SEO vs. SEM vs. Content: Demystifying the Beef

Table of Contents

Psst. Before you dive in, you should know that this piece was written by three Uproerians: Alyssa, Tatiana, and Brenna. While we may all have unique responsibilities, we work together to reach our clients’ goals…just like SEO and SEM.

"SEO and SEM are two different things - they must work separately."

Hi there. Alyssa (Content Specialist) here.

We bet you've heard that above quote before. I know we have.

We also know that SEO and SEM have developed this unspoken "beef," which no one seems to be able to pinpoint, but everyone has accepted.

After all, SEO focuses on organic traffic, while SEM focuses on slinging ads…and they should never overlap, right?

Here's the kicker: SEO and SEM can't operate efficiently when they're separated.

What if we told you there was a way to unite them…

Content has entered the chat.

…by getting rid of the division and combining SEO, SEM, and content to form a holistic search strategy.

Breaking Down the Barrier Between SEO & SEM

It's Tatiana (Sr. Paid Search Analyst) here. Let's start by identifying the barriers that are so often palpable between SEO and SEM teams. They often start due to the nature of the work: similar goals but wildly different tactics. This can create some tension (or "beef" as we like to say) between the teams. Let's dive in.

The "Business as Usual" Barrier

Fundamentally, we see the main barrier being a "business as usual" approach. Humans are creatures of habit, so there's an "old-school" way of looking at SEO and SEM separately from a variety of perspectives.

The C-Suite, managers, and other stakeholders tend to see the two separately for a couple of reasons. There are two paychecks being written to separate people. There are two different people getting the work done, likely with two differing titles. The reasons go on, and they all point back to the "this is the way we've always done it" ideology.

With this sort of "business as usual" mentality, there's often another barrier created for young professionals on the education front. If you're fresh out of college or new to the industry, and your mentor or manager tells you "SEM and SEO are two totally different things, different strategies" or something along those lines, why wouldn't you believe them? (Please take their statement with a grain of salt and finish reading this article 😊)

The "Jumbled Client Priorities" Barrier

Another barrier we see rests on the client's side of things. Clients almost always understand they need both SEM and SEO. However, they often don't understand how the two work together and why we might have similar initiatives across verticals.

In my experience, clients will often prioritize one over the other. They're rarely like "yes we love and need both and they're of equal priority to us."

Ecommerce clients tend to love the quick results that paid can generate, sometimes leaving SEO tasks on the back burner. And SaaS clients sometimes see it the other way around: SEO is the primary focus, leaving paid out in the cold (dramatic right? I like it.).

From Barriers to Beef: SEO vs. SEM

The culmination of these barriers, (you guessed it) creates another. Within the SEO and SEM teams, division is created.

It can seem like SEM is fighting for the resources that SEO is eating up. We're all fighting for budgets, fighting for the client's attention, etc. Maybe not fist fighting, but dynamics are created nonetheless. These dynamics (a) are not fun to work in and (b) can lead to a fractured SEO and SEM approach.

In our opinion, that type of work culture, and potentially fractured service for our clients, just won't cut it. We want to be a united front in strategy and an extension of our client's internal team.

Let's get real here: ads and organic content have to coexist. Neither is going anywhere, anytime soon. So at Uproer, we take the approach of working together and maximizing SERP real estate for our clients.

Here, SEO content (blog posts, website pages, etc.) and SEM content (ads, landing pages, etc.) are like tacos.

Life's better when you have both a hard taco and a soft taco, right? Right. Por que no los dos.

What Does Content Do for Paid Search vs. SEO?

TL;DR: they do the same thing (basically).

Content serves nearly the same purpose for both SEO and SEM, we just look at different metrics.

Say SEO wants higher organic rankings and SEM wants the top ad position that takes up the most real estate. High quality, relevant page content, metadata, etc. lead to stronger keyword rankings organically.

The same, plus relevant ad text and keywords being bid on, leads to those top ad spots and max real estate (among other factors) in SEM.

The list of examples goes on. But at the center of both SEO and SEM is landing page content and the user experience on the page or website. We all need content. So, it's time to be intentional: combine forces to build integrated strategies that act like one-two punches to conversion.

Combining the Forces of SEM & SEO

Brenna (Content Specialist) jumping in here. By combining SEM and SEO, you can have your cake…er taco…and eat it too.

While you can see success with SEM and SEO separately, you can reach even better success when you use them together.

Can you publish successful, lead-generating search ads without conversion-focused landing pages? No. Can you boost organic rank without valuable and engaging blog content? Also no.

But do you know what you can do? Use all of that content, from your ads to your blog copy, to reach total SERP-world domination.

A Case Study: The Wallpaper Effect

We don’t just say things around here to add to the search marketing industry noise. We know what happens when you combine SEO and SEM.

Meet, the Wallpaper Effect.

Recently, we achieved this effect for one of our SaaS clients. The wallpaper effect occurs when both paid and organic results appear together on the front page of the SERP.

It gets better. We found that when organic and paid results show up together in the SERP, our click-through rate (CTR) increases by a whopping 30%.

It was through the efforts of both organic content development and paid ads that we made this happen. That's right—through SEO and SEM.

We focused on a specific set of keywords across SEO and SEM by optimizing both our ads and organic content for those keywords.

The results don't stop there. We've achieved the wallpaper effect for multiple clients by harnessing the power of both organic and paid efforts.

In this example, our client achieved results such as $135k attributed revenue on 1.9k transactions and $308k assisted revenue on 4.7k transactions. Taco-bout a win (tired of the taco thing yet?).

With SEO and SEM working together, organic content (i.e. blog posts) is helping potential customers find both of these clients and paid content (i.e. ads) is working on the close.

Content, in all of its many forms, is being combined into one holistic strategy to drive results.

Search Marketing Is a Highway

"And I wanna drive it All. Night. Long." Now that you have that stuck in your head, here's an analogy the brilliant Tatiana shared with all of us:

"SEO is the strong and steady interstate—you move at a steady and safe pace to get to where you need to be. SEM is the high-speed bullet train—you launch and get results quickly. You need both."

The high-speed bullet train can get you moving toward your end goal at record speed. But that highway can take you from your starting point to the station, and then from the second station to your final destination.

SEO and SEM were meant to support each other. Using them together is the most efficient way to see results.

How Do We Combine SEO & SEM Effectively?

How do we achieve results like the wallpaper effect? Good questions! Here's our secret:

We use a holistic search strategy.

What do you want to ultimately achieve with search marketing? Do you want to drive revenue? Build brand awareness? All of the above? Each marketing tactic you use should help push you toward that goal. Otherwise, your tactics will eventually begin to work against each other.

SEO and SEM shouldn't have separate, siloed strategies. Instead, they should come together into one cohesive, holistic strategy that's built with your end goal in mind.

At Uproer, we ensure both our SEO and SEM teams are collaborating from start to finish on all accounts. Strategic decisions are formed and executed together.

SEM and SEO work to uncover keyword opportunities that are beneficial to both organic and paid initiatives.

SEM and SEO work to optimize content (in all of its forms) for search.

SEM and SEO work together to ensure content is consistent across all mediums.

When we approach search marketing this way, the focus moves from the methods we use to the results we achieve.

No beef, just benefits. 🌮

For SERP-World Domination, Call (Email) Uproer.

A holistic search marketing strategy isn't built overnight. If you want to start combining SEO and SEM to dominate the SERPs, you need some support. Luckily, you're in the right place. Reach out to our team today by sending us a quick message.

Brenna Miles

Brenna Miles

Brenna has been writing since she could hold a pencil. However, she began her career as a copywriter by burning the midnight oil as a freelancer several years ago. Fast forward to now, and Brenna is still passionate about writing, editing, and developing content that connects with others and makes a true impact.

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Sr. Manager, SEO & Operations

Dave Sewich

Dave made an accidental foray into digital marketing after graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth and hasn’t looked back. Having spent the first part of his marketing journey brand-side, he now works with the Uproer team to help clients realize their goals through the lens of search.

When not at work, you’ll find Dave staying active and living a healthy lifestyle, listening to podcasts, and enjoying live music. A Minnesotan born and raised, his favorite sport is hockey and he still finds time to skate once in a while.

Dave’s DiSC style is C. He enjoys getting things done deliberately and systematically without sacrificing speed and efficiency. When it comes to evaluating new ideas and plans, he prefers to take a logical approach, always sprinkling on a bit of healthy skepticism for good measure. At work, Dave’s happiest when he has a chance to dive deep into a single project for hours at a time. He loves contributing to Uproer and being a part of a supportive team but is most productive when working solo.

Founder & CEO

Griffin Roer

Griffin discovered SEO in 2012 during a self-taught web development course and hasn’t looked back. After years of working as an SEO consultant to some of the country’s largest retail and tech brands, Griffin pursued his entrepreneurial calling of starting an agency in May of 2017.

Outside of work, Griffin enjoys going to concerts and spending time with his wife, two kids, and four pets.

Griffin’s DiSC style is D. He’s driven to set and achieve goals quickly, which helps explain why he’s built his career in the fast-paced agency business. Griffin’s most valuable contributions to the workplace include his motivation to make progress, his tendency towards bold action, and his willingness to challenge assumptions.