SEO and SEM: Which Should The Singapore Marketer Choose?

Singapore businesses should use both SEO and SEM in their digital marketing campaigns.

There are many Singapore business owners who consider SEO and SEM to be almost identical. And to be fair, they do achieve a lot of the same goals. However, what many don’t realize is that each requires vastly different actions and incorporates different marketing elements.

So, the real question is, what’s the difference between the two? And more importantly, how do they relate to each other? If you own a Singapore business and would like to get a better grasp on each of these concepts, then stick around. We’ll discuss and discover the role that both SEO and SEM play today digital marketing today.

SEO Overview

Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, is a fundamental part of an online marketing strategy. No matter what area you specialize in, you need to know the basics of SEO. When discussing SEO, most marketers tend to refer mainly to Google, and with good reason.

While other search engines have 7% of the global search traffic, Google has 79% of it. According to Internet Live Stats, there are currently well over 66,000 searches per second on Google every day. Sure, Bing and Yahoo still matter, but when it comes to the numbers, Google’s policies, opinions, and views are the most important to this form of marketing. This is especially the case when it comes to SEO.

How Does SEO Work?

SEO refers to the process of search engines “crawling” your content to figure out how effectively it will be able to attract website traffic. There are a number of things that search engines will assess about your website. This list of factors includes tags, keywords, and link titles.

Crawlers want to know the quality of your content. They tend to favour websites that offer valuable content because this signals that you offer services and products that are legitimate. They can often determine the quality of your content based on how many other sites link to it as well as the combination of keywords that you use.

Crawlers want to know the quality of your user experience. They tend to favour websites that offer a seamless experience for visitors. They can often determine if you offer a great user experienced based on how fast your site is, how easy it is to navigate, and how easily customers can make a purchase.

Crawlers also want to know the quality of your link patterns. They tend to favour websites that have authoritative websites linking to them. They can determine the quality of your link patterns by examining the sites that your links are coming from.

When you take the time to learn the basics of SEO, anyone can use it as apart of their campaign. In fact, if you have the technical knowledge, then you’re bound to get more traffic. However, it does take time to see results from SEO. This is why a lot Singapore businesses choose to hire an SEO expert. They are the most experienced at generating sales and conversions.

SEM Overview

Search Engine Marketing, better known as SEM, is a term that describes various kinds of paid search advertising. SEM usually results in a Google ad and, in the best cases, is placed at the top of the search results. This process requires special knowledge of keyword placement.

Those who use SEM-based advertising create targeted ad campaigns, write copy using carefully selected keywords, ensure that advertising falls within the designated budget, and apply KPIs, or key performance indicators, such as cost-per-click (CPC) and click-through-rates (CTR), to advertising activities. The best and most profitable ads are well-targeted.

One of the benefits of SEM is that it helps with brand recognition because you get a lot of visibility at the top of the search results. It’s also an excellent way to attract targeted traffic to your site. But perhaps the biggest benefit is that you can easily understand your ROI based on the information available to you. This information will also help you to monitor your traffic and create other successful campaigns.

This isn’t to say that SEM is without its flaws. For instance, this form of marketing requires that you possess special knowledge and tools, such as Google AdSense. Without them, then it’s basically trial and error. Luckily, you can enlist the help of an SEM company to guide you through the process.

How are SEO and SEM Different?

SEO and SEM are just different approaches to advertising. Some experts include SEM under the umbrella of SEO, but it’s important to keep in mind that SEM is strictly referring to paid advertising. So, while SEO is focused on getting, monitoring, and analysing unpaid (organic) traffic, SEM is concerned with getting, monitoring, and analysing paid traffic from paid ads. SEO basically means optimization of website page content and visibility to get the natural page listing on the search engine results page while SEM men’s promoting websites to increase traffic and visibility in search engine results page.

Another significant difference between SEO and SEM is in terms of cost incurred. Each time an online user clicks on an SEO result, you don’t pay anything. You will not be charged when users click on an organic search result. You don’t need to pay anyone to appear on the search results.

On the other side, you will pay every time an online user gets to click on an SEM result. SEM requires you to continually have a budget to show your brands SEM ads by use of this type of PPC lead generation. SEM is simply paid placement google Ads which you will need to pay for every time a user clicks on the result. The traffic volume of SEM is controllable as it depends on the amount of cash you can pay. In Search engine optimisation, you cannot predict the traffic.

SEO and SEM have differences in search appearance results. Search results as a result of SEO or SEM appear different on the search engine results page with SEM search placements including an ‘Ad’ designation icon that appears next to the placement while SEO does not. Paid advertisements placed through SEM tactics are recognized as an ad while search results appearing as a result of SEO are not marked as an ad. More so, SEO search results seem to have featured snippets while SEM search results contain ad extensions. SEM search results feature ad extension which adds on things such as phone numbers, additional links, and callouts while SEO does not.

Every business brand gets into search engine optimisation or search engine marketing to reach a target audience. However, there exists a difference in the audience targeted depending on whether you use SEM or SEO. SEO does not enable you to specify or choose the target audience that will see your search results. On the contrary, SEM results appear to a specific selected target audience. This type of paid search is agile and precise. You will get the searchers you want, but you pay for it. Through SEM You can choose the audience that you want to see your search results through assigning filters in terms of location, age, habits, and income. You can’t do that on SEO.

SEO is long term while SEM is short term. Search engine optimization requires business brands to be patient as results take time to show. This is not the same case with SEM. While SEO takes time, SEM gives you an immediate impact. Paid SEM ads display your results to your target audiences with only a few clicks. Your ads will start to appear on the search engine results page immediately you launch your campaign.

You can also turn the ads on at any time for increased visibility or turn them off to stop displaying. For SEO, this is something that brings results over time. It may require months or even years of implementing an SEO strategy before your business brand starts to gain position gradually on the google search engines and other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo. It is said that when a website is new, Google does not take you seriously for about six months. Regardless of your good previous work, it will take time for your brand to appear on the first page. It is known as Google ‘sandbox’.

As stated earlier, it is easy to turn on and off SEM. This makes SEM better in testing the ideal marketing strategy than SEO. Through SEM, it is easy and quick for you to target new audiences, revise your ad copy, and edit landing page content for testing new marketing strategies. This way, you will be able to see the differences in your tactics in a short time. This is very difficult with SEO as it will take you a lot of time to initiate changes and monitor the differences in your results.

search engine marketing in Singapore

Another unique difference between SEO and SEM is in terms of value addition. In this view, search engine optimization seems to be better. SEO increases the value of your business brand over time while SEM does not. SEM remains active as long as you are paying for your results to show on the search engine results page. You SEM strategy ends as soon as you turn off your advertisements. SEO is the opposite of SEM. SEO grows over time and compounds to leave lasting results.

Search engine optimization is great but on one condition, if you can get to the top of the first page. If your SEO strategy can get you to the top page, you will be able to get a higher click-through rate than SEM. This because the first top organic search results get to have the highest click-through rates. You are hence more likely to outperform SEM ads if you get to the top. However, if you appear on the second search engine results page, you will probably generate more clicks through SEM.

Now that we have compared SEO and SEM, which strategy among them is better? There are a lot of factors involved when comparing SEO vs. SEM. There is no simple answer or a quick formula. Some of the brands may decide to focus on SEM while others may choose to concentrate on SEO.

The correct strategy sometimes may be a combination of both SEO and SEM. What matters most is your unique company goals and budget. Now that you are aware of the differences between SEM and SEO, you are better positioned to make decisions on how each strategy can help your business achieve its goals. If you are starting up your business, you most likely won’t have plenty of money for SEM paid search while if your company has plenty of cash and a narrowly defined target audience, PPC search may be beneficial.

How do SEO and SEM Complement Each Other?

What SEO and SEM have in common is that they both rely heavily rely on the use of keywords? These terms and phrases are what help them to drive traffic to the sites. Sure, the techniques may be completely different, but the main goal is to encourage a nice flow of traffic. And they both require marketers to know how certain marketing activities relate to an increase or decrease in traffic.

Research shows that before users make any purchase, they search online. And ultimately, users can use the search engines to find what they’re looking for by organic or paid results. What this means is that it’s very important that you have a strong presence in search and that the ideal solution is to use a strategic combination of both SEO and SEM. In this way, you can get a long-term boost in visibility.

You should use SEO for organic traffic. This will cost you nothing to list. You should also use SEM because it will allow you to better target your customers. The key is to make sure that your site SEO-friendly as this will ensure that your SEM has the highest level of success. This is what gives you credibility in the eyes of Google. However, if your site is new, you should prioritise PPC as SEO can take some time.

The Future of SEO and SEM

Google is constantly making tweaks and changes to its algorithm. This means that SEO and SEM will change along with it. So, it’s difficult to predict exactly what the future will look like in these cases. However, what we do know is that user experience will continue to be an important factor in SEO.

Inevitably this will affect the popularity of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project (AMP) because more business owners will want to create quick and easy mobile-friendly sites. Artificial intelligence will become even more involved in the process of SEO and will eventually change the nature of search by allowing brands to create more targeted ads for their SEM campaigns. Also, things will become more data-focused and easier to create campaigns that are targeted and personalized. However, all of these changes will lead to an increase in the user’s concern about their privacy.

Understanding SEO and SEM for Your Business in Singapore

SEO and SEM are crucial aspects for driving traffic to your site, but they are worlds. Singapore brands know that they need to apply them into their marketing campaigns, but unfortunately, most of them do not know how.

Where Do You Start?

Despite being different, they can be leveraged to work together for better results of your digital marketing campaigns. With that said, the secret to getting SEO and SEM right is to know the differences and how they work together to bring about a holistic digital marketing symbiosis.

Since they are different, you need to figure out how your SEO and SEM strategies can work together to optimise your website. For example, if you already have a live website, you could start by adding search engine optimised content that incorporates keywords, CTAs, and links.

We have seen many businesses ask which of the two is better. For starters, SEO is all about optimising your website for better a better site ranking on the search results page. SEM, on the other hand, goes beyond this, and it gives you an opportunity to appear on the first page for your chosen keywords even when your website is not ranking on the first page.

Since they serve different purposes in a digital marketing campaign, they can only be used together to maximise the return on your investment.

Which One Do I Choose For My Business?

As with everything on earth, SEO and SEM both have their pros and cons. We have outlined them below to help you get a deeper understanding of these two crucial aspects of digital marketing in Singapore

SEO Pros and Cons

With voice search taking centre stage, SEO remains as relevant today as it were a couple of years ago. These are the pros and cons associated with SEO


  • SEO provides long lasting results at least until your competition starts doing better SEO than you or the next Google algorithm update
  • The results from an SEO campaign are trustworthy in that many of the users trust the organic results over the paid ads associated with SEM
  • A properly optimised website will move up the ranks quickly and coupled with valuable and relevant content, you will be doing much good to the searchers


  • You must be willing to wait more or less 4 to 6 months before you see positive results
  • SEO does not have guaranteed success especially if you are doing it yourself; even a professional SEO agency cannot guarantee that your website will rank in the first position
  • You need to know your audience and their preferences; otherwise, you can optimise the wrong keywords and waste not only time but also money and effort

SEM Pros and Cons

Much like SEO, SEM also has its pros and cons. This is despite the fact the search engine is the fastest way for potential customers to eye and engage with your brand.


  • SEM has quick results, and when done correctly, you can get one to the first page the same day you start
  • It is an avenue of collecting data from the people interested in your brand
  • Through the advertising via search engines, you will be able to A/B test your ad copy and thus improve its quality score


  • While SEM will give you instant results compared to SEO, the results are not long lasting. The results will stop coming once your monthly budget is exhausted
  • SEM requires a lot of effort in that you need to keep on tweaking and to refine your PPC ads
  • It is a high-cost venture and depending on your industry and keyword choice. The costs will only make sense if you are getting valuable leads that convert

Impact of Search Terms on SEO and SEM

Search terms are the driving force behind both SEO and SEM and businesses in Singapore has spent millions if not billions trying to get them right. With that said, digital marketers continue to face gruelling frustrations over the limits of how much assumptions and predictions are associated with search terms.

Sufficient to say, one word when used in different searches will show different meanings and results. For this reason, SEO and SEM professionals have to create speculative conclusions on the most effective terms or words in their campaigns.

search engine marketing in Singapore

Due to the textual nature of the data used in online search, deducing content preferences from search queries could bring about a horde of challenges for your SEO and SEM inspired digital marketing campaigns in Singapore. These challenges include

  • The search terms are ambiguous in that the searcher could use the same word or term for different searches
  • Searchers use a wide variety of keywords, which significantly increases the number of possible keywords
  • Most searches have a maximum of five words

To resolve these challenges, in an article in the November 2018 issue of the INFORMS journal Marketing Science authored by Jia Lung and Olivier Toubia suggests that digital marketers use a ‘Topic Model.’

The model helps to combine the information from multiple search queries and the associated search results to quantify the mapping between the queries and the results. The model uses a learning algorithm that cites the topics from the text in the query based on the text’s occurrence.

Moreover, the model’s design is structured in a way that it can establish context where one term semantically relates to another word. The bottom line is that the topic model will provide the system with context for the use of the word.

Summary of SEO vs PPC: Which Should You Use?

As a marketer, one of the biggest dilemma you will ever experience is choosing between PPC and SEO in Singapore. While both strategies work to increase the visibility of a website, the approaches are entirely different.

PPC, also known as paid search, involves the payment of money to an advertising platform so that your website ranks high on them. On the other hand, SEO refers to the adjustments you make to your website so that you get more organic traffic from Google and other search engines.

It is vital to understand the difference between the two before choosing what to implement in your business.


Search engine optimisation is the process of optimising your website and its contents to obtain a higher ranking on search results.

If you want to run a successful SEO campaign in Singapore, you need to understand what Google and other search engines consider necessary. Such websites have algorithms that crawl your website, assess its contents, and rank it according to the relevance, value and quality of experience it affords to users.

Advantages of SEO

Here are the benefits of implementing SEO in Singapore.

The Longevity of Organic Traffic

The best thing about organic traffic is that it is consistent as long as you rank high in search results. With paid traffic, the numbers drop when you stop paying the money. This is one of the primary reasons why most marketers prefer starting an SEO campaign in Singapore over investing in paid search.


Another advantage of SEO over PPC is cost-effectiveness. Both cost money, but SEO only requires an in initial investment while PPC needs continual investment. After a year or so, you do not need to pump money to fund your Singapore SEO, while the same cannot be said for PPC.

Disadvantages of SEO

Here are some of the reasons that discourage marketers from implementing SEO in Singapore.

It takes Time

According to Ahrefs, only a paltry 5.7% of websites rank in the top 10 for a specific keyword within the first year of publishing. If you want to become an instant hit, you should not rely on an SEO campaign in Singapore.

It Requires Unique and Authoritative Content

You have to be an expert to perform rank high on search results. The problem with this is that hiring experts can be too costly for startups and SMEs with a limited budget.


Pay-per-click advertising, also known as PPC, is a marketing strategy where you pay advertisement platforms for every click on your ad listing. The best platform if you want to run a PPC campaign in Singapore is Google Ads. Alternatively, you can advertise on Facebook, Twitter and Quora.

Advantages of PPC

Here are the benefits of running a PPC campaign in Singapore.

It is fast

If you want results, you should hire a company that specialises in Singapore PPC services. It will not take months to attain a high ranking in search, as is the case with SEO.

It Supports Targeting

Another advantage of PPC over SEO in Singapore is that it supports targeting. You can target audiences based on parameters such as age, gender, income level, and location, and so on.

It Allows for Quick Experimentation

With PPC, you can run quick tests and identify what strategies are working and those that are unproductive. In stark contrast, it is challenging to identify what is causing your Singapore SEO to fail.

Disadvantages of PPC

Here are some factors that can discourage you from investing in a PPC campaign in Singapore.

It is Expensive

As mentioned earlier, PPC requires continual investment. If your business is a highly competitive niche, you might end up paying too much money for clicks without getting a positive ROI.

It Can Lose Effectiveness

PPPC campaigns are easy to scale, but they become more challenging as they become bigger. People will get used to your ads, making them less effective. You have to create new ads regularly to maintain the same level of productivity.

It Needs Money

You need money to hire a Singapore PPC services company. You also need expertise to ensure that you bid on the right keywords.

Which is better – PPC or SEO?

If you are wondering whether to invest in PPC or SEO in Singapore, the answer is that both are beneficial to your business. The situation you are in determines which of the two marketing strategies you should implement.

Here are four case studies showing the ideal use cases for SEO and PPC.

Launching New Products

If you are launching a new product, it is likely that no one is searching for it on Google. In such a case, PPC is better than SEO, as it allows you to create awareness quickly.

Preparing a One-time Offer

If you are planning to launch a one-time offer, it makes sense to invest in PPC over SEO in Singapore. The alter takes Time, meaning that your event might be over before you rank on search engine result pages.

Promoting Commercial Content

PPC triumphs over SEO when it comes to promoting commercial content.  The targeting features supported by paid search ensure that your ads reach people who are interested in your content, making it the better way of promoting such content.

Building a Site to Sell

Website flipping refers to the practice of building websites, growing them and then selling then later at a profit. In this case, it is better to invest in SEO in Singapore because it does not require active monitoring. Once a site ranks on the first page of SERPs, its value will only continue to increase as it gets more traffic.

Contrarily, PPC requires continuous investment. If you stop paying, the traffic will reduce, and the website will lose its value.

How to Identify What Suits Your Business

If you are not in any of the scenarios mentioned above, you can use the steps below to choose between SEO and PPC.

Think of Your Potential Traction Channels

You should know the preferences of your target audience. For instance, if you deal will with professional services, you should advertise on LinkedIn.

Test Your Ideas

Once you identify a channel, test before investing your money. You do not want a platform that needs investment without generating an ROI.

Invest in the Best Channel

After testing, allocate more resources to the channels that generate the highest ROI.

How to Implement SEO and PPC Simultaneously

As seen above, both SEO and PPC are beneficial to a business. It is advisable to practice both if you have the resources.

Here is how you can implement PPC and SEO in Singapore concurrently.

Use Facebook Ads to Create Awareness

Facebook is the most popular social network. You can leverage its popularity to get new content to a broad audience within a short time.


Retargeting is where you target your ads to people who visited your site previously but left without completing the desired action. The majority of PPC platforms support retargeting.

Bid on the Keywords Used By Competing Businesses

You should research the keywords that your rivals are bidding on, and then use either PPC or SEO to create better content.


Although they work to increase the visibility of a website on search engines, PPC and SEO in Singapore are vastly different.  Ensure that you have both to increase the success of your marketing campaigns.

When done correctly, SEM and SEO will provide exceptional results for your digital marketing campaigns. However, the topic model is a plausible solution to the cons, and the challenges facing SEO and SEM centred digital marketing campaigns.

With that said, both SEO and SEM require that you tweak and refine the processes in order to get the right combination for a winning campaign. However, doing it yourself can be daunting and with the rapidly changing trends in Singapore, only a professional agency is equipped to handle the SEM and SEO for maximum ROI.

If you’re interested in a digital marketing career, not only should know how SEM and SEO function but also how both of these forms of advertising will change as people begin to rely more heavily on technology. In this way, you’ll be able to create a campaign for almost any industry online.

Contact us today for professional digital marketing services in Singapore using the most effective tools to track results. We offer free consultations and offer non-obligatory quotes.

June 22, 2018

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