Balancing SEM and SEO. Where should I focus on?

The argument of not investing in SEM (Search Engine Marketing) in favor of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) have been around since the birth and demise of the sock puppet. We will continue to see this debate online and there isn’t a clear answer, however, it will vary depending on your organizations goals.


Google, Bing, Baidu and a the dozens of major search engines exist for a reason, they provide what web users are searching for and they make money from advertisers – in fact, Google recorded a 61% growth in paid clicks in Q2 2017 and. With a more competitive landscape, advertiser should expect to pay more over the years to maintain a SEM program as it cost more to drive targeted eyeballs to their website.

Full speed ahead for SEM and SEO

Assuming that money, staffing, overhead and other factors are inconsequential. Maintain both SEM and SEO is a strategy that should be applied.
Why? First and second SERP on any query are usually Paid Ads and third to tenth listing on the SERP are organic listing. By having the first or second listing, along with a presence on the organic listing will greatly increase the chances of somebody clicking off the SERP to your site. The downside, it is the costliest method when you maintain a presence for all keywords that drives eyeballs to your site.

The branded approach

In most cases, most advertisers will rank extremely well in organic search for branded keywords that their store is associated with due to their domain name or products and services that they produce. In that case, they will not invest in SEM for those branded terms. Utilizing fashion designer Versace as an example, their website will rank extremely well on organic search and so will terms such as “Versace dress”, “Versace handbags” or anything that pertains to their brand. In this case, Versace could opt to not invest in those branded terms while focusing on generic terms like “cocktail dress”, or “elegant black dress” so that they can stretch their investment and have SEO compliment their SEM program.

Plug the SEO hole

Let’s face it, even if you feel like you maintain an amazing SEO program for your company, you can never rank on the SERP for all the terms that you would like to rank for. There are terms that you wish you would like to rank for on organic search and this is where the SEM comes in to support that initiative. One can easily do so if they have access to their search engine webmaster tool as it will identify the queries that the website is ranking, including the impression, clicks, and CTR. Download queries from the webmaster tool and cross match it to the SEM program and if there are keywords that you would like to get further exposure on, use the SEM channel to support your initiative.

The long tail focus only

Going after long tail keywords on SEM might be a good strategy, however it might be hard to get the scale and volume. A long term keyword might be something like “pink golf balls with stripes” as those are highly specific searches that a web user is looking for and that web user is usually closer to the conversion funnel as he/she knows what he is looking for. On the flip side, the number of web users typing in that long tail might be very small compared to a query like “golf balls”, or “pink golf balls”.

There debate of SEM vs SEO or don’t invest in SEM as my SEO program is doing well will continue for a foreseeable future but depending on your goals, one should use the SEM to compliment the SEO program and not look at the SEM or SEO program in a silo.

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