What is the Difference Between eCommerce SEO and SEM?

If you’re looking to grow your eCommerce brand, there’s no better method than increasing your search engine presence.

After all, just about everybody these days hops on Google or Bing when they’re looking for a particular product. By having a solid strategy, you can ensure your website shows up on the first or second page of search results, increasing overall traffic and, ideally, improving sales conversions.

However, there are a couple of different ways you can do this. One focuses primarily on organic keywords, and the other relies on paid advertising.

As a business, it is really important to understand the reasons for use and benefits of each one. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

What are the basic differences between SEO and SEM?

While they are sort of related, there are quite a few differences between SEO and SEM. Understanding these contrasting elements is key to figuring out how to incorporate them into your digital marketing.

The most common differences you should be aware of include:

  • SEO focuses on organic traffic and keywords. It is a long term strategy that takes time to generate increasing traffic, better search engine results positions, and an increase in eCommerce sales.
  • SEM utilizes paid advertising via search engines, which causes ads to appear at the top of the search results pages (SERPs). It often works more quickly than purely organic traffic but can be much costlier to implement.

Once you understand that both involve advertising on search engines and that the main difference is how and where your listing is placed, you can move forward with implementing both of them into your eCommerce advertising strategy.

Which costs more – SEO or SEM?

There’s a marked difference between the overall cost of SEO and SEM.

In most cases, SEO is nearly free. It costs nothing but time to continually do keyword research and create content around the search terms you want to rank for. This on-page effort ensures your eCommerce store provides the information necessary to build customer trust while improving your overall search engine rankings.

However, there is a bit of a caveat to this.

If you hire an eCommerce marketing agency, you might need to spend a bit more on content creation and on-site optimization than if you attempt the process yourself. But there is no cost per impression and the content acts as a way to grow the overall footprint of your online store.

SEM is the more expensive option. Depending on how aggressive you want to get with your advertising, your ad spend budget could be hundreds to thousands of dollars per month.

The good news about this is that you’re all but guaranteed traffic, which has the potential of increasing your sales in a hurry. Of course, you could also spend your entire budget on paid advertising and not see a huge return on investment, so it is definitely somewhat of a monetary gamble.

Is one better than the other?

This is a question that many eCommerce marketing experts hear from brands looking to grow.

The truth?

One isn’t really better than the other for growing your business, but the differences could make one a wiser choice for your particular brand. 

For example, remember the old story about the tortoise and the hare? One took the slow and steady route, while the other whizzed his way through. That’s sort of how the difference between eCommerce SEO and SEM plays out.

SEO is the slow and steady option. While it might take you longer to rank, when you finally do, there’s a good chance that you’ll see a pretty steady stream of targeted traffic without having to pay upfront costs. Plus, more consumers say they trust unpaid listings more than the paid ones.

SEM is the speedy choice. Sure, you don’t have to wait to get that coveted first-page spot on Google, but it will cost your budget a fair amount depending on how many ads you place, the keywords you choose, and the amount of times that term is searched for in a given month.

SEO vs. SEM: Why a Combined Approach is Best

Now that you know where each one falls within the overall digital marketing sphere, you can see why a combined approach is usually best for most eCommerce brands.

The best eCommerce SEO agency teams will tell you that using content marketing and optimization in conjunction with paid advertising is the most efficient way to have consistent growth.

Mix it up. Write a couple new blog posts and category pages with optimized keywords per month to help out your overall search engine optimization.

Then do a few paid ads for a similar term, but don’t go overboard. Combining the two can really help you reach both your short and long term digital marketing goals.

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Michel Solanch
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