What is the Difference Between SEO and ORM? Which One Do You Need?


You can probably give an off-the-cuff answer to the question, “what is SEO?” Those of us who spend hours online each day can’t help but absorb the basic principles of search engine optimization.

A related question — “what is reputation management?” — might give you more trouble. Online Reputation Management or ORM, as it’s known on the street, hasn’t penetrated our collective consciousness to quite the same degree as SEO. That’s in spite of the fact that, when done right, ORM incorporates SEO strategy and works toward some of the same ends. ORM and SEO, for all their differences, are more or less complementary.

Which means every SEO client also needs ORM services, and vice versa — right?

Not necessarily. There’s enough daylight between SEO and ORM to limit the overlap in their use cases, even when both (or, to be more precise, comprehensive ORM with built-in SEO) are appropriate for many clients.

Still confused? This is what you need to know about how ORM and SEO are different and when each (or both) might suit your needs.

SEO in a Nutshell

SEO is much more complicated than commonly assumed, but it’s easiest to understand when broken down into its three component parts: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and violations. All three are, in turn, composed of multiple sub-factors that influence what’s most important to the SEO end-user: their organic search rank for top keywords and search terms.

On-page SEO incorporates all ranking factors related to content on the ranked page itself, such as crawler-conducive site architecture, quality content, and appropriate HTML elements.

Off-page SEO incorporates ranking factors that the page owner doesn’t directly control, such as inbound link quality, anchor text, number and rank of referring domains, and more.

Violations arise when page owners or their SEO consultants utilize tactics search engines perceive as manipulative. Algorithmic and manual penalties reduce organic search rank, taking traffic down with them.

ORM in a Nutshell

ORM is the practice of influencing consumer perceptions of people and brands. Like SEO, it happens online (although not always exclusively, as is the case with SEO). It involves search engines and social media, incorporating elements of classical SEO strategy as well as search engine marketing, social media optimization and marketing, and other tactics that don’t fit neat definitions.

ORM’s end goals vary by client but usually include removing or suppressing negative search results while creating and promoting positive content and mentions that accentuate the best aspects of the client and their reputation. Like SEO, ORM is easily incorporated into a broader sales and marketing strategy.

Rank and Reputation: Friends till the End

As we’ve seen, it’s unhelpful to think of SEO and ORM as interchangeable. Strategically, SEO and ORM often intersect, but their use cases are and remain distinct.

On the other hand, both work toward similar ends: to improve the relative search rank and shine up the subjective reputation of those using them. The better your search results appear to your own critical eye, the better they look to members of the public seeing them for the first time. And, as you know, you only get one shot at a good first impression.


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