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A Legal Marketer’s Guide to SEO, SEM & PPC

by Joe Balestrino • December 31st, 2019 • Legal Marketing | Blog

seo sem ppcWhen it comes to digital marketing, your law firm’s search strategy plays an important role in acquiring new clients. There are various search strategies law firms can employ to show up on a prospect’s search engine result page (SERP). The three commonly used tactics in the legal industry are: search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and pay-per-click advertising (PPC). If you often find yourself confusing these three acronyms, that’s okay. As marketing has evolved, so has the terminology we use as legal marketers. These terms and acronyms are often used interchangeably without a clear understanding of how they’re related and how they differ. That’s why we’ve chosen to focus on what these terms mean and their key differences.

What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

To begin with, it’s important to understand that SEO is NOT SEM and that PPC is a form of SEM.

Search engine optimization is the process of improving (or optimizing) your law firm website’s content and structure for organic search engine visibility. For SEO to effectively increase traffic, rankings, and conversions, a law firm’s website must have well-written and optimized page copy and optimized metadata. SEO doesn’t involve marketing directly through search engines. For a more detailed explanation of what makes for a successful SEO strategy, download our free ebook: SEO for Law Firm Websites.

On the other hand, SEM is a form of paid advertising used to gain website visibility, traffic, and conversions. Any digital effort that requires payment to Google or Bing will fall under SEM. This includes pay-per-click (PPC) ads on search engines as well as on third-party platforms like Amazon or YouTube. There are lots of other terms that fall under the SEM umbrella including cost-per-click (CPC) ads, paid search ads and paid search advertising.

Should your law firm focus on SEO or SEM?

SEO and SEM have a symbiotic relationship. SEO lays the foundation for SEM through well-optimized content that prospects and clients find valuable. Thus, when both digital marketing strategies are leveraged to their full potential, they can bring your law firm great results. Deciding where to focus on comes down to your marketing and business objectives and budget, however. 

Google ads can be expensive, depending on your law firm’s location and niche. On the other hand, they tend to generate results and leads quickly. Meanwhile, SEO is less costly but can take longer to produce tangible results. If you are targeting competitive keywords, SEO can take upwards of 6 months to a year.


SEO involves any organic effort that goes into marketing your law firm through search engines like Google or Bing. Conversely, SEM and PPC are paid initiatives through search or other platforms that offer advertising on the internet. PPC advertising falls under the overall SEM umbrella and is the largest component of SEM.

The nuances of SEO, SEM, and PPC are important to understand. Without knowing the similarities and differences between the terms, legal marketers will have a tough time implementing the proper tactics that align to their firm’s goals.

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