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SEM VS SEO Which is better for startups
SEM VS SEO Which is better for startups

SEM and SEO Which is better for startups

Online marketing strategies vary widely from company to company, but most of them include at least one of two key terms that you may have heard before — Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Now the question is between SEM and SEO which is better for startups or ground growing company

If you’re not sure what these terms mean or how to implement them, don’t worry — you’re not alone! We’ve created this guide to explain what they are and how they can help your startup grow its customer base.


SEO and SEM are both essential parts of your online marketing strategy. 

SEO can help increase traffic to your website organically, with little to no budget. At the same time, SEM allows you to purchase traffic from various sources, such as social media and search engines.

Due to their unique advantages, both SEO and SEM have their place in your online marketing strategy. 

If you’re looking to increase traffic and grow your website as fast as possible, with long-lasting visibility, it’s best to do both at once.

However, when starting a startup, you might only be able to afford one. So which should you choose? These are all things that we will look at in this article. 


Understanding How SEM and SEM Work

SEO and SEM are different strategies that focus on getting your business found online by customers. 

Both are important to consider if you want your website to be found on search engines, but which one is right for you and your business? Understanding how SEM and SEM work can help you decide which strategy to implement first. 

What is SEO?

SEM VS SEO Which is better for startups
SEM and SEO Which is better for startups

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to strategies that help websites rank higher in search engine results.  You can think of SEO as a way to make your website visible on search engines, and it’s an essential component of digital marketing. 

Search engines like Google and Bing use algorithms to determine which sites are most relevant when someone performs a search. 

These algorithms consider several factors, including backlinks, traffic, content quality, user engagement, etc

When your website has good SEO, your business page will appear in search engine results more often than if you don’t have good SEO. 

In other words, when people search for things related to your business, they’ll find you faster on Google or Bing because those search engines will display your site before other competitors who aren’t taking advantage of SEO. 

You may even see higher click-through rates from users who arrive at your site via organic listings versus paid ads.  

Your customers are going to be searching online with various phrases related to your products and services. Making sure they find your website quickly makes them more likely to become paying customers. 

SEO can also help rank your site higher when people do searches that are directly related to what you sell. For example, if someone searches for dentist Chicago (or any location-specific keyword phrase), Google will show a map at the top of the results that allows users to narrow down their search by zip code—which will include dental offices that are located within Chicago.

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Best techniques to boost SEO


SEO (search engine optimization) involves increasing your website’s visibility in search engines. SEO efforts can be largely automated and is a ‘one-time form of marketing, requiring little to no ongoing effort after initial implementation. 

You will be getting visitors straight away as search engines will naturally pick up on keywords you’re optimizing for without any additional action needed from you.  

Also, you don’t need a large capital to implement this marketing strategy. 

Finally, while Google’s algorithm changes frequently, most experts agree that it values quality content above everything else. So if you create content that truly helps your target audience solve problems and provides value to them, then Google will reward you by showing your page more often in organic search results. 

However, while there are many advantages to using SEO for startup websites, there are also some disadvantages that need to be considered.


Below are the disadvantages of SEO for startups.

  • SEO does not attract immediate traffic but instead provides a long-term marketing strategy. 
  • It takes time to build up an SEO strategy, which may not be ideal for an early-stage company that wants to get a fast start. 
  • Additionally, there’s no instant ROI with SEO, so some entrepreneurs and investors may find it challenging to justify spending time and money on search engine optimization as part of their online marketing strategy. 

Furthermore, while search engines do update their algorithms frequently, they rarely make major changes, meaning many websites can fall out of favor quickly if they don’t take care to ensure they stay compliant with search engine standards. 

In other words, your website could lose its place in Google rankings without warning. This can be especially problematic for startup companies who rely heavily on search engine traffic to generate sales leads.

What is SEM?

SEM and SEO Which is better for startups 1

SEM allows you to purchase traffic from various sources, such as social media and search engines.

Common types of paid ads that fall under SEM include: 

  • Google AdWords, 
  • Search engine result pages (SERPs) (Sponsored Links).
  • Mobile search advertising.
  • Bing Ads

This type of advertising is excellent for brand awareness and can help drive sales from customers who are already looking for a specific product.  


SEM has many advantages, but it can take time to learn and implement. 

While SEO helps you rank higher in search results over time, SEM provides instant visibility as soon as you start advertising your website. 

This can help drive instant traffic and boost brand awareness when you need to launch quickly. 

  • SEM allows you to get hyper-targeted results with your advertising. For example, let’s say you run a pizza shop in New York City; wouldn’t it be great if you could only show ads to customers who live within 10 miles of your store? Well, now you can! Just set up geo-targeting on Google AdWords and show local customers relevant ads based on their current location. 
  • It’s so easy to scale your campaigns over time: SEM is an ideal solution for small businesses looking to grow fast without spending too much money upfront. 
  • If you already have a website and want more traffic from organic search results and don’t have the whole time to wait for SEO, then SEM might be the right choice for you—instead of trying to rank higher organically, you could just pay Google every time someone clicks on one of your ads! 

In addition, there are several different types of SEM such as;

  •  Display Advertising (banner ads) 
  •  Pay Per Click Advertising. ( Also known as Serch ads )

You may find some overlap between these categories; for example, PPC campaigns can appear on social media platforms like Quora and Pinterest. 

If you’re considering starting a campaign with one of these strategies, it’s best to research each one individually so you know what they entail. Finally, keep in mind that any type of SEM will require professional assistance.


Drawbacks Of SEM

Though paid search can be an extremely powerful and scalable online marketing channel, it does have a few drawbacks. 

First, each time a user clicks on an ad, you’re charged money—this means that if you pay per click (CPC), you’ll quickly see your advertising costs add up. 

In addition, most businesses using paid search find that their ROI isn’t very high because users often aren’t ready to buy when they click on an ad. Instead, they tend to do more research about products before clicking through—but if you’re paying per click, you still end up losing money even though your product didn’t sell. 

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If you have a low budget to spend on online marketing, you may be wondering whether to focus your energy on search engine marketing (SEM) or search engine optimization (SEO).

As with most things in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to which strategy is best for your business. 

While SEO can take longer to see results than SEM, it has been proven over time that SEO leads to more sustainable growth over time—and it’s not as susceptible to shifts in algorithms as those seen by Google Penguin and Panda updates. 

If you need immediate traffic and conversions, then SEM might be a good option for your startup. 

However, have it in mind that once you start spending money on advertising, it isn’t difficult to turn off or change if your campaign isn’t working out how you expected. 

For example, when Facebook rolled out its new algorithm last year, businesses saw a significant drop in reach; they couldn’t just stop paying for ads without losing all their followers overnight. 

So, while starting with SEM might seem easier, it could end up costing you more in terms of wasted ad dollars if you are selling a product or service that is new or doesn’t have enough information to back it up. In contrast, SEO takes longer to get started but provides long-term gains. 

The key is striking a balance between them so you get a mix of immediate results from SEM coupled with sustainable growth from SEO over time.

Factors That Can Affect Your Decision

Many factors determine which strategy works best for your business. Here are a few important ones to consider when deciding between SEM and SEO. 

  • Audience: Is your target audience mostly made up of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, or older? Age is an important factor because it can help you determine how likely someone would be to search online for products like yours. 

If you’re targeting people over 65 years old, they may not be searching online as much, hence you should consider SEM as your marketing strategy.  


This is just one example of how audiences play into which strategy will work best for your business. 

  • Budget: How much money do you have to spend on advertising? What are your marketing goals? 

The size of your budget will impact what strategies you decide to use. For example, if you only have $100 to spend on advertising per month, you probably won’t want to invest in pay-per-click (PPC) ads. 

Perhaps, if you have $1 million to spare each month, PPC ads could be a viable option for reaching new customers quickly. 

Industry Competition: Are there already established competitors in your industry? If so, what type of tactics are they using to market themselves? Are there any specific companies that stand out from the rest? You should look at these companies and see what kind of advertising strategies they’re using. 

You should then take note of what methods are working well for them and why then implement similar strategies to promote your own company. 

Social Media Platforms: Where are most of your target audience spending time online? Do most users browse Facebook daily or are they more active on Twitter? It’s important to know where potential customers hang out online so you can tailor your advertisements accordingly. 

For example, if you’re selling women’s shoes and most of your target audience hangs out on Pinterest, then Pinterest Ads could be a good investment. 

Keyword Research: Once you know who your target audience is and where they spend time online, start doing keyword research to find out what words they typically use when searching for products like yours. For example, let’s say you sell handmade dog toys. 

If you were to run a Google AdWords campaign targeted towards keywords such as dog toy, dog chew toy, dog bone toy, etc., you would end up paying way too much for clicks. Instead, try running an ad campaign targeted towards keywords such as dog gifts under $10, gift ideas for dogs, etc., which will get you cheaper clicks but still reach your target audience. 

The Industry Perspective

There’s a lot of debate around SEO and SEM, but SEO expert Matt Cutts has made it clear that choosing one over another can be harmful to your marketing strategy. 

Picking between organic search and paid search isn’t a binary decision; it’s more like a continuum. 

For example, if you have an established brand with high-quality content that attracts lots of links naturally, you might not need to invest in paid advertising. 

However, if you’re just starting and trying to build up your reputation on Google, you might want to consider investing in pay-per-click ads (PPC) as well as working on building a quality presence on social media platforms. 

A good rule of thumb is to split your online marketing budget 50/50 between SEM and SEO or settle on SEO only if you don’t have a large budget. 

According to a recent study by WordStream, almost two-thirds (64%) of small business owners feel they don’t have enough money to spend on both SEO and SEM, hence they result in SEO only. 

The Startup Perspective

If you don’t have a big budget to work with, SEO is likely your best bet. Though it might take time to see results (6-12months) 

You don’t need an expensive online marketing strategy—just a few solid SEO tips. 

If you want to test both strategies, start with SEO and eventually add some of these tried-and-true SEO techniques as your budget allows. 

Then, once you’ve mastered SEO, consider moving on to SEM. Your startup will be ready for more advanced digital marketing strategies in no time! 

Organic VS Paid Search

Organic search results are free, which makes them appealing to business owners. 

However, paid search results appear in a higher position on Google’s page and drive more targeted traffic to your website. A combination of both strategies can be especially effective at improving your site’s visibility, click-through rate, and conversion rate.

If you don’t have much budget to start with, consider focusing on organic SEO instead of paid search until you improve your site’s performance organically. 

Then, once you’ve established yourself as an authority in your niche, use paid search to further promote your brand.


When it comes to having an online marketing strategy for your start-up’s new website, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two key strategies to consider. 

The two are both incredibly useful when it comes to bringing in relevant traffic and making sales, but they also have subtle differences that might make one a more attractive option than another depending on your business goals. 

You need to think about how much time and money you can invest into each channel. If you want to try out SEO first because it doesn’t require as much cash flow as SEM does, then go for it! But if your startup needs quick results now rather than later, then SEM may be worth looking into sooner rather than later.

Richard Odds

Richard Odds is a Digital marketer SEO expert, and a business strategy planner, Chief Editor at Mss Resource where I help small business owners and marketers generate more leads, new paying users, and optimize their funnels with data-driven Marketing & SEO tips that work.

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