Which Is Better for E-Commerce: Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing?

Topic:Which Is Better for E-Commerce: Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing?” If you work in e-commerce and haven’t been living under a rock, you know about the debate between SEO and SEM. SEO and SEM are both terms that can mean something different to different people. So let me explain what I mean when I use these words. None of these definitions are exhaustive, but they are accurate and easy to understand.


Search Engine Optimization is when you do things on your website, like keeping a certain keyword density, or on other websites, like building links, to rank higher on search engine results pages (SEO).


Search Engine Marketing is when you pay search engines to send you qualified traffic through a pay-per-click system (SEM). It’s easy to say that SEM is much bigger than what I just said and that SEO is part of it. I’m separating SEO from other SEM activities so that we can come to some conclusions we can act on.

Which Is More Beneficial for E-Commerce Businesses?

If I could answer this question convincingly with “this one,” I’d be among the most in-demand e-commerce marketers. As you might have guessed, the answer is “it depends.” I know that doesn’t sound like much help, but don’t worry, things will get better.

SEO Works Better Since

  • You spend money once and get benefits for a long time.
  • When you do well with SEO, you have a strong competitive advantage that is hard to copy in a short amount of time.
  • SEO is usually not very good on e-commerce sites. So, even a small amount of work can pay off significantly.
  • Users tend to trust organic results more when they can tell the difference between organic results and ads.
  • Cost per visitor is expected to be a small part of what you end up paying for SEM campaigns in the long run.

SEM spending has become too expensive in some industries to be worth it.

Why SEM is superior

  • SEO campaigns can take months to show results, but SEM campaigns show results right away.
  • Clearly, you understand what you’re paying for and can figure out how much money you make back (RoI).
  • With changes to search engine algorithms, your SEM spending won’t be worth anything all of a sudden.
  • Once you find the winning combination, it’s easy to keep growing your SEM strategy.
  • It’s up to you and doesn’t depend on what a few Stanford PhDs and their friends decide.
  • Most e-commerce companies see that PPC traffic converts better per visitor than organic search traffic.
  • You get to decide what happens to your brand name and other things.

Which Is the Best, Then?

The lists above make it clear why the pros and cons are important. SEO and SEM are important for e-commerce businesses, so they can’t be ignored completely. Here are some things you can figure out:

  • If your e-commerce site is brand new, you can’t wait around for SEO to work. So, it would be best if you spent most of your time and money, say 90%, on SEM activities and the other 10% on SEO.
  • As time goes on and you get better at SEO, you can gradually put more and more resources into it.
  • Since you will always want to promote something “right now,” you will always have to rely on paid traffic. Over time, you should be able to spend about the same amount on SEO and SEM.

SEO vs. SEM: The Battle

How quickly can you generate sufficient traffic?

Getting traffic to an eCommerce site is one of the biggest differences between SEO and SEM. Running an SEM campaign involves paying Google to show your ads. Because of this, your audience immediately sees your ads in their search results. The eCommerce website owner gets instant (and often massive) traffic.

But if you choose SEO, you’ll need to do better SEO than the pages that are already ranking for the keyword you’re going after.

This part is hard to tell. Depending on a page’s link profile’s strength, it could take months or even years to get ahead of it in the rankings. This is why experienced marketers like to do KW research. They are looking for keywords where low-quality pages rank high in the search results, so they can easily beat their competitors’ SEO.

Important Reminder

It’s easy to get stuck in an SEM-only strategy because that’s what works at first. But the price per click could soon go up to a point where your business might not be able to keep up. So it is also good to work on your organic leg. Also, SEO is becoming a moving target that is hard to keep up with. You might want to consider using content marketing as an SEO strategy. Content marketing seems to have a lot of life left in it.

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