SEM vs SEO – An essential Digital Marketing Strategy for you

SEM vs SEO – An essential Digital Marketing Strategy for you

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Now that digital marketing is at its peak, marketers embrace the power of SEO and SEM to grow their business online, increase website traffic and market across channels

SEO and SEM are both considered to be the most important terms in the digital marketing scene. You may have even heard some experts casually throwing them around when discussing strategies for bringing your brand to the first page of the SERPs.

They might be two sides of the same coin, but what exactly makes them different? In what ways can they contribute to your long-term success and short-term gains?

Fortunately, SEO agencies can help you determine the difference between SEM vs SEO and identify which of them is the ideal approach for your goals. Let’s discuss the definitions of SEO and SEM, their main differences and how significant they are in a campaign’s success!

What is SEM 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of increasing traffic and visibility through both organic and sponsored search.

This is the type of thing you’ll see as a Google ad, and it frequently winds up at the top of a page list. 

SEM is usually related to keyword placement and usage, which is why executing it correctly may necessitate some additional expertise and technique. 

This strategy is excellent for brand image since it places you at the top of the list every time someone searches. It’s also an excellent technique to get relevant visitors to your website. 

And because it involves paid ads, it is simple to understand your ROI presently – you will be utilising paid ads and will be able to watch the traffic on them and then design campaigns based on this information.

What is SEO 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the technique of driving targeted traffic to a website through the organic rankings of search engines. Typical SEO activities include developing high-quality content, optimising material for certain keywords, and building backlinks.

SEM VS SEO; Main Feature 


SEM is a broad word that covers SEO. So whatever things concern SEO also apply to SEM.

In addition to SEO, SEM includes pay-per-click (PPC). PPC campaigns are typically used by businesses aiming to gain instant visibility on search engines where advertisers pay a certain amount when their ad is clicked.  

Let’s delve deeper into the main features of SEM below:


Paid search advertisements, whether you use Google Ads or Bing Ads, are all about bidding. PPC allows you to bid on a specific term. When someone searches for that keyword, your ad will appear.

Landing Page

A landing page is a web page that serves an intended role – to convert visitors into leads. It contains lead forms that request visitors’ contact information in exchange for something of value or offer.  

There are two classifications of a landing page:

  1. Lead Generation Landing Pages: These pages use a form as their call to action. This form almost always collects lead data, such as visitors’ names and email addresses. This is why you call it a “lead gen” or “lead capture” page.
  2. Clickthrough Landing Pages: Do you know this page is used frequently by eCommerce and SaaS marketers to drive sales or subscriptions? The call to action is a simple button that sends the visitor into the checkout flow or completes a goal.

Ad Copy 

Writing appealing ad wording is a critical component of succeeding with PPC.

Excellent ad wording = excellent CTR. A high CTR indicates a high-Quality Score. That is, you spend less for the same click.

Quality Score is a critical Google Ads measure. It’s Google’s approach to determining whether your ad is a suitable match for whatever someone is searching for. Your Quality Score will suffer if your material does not entice readers to click. And your PPCs will become prohibitively pricey.

Google generates a Quality Score based on a mix of click-through rates, landing page quality, and the total Quality Score of your Google Ad account. In addition, if your ad has a high-Quality Score, you will receive a discount on each click.

Ad Group

Google Ads Help made a simple definition of an ad group. It consists of one or more ads with related objectives. 

Each of your campaigns contains one or more ad groups. It can help you organise your ads by a common theme. 

Ad Groups contain keywords, text advertisements, and landing pages. In other words, they are one of the most important tools for organising your PPC account into a meaningful hierarchy.


SEO is the activity of constantly optimising a website to rank in organic, non-paid search engine results pages (SERPs).

SEO is known as one of the most important marketing channels, given that organic search is responsible for 53% of website traffic. In fact, it is predicted that the SEO industry’s overall revenue will reach more than US$122,000,000,000 by 2028 according to Research and Markets.  

Unlike paid advertising, you don’t have to pay for anything to occupy a space in the SERPs because SEO mainly involves organic ranking. The difference is, you have to do all the rough work of optimising your pages so they rank at the top when a user searches for something.

Let’s give you an example. Say you write about real estate and everything it entails—how to buy a house in your 20s, why hiring a real estate agent is important, etc. When users search for something related to your niche, you want your page to outrank your competitors in the field. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what SEO is all about. 

Google’s algorithm incorporates more than 200 ranking signals. This includes user experience, high-quality content, on-page optimisation, internal links, external links and many more.

Sure you know that SEO can be separated into four major subcategories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO, and User Interaction Signals. For this article, we will stick with the first three categories, being the most popular.

On-Page SEO 

Also referred to as on-site SEO, on-page SEO is the practice of optimising website elements—like HTML source codes and content—to rank higher on search engines and earn more traffic. 

Simply put, this particular SEO subcategory helps search engine crawlers better understand your website. This means that simply publishing your website is not enough; you have to make changes to make it user- and bot-friendly.

Keep in mind that on-page SEO elements are divided into three categories, including:

  • Content

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘content is king’ a lot of times now. That’s because SEO without it won’t produce efficient and effective results in the long run. And one of the ways you can maximise your on-site SEO through content is keyword research

When your pages include keywords in user queries, whether in the body, headings or subheadings, you are likely going to be more relevant to search engines. 

For instance, if you own a furniture store, your top keywords may be ‘sofa’ and ‘dining tables’, among other things. You can even include long-tail keywords if you sell specialised products. 

Aside from keywords, you should also focus on the quality of your copies and blog posts. They should be readable, informative and straightforward.

  • HTML

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is the code used in structuring websites and their content. It tells browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox what to display and where to show it, as well as communicates with search engines what your website is about.

The on-page SEO HTML factors are meta descriptions, title tags, geotagging for local search and image optimisations. Here are some tips you might want to consider:

  1. Use SEO-friendly alt-tags and make sure your images are mobile-friendly.
  2. Optimise local listings and citations such as phone numbers (NAP), names addresses, URLs, business descriptions and third-party apps.
  3. Keep meta descriptions under 155 characters.
  • Website Architecture

Another thing you have to keep in mind when optimising on-page SEO is your website architecture. This is important for two reasons: First, a well-structured will be efficiently crawled and indexed; secondly, it can enhance user experience.

That’s why you have to work on your site speed. Remember, when you have a slow-loading site, it can potentially drive away visitors before they could sign up and make a purchase. To avoid this issue, try leveraging browser caches, fixing redirect chains and activating compression.

Make sure that your page URLs are also easily understood by search engines and readers. Use HTTPS, stick to two keywords only and get rid of unnecessary words.

Off-page SEO 

It might be a common mistake for new SEO marketers to assume that the most important Google ranking factors are found on web pages alone. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true. 

Your web pages are extremely valuable to your SEO performance, but there are things you can do outside of them to help you rank higher.

The other half of the puzzle is what we call off-page SEO. It involves all the actions you take outside of your website to improve your rankings on the SERPs. Oftentimes, it is used synonymously with link building, but your off-page SEO efforts don’t have to revolve around that.

Think of your website as a place of residence. Sure, the value of the house may depend on the interior design and the materials used to build it. But outside factors matter just as much, like the neighbourhood it’s in. 

The same goes for your web pages. Google and other search engines evaluate the backlinks and brand mentions you acquire, helping them decide where you should rank.

To get you started, here are the best off-page SEO practices you should follow:

  • Content Marketing

To start earning reputable backlinks, gain attention and show expertise, content marketing is a useful off-page SEO strategy.

You have to find other channels where you can promote your content to improve off-page signals. This includes social media marketing, guest blogging, podcasts, forums, PR and influencer marketing, to name a few.

  • Link Building

Link building is the process of obtaining one-way hyperlinks (popularly known as backlinks) from other websites to your own. This is mostly done to improve one’s search engine visibility.

If your page gets a lot of backlinks from high-authority websites, you will appear more authoritative to search engines. And that can help you rank higher in the SERPs!

Now we get to the million-dollar question: what is the best way to get high-quality links?

In this scenario, nothing beats a holistic link-building approach. You need to build a website that people will feel encouraged to link to. This can be achieved by consistently creating original and engaging content, among other things.

  • Reviews

According to Ahrefs, 17% of SEO experts claim that reviews are an important ranking factor for map pack results. In fact, their importance seems to be increasing as the years go by. 

SEO review signals

Image Source: Ahrefs

This is because Google uses reviews when evaluating a website’s E-A-T (expertise, authority and trustworthiness). Meaning to say, they play a huge role in your local SEO performance. 

Make sure that you don’t offer money or rewards in exchange for good reviews! It’s against Google terms which can result in penalties, potentially affecting your website performance down the line. 

Google also suggests that you should reply to every review—whether it’s good or bad. Doing so will show your customers that you value their feedback and time. 

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the behind-the-scene process of improving the technical aspects of your website that may affect SEO such as meta robot tags, hosting, site speed and XML sitemaps. 

If you want your technical SEO to get better, you first need to perform a site audit. Once done, take note of the areas where you fall short and create a reasonable plan that diagnoses gaps and improves the structure.

Let’s discuss a few technical SEO fundamentals to get you started:

  • Add Schema Markup

Also known as structured data, schema markup is the language or code search engines use to understand the content on your website. To keep you guided, you can check out Google’s search gallery to help you determine the schema needed to make your site eligible. 

Adding schema markup to your technical SEO practices will help search engines read and understand your pages on a deeper level, helping users gain a better experience on the platform. 

Because when website data is structured, things like rich snippets, rich cards and knowledge on SERPs.

  • Make Your Website Mobile-Friendly

Google uses mobile-first indexing where it uses a website’s mobile version of pages for indexing and crawling. 

Make sure that you view your site’s Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console to check if your platform works well on mobile devices. Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool is also a good option if you don’t have Google Search Console. 

mobile usability review on google search console

Image Source: Semrush

The report shown above shows the total number of pages that impact mobile usability. Specific issues are also displayed to help you improve the page experience. 

  • Optimise for Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are metrics that Google uses to evaluate how your pages deliver a great user experience. It includes First Input Delay (FID), Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) and Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).

Here are the following scores you should aim for:

  1. LCP – 2.5 sec or lower
  2. CLS – 0.1 or lower
  3. FID – 100 ms or lower

You can view your Core Web Vitals report in your Search Console. Here’s an example:

core web vital section on google search console

SEM VS SEO; The Cost 

The cost of SEM and SEO is determined by various factors, including aggressiveness, scale, and industry, among others. 

SEM campaigns will cost you money because it’s a pay-per-click type of campaign. SEM may not make sense if your budget is limited or your product margins are low. 

SEO, on the other hand, is a time investment rather than a cash one. You can also possibly recruit the assistance of professionals, such as SEO agencies, writers, IT personnel and marketers.


SEM does not come cheap. Whether you use SEO or PPC, there are costs associated with search engine marketing.

When you use PPC, each click costs you money. More clicks equal more money spent.

Bidding Cost 

A bid is the maximum amount of cash you are, as an advertiser, willing to pay for each click on an advertisement. 

Advertisers do not bid on ads or ad space; they bid on keywords, and whether their ads appear when people search for things related to those keywords is determined by their performance in an auction.

Landing Page Creation Cost

Some businesses spend anywhere from $75 to $3000 designing a PPC landing page. This is the amount WebFx shared on the cost of creating a landing page design.

There are a variety of factors that push for the landing page’s pricing.

For F5 Studio, the cost of a landing page is determined by the task’s complexity, technology stack, and business objectives. 

This means that a high-quality landing page costs $1,000 to $1,500. A strategic landing page can cost between $1,500 and $2,000. A dynamic landing page can cost between $2,000 and $5,000. This price range is closer to the one mentioned above.

The cost of the landing page is directly related to your budget, your expectations, opportunities, and wishes in terms of development. 

If you need a landing page or multiple landing pages for long-term sales, Roots Digital landing page specialists can help you out on this one. 


When it comes to SEO, clicks are “free” once you rank. However, ranking takes time and effort.

SEO Tools Cost 

The best SEO tools make it easier to ensure that your website is performance-optimised. Managing and monitoring become handy when you have reliable SEO tools to work with. Here are some of the most commonly used tools for SEO strategists.

  1. Ahrefs

This all-in-one SEO toolset encompasses every single tool you need to investigate and expand your online presence.

You will see a centralised dashboard that displays information about your projects’ ranking, traffic, and backlinking. 

  1. SEMrush

The SEMrush SEO toolkit includes a complete set of SEO tools. You can access detailed keyword analysis reports as well as a website summary for any domains you oversee.

This toolkit lets you compare the performance of your pages to see wh

  1. Moz Pro

Moz Pro is an SEO tool platform designed to help you drive traffic, page authority, and exposure in search engine results.

Auditing your site with Moz Pro spider highlights potential issues and recommends actionable insights to help you improve your strategies.  You can also track your site rankings across hundreds or even thousands of keywords per website.

  1. Screaming Frog

SEO Spider was once called a “Screaming Frog” in 2010. The tool also allows you to check for pages with missing title tags, duplicate meta tags, incorrectly lengthened tags, and the number of links on each page.

If you were to ask us, its most appealing feature is its ability to perform a quick URL search as well as crawl your site to look for broken pages. This feature saves you from having to manually click each link to rule out ‘404 errors.’

  1. Majestic SEO tools

Old but Gold!

Majestic SEO tools are one of the oldest SEO tools we have today. Its strength lies in backlinks, which are links between websites. This has a significant impact on SEO performance. 

There are free SEO tools you can grab and use today. These are the following:

  1. Google Search Console
  2. Google Ads Keyword planner
  3. SEOquake

Content Creation Cost 

Depending on the complexity, research, employee incentives, and other factors, the cost of producing high-quality content can vary greatly because content can be created using a variety of digital mediums, such as:

  • Infographics
  • eBooks
  • Videos
  • Content curation
  • Case studies
  • Valuable resources
  • Blog posts and/or articles
  • Interactive publication materials

For instance, a blog post that drives results will cost between $1,500 and $6,000, according to an article written by Siegemedia because many people believe that blog posts are simply text written by a freelancer. 

Yes. It demands more than money but also strategic planning on your end. If you want to become a sought-after information provider in your industry, make content marketing one of your SEO strategies. 

SEM VS SEO; Time Needed to See the Result 

One of the primary distinctions between SEO and SEM is speed.


If you concentrate your SEM efforts on PPC, you will see results almost immediately.

You can run an ad in the morning and begin receiving traffic and conversions in the afternoon but this does not guarantee that you will see a return on investment on day one. 

In many cases, getting a positive ROI from PPC can take months of testing and tweaking.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that PPC begins to work much faster than SEO.


The truth is that SEO takes time. A significant amount of time, especially if your site is fresh and lacks a big chunk of backlinks.

According to one study, it takes an average of two years to rank on Google’s first page. First published many of the top-ranking pages three or more years ago.

This does not imply that it will take two years to rank in Google. If you target long-tail keywords and follow best practices for SEO, you should notice some returns within a few months.

SEM VS SEO; The Similarities

Improves Website Traffic 

SEO and SEM both provide opportunities for brands to increase targeted website traffic. 

You’ll have a winning formula for traffic growth if you combine effective title tags and meta description text (SEO) or effective ad copy (SEM) with compelling content that targets their search intent.

Improves Brand Awareness

SEO and SEM are effective at increasing brand awareness. Being more visible in organic search results and paid ad positions gives you more exposure, which can help improve brand perception, credibility, and trust.

SEM is often not a viable option at the top of the marketing funnel due to cost; instead, some use SEM in the middle and bottom of the funnel.

Requires Regular Monitoring and Optimisation

SEO and SEM are not one-and-done projects. You must maintain your rankings, especially as competitors appear and attempt to steal your position in search results.

It is also critical that you expand your SEO and SEM strategies over time so that you can build on the progress you made the first time around. 

Keeping this in mind, both are processes you must measure, optimise, and monitor. You can just leave it to succeed in itself. 

It takes time, patience, and hard work, but the result is well worth it.

SEM VS SEO: Which One is Suitable for Your Business?

Some of you may wonder which of the two is the most ideal approach for building your digital marketing strategy. And in some cases, is it even possible to combine SEO and SEM to maximise both of their advantages?

Of course, the answer will depend on your competitors, goals, budget and where you are in your marketing journey. Let’s discuss these factors below:

When To Use SEM

You Want Immediate Results

Since PPC can bring instant results, it is the perfect choice for businesses that are still working on their online presence. Chances are, your website needs a lot of SEO improvements at this stage, like lack of content and poor website speed. 

Within just a short span of time, you can start your ads, set a budget and increase visibility when a user searches for something related to your product.

You Want To Test Keywords

Launching an SEM campaign is highly recommended if you want to find the most successful keywords and ad messaging in your niche. 

Once you’re done performing keyword research, you test it with a paid ad campaign to help you determine which keywords and other marketing factors can increase conversion rates and generate traffic.

When To Use SEO

You Have a Limited Budget

If you’re running a small business and you haven’t generated huge revenue yet, SEO is the more budget-friendly way to promote your services online. It’s free, organic traffic so listings are unpaid. 

However, you first have to make sure that your website is optimised to prevent your SEO performance from taking a hit!

You Have Time

Unlike SEM, SEO doesn’t bring immediate results. Sometimes, it can take longer than six months to see if your efforts are bringing in organic traffic or generating leads.

That’s why it’s only for businesses that have enough time to spare in establishing a strong organic presence in the digital landscape. It means you can dedicate months to regularly publishing blog posts, press releases and content for social channels. 

When To Combine Both

You Want To Populate The SERPs

Imagine dominating the SERPs and outperforming your competitors—you have ad placements and you rank on the first page! You’re maximising your search engine visibility, attracting potential customers and boosting sales.

This is what happens when you combine SEO and SEM, especially when things are done right. Just make sure that you regularly audit your keywords to avoid going over your budget.

You Aim To Improve SEO Efforts Through SEM

From paid results, you can acquire useful data on keywords and conversion rates to support your SEO strategy. For example, you can test different PPC campaigns on Google AdWords using targeted keywords and see which of them needs improvement.

Final Thoughts 

Anyone interested in a career in digital marketing should understand not only how SEO and SEM work in today’s digital environment, but also how both will change as we become more and more reliant on technology. 

Understanding how each of these is involved in digital marketing campaigns will be especially important in the coming years in the digital marketplace.

If you are still unsure whether SEO or SEM is right for you, and the answers we’ve provided on questions like “what is the difference between SEO and SEM?” and “what are the benefits of SEO and SEM?” on this page is still not enough, call us!

Our team at Roots Digital will be happy to discuss the strategies for your digital marketing campaign. Who knows, you’ll end up loving both SEM and SEO!


Is SEO better than SEM?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. A few factors, such as budget, goals, business growth stage, and what your competitors are doing, can determine which is the better option.

What is the difference between SEM and SEO?

The primary distinction between SEO and SEM is that SEM pays for organic search visibility, whereas SEO earns it. 

SEM competes on budgets, whereas SEO competes on quality and relevance.

What is the difference between SEO vs SEM vs PPC?

SEO uses non-paid methods to drive organic traffic to your website. It’s a lot slower (usually three to six months), but it can pay off in the long run.

Paid search platforms, including PPC, are used in SEM to drive targeted traffic to your website. It necessarily involves a budget but can produce results quickly.

Both should be included in your digital marketing strategy for the best results. They each have different strengths and weaknesses, but when properly combined, they can provide you with a significant competitive advantage.

Looking for a trusted SEO agency in Singapore? Schedule a consultation with us today.

About Roots Digital

Roots Digital is an award-winning digital marketing agency and SEO agency headquartered in Singapore, specialising in eCommerce Marketing and lead generation. We are a Google and Meta Business certified partner working to deliver the best-in-class digital marketing campaigns from large enterprises and SMEs to growing start-ups.

Some of our core digital marketing services include SEO servicesSEM services, Google Ads management servicesGoogle Analytics services and more.

Feel free to reach out if you’re interested in working with us. Connect with us via our service enquiry form. You may schedule a call for more information and to know more about our digital marketing services.

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Picture of Ian Ong
Ian Ong
Marketing Director @ Roots Digital, a digital marketing agency in Singapore. Aka the guy responsible for growing the digital marketing agency.
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