The Difference Between SEO, SEM, and SMM

When it comes to understanding digital marketing, there is sometimes a bit of a learning curve in remembering all the various acronyms and terms. Search engine optimization? Search engine marketing? Social media marketing? What does it all mean, why does it even matter, and how do you properly use it all?

Thankfully, it isn’t as difficult to differentiate between these three categories as one might assume. Each one plays a specific role in helping you market your business or blog online and it is important to know what each of them stands for and what they do.

Difference Between SEO SEM and SMM

This guide is designed to help you understand the difference between search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and social media marketing. Keep reading to learn more.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Essentially, search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of guidelines and best practices to help improve your website ranking—also referred to as a SERP—on search engines like Google or Bing. In many cases, this is a vital factor in improving site traffic and increasing overall leads and/or sales conversions.

Basic SEO tasks include things like choosing the correct H1 through H4 tags when posting content and adding alt tags to all website images. It also includes doing proper keyword research and including content with those particular phrases or words. And that’s just the start.

There are literally hundreds of different methods to help improve a website’s search engine ranking. While we won’t go into full detail here, it is important to realize that SEO is making sure you’re doing all that you can to cater to the needs of search engine bots, which are software tools that come to your website on the behalf of a search engine and look for factors that determine what your correct SERP should be.

In addition, you also need to know that the term SEO can be broken down even further into two categories: off-page and on-page search engine optimization. The term on-page refers to steps you actually take in terms of the backend of your website including adding new content or updating meta descriptions and tags to match important keywords.

Likewise, off-page refers to the tasks you do off your website to improve your overall ranking. An example of this would be writing an article for another website and backlinking it to your own page.

Seasoned digital marketers will tell you that you need to pay attention to all of these steps and incorporate as many of them as you can throughout your entire website. It’s also important to understand that SEO efforts are often referenced as organic traffic, because the person using the search engine finds your link organically without clicking on a paid advertisement.

The only real downside to search engine optimization is that it can take weeks or months for your website to see an improvement in ranking and traffic. For those who have lofty goals to reach right away, this might be too long or not offer the exact solution needed to scale traffic appropriately.

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What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a closely related sibling of search engine optimization, but still works a little bit different. In simple terms, SEM is really just driving traffic to your website through paid advertising, such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

Think of it this way: SEM is a form of paying to jump to the head of the line to have your website show up at the top of the search results page. It is instantaneous and doesn’t require waiting weeks or months for your SERP to change, which is why it is so popular. Many website owners find this to be a very effective method, but it can also be easy to mess it up.

For a long time, the most popular SEM platform has been Google AdWords. But over saturation of the market in recent years has caused prices to rise considerably. In turn, this has made it less desirable for those just starting their digital marketing adventure.

Furthermore, the ads are becoming less trusted by the general public when searching the web for specific topics. In certain niches, it can be very difficult to use SEM to your advantage, but it isn’t totally impossible.

To help offset this, many digital marketers are turning their ad spend dollars to paid social media marketing. This is basically an extension of search engine marketing but uses social media platforms instead of rankings on a search engine.

What is Social Media Marketing?

Now that you know what search engine marketing entails, it is important to discuss advertising on social media platforms. Referred to as social media marketing (SMM), the process involves using various social media channels to increase link building and brand awareness. This includes paid avenues like Facebook Ads and Instagram Ads.

What platforms are considered important for SMM? The list is almost too long to detail fully here, but the ones you would think of immediately generally apply. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are definite candidates. But YouTube, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Houzz, and others are really expanding their paid marketing efforts. Even TikTok is finding a way to enter the market on a small basis.

However, SMM only really works if you take a few factors into consideration. To begin, you need to ensure you’re on the right platform for your unique audience. As an example, a skincare brand probably wouldn’t do as well on LinkedIn as an accountant would. And a construction company might do well on Houzz, but terrible on YouTube. Knowing the platforms that your audience utilizes the most is really crucial to your success.

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Next, you want to remain consistent with your posts on any particular social media platform and create a content schedule to facilitate this. Semi-regular posting is key to creating a following and missing a few days can make a huge impact on your results while diminishing top-of-mind brand awareness.

What are a few reasons to engage in SMM? Primarily, it gives you an excellent way to build brand culture while giving your ideal customers a way to learn about what you’re selling and interact with your company directly. Social media is a wonderful opportunity to keep in touch with your target market without having to go to a ton of effort. Plus, it really gives you a chance to connect with those who aren’t already familiar with your business.

And that isn’t where the benefits stop. Your organic SEO traffic is even influenced when you have strong social media profiles. To see this for yourself, type your online brand name into Google or Bing.

There’s a good chance you’ll see your Facebook or Twitter profile pop up in the list of results. If you’re doing SMM correctly, your website link is already in your profile, which can improve search engine rank results. This is a very clear example of how off-page SEO and SMM work together in synchronization.

Why All of This Matters in Digital Marketing?

Did you get all of that? If not, it’s okay. There’s a lot to comprehend when it comes to differentiating between all of the types. The biggest takeaway you need to understand is that each step is equally important.

You can’t have a full marketing plan without SEO, SEM, or SMM. They all play a crucial role in your success and it is very important to understand where and how they influence traffic. It is very important to look at each one carefully and determine where it becomes a factor in your overall goals and growth strategy.

If you’re totally unsure how to go about all of this, it might be a good idea to work with an outside digital marketing firm.

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December 15, 2020 4:40 pm

You have very well described the difference between SEO, SEM and SMM. I have been working in marketing for past 9 years, I don’t consider myself an expert because there is still so much to learn in marketing. Marketing ideas are born every day and it makes for an exciting career, I am known for my skills in SEO, Paid advertising, and PR.

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