Is SEO Better Or SEM Better?

Is SEO Better Or SEM Better_

I think we can all agree that Google SEO is pretty cool! A lot of people get to enjoy high rankings on Google and other search engines for free. This is made all the more tempting considering the alluring nature of the search engine results pages (SERPs).

From my own experience, I often find myself clicking on Google search results thinking “This will surely give me a great idea for my next blog post!”.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already a proud owner of a profitable blog. But, if not, it’s never too late to start a blog – and the fundamentals for a profitable blog are still highly relevant.

With that in mind, let’s dive right in and explore what are the differences between SEO and SEM.

Key Performance Indicators 

Before we begin, let’s establish the important performance indicators that you’d need to track. Remember, with SEO and SEM, you’re always competing for traffic. So you need to measure the success of your campaign using the same metrics.

First and foremost, you want to measure ‘organic’ (non-paid) traffic. This is important because, as a blogger, you need to keep track of the source of your traffic (i.e. where your audience is coming from and how they’re finding your content).

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You’ll also need to measure ‘paid’ traffic. This is important, especially if you want to grow your blog substantially. To give you some idea of how much money you’ll need to start earning, let’s say you decide to sell $100 worth of advertising space on your site. That’s $100 you’ll need to spend to start earning. The good news is you’ll start earning as soon as you spend the $100. But, you need to track how much you earn and how much you spend to ensure you don’t end up in a situation where you incur substantial debts to grow your blog.

SEO vs SEM: Key Differences

SEO stands for ‘search engine optimization. In simple terms, SEO is the practice of modifying a website or blog to achieve prominence (or at least a higher placement) in organic (or unpaid) search engine results.

The main purpose of your SEO campaign is to ‘optimize’ your website/blog for search engines. Typically, the search engine optimization (SEO) process begins with a basic analysis of your site. This includes establishing key performance indicators, reviewing SEO on-page metrics, and evaluating the effectiveness of your overall SEO campaign.

Once the analysis is complete, a set of guidelines will be provided to build upon. You’ll then have to choose which areas of your site you want to work upon (i.e. which ‘SEO goals you want to achieve).

With SEM, you’re focusing on ‘search engine marketing. In general, the SEM process begins with defining the target audience and creating buyer personas. Next, you’ll establish key performance indicators, and measure the effectiveness of your overall campaign with metrics.

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SEO and SEM are both crucial and both compete for the same audience. The key difference is that you’re competing for ‘organic’ traffic with SEO, while you’re competing for ‘paid’ traffic with SEM. To put it simply, SEO focuses on gaining ‘organic’ traffic, while SEM focuses on paying for that traffic.

Backlinking Vs Following The Hacks

Now, let’s discuss the difference between backlinking and following the hacks. Backlinking simply means creating content that links (or connects) to content on your site. For example, if you’re running a blog about fashion, you might consider writing an article about style tips for men. You could then use this article to link back to your site.

Usually, when someone creates content for the web, that content is designed to attract and engage an audience (i.e. readers). Once you’ve established yourself as an authoritative voice in your industry, you can then use your content to attract and engage an audience — and ultimately, grow your business.

However, creating backlinking content isn’t a straightforward process. You need to make sure you follow some tried and tested tactics to ensure your content is as effective as possible. If you don’t, you run the risk of creating content that doesn’t truly represent your brand. This could potentially do great harm to your business.

When it comes to SEO, you’ll often hear about ‘link popularity. This is a score based on the number of times your content has been linked to other websites. Essentially, having a high ‘link popularity’ score means your content is being linked frequently and effectively. You can use free tools like Google’s ‘Link Popularity’ tool to easily find out the score for your content.

Creating Original Content

When it comes to SEO, you’ll often hear about creating unique and original content. This makes complete sense because popular content is often used to drive traffic to websites. If you’re following the same strategies, your content will start to look a bit like everyone else’s. To stand out, you need to create original and unique content that’ll hopefully resonate with your target audience.

By doing this, you’ll be able to attract people who are genuinely interested in your content — and hopefully, some of these people will become loyal followers.

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Engaging The Right Audience

Last but not least, let’s discuss the importance of engaging with your target audience. Often, when we’re engaging with marketing content, we assume the reader will understand what we’re saying.

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After all, we’re the ones writing the content. But that’s not always the case. Especially, if you’re writing for a highly specialized audience (e.g. a scientific journal), you need to make sure the audience understands what you’re saying. This requires engaging with your audience through different mediums.

For example, you could write a short description for a podcast or video series to provide more information to your audience. Or, you could write a series of blog posts to progressively educate your audience about the topics you’re discussing (if that’s the case, make sure you include a summary at the end of each post).

Which One Should You Focus Upon First?

Now, let’s say you’re reading this and you’re wondering which type of online marketing to focus on first. If you’re not sure, you could start with SEO. This is because, as previously stated, SEO is all about getting ‘organic’ (i.e. unpaid) traffic to your site. So, if you’re wondering what type of traffic to pursue, start with SEO.

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However, if you’re wondering if SEO is the right choice for your business. You might consider looking into SEM. This is because, as an entrepreneur, you’ll need to understand the finer points of marketing to manage and grow your business. For example, you could use SEM to reach a more specific audience within your industry. Or, you could use it to investigate which types of products your customers are searching for online. This information will then help you create more targeted content.

To put it another way, SEO provides you with a clear view of the ‘big picture, in the sense that you have a clear idea of the audience you’re serving and the methods you’ll use to attract them. SEM provides you with ‘detail’, in the sense that you have a clear idea of how to precisely manoeuvre your way through the digital marketplace.


To wrap things up, let’s review what we’ve discussed. SEO and SEM are both important but have distinct differences. Specifically, SEO focuses on gaining ‘organic’ traffic to your site, while SEM focuses on paying for that traffic.

If you decide that you want to pursue SEO, make sure you first establish a clear view of the ‘big picture. This means creating a set of benchmarks to evaluate your progress and, eventually, determining whether you’ve reached your goal. Remember, SEO is a long-term play. It, therefore, takes a lot of patience to see the fruits of your labour. And, for some businesses, that patience can be a virtue. But, if this is a demanding virtue for you, perhaps it’s time to reconsider.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Is SEO Better Or SEM Better?

Table of Contents + Key Performance Indicators SEO vs SEM: Key Differences Backlinking Vs Following The Hacks Creating Original Content Engaging The Right Audience Which

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