Digital marketing, SEO, SEM, PPC – what does it all mean?

Navigating the dental marketing minefield.

A number of UK design companies, including those providing specific services to dentists, are re-branding themselves and moving away from just providing web design services. You will see them starting to use over-arching descriptions such as “digital solutions provider, “digital marketer” etc, alongside all of the channel specialisms such as SEO, SEM and PPC.

But what does all of this mean and how does a dentist or practice manager navigate the minefield to determine just what’s right for them?

As a start, today’s blog will try to provide a basic, layperson’s explanation of each of the main marketing terms and acronyms you will stumble across, to give a decent working knowledge of what it’s all about.

explaining digital marketing terminology
Digital Marketing – this is an overall descriptive term which covers all of the activities and techniques which can be used to market a business in the digital sense, so typically involving the web or apps. So for example, your practice website is a main foundation for digital marketing and then search engine optimisation would a technique to help get it found on Google. Many techniques fall into the overall “digital marketing” bucket.

Digital Solutions Provider – this is an even broader term which pretty much encompasses everything digital! So for example a true digital solutions provider would encompass most or all of the digital marketing techniques and also offer design services such as apps and websites, apps, video, photography, SEO and more.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – this is a key activity which uses numerous techniques to move a website forward in the search engines. In the UK this would primarily be Google which accounts for 90% of all search queries. You can read more about the specifics of SEO for dentists elsewhere in this blog and why it’s so important for dentists websites.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Pay-Per-Click – the lines are a little blurred here and these terms tend to refer to very similar things. Essentially these activities relate to how you can use paid advertising to gain traffic from the search engines, typically by launching adverts for which you pay every time they are clicked. A very popular technique for dentists is the use of Google AdWords.

Social Media Marketing (SMM) and Social Media Optimisation (SMO) – these are techniques which use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to advertise products and services. By gaining “fans”, “followers”, “likes” etc, you can use social media to broadcast the word about your business and encourage people to engage and hopefully buy from you. You can also advertise in various ways on the different social channels to broaden your “reach” and increase the chances of engagement.

Content Marketing – this technique runs hand-in-hand with several of those above and is a key feature of good SEO and SMM campaigns. Here, targeted content about your business is developed and broadcast through multiple web channels to a) help engage users and b) help attract new links back to your website or blog to help SEO. Content marketing is time consuming, hence not cheap, however it is becoming increasingly essential to support on-line marketing campaigns.

Email Marketing – often considered to be the most targeted and effective way of reaching new patients. Here a business progressively builds a large database of email contacts and then periodically sends out engaging emails to encourage new business. There are free, simple and effective on-line options e.g. MailChimp to get you started, through to very sophisticated (and expensive!) versions such as InfusionSoft. What is appropriate for you will depend on what you are trying to achieve and where you are in the evolution of your business.

Television and Radio Advertising – not dead yet! Although TV is likely out-of-reach for all but large dental suppliers, radio advertising continues to be very effective for smaller businesses. It’s not cheap but it can yield good returns if done well.


This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all the different marketing techniques which dentists can use to gain new patients, but hopefully it will provide working knowledge and a description of the main digital channels which can be used.

Here at Dental Media we are one of the few true digital marketing solutions providers for dentists, covering all of the main activities. If you would like to discuss any of these techniques in more detail and how they can help to grow your dental business, please get in touch on 01332 672548 and we’ll be pleased to help.