SEM vs SEO the most important thing you need to know when launching a website or startup

By Shaun Symm, March 27, 2015
Laptop with the words SEO vs SEM on screen

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

If you are launching a new website, or a startup, you’ve probably heard these terms and may have a fair understanding of what they are.

But do you know when to use SEM and when to use SEO? Will you sit back and rely on SEO to bring traffic to your website from the day it goes live?

I hope not.

SEO is a long term strategy

SEO is the practice of getting your website found on search engines like Google for keywords that are relevant to what you are selling.

The problem is that there is usually a lot of competition for the keywords you want to rank for and so getting listed on the first page of Google is very difficult. It certainly won’t happen immediately.

SEO is a long term strategy and will probably take months, if not years, to rank on page 1 of Google for your chosen keywords. You might be able to speed this process up for long tail keywords or keywords where competition is low, but generally it takes time for a new website to prove its relevance and importance to Google.

Ok, but you need website traffic from the day you launch. What can you do?

There are loads of options available to you (press releases, guest blogging, social media, email marketing etc) but for the purpose of this post we will focus on Search Engine Marketing.

SEM brings traffic right now

Search Engine Marketing, or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, is an immediate strategy where you can see almost real time results. The downside is that unlike SEO, where organic clicks are free, you pay for each click you receive.

A Google Adwords campaign can be set up very quickly, and when done properly and in conjunction with well thought out landing pages, keyword and competitor research, the results can be well worth the investment.

SEM doesn’t work for every business, but it certainly should be something that you test to determine if it is a viable marketing channel.

Is SEO is free?

It is and it isn’t. Clicks from organic search results are free, but getting your website to appear in organic search results can take a large investment of either your own time or money spent on SEO professionals. It helps to pay an SEO expert who can help you implement a strategy and continually tweak the strategy to find the optimal solution for your website, but like anything you get what you pay for.

What does a Google Adwords campaign cost?

That’s up to you and what you are prepared to invest. You can start small and increase your investment once you are seeing results. The most important thing to consider when setting up an SEM campaign is knowing what you are doing. Without the right knowledge you could end up spending more per click that what you should pay. If you’re unsure of what you are doing then ask an SEM expert for help.


The key points to remember are:

  1. SEO
    • SEO is a long term strategy
    • SEO isn't free. It requires either a large time investment or supplier investment
  2. SEM
    • SEM is an immediate strategy
    • SEM costs can be reduced by optimising your campaigns and landing pages
    • SEM isn't ideal for every company, but a low cost test will help determine this

Digital Marketing Service

We regularly post articles on the Launch Lab blog about digital marketing, startups, web design and web development. Follow Launch Lab on Twitter to keep abreast of all our posts and news or contact us if you’d like to discuss a startup or website development project.

Let's chat

Contact Launch Lab for web design and web development quotes from a local onshore Australian design & development team