What is the difference between SEO, SEM and SMM?

Digital marketing is one of those industries that are overpopulated with acronyms, making it very confusing for anyone unfamiliar or new to digital media. You have PPC, CPC, CPM, CRM, CPA, CTA, KPI, DMO, WOM, and many many more. 

Most of these acronyms tend to fall under one of three overarching categories, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Social Media Marketing (SMM).

SEO, SMM and SEM are important tools that anyone serious in developing a solid online presence needs understand. With a strong understanding of these tools and by applying them to your digital marketing strategy effectively you will see an increase in brand awareness and more sales.

By the end of this blog you will understand the differences between each and why you need to consider them in your digital marketing strategy.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Search Engine Optimization refers to the process of optimizing your website in order to improve your websites organic (unpaid) results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). In layman’s terms, it means trying to get your page to be the first result on search engines such as Google, ultimately driving more traffic to your site.

Search Engine Optimization is broken into two components, on-site and off-site SEO.

On-Page SEO: As the name suggests, on-page SEO are all of the implementations you make directly to your site. It includes optimising copy to include keywords and improve your sites ranking for specific keywords. I.e. If you are a Social Media Marketing Agency in London, you want your site to be recommended whenever users search with keywords such as “Social Media Marketing London”, so to ensure your site ranks well for this keyword you need to mention it throughout your sites content. Other on-site SEO tools include Headings, structuring your website in different ways, meta descriptions, user experience, site performance, responsiveness (making the site look good on mobile and desktop) and increasing the time a user spends on your site (which can be done by adding videos).

Essentially on-page SEO is about creating content around your desired topic and structuring your site so that search engines such as Google know that your site is relevant to the topic. So when users search for said topic Google is more likely to recommend your site.

Off-Page SEO: Where On-site SEO is about telling Google what your site is about, off-page SEO is essentially telling Google what others think of your site. A metric used with off-site SEO is domain authority; it is a rating that shows the likelihood your site will be recommended by Google. So the goal of off-site SEO is to get a higher rating than your competitors so Google recommends your site over theirs. 

Off-page SEO strategies are a lot more complicated and involve link building, Google Search Console Registration, Brand mentions and influencer marketing. off-page SEO is much more challenging and requires an ongoing strategy.

“Successful SEO is not about tricking Google. It’s about PARTNERING with Google to provide the best search results for Google’s users”

Learn more about our SEO services here: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

It is very common to get Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) confused. After reading this section, you will never mistake the two again.

As previously mentioned Search Engine Optimization refers to improving “organic” results and performance, organic meaning unpaid. To get results with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) you have to pay, and often this is determined by Cost-Per-Click (CPC). 

The benefit of effective Search Engine Marketing through tools such as Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) is that it places a small sponsored ad at the top of the search engine results page for keywords you want to rank well in. On the other hand, organic results get a much larger click through rate (CTR) than paid ads. This is why it is important to utilize both Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization.


SMM (Social Media Marketing)

Compared to SEO and SEM Social Media Marketing (SMM) differs the most. Social media marketing tends to align with the top of the sales funnel, i.e. Raising awareness. 

People often don’t understand where social media marketing falls into the sales funnel and you will often hear people saying their promoted posts never work or don’t generate a worthy ROI (Return on Investment). Whilst social media may in some cases be used to get sales, it should primarily be used for brand awareness and trying to encourage traffic to your website. 

Promoted posts are effective for getting your brand in front of a large audience, so whilst it may not generate as many sales as you might expect. It puts your brand in the consumer’s decision making process.

TIP: You should link most of your social media posts to your website, as shares and engagement drive more traffic to your site and overall help to improve Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

“Social media is about the people! Not about your business. Provide for the people and the people will provide you.”

Learn about our SMM services here: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait.

Which one is the most important?

Whilst SEO, SMM and SEM all serve different functions the end objectives are the same. These objectives are to increase brand awareness, drive more traffic to your site, generate leads and increase sales.

There is no conclusion on which one is the most important, as they all serve slightly different functions. However, to develop a strong digital marketing strategy and achieve great results you need to use all three in conjunction with one another.

If you want to find out how to integrate SEO, SMM and SEM into your digital strategy, let us know by entering your email address below and you we will send you additional resources to help you achieve your digital marketing objectives. 

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