Semalt: What To Choose SEO or SEA? 

SEO or SEA? A question that concerns many entrepreneurs. To appear at the top of Google search results and thereby generate more traffic - who doesn't dream of it? In this article, we will take you by the hand and guide you through the SEO vs. SEA maze so that you can ultimately find the right path for you and your business.

SEM - this is how search engine marketing works

SEM which stands for Search Engine Marketing, has the task of directing Google searchers to your site. Of course, to be discovered at all, you have to be as high up as possible in the Google SERPs on the search results page - because that is what ultimately brings the greatest increase in traffic.

You have two options for this: SEO or SEA

But where are the differences between the two marketing instruments, what are their advantages and disadvantages? And which method do you use to land in the coveted top places on Google?

SEA search engine advertising

Search Engine Advertising, i.e. SEA, stands for all paid search engine results that are displayed in the ranking above or below the organic results. So is the coveted first place much easier with a financial investment than with SEO?

To achieve this on Google, for example, you have to place an ad, with Google Ads, that is also marked as such. Google offers space for up to four such ads above the SERP and three below it.

As a website operator, in addition to campaigns, ad groups and keywords, you have to set a maximum cost-per-click (CPC) beforehand, which then decides in real-time whether your ad will be placed in certain search queries or not. You pay this price per user click on your ad, whereby it is recalculated at any time based on the search volume of your favourite keyword - depending on how fiercely the market is currently competitive for this search term.

If your competitors have set a higher price for the same keyword, they will make the running in the rankings.

Users also often click on the first ad in the SERPs out of habit

In the case of imprecise control, this leads to unnecessary costs - and that without achieving the desired conversions.

But it's not just the price per click that decides, but also the quality of your ad. Here, Google uses the quality score to decide whether and how relevant your ad text and website is for the user's search query.

The big advantage of an SEA measure, however, is that you can precisely define your target group and thus minimize wastage. You can also optimally evaluate the results you have achieved or carry out clean A / B tests in order to optimize your advertising campaigns.

Advantages of SEA:

  • Placement above the organic search results
  • Exact target group approach and traffic control
  • Efficient target group tests / market research
  • Good scalability and measurability of performance (ROI)
  • Minimization of wastage
  • Short-term and high traffic growth

SEO - search engine optimization

Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short stands for optimization measures that are undertaken so that your website moves further up in the organic, i.e. unpaid results of the search engine for relevant keywords.

The higher up your page, the better the visibility, usually the higher the click rate and the more traffic.

Hand on heart: who clicks on page 2 on Google?

On the one hand, you can carry out these optimization measures on-page, i.e. design your website with high-quality relevant content, good readability of your texts, appealing structuring, logical navigation, meaningful images and many technical factors in such a way that it is not only easy to read for Google, but also for your target group.

Furthermore, social media signals and link building through external pages (off-page) are essential factors for a good ranking. When it comes to backlinks, what matters most is how high-quality and relevant to the topic the Google algorithm classifies the third-party website that is referring to your page. The higher, the more valuable this is for your positioning on Google, Bing and Co.

For you to be successful with SEO, your website must be able to be optimally read and analyzed by the search engine and meet the relevance criteria of your users through certain high-quality content.

The results achieved through SEO in the SERPs are organic, unpaid results, which you can only achieve with contested terms through a long-term process and which have to be optimized again with changes and updates to the search engine algorithm.

SEO measures must therefore be continuously adapted and further developed, but aim at long-term effects that have real added value not only for Google, but also for your users.

Advantages of SEO:

  • Traffic generation
  • Manageable financial outlay (depending on the competition)
  • Strong trust among seekers
  • Positive effect on the image
  • Mostly high user loyalty

When is the focus on SEO suitable?

Here are a few examples where you should focus more on SEO:

Example one:

You have no time pressure and your company is stable based on the previous traffic channels. Therefore, you are pursuing a rather long-term strategy.

Then SEO is suitable for you, as you take the long-term perspective - the focus is on sustainable growth.

Example two:

Your team is able to continuously generate high-quality content with clear added value for your core target group and you are not afraid of the high editorial effort. At the same time, you and your IT team or an external expert will be able to permanently map the technical on-page factors on your website.

Then you can generate real added value for your company with SEO. With good content, your rankings will gradually improve and users will thank you with more clicks on the search results.

Example three:

The competition with Google Ads is so strong that despite professional campaigns with the help of experts over 6 months, you cannot generate any economically meaningful key figures for your company. Then you should position yourself broader and establish an additional channel with the help of SEO.

''Good SEO can increase visitor numbers in the long term with relatively little financial effort. However, the optimization effort with SEO is quite high, because your website has to be updated and adapted regularly. The higher the competition for the desired placements, the more perseverance and resources you need to achieve good rankings. Laypeople will rarely generate above-average SEO rankings.''

And for this reason, you can get help from free or paid tools. This will facilitate your task and your SEO growth. I can mention for example this SEO tool: The Dedicated SEO Dashboard. An all-in-one tool that not only takes care of the technical aspects of your site but also, helps you make a complete analysis of your competitors for the On-page SEO and also the Off-page SEO, you can better discover the tool HERE.

SEO or SEA - which is now more effective?

As you can see, SEO and SEA have some similarities, but also very different advantages and areas of application.

Whether you concentrate more on SEO or SEA always depends on many factors, such as your objective, the search intent of your target group, the type of offer you are offering, the content of your website and the appearance of your competitors.
  • Would you like to acquire visitors in your region at short notice? SEA.
  • Is your goal to run targeted advertising for a certain period? SEA.
  • Do you want quick customer feedback / conversions? SEA.
  • Providing precise information to a specific target group is one of your main goals? SEA.
  • Do you want constant, inexpensive traffic and are not pressed for time? SEO.
SEO and SEA are a dream couple in online marketing and should always go hand in hand. A sensible combination of both measures can bring you efficient results. For example, it makes sense to use Google Ads to test some products or offers on your website.

Our recommendation from a daily practice:

If you are not able to advertise at least cost-effectively with Google Ads, then you should seriously think about your positioning and your offer as a company. Don't be afraid of outside help - a fresh look can work wonders.


SEA and SEO have their strengths and weaknesses. The combination of both channels can take your business to the next level.

To find the right path in the maze of SEO and SEA, you should consistently go one path, but not lose sight of the other. Otherwise, you will lose your bearings. 

A lump risk, i.e. the strong dependence on a certain canal, is always dangerous - therefore you should also look left and right to find the exit from the labyrinth. Depending on the business model and market, the weighting can be a little more on paid traffic with Google Ads or "free" SEO. Time and sales pressures should determine your focus. The higher this is, the more you should focus on Google Ads.

Basically, we recommend that you start with paid traffic and thus quickly learn how your offer or business model is received by different target groups. You can then draw valuable conclusions for content marketing and SEO.

The synergy from both disciplines remains king! A simple trick to make strong SEO even more profitable is remarketing through Google Ads. You pull all users - regardless of what their original source was - back to your page. Remarketing is, therefore, a must-have for every company and despite the fact that it can be assigned to SEA, it is no less important for SEO-grown companies.


  • With the help of SEA, you can put yourself above the organic search results.
  • Use the paid channel to generate quick knowledge about your product and the (potential) target group.
  • You will only feel the effectiveness of your optimization approaches in the SEO channel several months later.
  • SEO is by no means free, to be relevant for Google you have to create content. Technical adjustments to your website are also necessary.
  • Avoid the risk of lumps by not focusing on just one canal.
How do you use SEO and SEA for your company? Let us know in the comments.

If you need to learn more about the subject of SEO and website promotion, we invite you to visit our Semalt blog.