SEO & SEM: Knowing the Difference For Your Business

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Today, an effective digital marketing strategy is a necessity for a business to thrive in Hong Kong. If you are a new business or someone who has never done digital marketing before, you might be wondering about which strategies are worth the investment. For newer companies, there might be a debate between SEO versus SEM as they are the top choices for industry experts.

Both are great strategies that can elevate your digital marketing to another level. While there is certainly nothing wrong should you opt to add both in your arsenal, knowing the difference between SEO and SEM can help you maximise your chances and get your desired results. After all, while both work in the digital landscape, there are important differences between the two that may affect your overall approach.

backlink profile

In this article, we compare SEO and SEM and give you a list of considerations to keep in mind before you start working with a digital marketing agency in Hong Kong.

What is SEM and SEO?

SEM and SEO are both highly effective search marketing strategies that aim to help brands out by making them more noticeable in searches. This can be done through making efforts to get higher rankings and increasing search visibility, ultimately leading to an increase in traffic to a website or specific webpages.

In order to fully understand SEO and SEM’s difference, it’s important to note that Google search results are primarily divided into two categories: organic search results and paid search results.The difference between SEO and SEM lies in their respective focus.

google search engine results page

Search Engine Optimisation

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, focuses on getting traffic from organic search results. With SEO, you can gain visibility on SERPs without having to pay for the top placement. In order to get high organic rankings, local businesses will need to utilise several SEO services in Hong Kong to ensure that their website and pages are fully optimised.

SEO is continuous too, as it changes and adapts based on the algorithm that Google uses. Today, with over 200 ranking signals used in Google’s algorithm, SEO has branched off into several aspects that contribute to a page’s ranking.

There are four main subcategories that greatly affect  search rankings:

  • On-Page SEO: On-Page SEO revolves around optimising your pages to include your targeted keywords in the meta description and page content.
  • Off-Page SEO: Off-Page SEO focuses on fostering trust and authority around other websites. This includes building high quality backlinks and utilising other off-page signals such as social media shares to increase expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
  • Technical SEO: Technical SEO focuses on the, well, technicals. Technical SEO ensures that your pages are crawled and indexed by search engines. Aside from that, technical SEO also deals with page speed and site structure.
  • User Interaction Signals: Google also watches out for how users interact with your page. Based on these user interactions, Google will adjust your rankings accordingly. If your page has a high bounce rate or if the search engine finds that your targeted keyword isn’t appropriate for your page, then your rankings may drop.
search engine marketing on a tablet

Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, on the other hand concerns itself with both organic and paid search results. Unlike SEO, SEM requires you to spend advertising money on a per-click or per-impression basis. This allows your pages to be quickly seen in SERPs.

Search Engine Marketing in Hong Kong can be a good choice for your business if you’re hoping to see fast results. With SEM, you don’t need to wait for indexation or organic rankings to drive in traffic. If you’re able to get the highest bid for your targeted keyword, your ad will automatically appear in the top part of the results and as long as you are able to pay for it, you’ll remain on top.

Despite focusing on paid search results, SEM still involves being tactical and strategic. Similar to SEO, SEM also has some things that may affect how effective your ads are.

Here are some factors that may affect your ad’s effectiveness:

  • Bidding: SEM ventures into paid ads, which heavily relies on bidding. The ranking of ads is usually proportional to how much you bid, so if you see your ad ranking first, then you’re probably the highest bidder for that keyword.
  • Quality Score: Quality Score is an important metric for Google Ads as it measures whether your ad is a good match to searches. Quality scores measure several factors such as clickthrough rate, landing page quality, and the overall quality score of your Google Ads account. Having a high quality score may lead to getting a discount on each click!
  • Ad Copy: Your copy can be a huge factor for users to click and interact with your ads. Keep in mind that the more people interact with your ad, the more likely it is to get a higher quality score and therefore a discount on click prices.
SEM dashboard

When should you use SEO and SEM?

Most experts will say that ideally, you should be using a combination of both in your digital marketing strategy. However, situations for each business and their respective goals will vary. Knowing the difference between SEO and SEM lets you distinguish which is more appropriate to use when pursuing your marketing goals.

If you’re still having a constant debate in your head asking, “SEO vs SEM.” we’ve made a simple checklist of thing to consider when finalising your digital marketing strategy:

Use SEM when:

You have a consistent ad budget

Since SEM operates with the goal of utilising paid search results, it stands to reason that you’re going to be needing a consistent ad budget should you choose to pursue SEM. Keep in mind that with SEM, you can set a strict budget–which means you won’t have to worry about going overboard. If you already have a consistent monthly budget for your digital marketing pursuits, then using SEM should definitely be in your books.

You want a decent amount of traffic in a short period of time

In the great SEO vs SEM debate, one of the best selling points of SEM is that it can drive traffic to your pages in a short amount of time. By virtue of SEM focusing on paid search results, you can get more traffic to your website in a shorter time period since you won’t need to wait for Google to crawl, index, and rank your page before traffic comes in.

You want to promote seasonal goods and services

If you’re promoting seasonal products, SEM would be your best option. With SEM, you can target keywords that push users into buying your products. Considering SEM’s speed, you can easily drive in traffic that could lead to conversions for your seasonal products.

You have the ability to launch and test landing pages

One of the basic rules in SEM and PPC is that you need a targeted landing page for each ad or ad group. If you have the capacity to optimise and maintain these landing pages, then you are in a good position to maximise SEM.

Google Search Console

Use SEO when:

You have a very limited budget

Unlike SEM, SEO does not require you to pay on a per-click basis. Since SEO primarily focuses on organic traffic, then this is the best strategy for businesses that have a limited budget. Note that even though SEO does not use paid marketing strategies, it is not a completely free digital marketing tactic as it needs several tools and time to become effective.

Still, SEO pricing in Hong Kong will be cheaper than that of SEM, so if your business has a tight budget, SEO should definitely be on your marketing strategy list.

You can rank for informational keywords

When it comes to SEO, content reigns supreme–which is why if you’re sure that you can create amazing content for informational keywords, then you should definitely add SEO to your digital marketing strategy. Keep in mind that with informational keywords, you can’t really expect conversions. However, if you’re planning on driving traffic to your pages and you’re sure that you can deliver valuable content to users, then SEO is definitely the way to go.

You’re building long term and stable inbound organic traffic

When you do SEO, it is important to keep in mind that results don’t show instantly. Unlike SEM, SEO results manifest after months of optimisation. However, these results are great ways to build long term relevance and traffic among users. If your business has the time, then SEO is a great way to ensure that you have a constant source of traffic.

You are good at link building

While amazing content is a requirement for your SEO rankings, it won’t be enough to secure the top spot in organic searches. For your page to rank, you need to obtain links for relevant and trustworthy websites. If you have a serious link building strategy, then you should definitely go with SEO.

digital marketing team in Hong Kong

SEO vs SEM: Which is better?

Given the difference between SEO and SEM, it would be completely unfair to say that one is better than the other. The answer to this question truly depends on what your goals and situations are. After all, if you are a business hoping to get traffic and conversions during the holiday season, SEO wouldn’t be your best bet.

SEO and SEM are both incredibly powerful search marketing strategies that businesses need to adapt to thrive in this increasingly competitive and digital world. Here in Hong Kong, you can get ahead with the right strategy and the assistance of experts for your business.

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