are the first thing people saw as a result of their search, it’s more likely that they’ll click on it.

How much does it cost me to run paid Google Ads?

There are a few ad campaign models you can test, but there it boils down to two ways:

  • Pay per click
  • Pay per impressions

We won’t go into detail with this, because we could write a book about this. But you can check out the Google Ads homepage for more info.

But essentially, Pay Per Click means you pay Google only whenever someone clicks on your ad.

Pay per Impressions means you pay Google for every 1,000 times they show your ad, regardless if they click on it or not.

Most recommendations go with Pay Per Click as the best bang for your buck.

Search Engine Marketing is very sophisticated, and I wouldn’t recommend you go in without some training or professional help. You can burn a decent amount of money very quickly and get no results.

When is SEM recommended?

Search Engine Marketing is the best at getting results quickly. You set up your campaign, put your credit card info in, and you can be running a campaign within minutes.

So if you need traffic to your website quickly, paid ads are the way to go.

SEM can be useful for basically anything time-sensitive. Think of products like events, limited-time sales, seasonal events, and things like that.

Paying to get quick traffic can work for you, especially in situations like that.

The downside is that the moment you stop paying, the ads stop, and the traffic stops.

What does SEO look like?

Back to our SERP (the results page, just a quick reminder) anatomy class.

SEO looks like organic results. The organic results section has far more variety and richness of content than SEM.


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We may be biased but look at it.

Look at all those beautiful organic results.

When you invest in getting organic traffic, you can rank content like:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Maps
  • Reviews
  • Calls to Action
  • Tools
  • FAQ
  • Images
  • Charts
  • Catalogs

How long does it take to see results from an SEO campaign?

Yes, investing in SEO takes time. Usually, 3 to 6 months is the ideal scenario to start seeing results, but it all depends on your industry, who you’re competing against.

But the advantage of SEO is that once you rank something, whether it’s a blog post or a video or whatever excellent piece of content you produced, it’s going to be up there, generating juicy organic traffic for months, even years. For free.

When it works, it works.

And it only gets better.

Once you rank one thing, it’s easier to rank the second. And the third after that, and so on. The more content you rank, the more traffic you get, the more website authority you get, which leads to other sections being able to rank easier, which leads to more traffic and, well, you get the idea.

SEO has the advantage of having the potential for exponential growth. SEM doesn’t.

The only way to grow an SEM campaign is to put in more money.

The mindset of SEO vs. SEM

Because SEM costs you money every time someone clicks on your ad, you want that wherever that person lands after the click, converts into a potential customer.

So this is the part where we talk about your landing page.

How to Setup Your SEM Landing Pages

Another difference between SEO and SEM is where your visitors land. This is called Landing Page.

When you are paying for ads, the landing page is meant to convert. So the elements in it should be different. It’s supposed to be a bit more aggressive so to speak.

For this, you need great copy, clear calls to action, a fast loading page, content that generates trust so that your visitor does what you want them to do.

Something interesting to point out is that usually, a Landing Page of this type does not have a menu. This is so that whoever lands on this page literally can’t do anything but click on the button or leave.

The goal of an SEM Landing Page is for your visitor to convert.

How to Setup your SEO Landing Pages

SEO landing pages are different in that the primary goal is not to convert them to customers. SEO landing pages are there to build trust and convert leads.

You do this by providing free, useful, easy to read information.

You do this with well-researched articles.

You do this with awesome graphics and videos.

You do this by building useful tools they can use.

There are many things you can do to improve your local website ranking. Everything counts, and everything adds to the winning strategy.

So that when they decide to contact you, half of the sales process is done because you already gave them the information they need to make a purchase with you.

SEO vs. SEM, the Bottomline

There is space for both SEO and SEM strategies for any business. Most times, the best results happen when you are doing the two things at once.

But you need to understand what each strategy will give you.

SEO will give you:

  • Loyal Customers. They trust your brand. They didn’t just click your ad because you were offering the most attractive solution. Whoever offers something cheaper, bigger, flashier, will take your sale.
  • Build Authority. Since you’ve already given free information and displayed your knowledge in your field, you’re going to be viewed as an authority.
  • Continual ROI. Invest in SEO and whatever growth you get will continue to deliver for months or even years.
  • Easier Sales Process. Websites that invest in SEO have websites that give people useful information so that when they do call you, half of the questions they had were already answered on your website.

SEO takes time, a lot of research, and content creation. If you can afford to be patient, SEO is a long-term high reward strategy that lasts for a long time.

SEM will give you:

  • Fast Results. You put in the money, you get visitors. Your SEM specialist will handle optimization and making sure you are getting the right traffic.

SEM is faster to set up, but it needs a lot of testing and optimization. You can spend a lot of money just to get the campaign right. SEM is a strategy that can be profitable but can get expensive. And of course, the moment you stop the campaign, the traffic stops.

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