ORM vs. SEO: What's the difference?

What is the Difference Between SEO and ORM?

An SEO company improves the visibility of web content owned by its client. An ORM company does the same, but for web content owned by others as well. An ORM company also removes content, improves star-ratings, and engages in technical public relations.

5 Steps to Improve Reputation E-BookAn ORM (online reputation management) company uses aggressive content marketing, search engine optimization, negotiation, public relations and technical skills to change how clients are perceived online. Conversely, a SEO (search engine optimization) firm works to generate better online visibility of search results for products, services and the brand with their own website. SEO is both a stand-alone discipline, and a tool used by ORM companies.

Even if you cannot tell a meta tag from a long-tail keyword, you are probably familiar with the concept of SEO. This process boosts your website’s search visibility and makes you easier to find online. It is a core function of competent online reputation management companies, and if you care about managing and improving your web presence, you need to have a firm grasp of how SEO works.

But SEO is not ORM. Reputation management services certainly incorporate an SEO component, yet when it comes to comprehensive ORM campaigns, SEO is far from the whole story. Let’s take a look at the key differences between SEO and ORM.

ORM targets people at a different stage than SEO does

To understand the differences between SEO and ORM, it helps to understand the buyer’s journey. The buyer’s journey consists of three stages:


Awareness stage

A buyer can be aware of a problem, or know what they want, but they may not aware of any positive solutions. For example, a man (Mr Y) with vacation time coming up may want to go on a trip to Southeast Asia, but has no idea where to stay or what to do there. So he runs a search for “Southeast Asia destinations,” and “things to do in Southeast Asia,” or possibly “China destinations” (if he is being specific).

Consideration stage

When Mr Y conducts the search he knows that he has a week to spend, and has a budget in mind; but needs to create an itinerary: where to visit, what to do there, where to eat, and so on. So he searches for “what to do in Hong Kong” and “restaurants in Shanghai.”

Decision stage

Mr Y has now established an itinerary and needs to find specific providers for his destinations: “Hyatt Hong Kong,” “cable car Hong Kong,” “CCTV Tower Shanghai,” and such.

During this journey there are different kinds of search queries he used. Online Reputation Management tends to target people who carry out due diligence (comprehensive appraisal) for a brand, product or person. Whereas SEO tends to target individuals who are looking for a kind of product, service, or information.

What’s an example of the differences between SEO and ORM?

If you search online for a widget, you will find a lot of companies selling them. But you need to know which one is best before you make a purchase. So your second search is about the companies that make the widget, so you can make an informed decision. 

  • SEO is for the first search
  • ORM is for the second one

SEO works to get a brand into the search results in the first instance. Whereas ORM works to help a customer choose between companies.

Another key difference is that generally speaking, SEO tries to push a single website up in the search results for a given set of search phrases. Conversely, ORM works to push five, ten or many more different websites and social media properties up in the search results. So in a nutshell, ORM works to change all the search results, whereas SEO usually focuses on just one.

ORM deals with many different kinds of sites, and considers the entire ecosystem of web properties, SEO does too, however, this is usually in the service of pushing only one domain up in search results.

What are the basic principles of SEO?

The goal of traditional SEO is to make the online content you control more visible to search engines. In practice, this means pushing your content to the top of the search results for relevant keywords: your industry/niche, core services, variations on your business name and more, often with a particular focus on geography-specific searches (so not “auto body shop” in general, but “auto body shop St. Louis”).

If your SEO campaign is successful, then competitors trying to rank for those same keywords will see their content fall down the results page, as it is replaced by yours. Since the vast majority of web users stick to the first couple of searches, very well done SEO can tangibly boost traffic to your site, and ideally, conversions and sales.

What do the nuts and bolts of SEO include?

These comprise keywords which are well placed: typically in your web page title tag, content’s H1 tag, first paragraphs, and meta descriptions. Engaging content that draws inbound links from high authority sites and social shares, and a website that loads quickly and is easy to navigate.

What are the basic principles of ORM?

Online reputation management serves as a holistic process that builds on the basic principles of SEO to improve your online image in its totality, and in a sustained fashion.

Unlike basic SEO, ORM is not quite as concerned with using positive content on your own website to push down negative search results found elsewhere, it has more of an outward focus. ORM revolves around the creation and promotion of positive content, both on branded web properties such as your corporate website, on blog and social media pages, and on external properties that link back to your main websites and exist specifically for reputation management purposes. With ORM we are working to improve the impression of an online brand as a whole rather than specifically selling products or services. ORM does have a positive effect on product and service sales, but the results are tangential.

What is an authority network?

An Authority Network is established by ORM in order to protect your core service, brand, or company from negative online content to some extent. It is not a private blog network. A private blog network is a ring of sites that point to each other and to other sites and are used to sell links in order to try to fool search engines. A Authority Network is private and only has one focus, to host releant content an channel authority to similar relevant content. It's not for selling links.

An example of an Authority Network might be a YouTube Channel, a website about charitable giving, and an article on a well-known blog that are relevant to each other and interlinked to provide a better information experience. It is a network of positive, relevant content that reaches far beyond your main website. The network looks different for every client and industry and may be comprised of many kinds of online content.

Does ORM just push down negative search results?

No. ORM does not simply push negative entries down to the second or third (or even lower) pages of your search results page. (A process known as suppression). It actually de-legitimizes those results, makes them less relevant with more engaging and relevant information. Sometimes ORM campaigns remove content entirely, something quite different than SEO.

How can I expand my online sphere of influence?

You can expand your sphere of influence online by reaching out to people and entities that control influential websites and blogs which are relevant to what you do. For instance, if you own a restaurant, you might place guest posts and targeted promotions on foodie blogs, or in the lifestyle section of your local newspaper. In other words, placing great content everywhere but your own website.

To that end, respected online reputation management companies do not just focus on the web properties controlled by their clients. These firms recognize that even the most influential subjects need a little help to get their message across.

ORM companies tend to use more aggressive tactics than SEO firms

Online reputation management sometimes utilizes what might be considered hardball tactics that can fall outside the purview of traditional SEO. While more “aggressive” than typical SEO, it isn’t supposed to be “black hat”. Black hat tactics can be a bit too aggressive, even to the point of being unethical. Reputation X is an ethical ORM company. The work we do make the web better.

Key differences between ORM and SEO

  1. ORM targets buyers in the consideration and decision stages. SEO focuses more on the awareness stage of the marketing funnel.
  1. ORM manages content on multiple websites, including those not directly owned or controlled by the subject.
  1. ORM involves negotiation, content removal, and star-rating improvement.
  1. ORM may use legal or other means to target content on external sites.
  1. SEO is a component of online reputation management.

ORM uses some of the principles of SEO, but they’re not the same. We have a great deal more to say on the subject, but we will leave it here for now. If you would like to learn more, or have any questions, you can find us at