• Two Roads Diverge in a Wood: SEM AND SEO


When you set out to create a presence on the web – drawing in new clients, creating a new digital life in order to drive new business – how will you know which path is right for you? Often, your choices seem overwhelming. Your path seems unclear.

There are many questions to ask yourself to strike a balance between your business goals, financial limitations, and overall resources:

  • Should I allocate a large amount of money to create a helpful digital presence?
  • Would a smaller amount over time be the right choice?
  • Does the money I spend now give me a worthwhile Return on Investment (ROI)?
  • Does my business have the time, the breathing room, it takes to ensure that it is done right?
  • Or, do I need new business now?

These questions can be daunting, but necessary when looking to improve an existing digital presence, or create a wholly new one.

However, with all of the interconnected technology and information that exists in cyberspace and the world of online marketing, it doesn’t have to be. There are simpler options to get you rolling at the speed, pace, and budget that suits your comfort level. With the right marketing expertise, talent, and resources, your journey on the information superhighway can be anything from the Autobahn to a Sunday drive.

By employing either of the two elemental tools of online marketing, SEO and SEM, your business can be transformed into an online force providing lucrative, organic results and building awareness of your brand.

SEO: Time to Grow

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) uses a number of cooperative online and offline strategies to help search engines determine the validity of your website and improve its position in search results. Online elements such as content, HTML, and architecture are directly controlled by the SEO campaign. Offline elements, influenced by readers, visitors, and other publishers, help to build a site’s credibility and make it more relevant in a modern search.

Online Elements:

  • Content: Quality of words, research, and engagement through fresh subject matter
  • HTML: The layout and design of the website
  • Architecture: Processing speed and compatibility

Offline Elements:

  • Linking: URLs within the website
  • Social Media: Client engagement through digital word of mouth
  • Customer Trust: A company’s authority for its visitors and history in the industry. Examples include: Yelp, Zagat, customer reviews and testimonials, and Google search results
  • Personal History: Where the company is located, geographically, and how well liked they are by visitors.

These elements create optimal organic results through web searches (e.g. Google, Yahoo, Bing). Often, keyword-rich content on a website will raise the rankings of that site, making it appear towards the top of search results within a certain locality. Local, national, even international awareness, along with business volume and potential profits, can be increased with good SEO.

Sound perfect? It is, if you have the time and resources to do it. Much like green and growing things, signifiant and visible results take time as search engines begin to recognize the changes you’ve made. Instead of immediate gratification, your ROI, the “bloom” of your growing optimization, requires patience and understanding.

According to Jill MacEachern, top engineer at Look Smart Search Advertising, average turnaround times for a successful SEO strategy can be 6 months or longer. You may be reluctant, even unable, to invest that amount of time or resources into building your results (you need the business now, not 6 months from now).


The alternative, SEM (Search Engine Marketing), puts the creation of your digital awareness into overdrive with the addition of more marketing tools than your standard SEO package. SEM still adheres to the tenets of the SEO process: using keyword-rich content to drive results and strategy. However, according to experts, like Heather Fletcher, Senior Editor at Target Marketing Magazine, SEM also provides you with a tangible immediacy. This managed process can be beneficial in pushing web traffic your way and increasing volume for your business right away, rather than gradually. The secret is the magic of direct marketing and the use of paid advertising.

Have you ever seen, at the very top and the sides of search engine results, the shaded boxes with two or three links highlighted? Those are links to businesses that have decided to indulge in a paid advertising strategy called Pay-Per-Click (PPC). PPC advertising drives business to new heights because they are listed first and foremost on search engine results pages (SERPs). These ads have pinpoint accuracy with subject matter, and can target a specific geographical location close to the business to improve relevancy.

When using SEM and PPC, you don’t have the average “wait time” for your ROI of six months or more. You can begin to see results (measured in clicks on your ads) in more like three. More clicks means more prominence for your business name and more high-quality scores for your website on major search engines like Google. However, according to Aj Kumar, contributing writer for Entrepreneur.com and SEO expert, SEM campaigns can, on average, be more costly than SEO, but often the customer volume that is driven through your web results more than pays for the cost of the campaign.


Since the advent of the Internet in the 1990’s, paid advertising was in the form of “pop-ups.” These were, for the most part, unhelpful and annoying. People quickly learned that these ads contained spyware, viruses, and other such nasties, and so always closed them upon seeing them.

PPC challenges this idea of online ads being bad. Today, PPC ads are legitimate and placed at the top of results on a Google search page in their own designated, color-coded area. They are not harmful pop-ups. They are companies and services who paid good money to be the top result and, potentially, the most helpful to your search.


There are excellent benefits to both SEO and SEM, depending on your preferences, finances, and time. With SEO, your organic results improve gradually over time, and through a combination of online and offline elements and light management. With SEM, the ROI is more immediate but with greater expense of resources. There is both financial and time costs to the PPC marketing system, and bidding for top spot.

Both marketing strategies can be equally expensive. Your decision lies in the length of time for the ROI and in the style of results. Managed properly, both will lead to successful results and excellent public awareness of your industry. For the greatest edge online, your best decision is to take advantage of both strategies, positioning your business for the new digital age.


Interested in learning more about SEM and SEO? Check out PropelSEARCH and PropelOPTIMIZE!


ThriveHive combines easy-to-use tools and expert guidance to help businesses stand out and get found online. Learn more about our guided marketing and advertising solutions here.

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