Search Engine Marketing versus Social Media Marketing: Which One Is Better?

March 13th, 2012 by | Print

When you hear the terms search engine marketing (SEM) and social media marketing (SMM), are you perplexed? Aren’t they basically the same thing? Unfortunately, many internet marketing firms promote themselves under an all-inclusive umbrella and use the terms loosely. So if you’re not a skilled internet marketer and you’re trying to figure out how to best apply SEM and SMM on your own or if you’re trying to decide how to allocate your online marketing budget for your outsourcing provider, it’s no wonder that you would be somewhat confused.

Let’s try to clear up misunderstanding with a quick definition and some benefits of each.


Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM is a form of online marketing that gets your branding site, social media profiles, landing pages, and wherever else you want to direct traffic to, high up on the SERPs (search engine results pages) for specific keywords. Real word example … if you are a nonprofit for special needs kids and an interested family member is looking for an organization in their area, will they find a link to your site on page one of Google?

When looking at a SERP, in most cases, you will see a mix of ads and organic links. On Google, there are ads across the top of the page and down the right side with 10 organic links in the main body of the page. See the example below. The ads have been circled in red; the organic links are bracketed by the green bar.

These are PPC (pay per click) ads that you can get with Google AdWords. Before you get started, make sure you do your keyword research using their Keyword Tool. When you’re logged into your Gmail account, you will find the tool under the Tools and Analysis tab.

When you enter in keywords, you can start with one word or two word keyword phases to see what is popular before you drill down to long-tail keyword phrases, if necessary. For example, if you are a nonprofit, you may start with using the phrases “nonprofit”, “not-for-profit”, and “non-profit” to see which phrases receives the most searches.

Google will show you have many people search by each of these phrases followed by a list of recommended long-tail keyword phrases associated with these terms. I recommend you perform research using these terms with your focus and / or location (i.e. special needs nonprofit, special needs nonprofit Baltimore).

The biggest benefit of using Google AdWords as part of your SEM is you can get to the top of page one much quicker than with SEO strategies.


Social Media Marketing (SMM)

SMM is similar to SEM, but instead of ranking high on search engine pages, it gets you noticed in the social media sites. For example, if you sell APA formatting software to college students, when they are chatting with their friends on Facebook, will your business’s name pop up or will they find your competitors?

If we use Facebook as our social media marketing example, you have very specific options for targeting your audience with their ads. When you’re on your personal page, you’ll see ads down the right side. To create an ad, you can click on the “Create an Ad” link above the ads or you can go to the bottom of your page and click on the “Advertising” link.

With Facebook ads, you can zero in on your demographics by location, age, their likes, sex, whether they’re in a relationship or not, and their education level. You can send your ads out only to people who are already fans of your page or to those who aren’t. You have options between placing ads that go back to your Facebook page or link out to external sites.

Just like with Google in the example for search engine marketing, researching your target market before you get started is a huge variable for success. Fortunately, Facebook is very good about showing you how many people your ad will reach. I recommend starting small and testing different ads to see which convert before growing your budget. While targeting is hugely important, you still need to create ads and offers that convert.

Each social media site has its own method for identifying what words are best to use for targeting your audience and how many people your social media marketing will reach.


To SEM or SMM, that is the question?

So which is better for your business, search or social? Both methods give you the option to buy your way to top-of-mind awareness with very specific audiences. The primary questions for you to answer are, “How can you put an ongoing stream of quality content and offers in front of the right people? Where does your audience spend their time?”

More people use searches to look for business, while social media is a virtual word of mouth machine. Both have large audiences to connect with, but primarily for different reasons. So when answering the question of search engine marketing versus social media marketing, you’re likely to conclude that you should be doing both.

If after reading this, you’re still confused, leave your questions below or contact

All the Best,

Doug Dolan
The Solopreneur’s Guide


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