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Which is better for your business, SEO or SEM?

25 Feb

No, that’s not a typo – SEO and SEM actually refer to two completely different digital strategies that can both form a crucial part of your operation’s digital marketing efforts!

While we’re an agency that focuses primarily on search engine optimisation in Melbourne, we also have experience in other areas – one of which is SEM (or search engine marketing if you want to be fancy).

How does this strategy work? Will it help your business get more leads?

And more importantly, is it the right choice for your business?


What is the difference between PPC and SEM?

We talk a lot about SEO – however, this might be the first time we’ve actually referenced SEM by name, so we don’t blame you if you feel a little confused!

One phrase you might be a little bit more familiar with however is PPC, or pay-per-click advertising.

As we’re sure you’re aware, this refers to digital advertising where you only pay when somebody clicks one of your ads. This makes it relatively affordable – you only pay for results, reducing the barrier to entry.

How does this relate to SEM? Simple: they’re basically the same thing.

More specifically, SEM refers to any PPC advertising that’s carried out with search engines as opposed to dedicated PPC networks and social media platforms.

Think of it as a specific subcategory of PPC, where you use search engine PPC systems to advertise.

Whether it’s Google Ads, Yahoo Ads or Microsoft Advertising, if it’s search engine PPC, it falls under SEM.

And since we’re talking about search engines specifically, that means having ads presented during searches relevant to your business. You select the searches you want and place your bid (SEM uses an auction system).

If you win, your ad will be the one placed right above the search results themselves.

Is SEM pay-per-click?

Just like other PPC networks, SEM is all pay-per-click – you only pay for results.

Each search term has its own price determined by a range of factors such as search volume, relevance and more.

While you determine your total budget beforehand as well as your maximum bid for each individual search term you’re targeting, just like other pay-per-click systems, you’re not required to pay unless somebody clicks on your ad.

So unlike other forms of advertising, if your campaign underperforms (which it won’t if you engage a PPC agency in Melbourne) you won’t be left with a huge hole in your budget.

“Can I pay Google to rank higher?”

This is something a lot of business owners ask – and as always, the answer is “no”.

While a lot of people believe that Google can be paid to promote a site, in reality, all search engine results are determined automatically.

That’s where SEM comes into the picture – while it doesn’t give you higher ranks, as we mentioned above, SEM ads are usually placed at the top of your results page. While they’re still clearly labelled as ads, they achieve the same result.

Just remember that it isn’t a simple payment – prices vary depending on the search term and its popularity, as well as how much your competition is willing to pay for it.

What’s better, SEO or PPC? The advantages and disadvantages of SEO compared to PPC/SEM

So now you know what it is. However, that doesn’t answer the biggest question: namely, which one’s the best choice for your organisation or business?

As an agency that specialises in SEO services in Melbourne, it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that we prefer SEO. It isn’t just because it’s what we’re good at – in the long-run, SEO is more effective at:

  • Generating leads
  • Increasing traffic to your website
  • Keeping your digital marketing budget under control

At the same time, most SEO strategies can take a while to start offering results – in the interim, SEM and search engine PPC, while it involves money going out, can help pick up the slack in the meantime.

Is SEO paid or organic? Which one is more cost-effective

In the digital marketing sphere, “organic” refers to anything that helps raise awareness and allows customers to find you on their own accord, without you having to pay a cent.

And as we mentioned above, there’s no way to pay Google to improve your organic search results (that’s to say, where your webpages place on Google searches). Thus, SEO is always organic by default.

In some ways, this is an advantage of SEO. Since it’s all organic, you aren’t forced to pay. Theoretically, you could boost yourself up to the #1 spot completely on your own, without having to pay a cent.

Of course, money isn’t the only thing you’ll need to worry about…

Time is money

Money is crucial in business – and so is time.

And as we mentioned above, some SEO strategies can take time to start kicking in. By contrast, an SEM campaign (and PPC in general, really) can be set up with less lead time.

More importantly, PPC strategies like SEM can start generating results immediately!


One of the biggest advantages of digital marketing over traditional methods is how accurately it can be targeted. Both SEO and SEM are no exceptions to this.

The difference is that while both can be targeted, SEM can be targeted much more precisely. Not only can you choose exact searches, but also target your audience based on:

  • Geographic location
  • Gender
  • Device used
  • Ages

While SEO can also be targeted, since it’s organic, you’re at the mercy of the almighty algorithm. Our team has had moments where our clients have started ranking for things we weren’t planning at all – something that can be both a blessing and a curse.

What are the disadvantages of PPC and SEM?

After reading that, you’d assume that SEM and PPC would be the way to go.

But wait, if that’s the case, then why did we still call ourselves an SEO agency? Why not just become a Google Ads agency in Melbourne?

That’s because we still believe that overall, SEO is still the better way of driving traffic towards your business (though both still have a role to play). SEO and PPC can work together to get you the results you want.

People are getting wise to ads

And that includes search engine ads as well.

As more and more people become aware of advertising, the amount of people who are learning to filter them out. In many cases, this can reduce the effectiveness of SEM.

In fact, this is one area where the effect might actually be more pronounced, since many people don’t trust online ads specifically, while others are specifically looking for organic results.

Over time, the costs can ramp up

Whether it’s because of the cost of ongoing SEM efforts piling up over time or because you’re starting to target bigger searches, it isn’t unheard of the costs associated with SEM and PPC to start climbing over time.

For many, these costs can make SEM and PPC less sustainable financially.

Long-term consistency and stability

We aren’t going to lie: digital marketing can be somewhat unstable, especially if you’re targeting high-competition keywords and searches.

That having been said, if your SEO is focused on building online credibility and on targeting keywords and searches relevant to your niche, then you’ll find that SEO is much more sustainable and consistent in the long-term.

SEO services in Melbourne

Is SEO better than Google Ads? It all depends on what you need

When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits all solution. You have a different market, different competitors, different online landscape and a different product.

The best SEO agencies in Melbourne understand this, and ensure that your strategy is tailored to meet your needs.

That can also mean creating an online marketing strategy that combines both SEO and SEM together to help you get the results you want out of your digital marketing.

Specialising in SEO and pay per click in Melbourne, our team has helped businesses both big and small raise their online profile, bring in more leads and grow their business.

Will your business benefit from SEM and SEO together? What’s the best way of reaching your audience? Are you doing digital marketing right? Our team is ready to help – just call 1300 88 64 50 or click here to get in touch online.