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by Deborah Hutton

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of maintaining a website with the intention of ranking higher on an unpaid search engine results pages by using page titles, keywords, metadata, and linking data. "An optimized site is more easily understood by search engine crawlers and will result in higher search engine results pages (SERPs)" (Chris, 2014).

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of gaining traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. It is called paid search and sometimes referred to as CPC (cost-per-click) or PPC (pay-per-click) marketing, because most search ads are sold on a CPC / PPC basis. "Through paid search advertising, you essentially buy advertising space in the search engine results. So instead of trying to rank higher and get free traffic, you pay to appear in front of the searches" (Chris, 2014).

There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

For instance, SEO advantages include that they are cost effective (almost free), and organic sites are more trusted than paid advertising, which means that people that use search engines to find an important source on the internet will click on an organic listing prior to that of a paid advertisement. However, SEM advantages include instant top ranking in search results, which means your site receives the maximum number of visitors. Above all, "SEM traffic is considered the most important source of internet traffic because it is targeted. The relevancy of the displayed websites and ads makes SEM traffic more valuable than other sources" (Chris, 2014).

In contrast, SEM can be expensive, and when your budget runs out – your website will no longer rank. Also, there is a lot of complexity in managing an SEM campaign, and organizing these can take time and expertise. Increased competition in this market has driven costs up. Subsequently, those companies with big budgets and manpower have more dominant positions.

Of course, SEO is not without disadvantages either as it is a long-term investment where you may not see much progress (even in terms of months). Therefore, it is very time consuming and requires an investment in time and money without being able to see results until further down the road. If you hire an SEO firm they can be expensive as well, usually requiring a 6 – 12 month contract.

The benefit of using SEO over SEM is that SEO makes for a better site – both for search engines and users, and is necessary as a first step in promoting a website. It is also cost effective since there is no payment to search engines for being placed higher in the rankings. Alternatively, the benefits of using SEM over SEO are increased traffic and visibility happen immediately. Therefore, "traffic, rankings, returns and costs tend to be more stable and more predictable than SEO. It is also a more straightforward way to achieve high rankings" (Seo, 2007).

There seems to be a consensus that despite drawbacks of expense, difficulties, and a long-term investment of time and money that when "SEO and SEM are leveraged together, they are a powerful traffic generating combination" (Florez, 2013). SEO is a worthwhile investment for businesses seeking long-term strategy; and SEM is worthwhile for businesses that need new visitors now.

Works Cited:

Chris, Alex. (2014). What is the difference between SEO and SEM? Retrieved from

Florez, Fernando. (2013, August 27). SEO? SEM? Why Not Both?! Retrieved from

Seo, Chennai. (2007, Sept. 11) Advantage & Disadvantage of SEM & SEO. Retrieved from