SEO vs. SEM—which one is better and which one should your business focus on? The answer is either one or both. Which approach you want to use will depend on how well your six levers of growth are functioning.
Before we get into the six levers of growth and why they matter to your overall marketing strategy, let’s discuss what SEO and SEM are, and why the question of which one is better isn’t the real question, you should be asking.
SEO vs. SEM: What's the Difference?
What is SEM?
Search Engine Marketing is “the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.” SEM is any kind of marketing that is analyzed and indexed by search engines. SEM could include your social media pages, website pages, blog posts, videos, or any other content or copy that you create that gets picked up by search engines.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is defined as “the process of getting traffic from free, organic, editorial or natural search results.” It is considered a component of SEM.
SEO encompasses everything you do to optimize your website, and possibly some off-site activities, to rank higher in organic search results. The focus of SEO is to make your website more readable to search engines so they will readily serve up your content to someone doing a web search.
So, your question shouldn’t be which one is better. It should be, “What exactly should I do with either of these and how does it fit into my business?”
6 Growth Marketing Case Studies That Will Surprise You
So, what happens if you decide to invest in SEM? What if you only do SEO? Do you get more traffic?
If done correctly, yes. SEM and SEO will both bring you more traffic—but what then?
What happens with that traffic? Is it targeted? Are the people you attract actual potential customers? If so, what then?
Companies that have had a horrible web experience, and have a problem with conversion, should NOT do SEM. They should only do SEO because conversion problems are only going to put a ton of waste into their PPC spend.
But, if you have a conversion problem, what good is a ton of SEO traffic going to do? You may not be paying per click, but the problem is the same.
Whether one is better than the other is not the question in 2020 because both work, but they don’t drive your results. Your company needs to have all six levers of growth working to achieve the kind of results you want.
The six levers of growth are:
SEO and SEM are both powerful, and both of them work, so it's not an issue of either/or, it's more likely you need to do both. SEO and SEM are both in the awareness lever.
You should only invest in building awareness when your other levers are working. Otherwise, all your efforts are going to experience friction, and you'll waste a lot of time and budget trying to "RANK ON GOOGLE" when ranking doesn't move the needle.
Receive your free copy of our Growth Playbook to discover the secret strategy we use for ourselves and our clients, and keep reading for 6 of our growth marketing case studies that will surprise you.
You have to know what your brand stands for and whom it serves before you can tell people about it. Increasing brand awareness starts with identifying what benefits your products or services bring to your customers and who your ideal customers are.
The more you understand your ideal customers, the better copy and ads you can create to get their attention and make them aware that you even exist. Once you have their attention, you have to entice them to interact with your brand further.
By creating engaging and persuasive copy, you encourage them to subscribe, contact, purchase, or whatever action you want them to take to further their relationship with your brand.
“Lean Labs spent a lot of time understanding our business first before recommending a plan. Understanding who we are, who we are serving, what we’re good at, what we can do better at, and then really digging into the weeds on how to implement best practices, putting together an action plan, and then executing on that plan.
With a lot of the content that they create for us, they get into the mindset of a customer and think about the pain points and challenges our customers are having. They write compelling content that is not only interesting to read but very actionable as well. There’s a lot of good takeaways.
Lean Labs is improving the communication with our customers, as well as the ability for our customers to understand what we’re solving.” - Matt Reid, Chief Marketing Officer for EZ Texting
With our help, EZ Texting was able to increase its pageviews to 36,000 per month, increasing their brand awareness, and that has generated more than 1,000 qualified leads organically month after month.
“Work with Kevin and Lean Labs because you will not be disappointed. I consider Lean Labs an extension of my marketing team. I’ve been the one to engage them with the last three companies that I’ve worked with.
I have used them for migrating sites over to the HubSpot platform or creating brand new websites from the ground up. The line between Lean Labs and High Fidelity is almost imperceptible; they feel more like partners than a vendor.
Lean Labs is incredibly goal-oriented. Every time I bring them on for engagement, it’s oriented around, “What are you looking to achieve? What does success look like? How can we help you achieve that success? They’re not only customer-centric towards their clients, but they’re very customer-centric about who your clients, customers, and target audiences are.” - Ashleigh Harris, Chief Marketing Officer
We were able to help High Fidelity clarify their message and incorporate it throughout their website so they could attract and convert more qualified leads.
Predictive Index contracted us to help them rebrand and redesign their company and website within 90 days.
We helped them create a new buyer journey with a clear value proposition so that their customers would understand what their company could do for them right away when landing on their website, and they have a higher chance of converting.
We were able to deliver everything that they asked for within the specified timeframe, and as a result, they saw their lead generation increase from 0.6% to 1.9%! We are continuing to work with their company to optimize their brand experience through growth-driven design.
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the process. Lean Labs is incredibly competent. The experience has been incredible.” - Drew Fortin, Vice President of Marketing for Predictive Index
“Working with Lean Labs, the experience has been very positive. We worked together to relaunch our website. Now we’re working on strategically driving more traffic and converting leads.
With Lean Labs, it’s not about driving your numbers up. It’s about the quality of those numbers. Making sure you’re targeting the right kind of customer, so you’re not just driving a bunch of numbers, but quality leads.
Work with Lean Labs because they’re a true partner. It’s not about working versus them or around them. I truly view them as an extension of our marketing team. They’re aligned with your success. They’re working strategically, and it’s about success metrics. It’s about quality and not about quantity. It’s worth that value.” - Ayelet Wiedermann, VP Marketing for CampaignDrive
CampainDrive asked us to create a high-value digital experience for their customers. We helped them fulfill this goal by utilizing growth-driven design, fresh messaging, and optimized buyer journeys.
“Our experience with Lean Labs has been fantastic. We came to Lean Labs because we were hoping to redevelop our website and bring it to a new baseline that we could use as the foundation from now into the future.
The first thing they did was put together some benchmarking based on our budget and our needs, in terms of our current team resources. They developed a plan. They seemed to be hitting way above the benchmark that we set for success.
We agreed to a plan that would have been good, but they performed above plain. They said, “Here’s how we will work with you and how we work going forward. I appreciated that.” - Robert Fenton, Founder & CEO of Qualio
We helped Qualio maximize its revenue by changing its entire mindset to a customer-centric approach. By focusing on their customers, we were able to exceed the goals we helped them set at the beginning that defined their vision of success.
“When I first joined RocketSpace, I was kinda the first official marketing hire that the company had had, and I felt like it needed a sort of cohesive end-to-end marketing technology stack and structure.
There are so many things I’m proud of working on with Lean Labs. Top of the list is increasing website traffic by more than 500% in less than two years, ranking number one in organic search results, and we’ve increased lead conversion by 700%.
That makes my salespeople very happy, and I like it when salespeople like the marketing people.” - Ashleigh Harris, Chief Marketing Officer for RocketSpace
Our growth experts helped reflect RocketSpace’s unique commitment to technological innovation and stewardship throughout the new website they contracted us to build.
Hire a Growth Team to Fill Your Talent Gaps
As a startup or smaller company, it’s not cost-effective to hire people to fill talent gaps in-house. A good growth team should be able to provide the specialized services you need at a fraction of the cost.
A growth team helps you fill talent gaps for positions such as website designers & developers, copywriters, growth strategists, graphic designers, and much more.
Not filling your talent gaps with the right people results in broken levers. You need all six levers of growth to be functioning at optimal performance if you want to generate tons of qualified leads, convert those leads into customers, and keep them coming back for many years to come.
Contact us to find out how we can help you by becoming your outsourced growth team and download your free copy of our Growth Playbook to learn the secret strategy we use for ourselves and our clients.