Like any digital marketing, there’s no definitive answer to this. It depends on your business, your goals, and your target audience. There are advantages to both strategies, so it’s about finding what will work best for your business.
One benefit of SEM over SEO is that you’ll be able to get your ads at the top of results instantly. SEO can take months before you start seeing results. However, since SEM relies on a paid auction, you can bid anytime and be visible immediately.
SEM is also far more flexible than SEO in terms of budget and consistency. SEO requires an ongoing steady commitment in order to get the best results. The same is somewhat true of SEM, but you have the option of scaling your budgets up and down, as well as pausing ads if you get too busy.
The large commitment of both time and money towards SEO is why many businesses choose to start with SEM. You can use paid ads to gain data about which keywords and messaging brings you the best return, and then take that information to start ranking organically. This means your investment for SEO will be more of a “sure thing” – rather than hoping the keywords you rank for will bring you decent sales and leads.
For many businesses, a dual strategy of both SEM and SEO is advised. SEO will help you to bring the volume of traffic you need, but you won’t be able to rank for everything. SEM is there to help you rank for terms that aren’t doing so well organically, to ward off aggressive competitors, and to tailor your ads more specifically to each search.