SEO or SEM, Which Works Better for B2B Lead Generation?

Chris Murvine

Chris Murvine

CEO at Madison Marketing Group

What comes first — the chicken or the egg?

For B2B lead generation, that question falls on deaf ears because the truth is: you can have your cake and eat it too (with a few caveats).

Forget what you heard about how great or horrible pay-per-click advertising (sometimes called SEM or search engine marketing) or an investment in an SEO campaign can be for your business, and instead focus on your goals and the realities of the search landscape you're trying to break into. 

B2B Search Engine Marketing (SEM) guarantees real estate in high value areas, even on crowded results pages

You can push your website to the top of Google’s search results page by running a pay-per-click campaign through Google Ads. This gives you the chance to essentially "rent," one of the top search engine results pages for any keyword.

In recent years, Google became more aggressive in placing paid ads. One of its most recent changes resulted in the possibility of up to four text-based ads showing up on the top of search engine results pages.

Previous results page designs — which usually included space for just two paid results — ensured organic results would show up within the user's range of sight. Now, that's not the case, and paid ads eat up the best spots by Google search engine results page heatmap analysis standards.

This means that for some keywords, you'll never be able to appear in a desirable place on a search engine results page — even if you're the best search engine optimizer in the world.

Take a look at how hard it is to find the No. 1 naturally ranking result through all the paid ads:

Google SERPS

While the screenshot above doesn't represent every case, it's worth testing to see if the keywords that are important to your business produce results pages like this one.

If they do, you may want to consider a B2B SEM campaign to ensure your website shows up in a place where a good chunk of searchers will see it.

B2B SEO works best for more specific keyword phrases

The previous example uses a generic keyword: “buy content”. Less generic keywords, like say, "benefits of buying content" or "cost of buying content" tend to have less competition and less crowded search engine results pages.


If the keyword ranking difficulty is light, it might be easier to grab one of the top organic spot with a B2B SEO campaign.

There are many ways to evaluate whether you can earn rank for a particular keyword. This keyword research guide will be a useful starting point for anyone focused on finding target keywords.

Your goal will be to target these keywords (and their close variants) by publishing website content that addresses questions your customers might have that also uses those keywords. Focus on being informative, so your website serves a purpose.

If you're consistently publishing website content that 1) uses low-competition, high-volume keywords and 2) is highly relevant to potential customers, you're well on your way to earning search rank through a B2B SEO content marketing campaign.

B2B SEM works quickly, but B2B SEO has more long-term potential

While most businesses can stand to benefit from both SEO and SEM, not as many businesses are in a position to capitalize on both.

One consideration in the SEO vs SEM debate is your marketing goal.

If you're hoping to build out a strategy that can help your B2B generate leads for months and years to come, SEO is probably a better option because the content you produce today could potentially bring visitors to your site for a long time.

But if you're under pressure to produce a lot of leads in a hurry, SEM is probably a more attractive option because it works right away. 

If you have both short- and long-term goals to hit, a mix a both is probably best.

Combine SEO with SEM for Better B2B Lead Generation

Ultimately, there is room for a most businesses to use both SEO and SEM as a strategy to obtain B2B leads.

B2B search engine marketing can be used to drive traffic and leads in the short term, while simultaneously building organic ranking strength for less competitive keywords via search engine optimization.

Want to learn more about fitting SEO and SEM into a broader B2B inbound marketing strategy? Grab our free eGuide to doing just that.

Download our free eGuide

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Website Optimization