Internet Marketing

SEO vs SEM: Which Will Get You More Website Traffic?

If you’re looking to increase the number of visitors to your website, you’ve probably already read a little bit about SEO, Internet marketing, search engines, and online advertising. At this stage, you may be wondering if SEO or SEM can get you more traffic, and which is a better investment for your valuable time and money.

To help you better understand what SEO and SEM really are, how they are different, and which method can gain you more traffic and increase your conversions, we’ve created this informative article. On this page, we’ll explain SEO and SEM in detail, provide examples of how they work, and discuss whether SEO or SEM is right for your business.

We’ll start by explaining what SEO is, and how it can be advantageous for your website if you’re trying to increase your traffic without spending a lot of money.

What is SEO?

SEO, or search engine optimization, refers to the methods by which websites are improved to rank better in search engine queries. If you hear someone refer to “doing SEO” on a website, or if they bought an “SEO package” from an agency, these typically refer to ways that a site is optimized to rank higher in Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines.

SEO is complex, and how it’s done is guided mostly by algorithms, or rules, applied by search engines like Google. Google’s algorithms determine where a website ranks for any given search term, and they are based on SEO factors like the age of the website, where keywords appear on a page, how quickly the page loads, how many other websites link to a page, and so on.

Search results on Google


When people refer to “organic” search results, they are referring to sites that typically appear in searches as the result of SEO. So, for example, if someone says “my site ranks #1 organically for the term 'dishwasher,'” they are talking about the first search result, probably on Google, and also probably as a result of ongoing SEO.

The Advantages of SEO

SEO’s biggest advantage is that it can be very inexpensive. It's extremely accessible, and you can pick exactly how much you want to spend on it. For example, you could perform all of your content creation in-house, effectively adding $0 on to your existing costs. You could also outsource your SEO from beginning to end, and never worry about it again.

Even when outsourcing, you can choose between different tiers of SEO work. Maybe you just want technical optimization, or maybe you want hundreds of content pieces pushed out every month. In that regard, SEO is very open-ended and accessible to businesses of all sizes.

For some websites, ranking in the top spot, or at least on the first page, can be very, very easy... as long as the competition is low. However, as the number of websites and online businesses grow, the barrier to entry is much higher, and it takes much more time and work to take those top spots.

Another advantage of SEO is that it is guided by rules and quality guidelines established by Google. If a website is blatantly breaking the rules—for example, buying links or hiding text on a page with the intent of reaching #1—Google can penalize them, removing them from the rankings. This can help keep the results fair and encourage healthy competition.

A disadvantage of SEO is that it tends to be very complex, and the rules change as often as Google’s algorithm. However, the advantage for business owners is that there are many reputable companies offering SEO services at reasonable prices, which can help improve your rankings and increase your traffic without taking up too much of your time or requiring extra staff to be hired.

Now that you’ve learned a little more about SEO, we’ll move on to SEM.

What is SEM?

SEM, or search engine marketing, is an umbrella term used to describe any actions taken to market a company and its website online. SEM actually includes SEO, but it also includes PPC, or pay-per-click advertising. Basically, SEM is a combination of paid and unpaid strategies meant to improve your website’s visibility in searches.

PPC can be done with the Google AdWords platform, as well as Microsoft’s Bing Ads platform. Each time a user searches for a keyword or phrase that you have bid on, an ad that you have created will appear somewhere on the page, usually on the top or right side. If a user clicks your ad, you will pay a set price for this click that has been determined in advance.

What you might pay for a PPC ad


PPC ads can be very inexpensive, sometimes only costing pennies per click. Also, businesses do not pay for impressions not attached to clicks, nor do they pay if a sale is made after the ad is clicked. Unless a very competitive keyword is involved, the cost to acquire a new customer through PPC is typically very low.

The Advantages of PPC

Newly established businesses that are still working to rank organically in Google’s search results may find that pay-per-click ads give them a big advantage in the beginning. PPC allows these businesses to appear on the first page of results, often with a low cost and reasonable ROI. If competition is very low, it may be very easy and relatively inexpensive to appear in the top few ads, increasing the chances that consumers will see and click those links instead of the organic ones.

Even after your business has established its position in the search engine results, PPC advertising can still prove very advantageous. The competition to naturally rank for some keywords and phrases may be very high, and you may notice that you move up and down on a regular basis. PPC can add some consistency, ensuring that you are receiving a steady flow of visitors and regularly appearing on the front page.

One of the major benefits of PPC advertising is that results are instantanous. As soon as ads are clicked to go live, they can start driving qualified traffic to your website. If you're looking to quickly boost the number of leads and sales for your company, PPC is a great option.

Finally, for even the highest ranking companies, PPC can be advantageous simply because of its low cost and high level of exposure. Even if you have one of the top spots for many keywords, it’s not a given that someone is going to click on your organic result. If you can spend only a few cents on each click of your ad, and have a much better chance of getting said click, it’s a good idea to do so.

Overall, PPC is a good investment for businesses because of its ease of use, low cost, high ROI, and ability to help businesses that have not yet been exposed through organic search results. Combined with SEO to form SEM, this can boost your website’s visibility far above what SEO alone could do.

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SEO vs SEM: Which is Better for Website Traffic?

Some recent research has found that PPC ads receive a high amount of clicks for very “high intent” keywords or phrases. By high intent, we mean a phrase like “buy dishwasher” versus lower intent, research-type keywords like “dishwasher brands” or even “broken dishwasher.” So if you sell dishwashers and engage only in SEO for the phrase “buy dishwasher,” you might find that your traffic for this keyword is lower than expected. So considering this, a SEM plan including PPC is the better choice.

Having said this, website traffic should not necessarily be your goal. This is because traffic, on its own, does not really make you any money. You can receive a thousand visitors a day, but does it mean anything if none of these visitors make a purchase, fill out a form, or pick up the phone and call you?

Instead of focusing on increasing your website traffic, or optimizing your site or ads to drive more clicks, your end goal should be to increase conversions. This means finding ways to drive more targeted traffic — that is, the people most likely to convert from visitor to buyer.

However, when you're considering SEO vs. SEM, it's important to understand that they're not necessarily opposites — they both have the same goal of improving your company's presence online. The difference is mostly in the scope of work. But that one difference is pretty major, and it can make a huge difference in how your online marketing strategy operates from day to day.

It's essential to remember that, despite the SEO and SEM difference, the end goal of either strategy should be to make your company more money and help it grow. Deciding between SEO versus SEM requires research and expectations for meeting company goals online.

It’s also important to recognize that specific industries or businesses may see better results from prioritizing SEO over SEM, or vice versa. You simply won’t know what works best for your business without exploring and testing both options before settling on a “winner.”

In the end, your goals should essentially be the same — increasing customer conversions. There are some easy ways to do this that you may not have yet considered, which we’ll explore next.

How Can SEO and PPC Work Together to Drive Targeted Traffic?

If you’re wondering how to increase your targeted traffic and get more conversions with SEO or SEM, we have a few ideas you can try. Note that these aren’t necessarily overnight solutions, but we think they will help you see a real difference in how your website ranks, how your ads perform, and how your conversion rate looks over time! Plus, they can help you pick your strategy when you're looking at SEO vs. SEM.

Here are a few tips to try:

  • Do some keyword research to find areas of opportunity. You should look for medium to high search volume with low to medium competition. If you write a piece of quality, problem-solving content with a strong call to action, and it is well-linked on top of that, you’re likely to rank well and gain some qualified traffic.
  • When you set up your PPC ads, don’t just send them to your homepage. If you create an ad for a specific product or product line, make sure anyone who clicks that ad is being sent to a targeted landing page. This can greatly reduce frustration and make conversions much more likely.
  • Make sure all the pages on your site that you’re trying to rank are properly optimized, not just your homepage. You can use our free on-page SEO checklist to make sure you have all your bases covered.
  • Watch your data in Google Analytics carefully, specifically the time on page metric. If users are only spending a few seconds on your landing pages, it’s clear that they aren’t being engaged. Consider trying A/B tests to test different versions of your content until you find a version that keeps them around for longer.
  • Don’t just go after the broadest keywords. You may sell dishwashers, but so do hundreds of other websites. The competition is so high for this keyword, and the search intent so vague, that you will be better off competing for the “long-tail” keywords. Think about what sets you apart and work to rank for that instead (for example, specific brand names, queries like “buy” or “compare,” colors, sizes, condition, location...).

By using these tips, you’ll be working to not only improve your site’s ranking and visibility, but you’ll also be ensuring that those visiting you are closer to the end of the sales funnel – that is, more ready to make a purchase.

While it’s not a bad thing to inform visitors and answer questions, spending time and money to rank or appear in ads for a highly competitive phrase may not provide a high return on investment for your business, and that’s ultimately what you should be aiming for.

Need Help Creating a Search Engine Strategy for Your Website?

If you’re short on time, or need help creating a comprehensive search engine marketing strategy for your website, we can help. WebpageFX is a leading Internet marketing firm with years of experience creating customized marketing plans for companies of all sizes.

We've helped companies like yours answer the question of SEO vs. SEM a lot over the past several years. While there's no one-size-fits-all answer, we can help you determine the best approach to your company's online marketing to make sure you get the best results possible. And, after we answer the question of SEO vs. SEM, we'll help you carry out your decision and get you the results you want to see.

Whether you’ve worked with an SEO firm before or are new to SEM, we’d love to hear more about your goals and learn what you want to achieve online. Feel free to call or email us at any time, and we’ll be happy to provide you a customized, no obligation quote for a SEO or SEM strategy for your site.

Work with a leading SEO company and boost your site's traffic, ranking, and conversions. Call 888.449.3239 or contact us online today for a free quote on SEO and SEM plans from WebpageFX.

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