What is the difference between SEO, SEM and SMO?

Person working on their SEO using a latop

Richard Cowdery

Lead Digital Developer

Posted on April 29, 2019

There are a number of ways to improve the visibility of your website and in previous blogs we’ve mostly talked about on-page SEO and how we can improve the organic flow of traffic. But there are other methods which may help your site get noticed. Let’s take a walk through the common ways of marketing your website.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is the work we can carry out on the site itself. By creating great content that’s helpful to your visitors, as well as making the site technically sound, your site should start to rise up the search engine results pages.

Organic search is free in the sense you don’t have to pay other companies if you are prepared to put the work in. But it does take time and effort to get right.

Fortunately, we have a good idea of what search engines are looking for when it comes to the technical aspects of a site, and relatively speaking, it’s the easiest part to work on and perfect.

Content and the design of the site can be challenging to get right. We need to create a site that is going to entice visitors and, hopefully, convert them to customers.

There are many things to think about: design, UI/UX, tone of voice, visitor journey, the keywords you are targeting and so on. Planning all of this takes time and effort, but you should start to see a positive change in your site’s ranking.

Work on your site doesn’t stop after it’s launched. Monitoring your sites traffic and success will indicate if further changes need to be made. You should always be looking to improve traffic and conversions, working out what works, what doesn’t and adapting your site appropriately.

The above covers what we call On Page SEO – anything that we can directly change on our website to improve our rankings. There is also Off Page SEO which refers to things outside your direct control.

One of the strongest ranking signals that your website will benefit from is having lots of other web sites linking back to you. These are called back-links and indicate to search engines that you have content that’s good enough for other people to share. This may come in the form of a link to you from someone’s blog, social media post or an on-line business directory. How well regarded the site providing the back-links is will determine the value of that link and the impact it will have on your ranking.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

Appearing organically in search results is not the only way to get noticed. We can promote ourselves by paying for advertising. This typically involves bidding on certain keywords, so your ads appear on search engine results pages (SERPS), usually above or to the side of the organic search results.

It’s a great way of putting products and services right in front of the people who are likely to be further along the buyer’s journey. And unlike organic SEO, the results can be more immediate.

Paying for advertising isn’t going to win you lots of business unless that too is planned and properly budgeted for. What you can achieve with SEM is going to be largely dependent on how much money you’re willing to spend and what keywords you plan to target. Do you go for a few high-volume, variable quality keywords, or low-volume more specific keywords?

If you’d like to know more on the differences between SEM and SEO and how it can help you, take a look at our white paper “A simple guide to search engine optimisation and pay per click marketing“.

SMO – Social Media Optimisation

By using the right social media platforms, we can create awareness of your business and drive traffic to your website, just like SEM and SEO. The idea is to create engaging content on your website that others will consider worth sharing among their own social media contacts.

Because the social media space is so reliant on personal interactions – whether it’s sharing, commenting or liking a post – it provides an excellent indication as to how popular content is. Search engines do take note of this. If you have great content that lots of people are interacting with, you should see increased traffic to your site and improvements to your site ranking.

Social platforms also offer opportunities to advertise, just as search engines do. This is known as Social Media Marketing (SMM).


As you can see there are many ways to drive traffic to your website. Which path you choose is going to be down to your own business goals, the time you have and your budget. However, at the very least, optimising your site for organic search is a must to begin with. If you don’t work on that, the other options are going to be less successful!