SEO and SEM. An overview of SEO and SEM

Search engine optimization and SEM

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are the two search engine gateways that helps users find your website. One is time consuming and the other one can be expensive. So which one is best?

Search engines define them as “organic” and “paid advertising” results. Where SEM is something you pay for in terms of buying keywords that would define your business, SEO is how well your site is optimized in terms of coding, content, server performance, links etc.

Actually, there are many factors that are taken into account when search engines “rank” your site. We will run a few here and explain why it’s so important to have an optimized website when it comes to attracting potential new clients’ attention.

How search engines rank your website continues to change and Google has continuously over the past 10 years made major changes to their way websites are ranked. But every major change has always had the focus on favoring users and what will give value to them.

And ever since Google changed their algoritm to accomodate for user-signals, like bounce rate, time spend on website etc. The requirements for a high position ranking on Google has increased. So websites are now ranked based on how valuable your content is to your users.

So let’s say that you run a webshop and to attract users you display your products directly on google. However, if the user clicks the product and goes to the website to see that the product is out of stock or the price is not the same anymore, the user backpedals to Google to find another listing. This will be noticed by Google and will rank your website lower because the user behaviour tells that the information was not what the user was looking for.

“together with the quality of content, the user signals generated by interactions – like Click-Through Rate (how frequently search results are clicked on, also CTR), the Time on Site (how long a user spends on a page) and the Bounce Rate (percentage of single-page sessions) – can now be considered amongst the most important ranking factors”
Source: searchmetrics

Although the platform, performance, content and links are still the primary ranking parameters, it’s becoming more and more clear that Google and other search engines are analyzing user behaviour and utilizing it in the index ranking.

So why is SEO so important?

Well to answer that question, we need to look at some data. Many companies spend lots and lots of money on paid advertising such as Google AdWords. Depending on the keywords they buy it can become a rather costly affair. But is it a good investment?, maybe? But would it be just as good to have an SEO optimized website that ranks your website in the top on relevant searches?
Let’s look how SEO compares to SEM and if they are actually comparable to begin with.

One thing is for sure. We as users have become much better in distinguishing relevant content from irrelevant, by just looking at the search results. A study made by Inbound CPH in 2016-2017, a Danish SEO based company, shows that 42 % of 50,5 million visits to 21 danish major websites came from “organic” search. In comparison, only 23,9 % came from paid search.

Interestingly, it also shows that the bounce rate is remarkably lower for “organic” results. So users already know that “organic” results are more likely to give them what they need. It seems users have a subconscious way of choosing the “organic” results in favor of the “paid” ones.

On top of that, users generally clicks more and spends more time on the website after clicking on “organic” results.

Is SEO better than SEM then?

So does this mean that we can conclude that SEO is better than SEM? Well, no, Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Why? Well users are smart, that’s why!

Users search all the time for everything. It’s become their second nature and they are researching much more now because the internet gives them access to all kinds of information.
When a user is interested in a product they conduct online research on price, reviews and store acknowledgement.

81% percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. 60% begin by using a search engine to find the products they want, and 61% will read product reviews before making any purchase. On average, a consumer will visit 3 stores before making their purchase.
Source: adweek

WPP in London made an analysis that proves that users are very research orientated before making a decision to purchase a product. A customer journey generally starts with research where most of the traffic comes from organic results. Less comes from paid results because users realise that organic results doesn’t try to sell them something and because the user is still in research mode organic results are preferred.

When the user becomes more interested and goes from the initial research state into the consideration and comparison state, they are more inclined to click on paid results than before. So something happens in the research phase, that triggers a different search approach. Usually the brand awareness increases, and when users search for brands in particular, they are ok with clicking paid results more. In fact, users are more inclined to click on paid results than organic ones when they are in purchase mode.


Users are very smart. They will not fall for your marketing stunts. Spending lots on paid search will not do it alone, However, neither will the improvent of the SEO performance of your website.

The answer lies in the combination. And always providing users with anticipated content when they use either gateways. User signals caused by interactions tell google and thereby everyone else, whether your website is providing what the users want.

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