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

difference between seo and sem

SEO, SEM, and SMM are Acronyms for Digital Marketing Channels

  1. SEO is an abbreviation for search engine optimization. The goal of SEO is to get search engine users to your website through the organic search results.
  2. SEM is search engine marketing.  This includes SEO and paid search (the paid ads that you see at the top of Google when you perform a search).
  3. SMM is an abbreviation for social media marketing. Social media marketing includes paid Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram ads as well as non-paid social media marketing efforts.

All three abbreviations are commonly used when discussing digital marketing. Most successful websites engage in some combination of these marketing channels, including most of the top websites that you visit every day.

We added a video below, so scroll down if you’d prefer a video to reading!

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a collection of practices aiming to get a website to show up in the organic Google search results.

20 years ago, search engine optimization largely involved writing as many times as possible the keyword that you wanted to rank for. Google came along and heavily weighed the value of backlinks, resulting in a new focus on acquiring links from other sites to the site that the SEO worked for.  SEOs promptly began engaging in practices to manipulate the search engine results page, resulting in measures by Google to penalize sites caught trying to manipulate the results.

Today’s SEO is about providing value

Today the goal of SEO is to gain the trust of the search engine by giving people what they want. This is accomplished by designing websites that:

  1. are easily crawled and understood by the search engine
  2. solves people’s problems
  3. serve as an information resource to other websites

There are a number of ways that you can help the search engine to understand and navigate your website:

  1. Create a sitemap and submit it to Google.  If you are using the Yoast SEO plugin, this gets generated automatically and can be found at www.exampledomain.com/sitemap_index.xml.  Go to Google Search Console —> Crawl —> Sitemap.  Submit your sitemap there.
  2. Use title tags as well as H1-6 tags.  By using header tags you will make your content more “skimmable” to visitors as well as the search engine.  It’s a great opportunity to place keywords relevant to your article.
  3. Link to other articles and pages within your site.  The search engine wants to understand which pages you consider to be the most important and authoritative; link to your most important articles that are relevant to the piece that you are writing.  If you’re writing an article about painting your kitchen and you did a piece about priming and sanding, link to the priming and sanding article.  It is both relevant to the current article and could provide value to future visitors.  Additionally, it can potentially pass some link equity that will help the other article to rank.
  1. Focus your content on solving people’s problems. Google has a number of ways to determine whether a website is solving people’s problems.  It is collecting all kinds of data on the way people interact with search engine results and websites; if your site seems to provide the knowledge on a given topic, you are likely to be worthy of consideration when the next person does a search on a similar topic.
  2. Google is not interested in “rewarding your website”—it wants to provide the best, most relevant results to searchers.  If you are able to demonstrate that you are able to provide the value to searchers that they need, you will be trusted and more likely to be recommended as a result for queries related to your content or business.
  1. Create unique content that provides value to other sites.  How-to articles, information related to your industry, anything that another website would want to reference will eventually earn your site links.
  2. Contribute to a community.  My experience has been that sites seldom earn links on their own. Usually sites earn links when their contributors are members of a community that refers to the content, makes its existence known in that circle, then earns links via references.

SEM Stands for “Search Engine Marketing”

Search engine marketing includes SEO, but also includes paid search.  I did a comprehensive guide on paid search that you can follow to learn the best practices in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

SMM is “Social Media Marketing”


This is a term that many marketers were using up until around 2016.  SMM has largely morphed into “Facebook Advertising” since Facebook has captured such a large percentage of the money spent on social media.  Additionally, it’s become largely a paid channel since the organic reach of FB pages is now so limited.  Today, Facebook marketing largely means “paid advertising.”


Much—if not all—of “influencer marketing” is done on social media.  A brand reaches out to the representative of an influencer such as Kim Kardashian and pays her to put up a post related to the brand on social media.  Influencer marketing is arguably a subset of social media marketing, though it is rarely described as such.

How Can Facebook Messenger Ads Help You? (Or Are They Just a Distraction?)


Let Us Break It Down For You.

In this post, we’re going to explain how Facebook’s new Messenger Ads work in a way that you, the average business owner, can totally understand.   Maybe they could be helpful to your business…

“If an email is a knock on the front door, a Facebook Instant Message is tap on the sliding door to the patio”

If you haven’t yet interacted with any brands through Facebook’s new Messenger ads yet, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  You are now able to use Facebook’s immensely popular messenger program to:

  • send sponsored messages to users that have opted in (kinda like an email list, only with instant messages)
  • use messenger as a “destination” for your ads (as opposed to your website or company FB page)

It’s a really new feature, so few really know how and where it is best used.  There haven’t been many published tests on its effectiveness, though there are a few tutorials on how to set them up.

So why would you want to run Facebook Messenger ads in the first place?

It’s the way that many people like to communicate.  They like instant messengers.  The number of users of Whatsapp, FB messenger, Slack, and similar software has exploded in the last several years, and a large percentage of people prefer communicating through them vs. email or phone.  Making your business available on messenger makes it possible for people to communicate with you in their preferred medium.

Closing a sale is a race against time and messaging can give you a speed boost.  It is widely documented that the longer it takes to contact a lead, the less likely that your lead is likely to convert.  Facebook messenger can significantly reduce the time that it takes to respond to a potential lead by alerting your sales team through a push notification that they can respond to immediate.  Your Facebook Messenger could be a tool in driving sales.

It is not a cluttered medium—yet.  Since most brands have not yet figured out how to use Facebook Messenger ads, few of them are using them in their marketing funnel.  While Adwords, FB Newsfeed ads, Instagram ads, and other mature media are a bloodbath, most businesses are still on the sidelines when it comes to FB messenger ads.  As long as they stay there, it’s likely that you’re going to get a deal on these placements

You are pinging people’s phones and getting their attention.  There are few ways to communicate with customers that are so personal; you’re in a channel that is normally reserved for a small circle of friends.  Not only are they more likely to see your communications, they are likely to be a highly engaged segment of your consumer base and possibly a highly profitable one.

It may have some unknown benefit that we haven’t identified yet.

How Does It Work?

There are two types of Facebook Messenger Ads: “broadcasted posts” and “destination posts.”

“Broadcasted Posts”

This type of ad send a message to a customer’s FB messenger inbox.

Since FB messenger is a place that people are not yet accustomed to seeing ads, these placements have sky-high open rates (like 70%-80% in comparison to email’s 15%-20% open rate).  For the time being, this presents a tremendous opportunity for a business that knows how to do it right.  If an email is a knock on the front door, a Facebook Instant Message is tap on the sliding door to the patio.  Customers haven’t become accustomed to filtering out instant messages the way that they’ve learned to ignore email.  Jump on that.

“Destination Posts”

This type of ad places the customer in a chat conversation with you.

We’re all accustomed to clicking on a banner ad or news feed ad and being sent to a landing page or maybe even clicking-to-dial a business.  Now, a customer has the option to start a chat conversation with you after seeing your ad.  This is the digital equivalent of having a sales consultant on the showroom floor to answer any questions that your customers may have.

When should you use Facebook Messenger ads?

Don’t think that you need a new tool just because it’s new.

Messenger ads should be used when they are the right tool for the job.  They offer a few unique advantages that could be of value in the right situation.  But what are those situations?

When you want to talk to a customer as fast as possible.   There are instances that arise in all kinds of business where time is of the essence; when a bad wind storm hits, tree removal companies need to respond fast.  If you operate in an industry where being able to chat with customers on demand is a benefit, Facebook Messenger ads may be worth testing.

When you think that your customer may have questions that they want answered now.  A customer that spent a decent amount of time on your website without buying anything may have questions about your product.  How about a messenger ad inviting her to chat with a rep to ask whatever questions she has?  What if purchasing your product or services is a high-involvement decision?  Maybe an invite to ask questions to a live person could be helpful.

When you’ve learned that your customers prefer to interact with your employees through Facebook Messenger.  It doesn’t take a lot of money to test this out.  You may find that your customers don’t want to interact with your employees at all (I admit, I prefer ordering fast food at a kiosk vs. interacting with the charmers that are usually at the register).  You could also discover that it works like a charm to give a “nudge” to those customers that are on the fence about your service or product.  There’s only one way to find this out.