When looking to grow your business, you almost always have to invest money into some kind of marketing or advertising. We all know the power of Google – and the importance of being there on the first page as a service provider – but what should you be concentrating your efforts on? SEO or SEM?

In case you’re scratching your head right now and wondering what the difference is between the two, let’s take a moment to shine some light here.

SEO – stands for search engine optimisation. This is the process by which a website is optimised to improve the rank on Google’s search results. Not a paid service per se, but depending on the competitiveness of the market you’re playing in, you may need to work with a professional company who can optimise your site for best results. Optimisation may include improving site speed, enhancing content, working with images and ensuring mobile capability.

SEM – stands for search engine marketing (also known as PPC or pay per click marketing). SEM is usually done through Google Ads and is the number one way to rank first on Google straight away. SEM requires a strong strategy and ongoing management for success without wasting advertising spend.

Which is better? Well, as with so many things, it depends. Not the answer you wanted, we know. But we can make it easy for you to see the difference between the two and to make up your own mind. We’re going to go through the pros and cons of each, so it’s easier to see the benefits of each.

SEO Pros

Build your brand online

Obviously, you’re here, looking for a way to get your business head and shoulders above the rest and to make an impact in the online world. Ranking well on Google is a great way to do just that. Think about the last time you searched for something online. If you saw a business on the front page, you probably clicked on them for whatever you were after.

If you navigated to say, the third or fourth page you might have been feeling a little bit of trepidation about the quality of the businesses there. The point is that when you rank higher on Google, you get more trust from your users and you increase your credibility as a service provider. A long-term SEO strategy is going to do a lot more than just provide you with leads; it’ll improve your reputation in your industry as a quality provider.

Get more traffic and (hopefully) sales

When you use a search engine optimisation strategy, you’re trying to make your website the best it possibly can be so that when Google’s bots crawl your site and your backlinks, they find that what you have on offer is credible and useful for searchers. You can do this in a number of ways, but one of the most useful is by having content online that answers questions for your users.

Having a blog on your website is a key way that you can do this, and if you’re a florist, a pest control company, a carpet cleaning business or anything else at all, you’ll be able to find topics that your users want answers for. You want to make sure that all of the content you are creating is keyword-rich (which basically means that you include terms that people are likely to search for in your content) so that people are finding you for the right reasons.

Great ROI

When your SEO campaign is successful, and your business occupies that hallowed first, second or third position on Google’s search results, you won’t have to pay to keep it there. Sure, you’ll need to keep up your efforts with your SEO campaign and content creation, but you don’t have to pay for every click that comes through on your link. You can also make adjustments and changes without losing much of your position.

Broad Reach

You can do all of the customer research that you want, but it’s still basically impossible to predict all of the things that your users will type into a search engine to find you. Google gets over 6 billion searches a day, and while you can focus your keywords on research, SEO goes a step further and helps you to rank for a broader range of topics.

SEO Cons

Can take months

While it would be lovely if SEO were effective overnight, the fact is that like all good things, it takes time. Time and effort. You need to improve your website, write content, create valuable backlinks and develop the kind of website that really performs. And then you have to wait for Google to recognise this, and for your hard work to pay off. It can take weeks, often months BUT once you have done the work you can sit back and enjoy the benefits with ongoing maintenance.

Very competitive space

Depending on your industry there can be a whole heap of others who are looking to get ahead just like you. You need to be aware of this and to make sure that you are adjusting your keywords and maintaining your website. If you are in a competitive industry and are struggling to stay on top, you would definitely benefit from working with a professional company like us. We live and breathe SEO and can help you with a strategy that is tried and tested. Get a free SEO health check and find out where you can improve.

Needs a content strategy

As we mentioned previously, one of the biggest elements of a successful SEO strategy is going to be your content. You want to make sure that the content you are publishing is coming out regularly, and that it is well-written and targeted to a particular topic. For SEO success online, you need to be developing regular content, and if you’re a smaller business or don’t have the resources to create content, this may be challenging for you.

Less expensive and less ongoing costs

A focused SEO strategy will cost you some money as an ongoing monthly investment, but the costs are far and away a lot cheaper than an ongoing SEM strategy. Not to say that SEM doesn’t have a place in your strategy as well, but when you compare the two like for like, SEO is cheaper in the long run and provides lasting results.

Needs regular backlinks

It used to be possible just to go and backlink to any old page, and you’d get results. Google got wise to that (not that we ever got into that kind of unethical SEO!) and now you have to have trusted backlinks. Quality is everything, and you need to be getting regular results.

SEM Pros

Get on the top of Google in a day

When you’re searching for something online, you want to exert minimal effort. The great thing about paid ads is that they sit above the organic search results. Take a look at this example below. When you see the small box with ‘ad’ next to it, you’re seeing paid ads. Next down on the page you’ll see a map from Google which is what is called a “Local Pack”, and while you don’t pay to ­­be shown on this page, you’ll often wind up here if you are strong in your SEO. Further down the page, you’ll see your organic rankings. So right at the top of the page is where an SEM ad appears which is yours simply by bidding in the PPC auction and winning for your chosen keywords.

Control your spend

The way that SEM works is that you’ll create ads which then go on to appear on Google’s search results. You can test, tweak and adjust every little detail of your ads and work on what you’re trying to achieve so that you get the best results. Your marketing message can be very persuasive with ads, and you want to show people that you’re the brand to click on. You can also control the total amount that you want to spend on Google Ads within the campaign manager and set budgets and limits for daily spends. It’s all fully within your control and you can cancel at any time.

Show off your goods

An organic ranking result is only ever going to be text, but with SEM you can work with things like Google’s PPC product listing ads which show off the visual product you are trying to sell. People are drawn to colours and imagery, and you may find that you get better results and conversions with an image in your ad.

Increase your visibility online

If you’re a new business or trying to compete in an established market with a new service, you need to make sure that people see you. While your SEO strategy will get you there in time, if you want results now you need to go with SEM. That way you’re getting results much faster.

Target like never before

Have you done your research and figured out that your target market are online most between the hours of 7.30pm and 9pm, based in Townsville, searching in French and using their mobile phone? You’re in luck. You can target everything, from the location, the time, the language and right down to the demographic you want with Google’s Ads manager. If your business is time or location bound, you’ll love this element of SEM.

Split test for ROI control

You can monitor and manage every element of your campaign with split testing to find out quickly and easily which of your two options is more successful. You’ll see great results from a PPC campaign within a matter of weeks when you are using split testing.

Low-cost leads

When you’re entering the world of PPC, the cost of your leads is going to depend on a range of factors, but once you have organised your campaign well and have honed your messages, you’ll find that the leads you get are high quality and low cost.

SEM Cons


Just as we talked about the benefits of split testing, if you’re not investing sufficient time and effort into your ad curation you may find that over time your AdWords spend creeps up and up. Also, if you’re not prudent with your keywords (and negative keywords) you can find that your spend can blow up – with very little to show for it.

Ongoing investment required

You need to keep feeding the beast with SEM. Sure, investing in SEM is a no-brainer when you’re getting results there, but sometimes it can seem like you’re spending money and getting nowhere. That’s why AdWords campaign management is VITAL.

Competition can review your campaign

A final downside of SEM is that at any time your competition can simply copy your hard-won ad copy, and reap the benefits of your work. It won’t take much for competitors to work out your sales funnel and to understand what your stages are, so be aware of this.

So, Which One Do You Pick?

Well, we’re of the opinion that you should do both, budget permitting.

If we had to say one or the other, if you truly only had budget for one – we would say that if you’re looking for sales and leads to give your business a boost, then SEM would be a great choice to start with. That is of course, with the view to investing more marketing spend on SEO once you can afford it.

SEM is great for giving your business quick results and leads which you can nurture. SEO, on the other hand is great for building long-term credibility and for building your business in the online landscape.

Remember- SEO is a marathon, while SEM is a sprint.

Top tips

  • Double Dip! Use the data you gather from your AdWords campaign to tweak your organic leads. Plus, remember that anything you used successfully in your AdWords campaigns is probably going to be the goods for your organic campaigns, so make sure you’re blogging about often-searched topics or even creating a page on your website about a highly-searched-for topic
  • Any ad copy that is successful should be used in your meta-descriptions to get better click-through
  • Be active in both. We can’t stress this enough. While there are pros and cons for each type of marketing, ultimately, you’ll be getting the best results with a balanced and well-executed SEO and SEM dual combo hit!

If you want to get your business front and centre on Google, and want results that will last, then get in touch right now and make your next move count with KDM. We are a leading Brisbane SEO company and SEM experts who are dedicated to your success. You know how you’re really great at what you do? Well that’s us, but with everything Google Ads, SEO and PPC.

Call us on 1300 596 636 or contact us online.