How Do SEO, SEM, and Social Media Compare?

SEO, SEM, and social media digital marketing

How Do SEO, SEM, and Social Media Compare?

SEO, SEM, and Social Media Marketing (SMM) are all search-related forms of digital marketing and are all highly relevant to your brand. With the sheer volume of websites on the internet (around 1.98 billion active sites), making sure that yours gets found by the right people requires that you use the right mix of strategies.

So what are the differences between SEO, SEM, and Social Media Marketing, and when should you use which to attract leads and draw them into your sales funnel?

What Is SEO?

SEO check buttonSEO stands for search engine optimization and encompasses improving your website and individual pages to boost organic traffic. Organic traffic comes from users searching for terms on a search engine that has not been paid for. To increase organic traffic, you need to match your content with your user’s intent, or in other words, match what’s on your site with what leads or prospective customers in your niche are looking for. 

Doing so boosts your page on the search engine results page (SERP). The higher up the SERP your webpage is (the higher the ranking), the more traffic it attracts.

SEO used to center on dubious tactics such as keyword stuffing, where keywords were put in so often that the pages were unreadable for humans but ranked well in search engine results. However, nowadays, search engines penalize such practices and evaluate the pages’ worth to rank them.

Search engine crawlers (or spiders), a type of bot, follow links within and between websites, noting information such as the URL, meta title and metadata, headings, and links to build an index” of each page that determines its ranking.

There are three aspects of SEO: 

  • On-page: using rich keywords, effective metadata, internal links, and consistent, high-quality content that addresses users’ needs, desires, and problems. It is advisable to use a combination of keyword research tools and human researchers to identify opportunities for keywords that will attract searches but not have too much competition.
  • Off-page: building relationships with other content creators, creating content others want to share, and building backlinks through means such as guest posts.
  • Technical: how easily search engine crawlers can navigate the site, its speed, and responsiveness (crucial now that most searches are from mobile devices).

When Should You Use SEO?

SEO takes time to show results in increased organic traffic. However, once you have quality content with appropriate keywords, it tends to sustain itself (provided you keep adding fresh content). It is best for the sustained value of your website. It is the bedrock of establishing your brand and positioning you as a thought leader.

What Is SEM?

SEM stands for search engine marketing. It involves the use of paid advertisements to draw traffic. 

The ads you see at the top of a SERP are there because someone paid for them to appear when a particular keyword is searched. This is often PPC (pay-per-click) based, where you are charged a tiny amount whenever someone clicks through your link. 

These ads can be text-based or visual. You can test your ad and tweak it to maximize traffic. Test keywords and keyword combinations, change ad copy, and experiment with the design of the landing page and the ad links to see how you can improve the effectiveness of your SEM campaign.

When Should You Use SEM?

SEM helps you land at the top of the ad pile, rank higher in SERPs, and boost traffic rapidly. It shows much faster results than SEO.

However, traffic gained this way drops off again rapidly once you stop paying for ads and must be sustained for a while to show results. It’s best used when you have the marketing budget to get a quick boost when you want to promote a time-limited offer such as a discount or sale.

What About Social Media Marketing?

Social media sites are places to post updates such as photos, short messages, or links to content on your website to boost shares and traffic. Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn are leading sites. 

Social media marketing (SMM) is often mistakenly thought of as simply spamming users of social media sites with links to your content. However, there is much more to social media and its interaction with SEO. 

Creating strong links is a significant key to scalable growth. Integrating social media and SEO content delivers organic branding and content traffic.

Social media does not directly affect Google’s rankings, but there is a strong correlation between the two. However, note that SEO is about increasing traffic through higher rankings in organic search engine results, and social media platforms are search engines.

Prominent social media users will create backlinks on their pages if you publish informative and innovative content and encourage people to share and link to it. These backlinks will drive traffic to your site.

Engagement with users on social media and consistent, high-quality SEO content on your site reinforces your brand reputation. Search engines index your site more highly, which drives more organic traffic to your site, creating more engagement with your content and increasing the number of leads that convert.

Social Media Engagement 

Social media engagement rates are a metric of quality and equate to better rankings. If the new piece of SEO content on your site that you have shared on social media doesn’t get much engagement or viewers quickly click away, your ranking will go down.

Including actionable steps in your content helps increase its length and ratings; longer pieces of content tend to rank higher, as do rich content like audio and video. These things help make your content more shareable, and Google rewards shareable content with higher rankings. 

YouTube is directly after Google in the number of searches, and video content is a massive driver of search traffic.

The backlinks created through social sharing benefit your site in two ways: they enhance its credibility and authority in the eyes of search engines, and they are highly likely to drive traffic to your site. Both depend on the relevance of your shared content; it must be relevant to your desired audience and the audience of the people who share it.

So What About Follower Count?

Set up your social media strategy to increase shares and links rather than promotion. Don’t worry about your follower count. Your follower count does not matter for several reasons. 

Firstly, because organic page reach is declining; secondly, because search engines can’t scan follower count as a ranking factor; and thirdly, because most viewers can’tcan’t do that much for you. The best way to market via social media is to target the big fish.

More shares create more backlinks, helping to boost your SERP rankings. However, it’s not just any shares that will be of maximum benefit to your marketing efforts. Instead, you want industry experts, authority sites, and thought leaders to notice your content and share it. 

Mentioning them by name, linking to their site, and including a quote of theirs in your shared content is a great way to get these experts’ attention. Note that long-form content is best for doing so.

Who Should I Target on Social Media?

social media iconsIdentifying the demographics you are targeting and the preferred media format for this audience will help you establish which social media platforms to use and how to present your brand. Use social website analytics to research which content generates social shares and links and who is sharing. Doing so helps you target your strategy even more in the future.

Engagement with your target audience on social media is an increasingly strong predictor of sales, with consumers expressing more trust in companies that actively engage with them on social media.

Paying for ads on social networks such as Facebook is also possible. However, many marketers have noticed that paid ads are becoming less effective with time as their reach is reduced. Organic methods of reaching social media users are therefore preferable. 

Optimize Your Rank in SERPs and Your Local SEO

Optimize your social media profiles so that when people search for your brand, they find your social media profiles immediately after, dominating the SERP. Do so by including keywords you want to rank for and a link to your site.

If you are a brick-and-mortar business, you can also use listings in local social directories such as Yelp to help market your business. Geotagged social media posts and consistency of NAP (name, address, phone number) information are essential for advertising your business to local customers.

The Bottom Line About SEO, SEM, and Social Media

When doing digital marketing for your business, you cannot ignore SEO, as it is the foundation of good SERP rankings, brand authority, and long-term organic traffic. However, that does not mean you should ignore the quick boost that SEM can provide during a sale or a product launch.

The ubiquity of social media and the possibilities for thought leaders and influencers to give your brand more exposure mean that integrating a well-thought-out social media strategy into your ongoing SEO is essential for scalable growth.