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the three pillars of digital relevance: SEO, SMM, SEM

The need for businesses to promote themselves online is well-established, but the debate on how to best do this is ongoing, with strong arguments to support all strategies. Ultimately, I can only conclude that there is no magic one-size-fits-all strategy (sorry to all of you who were looking for a plug-and-play marketing plan).

Every effective digital marketing strategy needs to comprise of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and Social Media Marketing (SMM) activities. By finding the right mix, you increase the effectiveness of each, whilst driving down your costs.


On-page SEO should be a standard activity for all companies. When you build or update your website, take the time to implement the best design and coding techniques to ensure your site is geared to achieve the best organic rankings possible.

Off-page SEO refers to all of the SEO practices that take place outside of your website such as backlinks, link relevancy, and social signals, to name a few. These are used by Search Engines to establish the credibility of the content on your website. The more credible your content, the higher you get ranked in searches. This is where SEM and SMM strategies can make or break your SEO initiatives.


When it comes to SEM and SMM, Google and Facebook are indispensable. According to Statcounter, Google currently owns 95.54% of the South African Search Engine Market Share, and Facebooks owns 43.79% of the South Africa Social Media Market Share. This means that if you want your message to reach South Africans, you need to be on these platforms. But how do you distribute your budget between them?

In theory, we perceive Google and Facebook to be competitors, but in practice, we should treat them as allies in our mission to expand our brand recognition and grow our returns (ROI). One prime technique to achieve this is the use of pixels and cookies so that you can remarket to your website visitors via digital platforms. 


Google is the country’s most popular search engine and most popular pay-per-click advertising platform, utilising two types of advertising – search (keywords) and display (banners). Consumers use it to search for particular products or services. The advantage of Google Ads is that they reward relevance and quality rather than just the size of the budget or bid value.


Facebook advertising is extremely granular allowing businesses to target the most responsive audiences through demographics, interests, values and beliefs. With pixel integration strategies, we can also retarget our website visitors and people who have similar profiles (lookalike audiences) on Facebook, increasing the likelihood of repeat business and identifying new customers with the same interests or behaviours as existing customers. As Facebook is a social network, when people see ads that appeal to them, they are likely to share and tell their network about it, extending / expanding your reach. And with the latest Facebook algorithm change, your ability to reach your target audience organically is more difficult so you do need to spend money on advertising to reach your audience.

the long and the short of it

Google Ads harnesses search and display advertising to help advertisers find new customers, and is ideal for reaching other businesses or consumers who buy based on researched decisions. Facebook Ads helps customers find businesses based on interest, and has a high success rate for business promoting impulse-buy products. In a perfect world, you would promote your business on both platforms, but resources don’t always allow for a perfect world solution. The next best option is to stop treating SEM, SEO and SMM as separate marketing silos, and rather treat them as one inbound marketing initiative. Test messaging and targeting strategies on both platforms. And utilise a truly omni-channel marketing partner who can optimise your paid campaigns (and budget) to ensure the best results across platforms.

Pippa Hamilton

Pippa Hamilton

Pippa is the Go-to-Girl for campaign reviews. She’ll provide you with the performance reports and help you navigate popipulse so that you can access the figures in live time. She may be hiding in the basement, but that’s just so she can focus on finding the secrets the numbers are keeping.

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