A couple years ago, I wrote an article addressing the differences between working in a search engine friendly manner and working on search engine optimization. That article talked extensively about what is included in optimization which is not necessarily a part of being search engine friendly.

Shari Thurow, a well-respected researcher in the search engine optimization and usability realm, suggested that separating the two concepts is, in fact, ridiculous.

Well, that may be. However, I think that it’s crucial to break a task into parts if you want to gain a thorough understanding of the whole. Search engine marketing is an excellent example of a whole which is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

As I see it, building a search engine friendly site is one of the first stages of best practice search marketing. The adage “if you build it, they will come” fails to hold, however: a site which is constructed merely to be search engine friendly will gain little to no traffic.

Being part of the process

Being search engine friendly is a part of the process of search engine optimization; which is, itself, a part of the process of search engine marketing. In addition to these two aspects, search engine marketing may also include pay-per-click advertising, print advertising, link building and social media participation. Search engine marketing is a large area, and very, very few people are expert in all aspects. I’m certainly not.

From a marketing standpoint, what parts of this marketing whole are necessary for your business to succeed is going to vary radically depending on your industry and the way your business intersects with the internet. It will also depend on your definition of success. If you’re looking to maximize growth, you’ll probably want to be investing in all aspects of marketing.

So I’m arguing that search marketing, while clearly a practice in which the parts of the whole are highly interwoven and carry clear dependencies on each other, can nonetheless be separated into it’s component parts for a variety of reasons, including for the sake of discussion.

Now let me take this a step further. Not only is it possible to separate search engine marketing into separate aspects for discussion, it’s valuable.

If you want to understand the interactions between the different aspects of a task, it’s important to have some information about all parts. In this context, it’s necessary to treat the whole of search engine marketing in a given discussion. However, when you want to understand the details of a specific task, it’s important to stay focused on your part of that task.

It’s necessary for practitioners in search engine marketing to know, in general, what the impact their work will be on all aspects of the marketing campaign. It is crucial for practitioners in search marketing to know, in detail, exactly how to perform their own tasks in the best possible manner for their clients. It’s important to treat an area of expertise specifically. Talking through the nature of that area; comparing and contrasting it to other related areas; considering the specific nature of tasks within that area of expertise: these are all ways of better defining and refining knowledge on a specific subject.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t, really. It’s all semantics. Search engine optimization is the commonly known term, and it frequently is understood to encapsulate search engine marketing. Or the other way around. The industries around search engines and marketing (and just about anything internet) are young, and the vocabularies aren’t really all the firmly established. As a result, some people have a very firm opinion of what a given term means which may not always coincide with others definitions.

Well, that’s why we write about it. We’re all hoping that our definitions will ultimately win. ;)