SEO or SEA: which to choose?

Julien Nishimata

SEO vs SEA ? Natural or paid referencing? Should you choose between the two? SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEA (Search Engine Advertising) are two referencing techniques. The choice of one or the other depends on the marketing strategy and the acquisition channel envisaged by a company. Both have their own differences and advantages. Here are some elements to help you make the right choice.

SEO and SEA: what are they?

Find out what the acronyms SEO and SEA stand for, and what it all means.

What is SEO?

SEO is the set of techniques and actions implemented to improve the position of a website on the search engine results pages (SERPs). In English, SEO is equivalent to organic search engine optimization.

The stakes are high when we know that the first results displayed are, in the extreme majority of cases, the main pages consulted.

To rank the search results, the search engine algorithm assigns a relevance score to the page for a given query. We know that, for Google for example, hundreds of criteria are taken into account by the algorithm.

SEO is also based on 3 pillars:

  • The content, search engines highlight content that is well structured and provides value to users.
  • Technical optimisation, the aim is to correct any technical flaws in your website that may hinder readability by search engines.
  • netlinking, this practice aims to improve the popularity of your website by increasing the number of qualified links from other authority sites (backlinks).

The traffic acquired through natural referencing is said to be organic, as opposed to paid referencing (SEA).

The benefits of SEO

What are the benefits of SEO? Here are the main ones:

  • Steady and sustainable traffic. Efforts to develop organic traffic are sustainable and it is very rare to drop drastically in results once positions are acquired.
  • Low cost. An SEO marketing campaign requires an investment of resources and means. However, the traffic generated by SEO is highly qualified, so you can expect a very profitable ROI (return on investment) over time.
  • More qualified leads. The conversion rate is much better when a site is nice and well positioned.
  • Increased trust. A well-positioned website will tend to reassure Internet users. This is generally the result of providing relevant answers to their questions. In fact, a good positioning gives credibility to the notoriety and image of the brand.

The main variable in SEO is the time you can spend on it.

What is SEA ?

SEA is a paid referencing strategy that is carried out through advertising campaigns. These allow a website to be positioned on search engines.

On Google Ads, for example, the Google advertising network, the advertiser determines the budget to be allocated to the keywords they wish to promote. This strategy is based on a bidding system which mainly includes: CPC (Cost per Click; the most common), CPT (Cost per Thousand), CPA (Cost per Acquisition) or CPV (Cost per View; for videos).

The bidding strategy you adopt will therefore depend on your objective: to promote clicks, impressions, conversions or views.

Most often, the use of ATS displays ads in the search results above, below or next to the organic results.

The benefits of SEA

The SEA has several advantages:

  • Immediate traffic increase, paid search engine ads offer instant results as soon as the campaign is launched.
  • Flexibility: advertising campaigns allow for real-time adaptation of the results obtained and correction if necessary. Moreover, SEA is optimal for keywords with a high seasonality that do not require a permanent investment over a year.
  • With a limited budget, paid search offers strict control over the allocated budget which cannot be exceeded. If the budget is exceeded, the campaign stops.
  • Detailed monitoring, the statistics and tracking tools allow you to measure the results in detail and adapt the strategy.

The most important parameter in an SEA campaign is the available budget.

SEO vs SEA: 2 different marketing acquisition strategies

SEO and SEA both aim to improve the ranking of a website; only their approaches differ.

Differences between SEO and SEA

The following table summarizes the differences between SEO and SEA:

 SEO – natural referencingSEA – paid referencing
Duration of positioningLong. Getting a good ranking can take months.Fast. Ads are immediately visible at the top of the results page.
CostRelatively low for the ROI generated.Variable and depends on the level of keyword competition.
Duration (time taken)Long. This is the main parameter of an SEO strategy.Short. Easy to set up and monitor campaigns.
Return on Investment (ROI)In the medium/long term. Conversion rates are better (qualified traffic) and the effects are long-lasting.In the short term. The effects of the advertising campaign stop as soon as it is consumed.

SEO vs SEA: should you choose?

All too often, natural and paid referencing are contrasted. However, these two approaches are part of a global strategy called SEM (Search Engine Marketing) which aims to improve referencing.

In reality, everything depends on the project; the SEO and SEA levers can be mobilised according to the objectives determined. Other constraints (budget, time and resources available, etc.) may influence the choice of one or the other.

Therefore, it is more appropriate to consider SEO and SEA as complementary. A hybrid strategy can allow the benefits of both approaches to be used. SEO will be perfectly suited to a long-term positioning strategy by targeting the most qualified traffic possible. SEA, on the other hand, will allow you to target and focus on crucial keywords in a defined and punctual period of time.

Furthermore, a strategy that combines SEO and SEA allows to:

  • Test the optimisation of content in a SEA campaign and incorporate it into the SEO strategy later, if required.
  • Increase overall traffic by adding organic and paid clicks.
  • Increase visibility on the SERP by being positioned via these two acquisition channels.
  • Reach different targets, as the users coming from sponsored clicks are not the same as those coming from natural traffic.

In conclusion, the opposition between SEO and SEA does not make sense insofar as they differ in their employment strategy. The choice of natural or paid referencing must be established according to the desired objectives. Moreover, a hybrid strategy will allow you to improve your overall referencing by taking advantage of the combined benefits of both. At Paper.Club, we support you in your SEO strategy.