SEO VS SEM – Which One Works Best for Your Goals?

The number of internet users has grown dramatically over the past decade. Based on data collected by InternetWorldStats, 67.9% of the world population have internet access, and that percentage will continue to grow in the coming years.

Therefore, it is safe to say that almost everyone is online. This shift in people’s behaviour gives businesses more opportunities to promote their products or services to a global audience.

Besides social media marketing, the addition of ‘digital’ in marketing also gives birth to two digital marketing strategies: search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

Both are vital for improving website visibility, increasing traffic, as well as generating leads and sales.

Read on as we explore the differences between SEO and SEM, the benefits of each strategy, and how to determine which is best for your business goals.

Part I: Understanding SEO

Understanding SEO

SEO is about optimising a website or online content to increase its visibility and ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs).

This digital marketing strategy’s goal is to improve the quantity and quality of organic traffic to a website from search engines, which can be achieved through various techniques, such as optimising website content and structure, building backlinks, and targeting relevant keywords.

Since search engines like Google use complex algorithms to determine the relevance and authority of a website or webpage, SEO involves understanding these algorithms and optimising the website or content accordingly.

ALSO READ: An Easy Guide To Understanding SEO

SEO is an ongoing process that requires continuous monitoring, analysis, and optimisation to maintain and improve search engine rankings.

Benefits Of Using SEO

Here are some advantages of using SEO before you start learning about the SEO term that marketers often use when creating and implementing SEO strategies.

Benefits Of Using SEO

1. Increased Visibility

One of the primary benefits of using SEO is the ability to drive targeted traffic to your website. An optimised website can appear higher on search engine results pages (SERPs), which helps increase its visibility to potential customers, and eventually improve sales and revenue, making SEO an essential component of any digital marketing strategy.

2. Targeted Traffic

SEO can target traffic to a website using relevant keywords included in the website content. These keywords are words or phrases that people type on search engines to find answers to their concerns.

Let’s say, for example, you own a children’s clothing store in Singapore. The keywords you should include in your content can be:

  • “Children’s clothing Singapore”
  • “Kids clothes Singapore”
  • “Baby clothes Singapore”
  • “Toddler clothes Singapore”
  • “Children’s fashion Singapore”
  • “Kids wear Singapore”

All of these keywords are semantic to one another. Since Google uses semantic search, you can expect your content that contains these keywords to appear on your target audience’s SERPs.

You can also add location-specific modifiers to your keywords to target customers in specific neighbourhoods or regions in Singapore, such as “Children’s clothing store in Orchard Road” or “Kids clothes shop in Jurong East”.

Remember to use keywords that accurately reflect the products you sell and align with your target audience’s search intent.

3. Cost-Effective

Technically speaking, SEO is not free. However, it can be cost-effective in the long run if implemented correctly. If done well and the website is ranked number 1 on SERPs, it will lead to more traffic, leads and sales.

Invest a lot of time and effort into keyword research, content creation, link building, and technical SEO to optimise your website for search engines. Obtaining the necessary resources and expertise for these tasks comes at a cost.

You will also need to invest in SEO tools to implement effective SEO. Even though there are free versions, premium SEO tools have more features that can help streamline that process, whether keyword research or rank tracking.

By investing time, effort, and resources into SEO, you can generate targeted traffic, leads, and sales for your business.

4. Increased Brand Awareness

A higher search engine ranking can give your brand more visibility and exposure, as your website is more likely to be seen by potential customers.

When users search for keywords related to your business, products, or services, seeing your website at the top of the search engine results page can strengthen brand recall.

In the long run, that leads to increased brand recognition and credibility, as users are more likely to trust and click on websites that appear at the top of SERPs.

Over time, this can help to build brand loyalty and increase the likelihood of repeat business. By establishing your brand as a trusted authority in your industry, SEO can also help you to stand out from your competitors and differentiate your business from others in your market.

Types Of SEO Strategies

There are three main types of SEO strategies: On-Page SEO, Off-Page SEO, and Technical SEO. Listed below what they are:

Types Of SEO Strategies

1. On-Page SEO

It involves optimising individual web pages’ content to improve their visibility in search engines and attract more relevant traffic. Making these changes will make websites more relevant to users and search engines.

By targeting specific keywords and phrases, optimising title tags and meta descriptions, using headers to structure content, and optimising URLs and images, businesses can increase their rankings in SERPs and ultimately drive more conversions.

In addition to improving rankings, on-page SEO can improve the user experience by making content more engaging, easy to read, and accessible.

By providing high-quality, informative content that meets the target audience’s needs, businesses can establish themselves as the experts in their industry and build trust and loyalty with their customers.

Overall, on-page SEO is an essential component of any successful digital marketing strategy and should be implemented alongside other tactics, such as off-Page SEO, social media marketing, and content marketing drive long-term growth and success.

2. Off-Page SEO

This SEO strategy is different from on-page SEO. This approach uses SEO techniques outside your website to raise its position and exposure on SERPs rather than optimising its web pages.

To promote your website and its content, implement various off-page SEO techniques, such as link building, social media marketing, and brand mentions. These will eventually help improve your reputation and authority across the web.

Below are some of the common off-page SEO techniques:

  • Link Building – It is about acquiring high-quality backlinks from other authoritative websites to your website. The quality and relevance of the backlinks are crucial in determining the impact on your website’s ranking.
  • Social Media Marketing – Social media platforms can help increase brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. Creating engaging content that is shareable on social media can help to increase your website’s visibility and popularity.
  • Brand Mentions – Brand mentions are when other websites mention your brand or website without linking back to it. While they do not have the same impact as backlinks, brand mentions can still improve your website’s visibility.

3. Technical SEO

Technical SEO is about optimising a website’s technical elements to improve its search engine visibility and ranking. It involves optimising the website’s structure, coding, and performance to ensure search engines can crawl and index the web pages.

One of the most critical elements of technical SEO is ensuring that the website’s architecture is user-friendly and easy to navigate. It includes creating a clear sitemap, and implementing breadcrumbs and other navigational aids.

Technical SEO ensures a website is mobile-friendly and has a fast page load speed. That is a critical factor, given that most people access the web through mobile devices, and search engines prioritise responsive websites.

Also, this SEO strategy optimises the website’s code to ensure search engine bots can read and understand the content.

Part of its website optimisation is minimising loading time and reducing file size and cache. This ensures that businesses’ websites are easily accessible and visible to search engines.

Examples Of Successful SEO Campaigns

1. Anmako’s 130% Sales Increase Within 6-Months

The Singapore-based garment company Anmako wanted to boost traffic to its e-commerce website so they engaged an SEO agency to help them implement effective SEO strategies.

Anmako’s sales surged by 130% during the first six months of working with their selected SEO agency, and they were listed on Google’s first SERP.

2. Mandarin Self Storage Ranked On Page 1

Mandarin Self Storage partnered with OOm, their preferred SEO vendor.As a result, 96% of storage space rental-related keywords were ranked on page 1, and organic traffic rose by up to 25%.

Part II: Understanding SEM

Understanding SEM

SEM is a form of online advertising that involves placing ads on SERPs to increase website traffic and conversions. SEM involves bidding on particular keywords relevant to a business and paying each time someone clicks on an ad.

This digital marketing strategy allows businesses to reach their potential customers who are already searching for products or services similar to what they offer.

The fundamental principle of SEM is based on bidding on specific keywords that are relevant to the business. When a user types in a search query that matches the targeted keywords, the business’s ad appears at the top of the search engine results page.

It ensures that the business’s advertisement is highly visible and increases the likelihood of the user clicking on the ad. However, how quickly the SEM campaign will appear on SERPs still depends on the budget put in and competition for the targeted keywords.

SEM campaign on SERP

The cost of SEM is based on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, which means that businesses only pay when someone clicks on their ad. The bidding process determines how much a business will pay for each click. It makes SEM a highly cost-effective advertising method because companies only pay for the actual clicks on their ads.

Benefits Of Using SEM

To further understand SEM, below are some of its many advantages:
Benefits Of Using SEM

1. Possible Quicker Results

One of the main benefits of SEM is that it provides immediate results. Unlike SEO, which can take several months to see results, SEM campaigns can be set up quickly, and ads can appear as SERPs within hours of launching the campaign with sufficient budget that rises above competition.

That makes SEM an excellent option for businesses that need to generate traffic and leads quickly as possible.

2. Show Ads To Your Target Audience

Another benefit of SEM is that it allows you to target the audience you want. SEM platforms, such as Google Ads, provide various targeting options, such as geographic targeting, device targeting, and demographic targeting. That means you can ensure your ads are shown to the right people, time, and location.

3. Flexibility

SEM is a flexible marketing strategy that allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing market conditions. For example, if a company is running a promotion or a sale, it can quickly create and launch an SEM campaign to promote the promotion or sale.

If a business wants to target a new audience that is most often online in a particular time range, they can create, launch, and make their SEM campaign only visible for specific hours.

4. Competitive Advantage

SEM can also provide a competitive advantage to businesses. By running SEM campaigns, companies can appear at the top of SERPs for relevant keywords, even if they do not have a robust organic search presence.

It can help businesses gain visibility and drive traffic to their websites, even in competitive industries where organic search rankings are difficult to achieve.

Here is where the ads and organic results appear on SERPs:
Ads vs organic result on SERP

Types Of SEM Strategies

There are two types of SEO strategies: Paid Search Advertising and Remarketing. They are as follows:

Types Of SEM Strategies

1. Paid Search Advertising

Paid search advertising, otherwise known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, is a type of SEM strategy where advertisers pay for their ads to appear on SERPs. These ads are often shown at the top or bottom of the SERPs. They have ‘ads’ or ‘sponsored’ beside them.

Paid Search Advertising

To run a paid search advertising campaign, advertisers create ads that are triggered by specific keywords or phrases that users search for in the search engine. The cost of the ad depends on the competition for that keyword and the bid price set by the advertiser.

Paid search advertising has many advantages, including quick results, great visibility, and accurate audience targeting. A high level of competition for the same keyword might quickly drive up the price.

2. Remarketing

Remarketing is another type of SEM strategy that allows businesses to target users who have already shown interest in their products or services.

By using cookies and tracking technologies, businesses can collect information about users who have visited their website or app and create custom audiences to display targeted ads to them.

The screenshot below is an example of remarketing. A potential customer visited a flower shop online, and they allowed ‘Accept All Cookies’, which enable tracking technologies to collect enough data about the potential customer.

Remarketing Example

The purpose of remarketing is to help businesses to reach users who are more likely to convert into customers since they have already shown some interest in the brand. By displaying personalised ads to these users, businesses can increase the chances of converting them into paying customers.

Moreover, remarketing can also help businesses to increase brand awareness and recognition. By repeatedly displaying ads to users who have previously interacted with the brand, businesses can reinforce their messaging and make their brand more memorable.

It can be particularly useful for businesses that operate in competitive markets, where brand recognition and differentiation are critical factors.

Examples Of Successful SEM Campaigns

1. Motherswork Manages To Grow Revenues By 32%

Motherswork, a company in the online ‘mummy’ space, initially had a significant market share compared to its competitors. The issue, though, is that the growth of online markets like Shopee and Lazada put their market share in danger.

Motherswork SEM Campaign

Motherswork decided to engage with a digital marketing agency that offers SEM services to combat this. The brand was able to gain a 34% increase in transactions and a 32% increase in revenue.

2. Helen O’Grady Drama Academyf

Another successful SEM campaign is from Helen O’Grady Drama Academy. Before hiring a digital marketing company, Helen O’Grady Drama Academymanaged its search ads in-house but failed to generate enough clicks and online sign-ups.

After outsourcing their SEM needs in Singapore, the agency conducted extensive research to determine the appropriate target audience and keywords. They also implemented conversion tracking to monitor campaign effectiveness.

Helen O’Grady Drama Academy SEM Campaign

As a result, the client experienced a 40% increase in impressions and a 48% increase in click-through rate from the ads to their website. That led to more sign-ups and fully-booked classes.

Part III: SEO vs SEM

SEO and SEM are two vital components of digital marketing that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.

As mentioned above, SEO is a technique used to improve the visibility and ranking of a website in organic search engine results pages.

It involves optimising the website content and structure to make it more attractive to search engine algorithms, which help ranking higher in search results.

SEO requires a long-term strategy and a continuous effort to improve the website’s content, technical structure, and backlink profile.

Meanwhile, SEM is a type of digital marketing that involves paid advertising in SERPs to increase the visibility of a website.

It is highly probable that businesses can increase their website traffic by using SEMand having their paid advertisements prominently displayed at the top of search results pages with sufficient budget to rise above competition. However, the downside is that this traffic stops as soon as the advertising budget runs out.

Key Differences Between SEO And SEM

This table provides a quick summary of the key differences between SEO and SEM, which can be helpful for anyone trying to decide which strategy to use for their digital marketing efforts.

Key Differences Between SEO And SEM

Part IV: The Right Time To Implement SEO And SEM

There is always a perfect timing for everything. Knowing when is the right time to implement SEO and SEM can help you get the most out of these strategies and improve your campaigns.

When To Implement SEO

Consider using SEO if you want to raise the exposure of your website and draw in organic traffic. Here are several situations where it makes sense:

1. Launching A New Website

Implementing SEO should be one of your top considerations when building a new website. Search engines can efficiently crawl and index your website if its structure, content, and meta tags are optimised.

This will make it simpler for potential clients to find your website by helping it rank higher in search results.

2. Improving Organic Traffic

It’s time to engage in SEO if your website is not receiving enough organic traffic. You may increase your website’s visibility in search results and get more traffic by choosing the appropriate keywords, producing high-quality content, and optimising your website’s technical features.

3. Increasing Brand Awareness

By enhancing your website’s exposure in search results, SEO can also assist you raise brand awareness. You may make sure that potential clients see your brand when they search for related phrases by placing higher for relevant keywords.

When To Implement SEM

If you want to increase the exposure of your website and immediately attract traffic, think about employing SEM. Several scenarios where SEM makes sense are listed below:

1. Launching A New Product Or Service

SEM can be useful if you’re launching a new product or service and want to see results right away. You may increase visitors to your website, generate leads, and close transactions by generating customised advertising and placing bids on pertinent keywords.

2. Promoting Time-Sensitive Offers

SEM can assist you in spreading the word rapidly if you have an offer or campaign that must be done right now. You can quickly create traffic and sales by generating advertising and selecting targeted demographics.

3. Competing In A Crowded Market

SEM can make you stand out if you’re competing in a crowded market with plenty of other businesses. You may increase traffic, and create leads and sales by bidding on pertinent keywords and producing engaging ads.


SEO and SEM are both essential components of any successful online marketing strategy. While SEO involves organic methods of improving a website’s SERP, SEM involves paid advertising to promote a website on SERPs.

Budget, timescale, competition, goals, and audience should all be taken into account when choosing the optimal plan for your internet marketing objectives.

You may increase website visibility, traffic, lead generation and sales by selecting the best plan for your company to expand your business online.

Visit OOm (, a leading digital marketing agency in Singapore to outsource your SEO and SEM needs.

About the Author!

Kathlene Go, a senior writer at OOm, specialises in SEO, social media, and digital marketing. Her curiosity drives her to explore various interests and cultures, inspiring unique ideas. In her free time, Kathlene indulges in her love for reading books, watching movies, and enjoying a cold beer with friends.

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