Let me start with the answer to that question: No, digital marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) aren’t the same thing. But which came first and what is the relationship between the two? Do you need one and not the other or both? If you’re asking yourself these questions, you aren’t alone. In fact, you’re in the company of other smart people.

Digital marketing has similar goals to traditional marketing, but it fits the online ecosystem of both connectivity and distraction. It should be used by businesses to connect with their audience(s) or potential audience(s). It has the potential to deliver deeper, more meaningful experiences than the old-school commercial. Yet, as consumers, we have shifted the way we research and discover products and services based on technology, skipping around online to find whatever we want or desire without ever having to go to an actual store or physical location unless we choose to. With distractions (and competition) growing quickly, marketing had to adapt. The Internet became another place to gain attention.

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The method of traditional marketing via magazine, radio, and TV often comes through paid advertising. There is an element to that online, as well, with paid search. However, many businesses, especially small businesses with correlating budgets, often rely on word-of-mouth, community involvement, and other “free” channels to grow their business. This is where SEO enters the digital marketing space. Many of your potential customers, specifically if they aren’t already acquainted with your brand, will use a search engine to discover and gather information on businesses that offer what they are looking for. Therefore, SEO is a key piece of digital marketing, particularly if you don’t want to pay for every visitor who comes to your site and is unfamiliar with your products and/or services.

Can I Do SEO Without Digital Marketing?

Of course you can do SEO without digital marketing.

It looks like this:

  • Design a sexy-looking website
  • Make the coolness factor of your brand a priority so that people know your unique relevance just by breathing in your personality
  • Create sales-focused content on your website with meta descriptions that consist of the keywords you want to “rank” for
  • Get external links to your site so search engines “see” your popularity across the web
  • Have a blog where you can post content so you “rank” for more keywords
  • Set up an account on any and every social media platform, especially ones that have a promising future
  • Put a contact form on every page of your website so visitors don’t forget to contact you
  • Collect as many email addresses as you can so you have an impressive contact list and can reach out to your audience as often as they cross your mind

I’m sure many of you recognize that’s the spray and pray approach. Unfortunately, these are just slight twists on what I still often see businesses do because some marketer or SEO told them this is SEO. Or, worse yet, I’ve had clients who have paid for this flavor of SEO. If you are or have been a recipient of that kind of SEO service, you deserve to know that this isn’t SEO.

SEO MUST be encompassed with strategic digital marketing. And if you are “doing” digital marketing without deliberate SEO efforts, you are missing out on growing your audience organically. When SEO is done in a way that builds on your business objectives and has quantitative goals to help measure the success of your efforts, it can be an invaluable asset that increases in value over time. It’s a long game that can pay big dividends when done with focused intention.