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SEO or SEM: What to Choose for Your Small Business Website?

By: Luke Britton


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Medium and small businesses usually feel high competition if they operate in the same market as large businesses. A deliberate SEO and SEM marketing strategy can change everything and make a small business become a game changer. Also, SEM for small businesses is highly recommended to stand out from the crowd or promote niche products. In this article, we will explore SEO and SEM difference, and compare the SEO vs SEM role for a local business. Moreover, we will see the specifics of SEO and SEM marketing in digital industries.


Before we plunge into the description of SEO and SEM, and investigate their similarities and differences, let’s make both terms clear. So far SEO is already known to many marketing specialists as search engine optimization applied to websites. In turn, SEM is a relatively new term that stands for search optimization marketing.

Both SEO and SEM have the same objective – to promote the website on search results. This ensures high visibility on search engines and better traffic to the website or to its particular pages. Also, found out more about myths related to SEO and SEM.


Search engine optimization usually contains a set of approaches that are aimed to keep high positions on rankings in the long perspective. The methods used in SEO range from on-site actions to complex technical improvements on the backend of a website.

  • On-page SEO: This is a category of techniques and approaches executed on the front-end side of a website. In simple words, every component visible on a website could be optimized. Content, headings, keywords, meta descriptions, titles, and UX design concepts are among the most popular elements to adjust in on-page SEO.
  • Technical SEO: Unlike on-page SEO techniques, all optimization work is done on the back-end part of a website or other technical documents. This refers to web load speed, server-related tasks, XML sitemap, etc.
  • Off-page SEO: Activities in this group refer to the external world but always keep a website in mind. Link building, guest posting, and social media sources reflect the principle of off-page SEO. Learn how much does building link cost if you plan to integrate a link-building strategy into your SEO plan.
  • Local SEO: Very often this website optimization group is categorized as standalone. However, it contains the core characteristics of the three SEO types mentioned above with the difference of targeting local markets only. This implies the choice of keywords, content styling, and utilization of other features common to the particular area.


The marketing department’s goal is to increase brand awareness and promote the company’s products as a rule. Marketers tend to use paid methods such as advertising for achieving good results. When we talk about search engine marketing, the use of paid approaches and advertising that search engines offer is implied by SEM.

As a rule, SEM involves comprehensive keyword research and competitor analysis initially. Then those keywords are used to bid for PPC (pay-per-click) ads on search engines. Marketers may also refer to Gmail ads, YouTube ads, and other additional paid advertisement methods to make people aware of the website.

What Is SEO and SEM Difference?

As you already know the basic concepts of each strategy for the promotion of small businesses, let’s compare them using a range of criteria. Also, check this page to learn myths about SEO and SEM before we proceed. We will analyze SEO and SEM difference according to the amount of invested money needed, traffic growth speed, their duration in time, and duration (see the table below).

Criterion SEO SEM
Investment moderate moderate
Traffic Growth Speed low-to-moderate immediate
Website Ranking needs time no much impact
Duration long perspective short perspective

Investment: Advertising efforts are always characterized by incredible investments, so SEM obviously needs solid budgets. However, SEO also requires investments for sustaining optimization efforts over time.

  • Traffic growth speed: Referring to the newly created website, the traffic growth due to SEO efforts might be nearly unnoticed, especially at the start. Referring to websites with high domain authority, traffic growth might occur quickly. Meanwhile, SEM provides immediate results and brings your website to the paid search results for certain keywords.
  • Website ranking: Similarly to traffic growth speed, website ranking is not skyrocketing during the first SEO stages. SEM does not have much impact on organic ranking, so it tends to strengthen website characteristics that Google values for organic ranking.
  • Duration in time: While SEO needs some time to show its effectiveness, SEM shows immediate results.

Hopefully, this analysis has helped you to obtain a clear vision of what strategy is more suitable for your small business. Also, read The Investor’s Podcast to learn how to properly invest in SEO and SEM for achieving the desired results.

Best Practices in SEM for Small Businesses

If you need fast results for your small business website, then SEM would certainly be a good choice. Using paid search in SEM for small businesses tends to depict tangible results right away. You can apply SEM periodically, when it is needed to promote a product page or event page, for instance.

Anyway, it is highly recommended to consider the best SEO and SEM marketing strategy containing both components. The SEO approaches are effective in the long run and will serve your website for years with not much investment needed.

Published: April 13, 2023

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