When it comes to increasing visibility, credibility and generating valuable traffic, there are two commonly thrown around terms that we’re all aware of:

  1. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  2. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

While each of these channels can deliver results for clients in their own right, there is a growing need from brands in the digital realm to develop a holistic, omnichannel approach.

This change is driving demand for ‘Jack of all trades’ skillsets, raising the question of whether only having a grasp of SEM and SEO is sufficient enough to execute result-driven work for clients and if it’s even possible to be an expert at both?

SEM and SEO can each work effectively to achieve similar results – helping brands appear in a competitive position on the search results page as well as driving website traffic. However, when looking at channels separately, there is a unique set of skills required for each, in order to effectively execute campaigns and drive results for clients.

SEO encompasses several key pillars which marketers need to be adept at in order to implement an effective SEO strategy. These organic pillars include technical, content, on-site and off-site SEO – each with their own required activities.  

SEM, on the other hand, utilises multiple paid channels such as search, social and display. It involves the coordination of media budgets in-real time, requiring marketers to be able to interpret results and adjust activity and spend accordingly.

To produce worthwhile results, marketers require the knowledge and skills to execute key activities encompassed within each channel, as well as an understanding of how they can support one another, rather than cannibalise each other.

Specialist vs. Jack of All Trades

SEM and SEO both offer their own advantages, and having a general understanding of the two channels is undoubtedly a major benefit.

A Jack of All Trades can bring much-needed balance to a project by facilitating communication across an array of channels in digital. However, the digital marketing landscape is evolving rapidly, and algorithms are being constantly tweaked making it difficult for marketers to keep up with industry updates for each channel.

As well as this, trying to learn and implement different tactics for each channel, at once, can be a lot to manage – there’s the potential for a channel to not receive the attention it needs.

A specialist, on the other hand, has in-depth knowledge in their area and can dedicate their time and efforts to mastering their chosen discipline, providing clients with maximum results for that channel.

However, they lack that ‘all-rounder’ aspect and may not understand how certain tactics from different areas are interrelated, missing out on key opportunities to drive results through collaboration.

SEM, SEO, or Both

To understand the level of expertise you’ll require in your career, and whether you need to be a specialist or Jack of all Trades consider the type of clients you’ll be working with.

A broad but basic level of knowledge for both SEO and SEM tends to be more suited to smaller businesses with limited budgets and competition. These businesses typically require a marketing professional to work across multiple channels and manage a broad range of activities within both SEO and SEM.

However, someone with expert knowledge in a specific area, be it SEO or SEM would be of great benefit to larger clients with more advanced websites and higher budgets. These clients typically require individuals who can execute highly technical and tailored strategies in their channel.

At the end of the day, specialising allows you to become a go-to expert in your chosen field, and a valuable resource for your business. Both disciplines can be quite complex and some objectives simply can’t be met with a strategy built from broad, foundational knowledge.

Understanding how your chosen field relates to other marketing disciplines, as well as forming relationship with specialists in other fields, that you can leverage, will allow you to solve client problems with a holistic, integrated approach and achieve optimal results.

The best route for marketers is to build a solid knowledge base across both SEM and SEO – but specialise in what you’re most interested in.

Jennifer Hovi

Jennifer Hovi is a Paid Media Executive at iProspect Brisbane. Having recently joined the team in 2018 - Jennifer finds interest in the ever-changing digital environment and harnessing data to improve business performance.