SEO Vs. PPC Vs. SMM - Semalt Beginner's Guide

Recently someone asked a question on Reddit. The anonymous user wanted to know what would be the most effective model for her product's online marketing. Search engine optimization, pay-per-click, or social media marketing: which one is the best? That was the question. But there was no mention of the product or its description. The users who responded to the question asked for more details but none of them chose one over the other. 

And that is exactly the short answer to this quandary. You want to market your product or service online but you don't know which model to choose. You are not sure if a cost-effective SEO strategy will work or if you should run ads on Bing.

And Semalt is here to help. With thousands of successful campaigns across digital marketing formats, our expertise in these fields will allow us to explain better. Here's a comparison of SEO, SEM, and SMM. Let's start with the basics.

What is SEO?

We are sure you already know this, but here's a refresher on what search engine optimization (SEO) is. It's a set of activities that you do to push an asset (a website, for example) higher on organic search rankings that come up when searched using relevant queries. It's an intent-based marketing model and depends entirely on organic trends.

Let's take the example of one of our clients, Royal Service. It's an Apple repair service center based in Uruguay. SEO for its website means optimizing its pages using keywords relevant to its business, which is helping iPhone users with repair work. If the keyword 'apple servicing in Uruguay' is relevant for the company, in an ideal scenario, its website should rank on top of search results whenever someone searches using that keyword.

Image Credit: Stephen Phillips via Unsplash

If any of its pages ranks anywhere on the top page for a set of business-critical keywords, then one can confirm that the SEO for the website is working. Since Royal Service teamed up with Semalt, we have managed to help it rank highly for over a dozen keywords. No wonder it has continued to use our services to boost its online business.

But this is possible only when you execute an SEO strategy tailored to your specific needs. Here's a condensed list of SEO activities that will help you optimize a website and improve search rankings. These are the activities that Semalt swears by for all our clients across geographies.

Critical Activities Involved in Search Engine Optimization

  • Website audit
  • Content audit, creation (blog), optimization
  • Off-page link building and link audit
  • Analytics
  • Blogger outreach and content syndication
The important thing, however, to note about SEO is that it's a gradual, organic process. Activities can take anywhere from a few weeks to months to have any type of impact on your rankings. It is also the most economical model of the three. 
But at Semalt, you get faster results at affordable prices. Check out our bestselling services: AutoSEO and FullSEO.

What is PPC?

Also known as search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click is a digital marketing model where you advertise your services on a search engine like Google, Yandex, and Bing. Whenever someone searches using a keyword, your ad will appear on the top of all organic results. This usually appears as a separate result and is distinguishable as an ad from other organic results. You will be charged only if a user clicks on your ad. The cost of the ad varies continuously; and it additionally depends on a bidding structure.

Let's again take the example of Royal Service. If the company wants to run a PPC campaign for its website, it will need to do two things:
  1. Write a high-quality landing page that is relevant to the keyword they are targeting
  2. Participate in the bidding process for the target keyword
If we assume the target keyword is 'iPhone servicing in Uruguay', the company will need to create a landing page that details its services related to servicing an iPhone. Then it will need to bid for the ad space of any search engine like Google and Bing. Several other companies and advertisers will also be vying for the spot, so the one that bids a good amount and has a well-written landing page will eventually get the spot. 

Keep in mind that a string of other parameters like domain authority and quality score will also matter here. These same parameters also apply to search engine optimization.

PPC is often preferred by those who don't want to wait. It's a bang-on model that can make your ad go live in just a few hours and will be shown to hundreds or thousands of people who search using that keyword.

Compared to SEO, it is faster, more expensive, and can gain you quick sales. But it is not a long-term approach especially if you are low on budget. Most companies around the world - including Semalt's clients - prefer to market their products and services using a combination of SEO and PPC. 

Our staff's ability to converse in several languages including Turkish, French, Spanish, and German helps Semalt work with a variety of clients across countries and continents. It also helps us work on such languages on search, which has observed an uptick in the past few years. Users now look for information online in their own language, which emphasizes the need to market not just in English but also in local languages.

What is SMM?

Social media marketing is slightly different from the above two models. It is usually executed as a part of a larger digital marketing campaign where a company tries to target its customer base on social media. Promoting one's products and services (as well as offers and festive promotions) on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest, and several others is called SMM. In most cases, a company has presence across some of the sites, which gives it a natural push both in terms of sales and online visibility.

Image Credit: Sara via Unsplash

For example, having a Twitter handle or a Facebook company page can help a company improve its visibility. Whenever someone searches for the brand on Google, there is a chance that these profiles will pop up on search, which is what we mean by visibility.

But SMM also works as a standalone model sometimes. Take the case of an Indian businessman who sells sports shoes via his Instagram page. He has no website or any other presence online. Just an active Instagram business page through which he organically promotes the shoes and sells them to individuals. Since Instagram is a visual platform and his product a wearable object, his business has taken off. 

Social media marketing is similar to SEO where you only pay for the content and the management. But there is also an option to buy ads on these platforms, which can cost you dearly depending upon the tenure and type.

Key Differences Between SEO, PPC, SMM

Now that you have a fair idea about these three models, let's take a quick look at their core differences.

Coming back to the question that the anonymous Redditor had asked, it is not possible to choose one over the other as each has its own benefits and demerits. While an ideal scenario is to have a combination of all three, sometimes you have to start with one. This again depends on the type of business you are in, your buyer personas, and other factors.

If you are new to digital marketing, the best way to go about it is to consult a professional. Semalt can help you understand your digital journey better and set you up with the right online marketing model. Just get in touch with us today at Don't forget to say hello to our company mascot, the turtle Turbo, when you visit us at our office. 

Alternatively, you can browse through our products and select the one that best suits your needs. Either go with our flagship SEO services, AutoSEO and FullSEO, or consider our e-commerce SEO and analytics products. Whatever you choose, Semalt guarantees results and helps you stay on top of your game online to gather sales.