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How SEO and SEM Drive Traffic From Different Types of Customers

SEO and SEMIn order for your company to be as successful as possible, you must constantly strive to improve your search engine rankings. By doing so, you can expand your reach and increase your traffic. Google and other search engine platforms wield incredible value as outlets for both organic and paid search.

The Differences Between SEO and SEM

Many marketers understand that both search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) serve an important purpose in their efforts to reach potential customers. But SEO and SEM, for all of their apparent similarities, can have very different functions and results. The most basic difference is that SEM requires a form of payment, while SEO is free. In addition, SEM offers high visibility and search result prominence, while SEO is more fluid and natural in how it provides results. Even the timeliness of generating ROI are very different: While SEM can turn around results immediately, SEO takes time, patience and diligence to pay off.

Information vs. Intent

The differences aren't solely based on functionality, though. During "Ask the SEOs," a recent panel at SMX Advanced 2015, panelists noted that while SEO and SEM drive traffic from the same source, they do not attract the same type of traffic. Search Engine Land reports that "when asked about the differences between paid search and SEO, the panelists agreed that paid speaks to a different part of the sales cycle — a more transactional intent — and that SEO is better for providing information."

As the panelists pointed out, the key difference between SEO and SEM is the motivation behind a consumer's decision to click on a link. The general trend relates to where that consumer stands in relation to the sales funnel, or in other words, how close he or she is to committing and making a conversion.

Clicks to organic search results tend to occur more in the information-gathering stage of the process. This is the point when consumers research the product or service they're looking to purchase and sort out their various options. This likely means that these consumers are clicking on an array of different organic search results from different competitors.

In contrast, when consumers click on paid search ads, they are likely doing so with the intent of making a specific purpose. When customers click on paid ads before going through the list of organic results, they have likely already decided exactly what they want, and the paid link has provided a path for them to make that purchase.

Thus, the value of SEM is that it has the potential to contribute to conversions and transactions at a higher rate than SEO. Though this doesn't diminish the value of SEO, it should affect how you consider each of these channels. Paid search is generally a more reliable source of conversions, while the strength of SEO lies in brand visibility and developing consumer trust.

Keep in mind that the role of SEO in information gathering can still move consumers farther down the sales funnel, ultimately pushing them toward conversion. Whether paid or organic, a strong search engine presence plays an essential role in your company's ability to seek conversions and build an online presence.

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