You created a website, and now you’re looking for ways to generate more traffic. Whether you want to monetize your blog via ad placements, spread your message far and wide, or get visitors to purchase a specific product or service, there are so many ways you can go about getting the type of traffic you desire.

Upon initial research, you may be left scratching your head at all the different types of digital marketing strategies. You may be familiar with the popular term SEO, but now you’re asking yourself: what are all these other acronyms? PPC? SERP? SEM?

Creating and applying a marketing strategy to your site can be very overwhelming, especially if you’re not very familiar with the different types of strategies out there.

The truth is, there’s usually more than one way to achieve your goal for your website. However, the trick to success is knowing the key advantages of each marketing method and applying them strategically in order to generate the best results. 

In this article, we’ll look at 4 main marketing tactics: SEO, SEM, SMM, and SMO. You’ll gain a better understanding of how to apply each one, and which strategies are best for you to implement for your website.

At-a-glance map of the digital marketing landscape (channels and uses)

Traffic SourceOrganicPaidOrganicPaid
FocusRelevant keywords, great content, quality links, good imagesPPC ads, optimized keywordsDeveloped social accounts, regular posting, engaging contentPaid social media campaigns, engaging content
Overall costFree, or pay for SEO servicesCosts per click on your adFree, or paid social media consultantCosts per click or to run a campaign
CTR (Click-through rate)HigherLowerHigherLower
SMM, SMO, SEM and SEO acronyms

SEO: Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the act of optimizing the content on your website specifically for search engines, like Google, in order to rank as highly on SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not entirely as easy as it sounds, but it’s also not impossible.

There are so many different things you can do on your website to ensure it is optimized for search engines. Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely get different instructions on what to do in order to improve your site’s SEO

While you can get very technical with SEO, there are a few directions you can take to ensure your content is optimized and your website is ready to be ranked.

The most important thing to remember when looking for ways to optimize your website is that fresh, original content trumps everything else. You may have heard about the keyword stuffing approach, where a specific word would be written into a piece of content over and over again.

While this strategy may have worked once upon a time, it’s no longer the way to go. Keyword stuffing makes your content sound unnatural and forced, and you’ll actually get penalized by Google for doing this. The best approach is to create well-written content that is easily digestible by readers and search engines.

Pointers for creating legible content for search engines:

  • Make sure your headline or title is memorable. You might want to use your title to ask a question or make a statement that will grab a reader’s attention.
  • Use a determined amount of diverse keywords. Select a couple of short phrases of a few words each to try and work into your text a few times, but don’t overdo it.
  • The structure is important. You want readers, and search engines, to be able to skim an article in order to find the most pertinent information. As a rule of thumb, it’s ideal to keep sentences and paragraphs short and adding subheaders for different sections.
  • Use your images wisely. Images can also be helpful for SEO. Make sure you add ones that make sense for the content, even better if they’re original. You should also add alt text (or alt tag) to each image as a sort of image description, and try and include a keyword there as well.

There are so many things you can do to optimize your content, but the above suggestions are a good place to start if you’re new to SEO.

Building high-quality links for SEO

You can add both internal links (other pages on your website) and external links (leading to other websites). When using internal links, make sure they’re relevant to the content you’re linking from. For external links, you want to be sure you’re linking to other well-ranking, reputable websites. Additionally, if you’re linking to another article, make sure it’s relevant and recent.

SEM: Search Engine Marketing

Many people think that SEO and SEM are one and the same, but that’s a false assumption. SEO focuses on organic traffic, whereas SEM is more focused on paid traffic and advertisements.

Search engine marketing is when you use paid online advertisements on search engines in order to direct people to your page. You’d likely turn to paid advertising platforms, such as Google Adwords or Bing Ads.


In order to rank with paid ads, advertisers will bid on certain keywords that people might search for. The winning bidder’s ad will then appear on the top of the SERP, making their website highly visible. The whole process of bidding on ads is done automatically by setting specific spending parameters.

The ads often go by the term PPC, pay-per-click, since that’s exactly what’s happening. Advertisers pay when their ads are clicked on.

Like SEO, keywords are very important to SEM, perhaps even more. Since advertisers spend money on each ad, it’s necessary to ensure that the keywords in those ads are exactly what people are searching for. Otherwise, you’re spending money on ads that likely won’t convert into clicks or sales. Many SEM marketers rely on keyword tools in order to accurately research the best keywords to use.

SEM can be a good strategy if you have products that you’re selling and you want buyers to be aware of your product. Often, users who are searching online for specific products are ready to buy, so spending the extra money on PPC ads can be worth the investment.

SMO: Social Media Optimization

If you are putting a lot of effort into your social channels, you want to make sure they’re optimized for your goals.

SMO Social Media Optimization

Social media optimization aims to increase awareness of a specific product, event, or brand using various social channels. This can be done on a number of different social sites, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, among others. The ones you choose will depend on the nature of your business and what you’re trying to achieve.

With SMO, your goal is to develop your social media accounts to a high level so that users are attracted to your content. Ideally, you want social media users to share your content and interact with it, whether that means becoming a dedicated follower, a recurring client, or simply leading them to visit their website.

There are tons of ways social media can positively impact your business’s overall marketing strategy. If you’re not sure how or where to begin, check out our guide on how to use social media to grow your business.

SMM: Social Media Marketing

SMM follows a similar pattern to the marketing strategies we’ve already seen. It uses techniques from SMO with the main difference being that ads are created for a paid campaign. 

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Whereas SMO is primarily used to foster long-term brand awareness and connect with audiences on a multitude of social platforms, marketers mainly use Social media marketing i.e. SMM to create ads to promote something very specific.

For example, you might pay to run a campaign on Instagram where users will see paid ads in their feeds of a product you’re trying to sell. Or, you can run a similar paid campaign on Facebook where users will see an ad that leads them to your website or a landing page.

The end goal depends on your business and what you aim to achieve, but the means are similar to SEM in that SMM uses precise, targeted paid ads to reach a specific audience.

Paid vs Organic Traffic

If you’re pitting SEO vs SMM or SMO vs SMM, you’re bound to get varied results. The truth is, there isn’t one answer to which method is best. 

The organic traffic you get with SEO and SMO can really grow your business and allow you to reach a wider audience. On the other hand, SEM and SMO offer much quicker results that can be instantly quantified.

SEO and SMO are made for the long term. These strategies require an investment of your time. They also require regular attention in the form of quality content, whether it’s an engaging Instagram post every day, or posting an informative article on your website once a week. It can take months, or even years, to see success from SEO and SMO, so it takes a lot of diligence and patience on your part. However, the success you see will likely not fade as you’ve built a strong foundation of solid, regular, and reliable content that your audience now depends on.

SEO+SMO=Long term

SEM and SMO are best for short-term goals. For example, if you have a new product you’re trying to promote and sell as quickly as possible, paid advertisements can be a great way to get your product seen by the largest amount of people. However, it’s important to keep your budget in mind. You can increase ad spending when you have a special promotion, but a high ad budget likely isn’t sustainable in the long run.

SEM+SMO=Short term

It’s also important to consider the difference in the leads you tend to get from each strategy. Paid traffic isn’t necessarily as high-quality as organic traffic. Users that come from organic traffic are generally more meticulous in their search, whereas users from paid traffic want immediate answers. Either way, you need to make sure your website and social accounts are set up to the needs of both paid and organic traffic.

Which Marketing Strategy Is Best For Your Business?

A lot of business owners will debate the effectiveness of specific strategies. They’ll weigh the costs of SEM against the long-term commitment of SEO, and then ultimately settle on one option.

However, the best marketing strategies use a combination of two or more of these methods. SEO and SMO will take a lot more time to develop, as they require regular creation of relevant content, while SEM and SMM involve paid traffic. The best one for your business depends on your goals and requirements.

SMM, SMO, SEM and SEO acronyms

Questions to ask yourself before investing your time and money into one strategy:

  • What is my budget for marketing? 
  • Do I have the time and resources to dedicate to long-term marketing plans for SEO and SMO?
  • Am I trying to achieve success on a short-term campaign, or do I want to create a long-term marketing plan?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of which direction you should go in.

Though SEO and SMO don’t specifically use paid advertising, that’s not to say that you don’t have to spend money on them. Many small businesses don’t have the resources or know-how to create effective content, so they are left to hire a new employee, turn to outside consultants, or use paid SEO software.

It’s important to weigh the costs of hiring someone to optimize your content organically. Paid ads can add up quickly, so it might be more budget-friendly to hire someone to take care of your social media channels and digital content.