If you want to drive more traffic to your website, you’re probably asking yourself the following question:
Should I focus my resources on acquiring organic traffic, or should I pay for that traffic instead?
Tough question, right?
Although these two types of traffic fulfill the same goal, the methods of attracting them are different. .
More specifically, you’ve got to choose between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
You can apply SEO and SEM on multiple search engines, like Google, Bing, Baidu, etc. But as Google holds over 92% of the global search engine market share, we will focus on this search engine.
That said, let’s compare these methods, find out their pros and cons, and see what might be the right approach for your business.
Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving your website’s visibility in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), so you can attract more organic traffic.
The way it works is that once users type a specific query in the search bar, they’ll see a list of links related to that query within the SERP.
These links appear in the order based on various ranking factors, which mostly revolve around the content and quality of a web page.
In other words, the better your website is, the higher you will rank in the SERP and the more organic traffic you will attract.
1. It's cheaper
We’ve talked to some experts from a company that offers web design in Miami, and they said that one of the main advantages SEO has over SEM is that it’s cheaper to run.
If the content you provide is top-notch, your user’s experience on your website is on point, and you’ve got backlinks from authoritative sites, you’ll naturally rank higher in the SERP.
Consequently, you’ll attract organic traffic at almost no cost.
2. You can target multiple stages of the conversion funnel
No two users are the same.
Some may have just found out about your business, while others may already know about you and are comparing your business to your competitors. And some are ready to buy your products.
Consequently, users will type different keywords when searching for something related to your industry.
SEO allows you to create content that caters to each stage of the sales funnel. You just need to rank for the appropriate keywords.
Thus, you’ll be able to appeal to different segments of your audience and potentially increase conversions over time.
3. Traffic is consistent
As long as you maintain a high position in the rankings, traffic will flow to your website consistently, without much effort on your part.
With SEM, on the other hand, once your budget depletes, your ad will be taken down from the SERP, and you’ll stop generating traffic.
And given that organic search drives 53% of traffic, while paid search drives only 27%, SEO might be more beneficial in the long run.
1. It’s a long-term commitment
SEO isn’t a one-and-done process. It might take four to six months until you start seeing any results.
Meanwhile, you’ve got to keep enhancing your website’s user experience, providing quality content, generating backlinks, etc.
Furthermore, Google updates its search engine algorithms 500 to 600 times a year. Most of the changes are minor, but Google sometimes rolls out larger updates that may have an impact on your rankings.
To stay on top of your game, you’ve constantly got to keep an eye out for anything new and make adjustments if necessary.
2. It requires expertise
SEO is a vast field within itself: it covers On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, and Technical SEO.
Each one of these branches requires specific skillsets.
For example,On-Page SEO requires you to optimize your web page content for search engines and users.
This includes optimizing the title tags, writing quality content, improving user experience, etc.
Off-Page SEO requires you have to focus on acquiring authoritative backlinks.
Technical SEO refers to how well search engine bots crawl your website.
To help them, you’ll need to find and fix any broken links, reduce loading times, and so on.
In other words, if you don’t have the necessary knowledge, you’ll likely have a hard time making the most of what SEO has to offer.
3. It’s competitive
The first five organic listings within the SERP account for 67.60% of all clicks. This can lead to fierce competition.
If you’re competing against the giants within your industry and don’t have the resources to keep up with them, your SEO efforts may be redundant.
SEM is the process of improving search engine visibility with paid ads.
With Google Ads, companies can create advertisements placed above organic listings, which is an advantage right off the bat.
These ads are charged on a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model, meaning that websites have to pay for each user that clicks on the advertisement.
Google sets a price on a keyword, and websites have to bid on it. Your position in the paid search results will depend on your maximum bid and your quality score.
1. It’s a time saver
In contrast to SEO, SEM will bring you immediate results.
You can drive thousands of users to your website as soon as your advertisement is up and running. With SEO, this could take you months to accomplish.
Furthermore, a PPC ad campaign is easier to implement as you can set it up in a matter of minutes.
Lastly, PPC ads aren’t influenced by Google’s algorithm changes. Consequently, you don’t have to spend the time lookingout for updates or making adjustments.
2. It attracts a targeted audience
SEM gives you the ability to pinpoint your target audience. You can set your PPC campaign to display ads at specific hours and target people from particular locations and demographics.
As a result, you can attract users that are more likely to convert.
3. It’s easier to optimize
A PPC campaign gives you the ability to run two advertisements at the same time. You can use this to your advantage by doing A/B tests.
A/B testing the process of comparing two different versions of the same ad to see which one performs best. Consequently, you can figure out which copy is most effective, at what times of day you attract the most clicks, etc.
You could also do this in SEO. But as PPC ads bring traffic almost immediately, you can figure out what works and what doesn’t much faster.
1. It can get expensive
If not done right, PPC ads can leave a hole in your wallet.
After all, you have to pay for every user that visits your website by clicking on the ad. But this doesn’t mean that all of your visitors will make a purchase.
In other words, you’ll lose money on each user that doesn’t convert.
2. It’s not viable in the long-run
PPC ads are fueled by money, and once your budget dries up, your advertisements disappear from the paid search results.
If you don’t have an SEO presence established, you won’t be able to drive any more traffic to your website.
What’s the right approach for you?
If you’re on a tight marketing budget, you should go for SEO.
It might take you some time, and you may still need to spend some money, but once you manage to get on top of the organic listings, traffic will start flowing naturally.
This makes SEO more promising in the long run.
Furthermore, SEO allows you to target each stage of the sales funnel.
But if you’re aiming to drive traffic strictly to a sales or landing page, you should opt for SEM as it brings results right away.
If done right, advertisements can drive leads with high purchase intent, increasing your conversions as a result. This can be especially handy during holiday sales or other limited-time offers.
Tomas is a digital marketing specialist and a freelance blogger. He is focused on new web tech trends and digital voice distribution across different channels