In the digital marketing industry, a lot of acronyms and phrases are thrown around as if they are common knowledge. but that doesn’t make it true. And things in the digital world continue to change so rapidly, it is hard to keep pace – even for those who are digital marketing professionals. If you have heard about SMM, SEM, and SEO, and aren’t sure exactly what they are, how they work, and if they even pertain to you as a business owner, we understand. 

When you stop to consider that 98% of consumers use the internet to find what they need, with 76% regularly reading online reviews to guide their decision, you can quickly see why knowing what these terms mean and how to use them for your business is so critical. Do you know what they are, which ones are more important for your industry, and whether they are critical for you?

What Is SMM?

SMM stands for social media marketing, and it means that a company or business relies on social media and social media networks to gain exposure and build its brand. Social media marketing is integral to increasing sales, building your brand recognition, and driving traffic to your website. Ultimately your website becomes a placeholder to provide information about you and your services. Social media then drives consumers to it. 

It also allows you to analyze data analytics that help to market and track how well your marketing campaign is – or is not – working. It helps an organization to shape who its target market is and how to find and engage with them.

Over the past two decades, social media has predominantly overtaken television and radio, reaching an estimated one million viewers in 2020. And beginning in 2023, there were an estimated 4.75 billion viewers globally, which totals nearly 60% of the population worldwide. Over 80% of consumers reported that content, specifically influencer-driven content, impacted their decisions, making social media one of the most important factors to people looking for products or services worldwide. 

What Is SEM?

SEM stands for search engine marketing, and it is the leading practice to gain exposure for online businesses. It uses paid advertising online for the purpose of signaling search engine SERPs or search engine results pages. SEM relies on businesses “bidding” on keywords that pertain to their target audience because they are words that searchers will most likely enter to look for their product or service. When someone uses relevant keywords and key phrases, their ad will appear next to the queries for the businesses to gain leads. 

Most SEM are known as “pay-per-click” ads and they come in various formats. They range from inconspicuous text ads up to complete product placement ads, depending on how much a business wants to invest. The key to a successful SEM ad campaign is identifying who your intended audience is and then finding the right ad placement to be exactly where the company needs to be along the purchase pathway.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and it is a way to gain visibility when someone performs an organic search. It helps companies to identify their target audience for selling products or services. The more visibility you have, the more likely it is that a searcher will contact you versus your competition. SEO differs from SEM because it helps to drive organic traffic to your website and involves no paid advertising.

Which Is Right for Your Service Industry or Product?

Often, businesses wonder which avenue is best to promote and gain visibility for their product or service. The answer is that there is no one right answer or avenue for exposure across the board. It usually takes a strategy of many different avenues to be successful. The key is to find where you can capture your most likely audience. And then, enhance the likelihood that they will act and choose you. 

Deciding Where to Focus Your Resources

For any business, marketing and advertising can quickly become a full-time job. If you are just throwing darts at a target to see what will stick. You are also going to spend a huge amount of energy hoping that something works. The key to using your resources effectively and efficiently is using the best of all worlds. In combining it all, you can build a comprehensive and cohesive winning strategy.

Why You Need a Balance of All Three

It used to be that SEO ruled the internet space. If you put enough resources into SEO and were savvy enough, you could rise to the top of page one. Search engines have one job: to best match consumers with what they are seeking. Therefore, they go to great lengths to stay above the tactics and tricks of marketers and advertisers. After all, their success rests in being ahead of the game. But mostly, they have clamped down on most efforts that don’t require paid advertising. Are they all important? 100%. Are you going to be able to get by without paying? Not if you want to rise to the top.

The Rules About What Resources to Allocate Where

When asked where they should put money and resources, we always start by asking where they stand right now. If they have a steady trickle of clients, are maintaining well, and are happy with their position, then allocating a low budget to attract and retain new clients through paid advertising in SEM is a great way to stay relevant. 

If, however, they are in a position where they need immediate leads and attractive clients, then their resources are best SPENT through SEM. Paid advertising costs money, but when money is short and you have to allocate where to spend it, then going for immediate attention and fix is a must.

Once you get your lead generation to a point where you are once again finding new clients, then you can back off and throw more time and energy into the “long-term strategy of SEO.” Beware, however, it is a long-term strategy. It is a maintenance strategy that will not work if you don’t have what you need to begin with. 

Whether you choose to engage in SEO, SEM or both, SMM is almost always a must. SMM is about building your brand and marketing. It is also about building familiarity and brand loyalty, which is similar to the hare in the tortoise and hare fable. SMM is something that you need to do in addition to SEO or SEM. The good news is that it takes very little effort to keep pace when dealing with SMM.


Many of our clients approach us asking what the terms SMM, SEO, and SEM are. And even after we explain them, many are confused about what they need, where to allocate their resources, and which one will benefit them most. Our answer is that it depends on where you are with your marketing and your bottom line. If you need immediate help, long-term strategy necessarily has to take a backseat, but at the same time, social media marketing is something that you have to do to stay afloat – not just for search engines, but also to maintain your brand awareness and credibility. 

If it all seems confusing, you are not alone. There’s a reason why A Digital Media Company exists – because it is complex and it is a full-time job. You already have one – making your company a success day-to-day. As any smart business owner knows, it is best to do what you do best and delegate the rest. Contact us today and let’s partner to take your business to the next level!