SEO & SEM: Weighing the Pros and Cons

For many people, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are two sides of the same coin. But SEO and SEM each have their own unique pros and cons – and understanding those pros and cons are critical to building a successful digital marketing strategy.

Both SEO and SEM will get your brand in front of customers, but in different ways and at different costs.

Defining our Terms

SEO: Search Engine Optimization encompasses all the various methods for generating traffic to your website through organic search results. This includes on-page and technical optimization as well as trust factors (link building).

SEM: Search Engine Marketing covers paid advertising on the various search engine platforms available to marketers and businesses. These advertisements are typically pay-per-click (PPC), but the field of SEM is more narrowly focused (search engines) than PPC advertising – which includes social, native, and other advertising formats.

SEO Pros and Cons

Search engine optimization continues to be one of the most powerful marketing tools available today. And the importance of SEO isn’t likely to diminish in the next decade. Even with a focus that is shifting toward voice search, the basic principles of SEO remain the same.


Lasting Results: While some elements of optimization are ongoing, the results you get will last at least until the next major algorithm update (or until your competition gets serious about SEO).

Trusted Results: Search ads will appear above organic results, but most consumers trust the organic results more than the paid-for spots at the top of the page. Building SEO is building trust among your customer base.

Good for People: The process of optimizing your website for SEO is also good for people. A clean, clear site that loads quickly will move you up the rankings and give your business a professional image to searchers who stumble across your site.


Slow-ishSEO success doesn’t happen overnight. You must be willing to put at least four to six months of work in before you really start seeing positive results.

No Guaranteed Success: Working to optimize your website will always help, but there are no guaranteed results in the world of SEO – especially if you are going the DIY route. A professional SEO agency will get you better results, but even then, reaching that number 1 spot is never guaranteed.

Know Your Audience: Optimizing your page to reach the right audience requires you to know what they are searching for. If you are optimizing for the wrong keywords, then all that work is wasted on the wrong audience.

SEM Pros and Cons

Search engine marketing is one of the fastest ways to get customer eyes on your brand – but that doesn’t mean there are no cons to pursuing an SEM strategy. For some businesses, SEM gives just the quick boost you need to start seeing success.


Quick Results: Paying for SEM gets you instant results. You can get on page one the same day you start paying – a powerful tool when you consider the months or years-long commitment to SEO.

Audience Data: Running an SEM campaign will give you powerful data about the people who are interesting in your brand. While SEO requires that knowledge upfront, SEM lets you adjust as you see who your ads are reaching.

A/B Testing: Advertising on search engines allows you A/B test your ad copy until you get it just right. This is perfect for new businesses that are still perfecting their brand identity and voice.


Not Lasting: SEM gets you instant results, but you lose those results the minute you stop paying. It’s ok for a short-term boost but paying for SEM ads can’t be your only long-term strategy.

High Effort: From a distance, PPC advertising looks like you can set it and forget it. But successful SEM requires constant tweaking and refining – along with an eye for analytics and copy optimization.

High Costs: Depending on your industry, SEM or PPC advertising can get expensive. In some markets, you will pay $100+ for each click. If those clicks are converting into valuable leads, that is ok. But that’s a big investment if you aren’t getting the conversion you need.

What’s Right for You?

Determining whether to pursue SEO or SEM is a difficult decision but understanding the pros and cons of each method is a great place to start. SEM is perfect for a quick-hitting boost and SEO is perfect for long-term, sustainable growth.

For many businesses, a combination of the two provides the best results – SEM for the short term and SEO for the long term. But we understand that not every budget allows for such a comprehensive campaign.

At Fusion Group USA, we can help you build and execute the perfect digital marketing strategy. Contact us today to learn more!

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