What is SEO, SEM, SMM, SMO?

What is seo, sem, smm, smoWhen I first started building websites, I had never heard of the term SEO, let alone SEM. I knew that building a website was not enough. Once you had it, the next step was to find ways to promote the website.

In the late 1990’s, when I was first starting out, I believed that the best way to promote a website was through word of mouth and traditional paper advertising. I had no idea how to promote a website through the Internet. In those early days I tried everything from driving around with a sign on my car to handing out business cards and giving away pens and pencils with my web address.

Fast forward to the present and there are many ways to promote your website on the Internet. A quick search online and you’ll see the acronyms SEO, SEM, SMM and SMO all over the place. But what do these terms mean and what is the difference between them? It can get confusing trying to figure out jargon. So let us define each term and identify what makes it different.

What is SEO?

Google defines SEO (search engine optimization) as follows:

Improving a website’s presence in organic search engine results.

online marketing vocabulary, Learn with Google

It seems like a very simple definition, but let us elaborate more on this. Basically, it is the process of improving the visibility of your website to your online audience via search engines. In other words, optimization methods which help improve your website’s ability to be listed on the first or second page of organic search results.

In the most simplest terms, you want to create unique, fresh, quality content written for your audience and then you want to build quality links from relevant websites to point to that specific content. Of course, SEO involves a lot of work and there have been many books written about it, but if you stick to the basic rules of writing quality content and building quality links, then you are taking the right steps towards improving your website’s presence in organic search results.

What is SEM?

Sometimes you hear people using the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably and although these two terms may have once had a very close origin and meaning, today they are distinct from one another. Let us see how Google defines SEM (search engine marketing).

The use of online advertising on search engine results pages to help visitors find your website. SEM often uses pay-per-click (PPC), a bidding model that charges advertisers only when someone clicks on their ad (also referred to as cost-per-click, or CPC).

online marketing vocabulary, Learn with Google

As we can see, SEM involves paid advertisements such as Adwords, Bing ads, Yahoo and any other methods of online advertising. This process involves the creation of campaigns and measuring results. You set a budget and expect an immediate return on that investment. It is also the fastest way to get your website to show up on the first page of search engine results. These results show up as sponsored ads at the top or side of the organic search results.

What is SMO?

So now we know what SEO and SEM are, but what is SMO? SMO stands for Social Media Optimization. Perhaps the best definition I found for this was via a forum on the discussion of SMO:

Social media optimization increases the visibility of your social media profiles, your social networking activity and your published content so that it is found by people searching for information and resources that relate to your content. Social media optimization helps drive traffic to your website or blog, makes it easier for others to share with their circle of influence, builds community around your brand and helps search engines index your social media profiles, social activity and blog posts more easily.


The bottom line is, you have to build online profiles via social media networks so that you can share the content you create on your website or blog. Additionally, you add social media share buttons to allow other people to easily share your content.

What is SMM?

Similar to SEM, SMM stands for Social Media Marketing. And as you can guess it involves paid advertising through social media networks. If you are familiar with Facebook ads, then you are seeing SMM in action. It is the process of using paid advertising to broaden your customer reach and increase your brand exposure.

Which is right for you?

So we have defined the terms above and have identified that SEO and SMO are methods that you can implement yourself whereas SEM and SMM are methods which require paid advertisement and setting a budget. Although SEM and SMM will get you results fast, they are limited to the size of your budget. SEO and SMO are more long term solutions which, if done right, can continually bring in the desired results for your business. So which is right for you? This all depends on your business goals, but at least now you understand the terms and can make an informed decision on which methods to use.

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