Puzzled by digital marketing: What is the difference among SEO, SEM and SMO?

SEO, SEM, and SMO. These terms get thrown around a lot in the digital space, but what is the difference?

First, let’s define terms:
SEO: Search Engine Optimization
SEM: Search Engine Marketing
SMO: Social Media Optimization

Now that everyone is doing online marketing, many advertisers increase the majority of their digital budget to handle their SEO and SEM implementation. With such an intense focus on achieving the top ranking position for  keywords in the search engine, sometimes the difference between these familiar terminologies gets lost.  

Let’s start with Search engine marketing (SEM). Originally, it was viewed as a big umbrella that covers both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search. Over time, SEM has come to mean paid search exclusively, without covering SEO. SEM, paid search, focuses on the bidding system where advertisers who pay the highest get the most prominent ad placements and are charged per clicks, impressions, or conversions.

SEO, on the other hand, refers to purely organic results, which are generated by a user searching primarily on Google, Yahoo or Bing. By creating content with relevant keywords and improving a landing pages to be user-friendly, advertisers can better meet search engine quality guidelines and secure a higher rank among search results.

Now you might be wondering if SEO and SEM inevitably co-exist? The answer is that they can work separately because the different factors they use to generate leads.

For example, the owner of a local shoe shop can drive traffic to his website without spending a penny on advertising. He “only” needs to consistently publish content on his website that offers user-friendly answers to search queries. While this is a great long-term strategy for SEO, this process can be much slower and he would potentially lose a wide variety and numbers of customers who could have been generated by paid search.

Alternatively, the business owner may decide to spend money to buy a prominent ad placement when people search for “white wedding heels”. The owner can surely get the high volume traffic and click-through-rate he wants in a short time. However, if the landing page he set up does not resonate with what his customers are looking for, the customers will leave without purchasing anything and the owner still needs to pay for the ad cost. Therefore, it would be better to incorporate both SEO and SEM strategy together to amplify the impact.

How about Social Media Optimization (SMO)? SMO uses the power of social media to generate traffic to a website both through organic and paid methods. SMO strategies vary across platforms as a result of the different ways users like, share, and otherwise engage with content.A simple way to do SMO is to “boost” a Facebook post as an ad to reach a wider audience.

A more difficult strategy is to empower users to spread the word and amplify the campaign message for free by providing engaging content that viewers want to share with others. For instance, an advertiser may create a unique hashtag to incorporate with its digital campaign to create raving buzz. It’s hard to plan for something to go viral, but it can save a lot of ad spend for the same impact!

A quick recap, search engine optimization needs longer time to accumulate results. Thus, it is ideal for an established brand to expand its reach and cultivate long-term impact. As for search engine marketing, a.k.a paid search, advertisers pay for short-term results. However, with the expensive spending, it should be utilized for a one-time campaign or promotion activity with a certain expiration date. Lastly, social media optimization is about establishing in-person and real-time interaction with consumers. Therefore, think less about promotion, instead, brands should emphasize on creating shareable content to drive a conversation.

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