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Email Marketing vs. SEO: Which Will Work for Your Business?

Mesan Ali

You're new to digital marketing and need help deciding which strategy would work better than the rest. You have narrowed it down to email marketing and SEO, and now you need clarification. 

You've jumped to the right place. This rundown of email marketing vs SEO compares the two strategies for each feature to make your decision a child's play. 

If you have a remote idea of how the two strategies work, you're probably wondering if they are mutually exclusive. The answer is they're not. 

Then why the comparison? 

Since marketing strategies require you to invest, not every startup can begin its marketing journey with all digital marketing strategies – they are stuck with choosing one that better fits their goals. 

Similarly, this comparison of email marketing and SEO can help you decide which strategy is set to make your business boom.

Let's start with a general comparison.

Email Marketing vs SEO: An Overview

Email marketing

Email marketing is the practice of directly reaching out to your subscribers and potential customers with information, promotions, and notifications via emails. The advantage email marketing holds over other digital marketing strategies is that it reaches your customers directly in their inboxes. 

Consequently, the engagement rate for emails is high. If you think email marketing is outdated, you'll be surprised to know that 77% of email marketers have witnessed an increase in email engagement rates over the past 12 months. 

Getting started with emails is relatively straightforward, and the results will likely come sooner rather than later. 


SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is optimizing your website for a higher rank on search engines. Optimization refers to managing and upgrading your website's content, technical aspects, design, and scraping relevant SEO data, preferably with a Google Trends API so that search engines rank it higher against user searches.

Existing websites on search engine results pages can be very challenging to compete against – it takes time to get ranked. So SEO can be a long journey before results start popping up for you. 

Let's compare email marketing and SEO for each aspect they offer.

How Email Marketing and SEO Compare for Key Features 

1. ROI

Hiring experts, collecting data, and using smart tools is where your investment is usually needed for these digital marketing strategies. Email marketing offers a mind-blowing ROI of 3600% compared to SEO's 200% to 275%. When one strategy targets specific users right in their inbox, it is likely to offer you better returns. 

Refer to the image below to see how you can calculate the ROI of your email marketing and SEO campaigns:

 Formula to calculate the ROI for email marketing and SEO.
Winner: Email marketing

2. Relevant traffic

SEO and email marketing can generate relevant traffic to your business and boost sales. But which one does it better? With SEO, you use long-tail keywords to drive relevant traffic, but the ratio of irrelevant traffic can continue to be high. This is because your traffic is coming through search engines and could be for any less valuable keyword.

Email marketing, on the other hand, allows you to drop your message straight to your target's inbox. Therefore, you directly get to hit the relevant traffic. 

Winner: Email marketing

3. Affordability

Email marketing requires you to manage a considerable number of subscribers. This couples with monitoring stats like open rates, click rates, and more. Paid tools help you get this done. Email marketing costs depend mostly on tools and skill sets you need to use, e.g. subscribing to an email marketing software, hiring an email copywriter, purchasing an email testing tool. 

SEO can be free initially. However, it also needs digital tools that offer a range of free and paid options allowing you to minimize your investment expenses for SEO. However, as you go deeper into SEO, the use of paid tools becomes necessary and can be equally expensive. 

Winner: Tie

4. Conversion rates

Conversion rate is one of the most important metrics to determine a campaign's success. And you'll be surprised to know SEO edges email marketing in this area. With a conversion rate of 2.4%, SEO promises you a lot more leads completing the desired action. This is higher than email marketing's conversion rate of 1.33% in 2021. 

SEO has a higher conversion rate because subscribers may ignore emails after signing up for something and receiving the product. They may no longer be interested in your marketing communications or might need more time to be ready to convert again. But in SEO, people search for something they’ve already decided to commit to. 

Winner: SEO

5. Stability

When you invest ample time and effort into something, you hope it will be helpful for a longer period. This is where the biggest SEO challenge comes in. Google updates its ranking algorithms frequently, and you need to match your SEO strategy often to maintain your position. Just in 2022, we have seen Google launch eight new updates for its ranking algorithms.

Email marketing strategies, once designed and updated, remain in complete control of its orchestrator. You may only need to stay on par with the most powerful tools and trends to stay in the competition.  

Winner: Email marketing

6. Performance metrics

Whichever digital approach you choose to market your business, metrics are vital to analyze and optimize your performance. Both email marketing and SEO are supported by powerful tools that help you measure every detail of your campaign performance. 

From every single click, to time spent by the user, to conversion rates, everything else you can think of is recorded. Recording and analyzing your performance metrics is equally doable for both the strategies. 

Performance metrics are essential to analyze and optimize your strategies. Here’s how:

4 reasons why performance metrics are important to your marketing success. 
Winner: Tie

7. Business reach

You cannot solely rely on email marketing to grow your business audience and reach the maximum number of people. Email marketing limits your reach to the people you send emails to. To grow your subscriber base, you need to invest in attractive lead magnets displayed through noticeable forms. 

In comparison, SEO helps you rank for several keywords, making your website appear for various search results. A single blog page can rank for a number of keywords depending on what Google finds relevant. So you’ll be able to reach a large number of searchers with only a single piece of content. 

Is maximizing business reach your goal? SEO is what you need.

Winner: SEO

8. Personalization

Personalized content helps any potential customer relate to your business. Compared to a generic approach, personalized content is more convincing for a customer to take the required action. Email marketing allows personalization to an unmatched level. 

You can address people by name and introduce them to offers that meet their preferences. SEO, on the other hand, remains an approach for a more generalized audience as you can’t tailor the experiences for individual viewers. 

Winner: Email marketing

9. Automation

Imagine every minor detail being dependent on your specific actions. You'll have to be vigilant around the clock for updates to ensure you stay on top of your game. This is precisely how a significant chunk of SEO works. Automation does not work for a lot of key aspects of SEO. For instance, you cannot automate keyword research, internal linking, identifying broken links, identifying page speed issues, and more. 

Email marketing tools empower automation to the extent that you can easily personalize and schedule emails. For instance, with Unlayer, you can simply add merge tags to personalize emails. The latter is a snippet code directly linked to your mailing list. So, instead of writing the first names of thousands of email subscribers, you can just add a [] merge tag. 

You can also generate automated emails for instant replies to your customers. Undoubtedly, email automation has played a crucial role in keeping email marketing relevant in the fast-paced modern world.

Winner: Email marketing

10. Easier to practice

To practice SEO for your business you need to hire an expert. The technical challenges and details that require attention can be very challenging. Some aspects of SEO that require high technical expertise include checking canonical URLs, creating breadcrumbs, improving loading speed, maintaining website structure, etc. 

However, email marketing can be easier to begin with once you get the hang of the tools you need to use. It was initially challenging to design emails, but with no-code drag and drop design tools and so many templates available, it has become a walk in the park. There are also tons of helpful guides for beginners available on the internet to get you started today. 

Related: Email Marketing for Beginners: A Guide to Make It Less Scary

Winner: Email marketing

Email Templates to Design Emails Like a Pro

Attractive Designs. Responsive Format. White-Labeled.
Email Templates

11. Long-term customer relationship 

Search results don't last, but personalized emails remain in the receiver's inbox forever. When you create content for your website you target different funnel stages. However, the chances of users landing on each funnel stage depends on their keyword research which is very low. 

With email marketing you can directly target the user by creating the entire sequence of emails and nurture the subscribers and convince them to convert. However, the same is not possible with SEO.

Winner: Email marketing 

Here’s a quick overview of the entire rundown between the two strategies: 

 Email marketing vs SEO how the two compare for each digital marketing feature.

Email Marketing vs SEO: Which One Should You Pick?

Coming down to the question of the moment, where do you start your digital marketing journey from? It solely depends on the need of the hour for your business and marketing goals.

For example, if your immediate goal is to generate sales, you need to target the relevant audience and reach them via email. However, if you want increased reach and to build business credibility, you need to get your hands dirty with SEO.

But it is not recommended that you stick to just one of these two as a long-term solution.

Email marketing and SEO combined offers advantages of both, creating a successful outcome for you. . 

For instance, you can launch a new product line on your website, drive traffic using SEO,  ask for their email through forms, and then send them emails sharing an exclusive discount code.

Final Words

Email marketing vs SEO or any other comparison of digital marketing strategies will always come down to business needs. Each strategy can help achieve one target better than the other. This comparison is for you to understand what differentiates the two practices and the factors to consider to help pick the right option.


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