Many marketers use website traffic and conversions as a benchmark for measuring the success of their campaigns. And that’s no surprise: traffic is one of the easiest, and most established, metrics to measure.

However, traditional methods of generating traffic are becoming less effective as Google adapts its algorithms to the rapid growth of social media and the shift in how content is created and consumed. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is no longer enough to drive traffic – SMO (Social Media Optimization) is the future.

What is SMO?

SMO is the practice of using social media – both content and distribution – to increase brand awareness, connect to an audience, and generate leads.

The umbrella term “SMO” can refer to any brand activity related to a social network, but it is most often used in relation to SEO as a tool for generating website traffic. Looking at it through this lens, SMO becomes any brand activity related to a social network with the goal of generating traffic.

Therefore, tweets, Facebook status updates, “Likes,” Pins and more can all contribute to a brand’s SMO.

How is it different from SEO?

SEO is often divided into on-page (images, “alt” tags, keywords, headers, meta-data) and off-page (links from reputable sources) factors. These factors come together to create a website’s search engine results page (SERP) ranking: whether it comes up as result #1 or result #100 for its target keywords.

SMO helps improve a brand’s SERP ranking by including URLs in tweets, or keywords and brand mentions in Facebook statuses.

Ultimately, SMO relies on the actions of real people to help improve a brand’s website traffic, while SEO relies mainly on the technical structure of websites.

How can SMO help SEO?

In one sense, SMO can be considered part of off-page SEO. After all, a good portion of driving traffic via social media occurs by sharing links. And since these links are shared on reputable sources (Twitter, LinkedIn), this helps improve a brand’s SERP ranking.

However, SMO can go beyond this to augment SEO tactics. It naturally pushes brands to create quality content that will be shared and experiences that will engage an audience, thus earning more links for SEO purposes. This emphasis on quality content is important, as it means that blog posts and other content are written for people, not web-crawlers and robots.

Where do we go from here?

Both SEO and SMO’s main job is to pull customers to a brand’s website – and they are both capable of producing results.

However, as social signals become more important for search rankings, SMO is going to become a larger factor for SEO professionals and brands concerned with search.

While SEO often relies on a somewhat rigid adherence to rules about the percentage of content that contains keywords and the number of backlinks pointing to a website, SMO is shifting the focus to great content that truly provides value to an audience. Subtle factors like a brand’s reputation, how often it engages its fans and originality of thought are quickly overtaking what was once important to traditional SEO.

SMO is helping SEO become more human.