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

SEO, SEM, and SMM are Marketing Channels

  1. SEO is an abbreviation for search engine optimization. The goal of SEO is to get search engine users to your website.
  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 online 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, but what does that mean?

SEO used to be about gaming the algorithm

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

In 2018, 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.


When Is Lower Production Value Better For Video Content?

Sometimes, people want to see your brand’s pimples and stretchmarks.

“I don’t want any video to go up on our Facebook page unless it is broadcast quality.”

Our client had a brand image that was highly polished and refined.  We were discussing the business’s content strategy, and the topic had turned to video content; specifically, Facebook Live.  Until that point, the website had no video content other than advertisements and case studies of the work that it had done.  We suggested that the site begin featuring more video content, but it was rebuffed as being cost-prohibitive.  We countered by suggesting that the business could shoot “whiteboard-style” videos and behind-the-scenes content with a smartphone, eliminating the high cost of video production.  The owner did not want any video content that wasn’t broadcast quality, and to this day, the blog and social media pages have no video content whatsoever.

Does video content have to be broadcast quality?

Ten years ago, I would have answered “absolutely.”  Any shop that put out video content that looked in any way amateurish could have done more harm than good to their brand, leaving them worse off than if they had simply left “good enough” alone.  Now that high quality video equipment is available to pretty much any small business, the need for broadcast quality is actually less, and in some cases, could actually even be counterproductive.  For a brand that aims to foster trust and exude authenticity, lower production value can help them achieve it.

Wait, how can lower quality ever be preferable?

Today, people crave authenticity.  We have become so inundated with cleverly edited, touched up content that internet users have become a bit fatigued from it all; we live in a state of feeling like we’re being lied to. Additionally, we have become better than ever at sniffing out inauthenticity in what we find online.

It can be argued that many have come to regard much “high production content” as suspect.  We hear the occasional stories of high-profile Instagram models “outing” their pages as inauthentic.  Rapper Kendrick Lamar expressed the sentiments of fatigue with overpolished content, expressing a distaste for Photoshop and a wish to see “stretchmarks.”

This explains the odd success that people like DJ Khaled have had on media like Snapchat.  His Snapchat story about being lost at sea was viewed 1.8 million times.  He posts videos such as this that people love:

Why do people enjoy this content?  Because it is real.  Here, DJ Khaled is inviting us into his life, starring in his own self-produced reality show—a reality show that differs from the high production “reality” shows that we have become accustomed to because it is real.  People see that it was shot with a smartphone and posted to Snapchat; this is the brand equivalent to the “stretchmarks” that people like Kendrick Lamar want to see.

When your business or brand can benefit from “low production value” video

You want to create trust.  If you operate in an industry that needs to foster trust, low production value video can often gain that trust better than a video that could be aired at the Super Bowl.  An iPhone video will better communicate what it’s like behind the scenes at your business—just be sure to hide your startup’s ping pong table and piñatas before you hit record.  In other words, the fact that you are shooting with the smartphone lends authenticity, but you still don’t want to overshare.  As anyone that ever watched Chappelle’s Show can attest, keeping it real can and does go wrong.

You want to create a large volume of content.  For whatever the reason may be, sheer volume of content could be part of the content strategy that your business has adopted.  Being able to shoot and edit on the fly could facilitate this strategy for your company.

You need agility.  If you are creating content to create thought leadership for your brand, weeks are the equivalent of years.  If you want to create content about the latest Google or Facebook algorithm changes, you don’t have weeks to plan, create, edit, and promote your video. Get some decent lighting, a tripod and clip for your phone, and get it out ASAP.

Ultimately, there are advantages to creating video content with a smartphone.

The agility, authenticity, and cost afforded by smartphone video can create value for you and the audience you wish to reach.  For a brand wishing to outflank its larger competitors, this sort of content could be key in doing so successfully.  What are some brands that you’ve seen do this well?  Are there reasons to embrace low-production value video in addition to the ones that I have listed?  Does your brand have plans to implement a similar strategy?  I look forward to reading your comments.


You Are Not In Business To Break Even

“You know, as long as we break even, I’ll be happy with the work you do.” – Countless clients we’ve worked with

What?  We’re not in business to break even.  If you are spending $95 to make a $100 sale, you are almost certainly losing money once you factor in overhead such as your rent, licenses, and electric bill.  On top of that, it might even be possible that you could make more money by closing up shop, taking your $95 and putting it in an index fund that delivers an annual 10% return.  Let’s get rid of the idea that as long as your Facebook ads, SEO, or Adwords campaign doesn’t lose money, you should be happy with the results.

What is your expected rate of return?

Without getting too much into MBA talk, how much money do you expect to make off a new customer? (profit, not gross sales)  Taking that into consideration, how much does an Adwords campaign need to make in order to be successful?  There are a couple factors that you should be considering before you answer this question.

  1. How risky is the plan?  If you’re looking at spending money on something whose likely results you are unsure of, you should be projecting a chance of making a lot more money than if you were to do something safe and tested.  If no one in your industry has ever successfully driven business through Snapchat geofilters, it may be something worth looking into, but it your forecasted sales are not sky high, it may be worth doing something with a more proven ROI.
  2. What is your customer lifetime value? When you think about that new customer, you need to consider the entire lifetime of your interaction with that customer.  Here’s a simple calculator to help you figure out your customer lifetime value.
    1. If you know that you have a high likelihood of getting a referral from a new customer, make sure that you take that into consideration.  Let’s say that one in ten customers send you a referral; take whatever your customer lifetime value is and multiply it by 1.1.

Please stop thinking in terms of breaking even.

Know how much you will make over the lifetime of a new customer and don’t spend more that 25%-33% of that number to acquire that customer.

If you are spending $9 to sell a product with a $10 profit, you may think that you’re making $1, but you’re not taking into consideration the overhead costs.  Running a marketing plan and a business like this is a sure way to fail.  If a marketing channel costs your $9 to sell a product with a $10 profit (or contribution margin), you need to pick another medium to advertise in.  Between Facebook Ads, Paid Search through Adwords or Bing, SEO, or any one of the myriad traditional advertising media, there will be a channel that will prove itself profitable.  The key is to recognize which are not profitable, because we are not in business to break even.



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.