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September 23, 2013

SEA vs. SEO: Which Online Marketing Option is Right for You?

If you are trying to increase your Web traffic and are looking for the most effective international marketing strategy, there are two different methods you might wish to explore. One option is search engine optimization (SEO) and the other is search engine advertising (SEA). Both techniques involve slightly different strategies and the effectiveness of each option depends on your needs and expectations.


SEO is the process of increasing the visibility of a website in a search engine’s natural (or un-paid) search results. This involves pushing your website higher up the results list, therefore increasing the number of visitors it attracts and, when applied correctly, it can be an immensely effective technique in increasing your website’s visibility.

SEA on the other hand, is a paid marketing model. Although it will do little to increase the natural rankings of your website, it is an effective means of generating traffic. One of the most popular methods of SEA marketing is pay-per-click (PPC) ads, in which the advertiser pays the publisher every time an ad is clicked on. These ads can appear in search engine results and, in Google, are characterized by their positioning at the top (highlighted in yellow) and right-hand side of the page. However, it’s important to remember that SEO and SEA are not exclusive from each other — SEO techniques can (and should) be used in SEA campaigns.


One of the biggest advantages of natural search marketing (the SEO approach) is that these results are more trusted among Internet users. As a consequence, websites that employ natural search marketing get a significantly larger share of clicks compared to SEA. However, the main disadvantage of this approach is it’s very difficult to obtain the highest search rankings, especially if you are a small business in a competitive field trying to optimize in multiple languages.

With paid results you have complete control over your online campaign in real time, making it very easy to change or alter your tact. It can be a quick fix for appealing to different language speakers because it takes much less time to translate an ad than it does a website, but you should beware that not localizing your entire website will decrease its perceived reliability. The obvious disadvantage to using paid search results is the monetary cost.

According to Forrester Research:

  • Eighty-seven percent of Web visits come via search engines.
  • Nine percent come from banners.
  • Four percent come directly from the browser.

PPC is a marketing strategy that gives you instant traffic in a matter of minutes. It is often used to promote a specific product or campaign. In contrast to this, multilingual SEO is a rather long-term strategy that requires more time to see results, though the lasting benefits may be greater.

SEA campaigns may generate instant traffic, but they need to be constantly renewed, which requires continued monetary expenses and strategic planning. With SEO, once your website is indexed and ranked, it will be available for people to find, without you needing to pay for views. For a short-term solution PPC is a great option, but the long-term benefits undoubtedly lie with SEO, especially if you’re trying to appeal to a broad range of language speakers. An effective option for many businesses is to employ an SEA campaign while undergoing the more lengthy process of website optimization.


One of the advantages of PPC is it gives you greater control over which page your visitors are going to see when they arrive; you can change your landing page for each ad. When using a SEO approach, you need to optimize specific pages to make them best suited for search engines. The benefit of this is that it provides you with a more holistic solution and greater consistency across your website.

For control over the regions and countries where your ads will be shown, PPC is an ideal option. It provides you with the ability to have regional control over your campaign, using SEO by implementing different keywords to make sure that your site appears for the right search terms. If you’re looking to target a new set of language speakers, this can be a great way to test the water, allowing you to identify which keywords work best in which languages, before beginning a large-scale multilingual SEO project.

Another key difference is that PPC ads allow you to change your budget and choose how much money you want to spend over a certain period of time. With SEO you do not pay for clicks, so there is no direct cost, but the process is time consuming and can also involve third party expenditure such as link buying, or using an external agency.


There is always some difficulty in deciding whether to choose SEO or SEA for your website marketing campaign, especially if you’re working in a range of different languages. Realistically, however, both strategies provide significant benefits. For this reason, some of the most powerful multilingual online marketing strategies use a mixture of SEO and SEA solutions to obtain the best results. With regard to project time, SEA will allow you to quickly gather insights about your target audience and, in particular, valuable keywords to focus on from a mid-term perspective. The objective of SEO will then be to progressively acquire rankings on these pre-identified keywords to secure regular organic search traffic and to generate eventual leads.



James Norman is a copywriter with MO Group International. MO Group International is an award winning multilingual SEO provider, offering services in keyword optimization, copywriting and social media management. At MO Group International, our team of multilingual search engine marketing experts has detailed experience in delivering localized online campaigns and can design and advise you on a bespoke strategy for your website. Get in touch today to receive a free quote and to learn more about the best of options for you and your business.