SEO, SEM, SMM – what do these marketing terms mean for dentists?

SEO, SEM, SMM – what do these marketing terms mean for dentists?

Navigating the minefield of dental marketing acronyms and abbreviations

Those who are new to the field of digital marketing may well be confused regarding the plethora of terms and abbreviations which are used to represent the different tools and techniques currently in play.

So whether it’s SEO, SEM or some other description, here is a quick explanation of what they actually mean and how you can benefit from their use.

Let’s start with one of the most important areas to consider i.e. getting your website high up in the search results, in particular Google.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

Whilst it’s very important to have an excellent, mobile-friendly website for your dental practice, equally important is to make sure that the website has good prominence in Google. Whilst paid advertising in Google is now increasingly popular (and becoming essential as we’ll see later), having a high position in the organic (free) ranking positions is still very important. This includes the traditional results index and now also the “map” or local business pages. Whilst this article isn’t about how to achieve that, and you can find plenty of advice about it elsewhere in this blog, suffice to say that you need to keep SEO, the technique for getting free traffic from search engines, as a priority within your marketing initiatives.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

Whilst SEO is all about free traffic to your website, SEM is all about paid traffic i.e. paying to advertise on various networks to bring traffic to your site. Perhaps the best known system is Google Ads (formerly AdWords) whereby you join an auction to have your ads displayed in Google. Typically, the more you bid for your chosen keywords, the higher your ad will be placed. Your bid price isn’t the only determining factor, far from it, but for ease it helps to think of it this way, particularly if you have limited experience.

So why is SEM becoming increasingly important, to the point where you now need to “pay to play” with Google? To understand this you need to remember that over 90% of Google’s revenues are generated from ads and consequently they have a strong interest in monetising their platform as much as possible! So for example, we are now seeing more ads in the search index than ever before and they are particularly pervasive on mobile devices. So it has come to the point where, essentially, businesses are being forced to advertise alongside their organic SEO initiatives. You will also likely hear the term ‘pay-per-click’ used in the context of SEM.

Again we’re not telling you how to use this technique in this article, but if you need help, our experts will be pleased to advise.

SMM – Social Media Marketing

SMM refers to the use of social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc to build up brand awareness through sharing content, likes, follows etc. Each platform has its own unique ways of sharing and developing conversations, so you need to choose carefully to make sure that you get best value for your business. Don’t spread yourself too thinly and be sure to be consistent with information which people will actually engage with. As we’ve noted elsewhere in this blog, trying to outsource is essentially pointless as you will just end up broadcasting a stream of generic information which no-one wants to read.

Facebook is a great place to start for dentists, but like Google, Facebook has also pushed its pay-to-play model very robustly. So to make any real inroads with SMM, expect to have to pay for advertising on the Facebook platform.

E-News – Email Marketing

This is another excellent digital marketing channel which is overlooked by too many dentists. It is absolutely essential to maintain correspondence with your existing patient list as well as just seeking out new ones, and it’s pointless just hoping that your 6-monthly appointment reminder text will do the job. Build up your list of approved email contacts and then send e-news at least every quarter to keep everyone updated. This should primarily be news about the practice and useful information, but it’s perfectly acceptable to drop in some offers or promotions now and again – just don’t overdo that aspect or you will put people off.

Radio, TV and local news media

It would be wrong to neglect these more traditional marketing channels and despite some views which have prematurely consigned them to history, these channels can still work extremely well when used correctly. For example, a prominent, regular ad in the newspaper for the local community is a sure fire way of getting your brand in front of thousands of pairs of eyes very cost-effectively. So please give it some thought. Radio and particularly TV, can also be super effective but they aren’t cheap – so maybe only for those practices with bigger advertising budgets.


Hopefully you will find our brief overview useful in understanding the often confusing terminology used in the field of dental marketing. However, understanding the terminology is only a small part of the journey and you will still likely need an experienced team to help you configure the holistic and successful marketing campaign you need to help bring in new patient enquiries on a regular basis.

Here at Dental Media we have many years of experience with all of the main digital marketing channels. We help hundreds of dentists from across the UK to implement and manage the successful campaigns which help their practices prosper. If you need similar assistance, we’ll be delighted to help and you can reach our team for a no-obligation discussion on 01332 672548.