What's the difference between SEO and SEM, and which of the two marketing methods can add the most value to your business? That's the question I try to shed light on in this post.


What are SEO and SEM?

In a digital world where everything from travel and insurance to fitness memberships, dietary advice and pet food is bought on the internet, there's little doubt about the importance of online marketing. And it's hardly lost on you that Google plays a crucial role. In fact, our analysis shows Online marketing channels 2020that between 71 % and 84 % of visitors to Danish websites come from Google.

The study makes it clear that it is important for your business to have a strong presence on Google. A presence that ensures your audience can find you on the right keywords, and that your audience finds you before they find your competitors.

Two marketing methods can ensure your business visibility on Google: SEO and SEM. It is a common misconception that one channel can replace the other - in fact there can be great benefits, both economic and marketing, in allowing the two channels to complement each other. Find out more about the two channels below.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

SEO - or search engine optimizationis about increasing the visibility of your website in search engines for the most relevant keywords, so you get more visitors and increase sales. If done correctly, SEO can give your business a top ranking in search results, which is crucial to whether or not you are found by your target audience.

The primary benefits of SEO are that:

  • you do not pay for each visitor
  • you can achieve visibility on all relevant searches
  • the return on investment is predominantly renewable
  • you can reach a large part of your target audience because most users on Google click on the organic search results
  • it is cost-effective in the long term.

The primary disadvantages of SEO are that:

  • it takes time to achieve good results
  • you can't control exactly how Google displays your website in search results
  • you pay in advance for the results.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM is a term for paid advertising in search engines (sometimes also called SEA). By far the largest search engine in Denmark is Google with a market share of around 96 % (followed by bing with a market share of around 3 %), and SEM is therefore effectively equal to Google Ads (and to a lesser extent Bing Ads). The ads on Google are called paid search results, while the SEO results are called organic search results.

The primary benefits of Google Ads are that:

  • you can buy a top ranking on Google pretty much instantly
  • you can stop the ads immediately if the campaign stops or converts poorly
  • you quickly gain knowledge about which keywords and sales messages convert best
  • you pay backwards for the results.

The primary disadvantages of Google Ads are that:

  • you pay for each visitor (for each click)
  • the effect ends as soon as you stop paying
  • you can only reach a small proportion of your target audience because only a small proportion of Google users click on the ads
  • you can't show your ads on all relevant searches.

The click price in Google Ads is determined partly by the competition on the searches you want to be visible on, and partly by the quality of your ads. The advertisers who are willing to pay the most and the advertisers whose ads are the highest quality will get the highest ad placement.

SEO is 5.67 times more effective than SEM

According to an analysis by Enquisite - an analytics firm that measures search traffic to over 5,000 websites - users click on organic search results 8.5 times more often on average than on equivalent paid search results (ads). The difference is probably due to the fact that most users interpret organic search results as more trustworthy than paid search results.

However, according to the analysis, paid search results have a conversion rate that is one and a half times better than the conversion rate of organic search results. However, the significantly lower click-through rate of paid search results means that organic search results are on average 5.67 times more effective than paid search results in terms of conversion rate. So there's no doubt that SEO adds more value to your business than SEM - because SEO isn't just better, it's cheaper too.

What to choose?

Google Ads (and similarly Bing Ads) are suitable for marketing campaigns with a limited duration, for keywords where you cannot achieve a good position in the search results for competitive reasons, for testing the market and for quickly achieving your sales goals. SEO is suitable for long-term, cost-effective campaigns and for getting your messages across to your target audience.

SEM is also the best option if you have just launched your website and want to create immediate awareness about it. This does not mean that SEO is not relevant in that case, but simply that SEO does not have the same immediate effect as SEM (because the search engines index your website taking time).

We recommend that you scale back or reprioritise your investment in Google Ads as you gain visibility in organic search results. The insights from working with Google Ads (keywords and sales messages) can be used in working with SEO and vice versa.

Listen to "SEO - SEM Synergies: make the most of the interaction" on Spreaker.

ian figure

Ian Rosenfeldt

Founder & COO

Se forfatter

Get help with your Google Marketing efforts

Do you need help with SEO and Google, or are you considering whether it makes sense for your business to invest in SEO and Google Ads? Contact Henning Madsen for a no-obligation discussion about your SEO project.Do you need help with SEO, or are you considering whether it makes sense for your business to focus on SEO? Contact Henning Madsen and get a no-obligation dialogue about your project.

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