Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to doing a number of things to rank high on the search engines for the search terms that people are using to find the kind of services and products that you offer. Social Media Marketing (SMM) is a way for businesses to network with potential clients and build a positive reputation and position themselves as experts in their fields.
Although there are literally hundreds of ways to promote a business online, these two are the main ones, which makes our new clients ask us this question all the time, "What is better, SEO or SMM?" I am sure that most of you want to know the answer too, but first let me explain the difference between both.
What I love about SEO is that in most cases people find you when they are ready to buy what you have to sell. If you have a computer repair shop in Baltimore, MD, how would you like to be found by people that search for "computer repair shop in Baltimore"? Think about it. Their computer breaks, they need it fixed, they perform an online search and they find you. How likely to get their business are you? "Very" I'd say, assuming that your website is decent and you give them good reasons to choose you over the other computer repair shops in Baltimore.
The only disadvantage that SEO has and I can think of is that it takes time. Unless the keywords you want to rank for are ridiculously easy, it will take you anywhere from a few months to a few years. Doing proper keyword research is the most important part of SEO. Otherwise, you will be working really hard to rank for keywords that are almost impossible or that don't have enough searches to make the whole process worthwhile.
Now, let's talk about SMM. The idea behind SMM is to network. Although it's a new concept, it works just like the old face-to-face networking. The same rules apply. You need to be generous, help others, and avoid self-promotion. Build trust first. Think about it. In real life you don't approach a group of strangers and the first thing you say is "my products are the best and my prices are awesome". If you don't do it in real life, don't do it in SMM.
SMM takes time, too. You don't build great relationships and trust overnight. The worst mistake you can make in SMM is to give it a shot for a month or two and if it doesn't make you money, you drop it. It's important that you start in SMM with realistic expectations. It might take you anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years to make it worthwhile. Remember that you are there to build relationships. When those people need your services –or their friends do, they will give you a call. But don't be pushy.
SMM is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't get into it and spend six hours a day hoping to start making money from your efforts right away. Invest 15 minutes a day to build your network. Create a Facebook group, a LinkedIn group, open a Twitter account, start a blog, post to it a few times a week, contact two or three people a day and ask them how you can help them, and publish your articles on several sites related to your industry. I can guarantee that if you provide useful content and spend 15 minutes a day in SMM, in a year you will have a network of an amazing quality.
I know what you are thinking. "So? Which one is better? SEO or SMM?" My opinion is that, in most cases, SEO is by far the best way to promote a business online. We have over 60 clients and we have plenty of evidence to support my statement. There's nothing like being first on Google for the keywords people use to search for your kind of business. SMM is great for consultants and people that profit from the specialized knowledge they have. It is also great for B2B companies. If you own a B2C company, you might want to look into Facebook and MySpace instead of LinkedIn and the like.
Although nothing beats SEO, don't forget my advice. "Work on building your network 15 minutes a day."