SEO or SEM? The Best Google Strategy for 2020

SEO or SEM? The Best Google Strategy for 2020

Are you using the best strategy for your brand? Take a look at why choosing one or the other makes a difference.

Most marketing strategies centre around Google. And why not?

As of April 2019, Google processed 9.57 billion queries every day. The company is still at the top of the total search engine market with 87% for smartphones and 75% for desktops and laptops.

But something’s changed recently.

Organic searches used to be the “go-to” marketing strategy for many companies. As of Q1 2019, though, that may have changed. Organic search click-through rate fell by 13% and search ads click-through rate rose by 75%.

So, what does that mean for you? The answer may depend on your company and what you expect from your marketing efforts.

What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Before you read any further, there is some terminology to straighten out. Unless you work in marketing, you may not know the difference between these two terms. You may even commit the cardinal sin of using them interchangeably.

They both refer to search optimisation that is integral for any marketing strategy.

SEO uses organic search results. The strategic goal is top placement on search engine results paged (SERPs) for optimal click-through rate.

On the other hand, SEM is a paid strategy that allows a company’s website to show up at the top of any results page – for a fee.

Picking the Right Google Strategy

You may think that paying money should equal better results. But picking an optimal strategy isn’t nearly as cut and dry as that.


First, both SEO and SEM strategies do similar things to varying degrees.

1. Appearance in Search Results

Positioning is everything on SERPs. Both SEO and SEM goals align in this way. And that’s to help a brand show up when users search specific terms.

2. Drive Traffic

Along with appearing in search results, both strategies also help brands drive traffic to a website. If the goal is to increase click-through rates, you can use either strategy.

3. Requires Understanding Your Audience

The right strategy requires that you know and understand your audience. You need to know what your audience needs and what they’re searching for. Both strategies require these basics for success.

4. Uncovers Popular Search Terms with Research

Whether you’re using SEO or SEM, you need to do keyword research. This helps you identify the best keywords. On the other side of the coin, keyword research can also give you insight about your competition’s keywords and how to compete with them.

5. Focus on Specific Keywords

Each Google strategy relies on using specific keywords to show up on search result pages.

6. Requires Continual Optimisation and Testing

Popular keywords constantly change. Neither strategy is a “set-it-and-forget-it” type. You need to test and optimise continually to get the most out of both strategies.


Now that you have a good idea about the similarities, let’s get into the differences. These differences may drive you to decide on one strategy over the other.

1. SEM Placement with Ad Designation

One glaring difference between SEM and SEO strategies is the “Ad” designation. When you pay for SEM Placement, your links get a little label.

2. Ad Extensions and Snippets

Also, SEO and SEM results look different. SEM search results have a special ad extension that may include phone numbers, links, and callouts.

SEO, on the other hand, show snippets of content.

3. Paying Per Click

If your brand has a limited budget, SEO may seem more appealing. Unlike SEM, SEO user clicks are free. With SEM, your brand pays each time a user clicks on the ad result.

This may not be a deal-breaker for some companies. However, you do have to include the continual cost in your marketing budget.

4. Short and Long-Term Impact

If you want immediate impact, SEM ads are the way to go. Make sure your ads appear in SERPs as soon as you launch a campaign. SEM strategies give you a little more control over when your ads are visible or not.

However, SEO strategies take a while to build. It can take months after implementing an SEO strategy to see the results. And some brands simply don’t want to wait that long.

5. Value Over Time

Which strategy provides the best value?

SEM is a paid strategy. To show your results, you need to continue to pay for it. As soon as you turn off your ads, that strategy is gone.

SEO, on the other hand, builds over time. So, if you’re interested in a strategy that grows and compounds over time, SEO can give you lasting results.

6. Click-Through Rates

Ultimately, you want customers to click through to your website. That’s where you can funnel them to your service or product page.  Both strategies are effective to a certain extent in this regard, with major downfalls for each.

SEO strategies generally have the highest click-through rates. But you need to be near the top of the results page to get these high numbers. The lower you get on the results page, the more your click-through rate drops.

On the other hand, if your results appear on the second page or lower, you may see more click-through-rates using SEM.

The Right Strategy for Your Brand

If you have time to build your strategy and organic content to fill the gaps, SEO strategies may be the best option. It’s the most cost-effective Google strategy for brands that would rather spend their budget on other marketing elements.

However, if you have a new business or have a lot of competition for your keywords, you may want to go with an SEM. Immediate results may also be a good option if your customers’ average buying cycle is relatively short.

Ultimately, though, for many companies, it may come down to cost. SEM strategies do provide immediate results, but you have to pay for it. And the continual cost may not be viable for your marketing budget.

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