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What’s the difference between SEO, SEM and SMM?

Buzz words come and go, but some are here to stay! Take SMM, SEM and SEO, for example. Are they just a jumble of confusing letters, or are they important? What do these terms actually mean, and why is it important to the business owner?

SMM is short for “Social Media Marketing” and has to do with promoting and engaging with fans on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.

SEO, “Search Engine Optimization”, drives traffic to your website through specific strategies on your website aimed at getting a higher ranking in user searches through portals like Google, Yahoo or Bing.

SEM is an acronym for “Search Engine Marketing” and has to do with driving traffic to your website through combinations of SEO and paid advertising. This term is the broader term and includes SEO, but it’s more than SEO alone.


Why should you care?

  1. Most online marketing companies specialize in one area more than another. You should know what your goals are before you hire a marketing company so you get the right kind of help.


  1. Take into account that the above definitions are very general, but there is a big difference between SMM and SEO/SEM. The first (SMM) focuses on interactions and building relationships, and the other two (SEO/SEM) focus on driving traffic to a website. That’s a big difference in focus. You may need both aspects, but think carefully about what your goals are.


  1. If you focus on SMM or include SMM, you need to remember to spend time and energy on regular, fresh content. Whether you create all of your own posts and conversations or outsource this task, you will need to take care of this effort on your social media platforms on a daily basis. Social media managers are typically cheaper to hire than SEM/SEO firms, but the return on investment from SMM can seem less profitable because it always takes more time to build relationships, and building relationships doesn’t always lead to immediate sales.


  1. If you are leaning toward or incorporating SEM/SEO, remember that the algorithms of how search engine results are captured change regularly – almost daily. That means you should expect this to be an ongoing commitment, not a one-time fix. Getting found on the first page of Google, for example, is a daily struggle. It’s not about relationships or conversations. It’s about links, relentless keyword research, updates and adjustments. Payouts tend to be higher when you drive traffic to your site, but that also means you have to constantly update and monitor your site to get the best results.


  1. Finally, no matter where you place your focus, sales are a result of how engaging you are as a company or a product. Marketing of any kind can only create visibility and build a reputation. Ultimately, sales come from customer service, quality of products, and the needs you fill for your customers. SEM, SEO and SMM can only help you be accountable and be found. The rest is up to you!

Camille Rodriquez is the owner of Polka Dot Impressions, a social media consulting firm. She is also a women’s pastor at her church, Living Stones Church – Sugar Land, and has authored a Christian devotional titled “When I Die – Of Being, Living, and the Last Word.”

She passionately believes in integrity and intentionality – integrity in life, integrity in business, and personal responsibility to others. Because everything we do leaves an impression, she encourages others to leave a good impression!

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