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SEM, SEO, SMM, SMO… what?  When discussing digital marketing, you won’t go far without encountering the various acronyms that are associated with the umbrella term. At a glance, the terms appear interchangeable – which may confuse a digital marketing novice. In this article, we’ll reference our previous articles with the aim to examine and ultimately make sense of the four major digital marketing terms; and analyse how they might influence the economics of the growing industry.

SEM: What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is an expansive term that describes two forms of marketing: pay-per-click (PPC) and the organic SEO. We’ll use this section to discuss PPC, as we’ll look at SEO in detail later. In this section, we’ll define PPC using our previous article ‘Social Media PPC & Search Engine PPC’.

PPC would be as follows in its most rudimentary form:

It is the user who is responsible for how they see the ads in search engine PPC. The user will eventually find the ad through their search queries.

To find an answer to their question, a user will enter specific keywords into Google. The first link they see will be an ad that is paid for by a company in the hope that it will bring potential customers to their website.

When searching for cinemas in Dubai on Google, the two top results are ads. They can be distinguished from non-paying links as there will be a visible ‘Ad’ symbol next to the link. The PPC advertising companies in Dubai pay a fee every time a user clicks the link.

Google AdWords

It’s important to discuss Google AdWords, as it’s the most popular search engine PPC tool in the world. PPC is the most common and widely used form of paid search, and Google AdWords is the most common and widely used form of search engine PPC. An effective pay per click strategy should involve the utilization of Google AdWords – Google’s paid to click program that will direct traffic to a paying businesses website.

First of all, what is Google AdWords? Google AdWords or Google Ads appear in Google’s SERPs after a relevant search query. It is essentially run like an auction and happens in the following way:

  • Advertisers bid on keywords
  • Google searches the bidding pool
  • CPC ad bid and quality score taken into account
  • The winners are selected for the ad space

SEO: What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search engine optimization describes the process a website owner will take to improve their website’s ranking in Google’s search engine results page (SERP). A higher page ranking will drive more traffic to your website – as case studies have shown results on the first page of Google receive almost 95% of clicks. Organic SEO is worth more to a company’s website than pay-per-click advertisement – as it will directly contribute to page ranking and be free of charge.

There is no one simple trick to improve your SEO. We’ve discussed in our previous SEO dedicated article (Examining the Stages of Effective SEO Promotion) that it is a multi-faceted and most importantly – continuous – process. Implement the following techniques to improve your SEO:

  • Conduct Analysis of Website, Niche and Competitors

    • Analyse website visibility in SERPs and look at keyword volume.
    • Suggest changes based on competitors and niche analysis.
  • Keyword Research

    • Form semantic core of your website based on analysis of keyword frequency.
    • Produce text for landing page and meta tags.
  • Extensive Structuring of the Site

    • Create a broad website structure, organised by your keyword analysis.
    • Designate a landing page for each cluster of keywords.
    • Greater page relevance will improve your search visibility.
  • On-page SEO Optimization

    • Create a user friendly URL and page-to-page navigation.
    • Improve website speed and produce quality and relevant content.
  • Setting up internal site linking

    • Implement the seamless linking of your several landing pages.
    • Easy access improves user experience – an important metric to Google’s ranking system.
  • Optimize the crawling budget

    • Reduce website errors through maintenance.
    • Block irrelevant pages from indexing and increase external link building.
  • Improving the website usability

    • Produce relevant content and make your website mobile friendly.
    • This will reduce the bounce rate – users leaving immediately after clicking your site link.
  • Utilize Off-Page SEO

    • Increase the number of external references and off-site links.
    • Link building, social media marketing and bookmarking.
  • Increase Your Conversion Rates

    • Publish ALL product/service reviews.
    • Follow up on cart abandonment.
    • Showcase your website security.
    • Clearly show contact information.
    • Improve the quality of on-site images

SMM: What is Social Media Marketing?

Similar to search engine marketing – social media marketing involves two forms of online marketing: social media optimization (SMO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC).

To reiterate what we discussed in our previous article (Social Media PPC & Search Engine PPC): social media pay per click advertising (PPC) is a form of advertising you’ll find exclusively throughout the various social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube… If you’re a regular social media user, then you’re likely to have seen one or more PPC advertisement on any of the major platforms on a daily basis.

PPC works the same in social media as it does in a search engine. The advertiser pays for every click received. However, in social media PPC, the advertiser is responsible for who sees the ad. They determine which demographic is best suited to the ad, and will act accordingly.

Studies have shown that minutes spent daily on social media are increasing annually. Using this data, it would be sensible to suggest that SMM is now an essential part of any business strategy. To generate interest in your ads, schedule them by looking at standardised online behaviour – when people are more likely to go online and use social media.

An effective social media marketing strategy will result in an interested user going directly to your site via the provided link, or organically searching for your product or service after seeing the advertisement, and ultimately be led to your website in the relevant search query.

(Graph from statista.com)

SMO: What is Social Media Optimization?

SMO is an acronym for Social Media Optimization. It functions similar to SEO, as they both play an important role in the success of a website or brand.

As we’ve discussed, the defining principles of SEO are to improve the ranking of a website in Google SERPs and increase organic website traffic. SMO takes this principle and combines it with the optimization of social media content through the various social media platforms. It describes the refinement of both your social media profile(s) and behaviour.

Laying down the foundations by setting up your social media accounts is only the first step. Much like SEO, It’s important to remember that SMO can’t be neglected. It’s an on-going process that will eventually lead to the establishment of your social media presence and brand. Here is an outline of SMO techniques discussed in our article: ‘What is Social Media Marketing?’

  • Set up and improve existing accounts

    • Your user name, profile picture and biography should be unambiguous and remain consistent and relevant to your business.
    • Visitors should immediately recognise what product or service your business provides.
  • Learn about your target audience

    • Use website analytics and competitor analysis to understand who is buying from you and within your niche.
  • Keywords are important – use them in your posts!

    • When possible, use keywords in your social media posts to maximize exposure; remember, randomly spamming keywords will have the opposite effect on your SEO.
    • It will help your website or social media rank better in search engine keyword searches.
  • Create a content calendar

    • Produce a posting schedule to maximize user engagement and interaction.
    • It’s cost effective in the long run to produce content that people will actually see.
  • Be social on social media

    • Being active on your social networks will build trust and relationships with customers and followers.
    • Search engines use your interaction and posting frequency as a metric toward your SEO and page ranking.
  • Integrate social media onto your website

    • Your website should include direct links to your social media account(s).
    • This will improve your website’s ranking, as social media sites boast a strong level of web authority.


SEM, SEO, SMM, and SMO – these terms are the cornerstones of any digital marketing strategy. Anyone interested in the industry must familiarise themselves with the terms, and eventually become comfortable using them. With the help of our past articles, we’ve consolidated these terms and catalogued them in one location that’s easy to understand. If you’re ever stuck, this should give you a clearer point of reference. You’re welcome!


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