Does SEM = SEO + CPC Still Add Up?

I’ve found it annoying that over the years, more and more people use SEM to mean paid search, as if SEM excludes SEO. That’s not how I defined SEM — search engine marketing — back 2001. I’d still like to see the original definition retained. But I might be swimming against the tide. Below, how I think we arrived at this conflict and some thoughts on where we go from here.

Types Of Listings

To understand where we’re at now, let me start with some core concepts. There are two basic ways to show up in search results:

Editorial / Organic / Natural Listings:  Any good search engine, such as Google or Bing, has “editorial” or “organic” or “natural” listings. These are listings that appear without anyone paying for them. They are provided as a core product of that search engine, in the same way that a newspaper has a core product of writing stories about topics it believes are of interest to its readers, rather than to its advertisers.

Paid Search / CPC / PPC Listings: Search engines also have paid search ads, sometimes referred to as “CPC” or “PPC” listings. Those acronyms come from the way advertisers are charged for these ads, on a Cost-Per-Click or Pay-Per-Click basis. If you pay, you get listed. When you stop paying, your listing goes away. Similar to newspapers, these ads typically appear alongside — but separate from — editorial content. They’re also not supposed to influence the editorial coverage.

Types Of Search Marketing Activities

What do you call the act of obtaining these search listings?

SEO has been the term used for gaining natural listings and also for people or companies who do such work. The letters stands for Search Engine Optimization (and here’s some history on how we got that term). No, SEO is not about spamming the search engines. It’s an acceptable practice that search engines actively encourage. In the search world, SEO is equal to PR in the “real” world. Good SEO can’t guarantee good search engine “coverage,” any more than good PR can guarantee a favorable newspaper article. But it can increase the odds, if done within acceptable boundaries.
SEM: This has been the term I’ve used for gaining both types of listings, and for people or companies who focus on both.

PPC / CPC / Paid Search: How about a term for just getting paid listings? As you can see, there are multiple terms that can be used. Unlike SEO and SEM, none of those terms works to both define the act of getting listings and the people or companies that do it. This awkwardness is why I think SEM has been coopted more and more over the years to cover paid listings.

The Rise & Fall & Rise Of Paid Search

To understand more about how SEM got coopted, you have to understand where SEM came from in the first place. That means a little history lesson about paid listings.

Search engines, as we know them, were largely born in 1994. From the beginning, they had organic listings. But literally years went by before paid listings were a regular option.

In the summer of 1996, paid listings first appeared– then disappeared — for a few weeks. Open Text, one of the leading search engines at that time, allowed people to buy paid search ads that appeared in its search results. This “Preferred Listing” service resulted in a huge backlash, despite the fact that the ads were clearly labeled. The web was still so new, ads and commercialization still so novel, that this seemed too much like selling out to some who were vocal on mailing lists and newsgroups. Open Text quickly dropped the program.

Paid listings came back in a big way with the launch of GoTo, on Feb. 21, 1998. All too often, Google gets the credit for “pioneering” the paid search revolution. That credit primarily belongs to Bill Gross, who founded the search engine – later renamed Overture, then even later acquired by Yahoo. Gross gambled that a model of selling placement would work. He and his team, including CEO Jeffrey Brewer, stuck with the core idea and distributing those listings to all the other major search engines except Google.

My 2000 In Review: AdWords Launches; Yahoo Partners With Google; GoTo Syndicates article covers this more, including how Google launched its own AdWords system. Google’s first paid ad appeared in December 1999, and the company quickly established the AdWords self-serve model the next year. But Google was greatly helped in its success because GoTo’s trailblazing gave it cover for commercializing its own results.

Are SEOs Who Do Paid Search Still SEOs?

As paid listing opportunities grew, some SEOs started doing that work in addition to gaining editorial listings. That caused some to wonder if “search engine optimization” still best described what they were doing. That’s why in 2001, I proposed that “search engine marketing” be used as an umbrella term. As I wrote then:

As the nature of search engine promotion has expanded and matured, the label “search engine optimization” hasn’t seemed to cover what some companies and individuals feel they do. But what should come to replace it, if anything?

The venerable phrase “search engine optimization” originally emerged to cover the optimization that was done for crawler-based search engines. Now directories are a big part of the search engine mix, as are paid listing services. In many cases, you aren’t really “optimizing” for these other venues, but you certainly are doing work that can influence how people are listed.

Personally, my preferred successor term is “search engine marketing” …. I’ve liked the term because I feel it encompasses many things: optimizing for crawlers, managing paid listings, submitting to directories — you name it. All of these activities are marketing on search engines.

2001: SEM, The Umbrella Term

Let me be perfectly clear. I didn’t coin the term “search engine marketing.” I don’t know who did. But I helped popularize it, in part by consciously used it in my writings and when speaking. When the search marketing industry group SEMPO was formed in 2003, I wrote much of the first SEMPO glossary, which at the time described search engine marketing and SEM as:

Search Engine Marketing: The act of marketing a web site via search engines, whether this be improving rank  in organic listings, purchasing paid listings or a combination of these and other search engine-related activities.

SEM: Acroymn for search engine marketing and may also be used to refer to a person or company that does search engine marketing (i.e.., “They’re an SEM firm)

FYI, the current definition still maintains SEM as an umbrella term:

SEM: Acronym for “Search Engine Marketing.” A form of internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs).  SEM methods include: search engine optimization (SEO), paid placement, contextual advertising, digital asset optimization, and paid inclusion.  When this term is used to describe an individual, it stands for “Search Engine Marketer” or one who performs SEM.

How Did SEM Morph Into Paid Search?

About two or three years ago, I noticed more and more people saying SEM when they meant, to me, paid search. I’d hear people say things like “We do SEO and SEM,” as if SEO wasn’t a part of SEM. I found that grating. I’d usually chalk it up to people either making an innocent mistake or perhaps still being new to the space.

Recently, it’s only gotten worse. I also hear it from people from large companies that I’d say should know better. But this is where I have that “Am I swimming against the tide?” feeling. Maybe it’s me that just hasn’t adjusted. I’ll come back to that, but first, how did this change come about?

Blame Yahoo

My first thought is that Yahoo deserves some of the blame. Remember GoTo, which later became Overture? After Yahoo bought Overture, it incorporated the company into a division called Yahoo Search Marketing. The rebranding happened in March 2005. I can remember a number of search marketers finding the name odd. Since the products were all fee-based — and only for Yahoo — what was so “search marketing” about it?

Over the years, Yahoo has been in front of thousands of advertisers suggesting that “search marketing” = buying ads. In fact, if you search for search marketing on on Google, Yahoo ranks in the top results (as it does on Yahoo, too) despite the fact that YSM has little to do overall with search marketing and, after the Microsoft-Yahoo search deal is fully implemented, won’t even exist in its current form.

All that anchor text — all those people linking to YSM with the words “search marketing” in their links is a powerful legacy, though one that doesn’t work at Bing.

Blame Wikipedia

Next on my hit list is Wikipedia. The community-created encyclopedia has a page on search engine marketing that says:

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs) through the use of paid placement, contextual advertising, and paid inclusion.

There’s no mention of SEO in that definition. SEM is made out to be all paid, paid, paid.

I’ve no doubt that many people have turned to Wikipedia to understand what SEM is about, especially since it ranks in the top results at Google for terms like “sem” and “search marketing” and “search engine marketing.” Many of them assume, especially with Google’s effective endorsement of Wikipedia by ranking it so well, that the page must be factually correct.

In reality, a small edit made without supporting documentation transformed an alternative definition of SEM into the current one that Wikipedia promotes. I found this accident so alarming, so indicative of the mess that Wikipedia can make, that I felt it deserved a special detour: How Wikipedia Turned PPC / Paid Search Into SEM.

Still, SEO wasn’t completely excluded at Wikipedia from SEM until the middle of last year, so it can’t take the full blame. Plus, as my other piece explains, it did make sense for Wikipedia to offer an alternative view. It probably contributed to the shift, but it also reflected a change that was happening for other reasons.

Blame Acronyms!

Perhaps the biggest reason behind SEM being transformed by some to exclusively mean paid search is that we often love acronyms. Search engine optimization had a clear acronym: SEO. Paid search suffered by having two unclear ones: PPC and CPC. Which were you supposed to use? And neither was actually specific to search. Pay-per-click and cost-per-click ads happen outside of search listings. Also, unlike with SEO, if you specialized in paid search, you couldn’t call yourself a “PPC” or a “CPC.”

Given this, is it any wonder that those who focused on paid search reached for another term. SEM was already out there. Why not seize that?

That’s what I think happened, more than anything else. Consider this chart:


Those are the number of searches recorded since 2004 on Google for SEM vs. PPC vs. CPC. You can see the rise for SEM really kicks-off in early 2006 while PPC goes into a steady decline. I think that marks when SEM started becoming the preferred term for paid search, for some.

The Growth Of SEM Due To …?

Does the chart prove that SEM has transformed to mean paid search? I don’t know.

Some of the rise might indeed be fueled by people who no longer use the term PPC, as they did in the past. But some of it might be also because of more and more people are seeking information about search engine marketing, the umbrella term, in general.

There’s no way to know for certain. It’s also confusing that when I double-checked on the popularity of SEM using Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool, exact matches (which are what the chart above are also supposed to show), are much lower:

SEM Volume

What Should It Be?

In some ways, I feel like I’m back in 2001, when I was watching SEOs struggle with finding the right term to define themselves as they went beyond doing natural listings work. Does it make sense to agree that SEM should now mean work solely on paid listings and also be a name for people and companies that do such work? Especially when plenty of people already talk this way?

I was curious what the market leader in selling such listings was saying: Google. I checked out the transcript from their last earnings call. It’s “search ads” that gets used twice; SEM ads or SEM listings, not at all.

I used to use the term “search ads” myself, though I shifted in the past two years to saying “paid search.” Both those terms have about equal volume according to Google Trends, but neither approaches CPC or PPC.

How about a new acronym? Should we say SEA, for “search engine advertising?” That also work to define a person or a company: search engine advertiser, an SEA.

The advantage to a new acronym is that it would allow SEM to remain an umbrella term for people who do both types of work. Something is needed. There are search engine marketers who don’t want to be miscategorized as only doing paid search, if they do both things.

Perhaps some qualifications? Maybe there’s “paid SEM” and “unpaid SEM.” Or getting crazy, “paid SEM” and “SEO SEM.” Now my head hurts.

One of the stupid things in all this is that I rarely write or say “search engine marketing” or “search engine marketer” any more. Long ago, I shortened those to “search marketing” and “search marketer.” The trends certainly reflect that “search marketing” is more popular than “search engine marketing.”

Funny, then, all this confusion over the acronym SEM when we’re really talking about SM these days.

Anyway, I’d love to know what others think. Please comment and share your thoughts.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Features: General | SEM Industry: General | Stats: History | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • seoandalucia

    Hi Danny, perhaps the differentiation stems from the fact that, while both optimisation and marketing are paid services, there’s really not a great deal of science behind placing an ad, which is, in general terms, what SEM is. Mind you SEM can get any website, however poorly structured, into top page results, as soon as payment starts. Can the same be expected from SEO? Further, can any SEM guarantee top page results once paid advertisement stops? I think your equalling SEO and PR is right on the money.

  • Jill Whalen

    Yes, it’s been very annoying to hear so many people referring to paid search as SEM, and yes, it’s come from people who one would have thoug would know better.

    I used to call paid search just PPC until a few years ago when Andrew Goodman explained to me that PPC doesn’t encompass it all and I should really call it paid search instead. That made perfect sense.

    I think SEA would work, but I’m not sure people would adopt a new acronym at this point. The thing is, those who do paid search can still call themselves an SEM, just as SEOs can call themselves SEMs. While I mostly do SEO, I still consider myself a search marketer who does search marketing. It doesn’t matter if I do paid search or not.

    Doesn’t seem that confusing to me, I think we just have to continue to educate everyone about the correct use of the words as we’ve been doing for awhile.

  • gredmond1

    How about this? PSA (Paid Search Advertiser)

    Or, moving away from the overall profession and starting to break this down into specific individual expertise with some appropriate hierarchies:
    SAE (Search Advertising Expert)
    SAP (Search Advertising Professional)
    SAT (Search Advertising Technologist)
    SAN (Search Advertising Newbie) for those less inclined.
    SAD (search Advertising Dullard) for those who bore you with their infinite stupidity on the subject

  • dbomestar

    I must confest, I was confused few times when people were using SEM for paid search however the old definition of SEM is most logical and I don’t see how SEM can be the same as PPC/Paid Search. It would be great to push new “SEA” acronym as it would clear up some things. I vote for SEO + SEA = SEM
    Hopefully more people would accept it.
    Or maybe SEPA? Search Engine Paid Advertising? lol :)

  • Harry

    I don’t really agree with the first comment. Landing page quality and structure is factored into Google’s quality score, so I don’t think you can say that site quality is completely irrelevant. In addition, writing text ads that will compel the user to click is both an art and a science.

    Regarding the article, I definitely agree that both SEO and CPC make up SEM, but I would even add Local SEO to the equation, because the tactics can be somewhat different, and because it is so critical to small, local businesses. Therefore, I say SEO + CPC + Local Optimization = SEM.

  • kgamache

    I have always referred to SEM as a combination of SEO and PPC or paid search. I think there needs to be an acronym for those of us that are tasked with managing both Organic optimization and search engine advertising. I like SEA to refer to Search Engine Advertising, but I would not look forward to trying to optimize for that acronym versus PPC or CPC. Also, to Harry’s point, SEM needs to maintain a nebulous definition for all the marketing efforts that are used to market services/products via the SERP. Social media optimization for the SERPs?
    So to wrap up, SEM needs to refer to the general marketing efforts for the purpose of appearing, in some form, on the Search Engine Results Page.

  • MarciDesign


    Thank you so much for writing this article it means a lot to those of us who work in the SEM and SEO Industry.

    Marci :))

  • Brad Geddes

    I’m a fan of SEM = CPC + SEO.

    SEM = marketing. Marketing is about promoting goods and services. Ranking organically is promoting goods. Are SEO’s not marketers?

    However, per the above comment – if you start adding local to that equation as it’s different – don’t you then need to add video, images, and product search as those items sometimes shows on the search page as well?

    At least with the sunset of paid inclusion on Yahoo – this definition is a little easier as that was paying for organic listings with a different set of optimization rules.

    Maybe I’m just stubborn or I’ve been doing this too long – but SEO = organic results. CPC/PPC = Paid search. SEM is about visibility on a search page regardless of the algo used to place the information there.

  • George Michie

    Danny, I suspect the industry will continue to evolve faster than the language we use to describe it. As more agencies move beyond paid search to offer services in attribution management, display advertising/re-targeting, contextual advertising, etc, anything beginning with “Search” is inherently limited.

    Indeed, the range of different services offered by agencies is anything but standard, which makes descriptive monikers tough.

    Search Marketing in all its glorious forms is but one piece of the online marketing world, and its becoming increasingly difficult to figure out where one piece ends and the next begins.

  • mkematt

    Thank you for publicly bringing this to light! As a Search Marketing (notice my wording here) professional, I have never understood how or why the acronym SEM became synonymous with Paid Search (PPC). As someone who has been in this industry for going on 12 years, this is how I feel the acronyms should be represented:

    SEM = umbrella acronym for “Search Marketing” or “Search Engine Marketing” – encompasses organic search (SEO), paid search (PPC) and possibly social media (SMO) – all three are becoming intricately tied together

    SEO = represents “Organic Search” or “Search Engine Optimization”

    PPC = represents “Paid Search” or “Pay-per-Click Advertising”

    SMO = represents “Social Media” or “Social Media Optimization”

    That’s it! DONE!

  • Tom Hale

    With this kind of diverse opinion among Top Pundits, imagine the confusion in the market.

    Especially small business.


  • absem_limited

    I have been a PPC professional for 6 years but I agree with mkematt SEM=PPC+SEO+SMM or SMO. I have never used SEM=PPC because it is not.

    End goal for both PPC and SEO is to get results on Search Engines to Market a website i.e. SEM or Search Engine Marketing. If SEM=PPC only then why bother doing SEO at all?

    Here is some logical reasoning for people who think SEM=PPC to give them some food for thought:

    Companies pay for PPC professionals to ensure their ad shows on search engines and in return brings targeted traffic that would convert = “marketing”.

    Same companies hire SEO professionals to ensure their website shows on search engines only this time the “text ad” is in the form of carefully crafted titles, descriptions, & URLs and in return brings targeted traffic that would convert = “marketing” as well.

    Common denominators being Search Engines AND Marketing. Both cost money, one more than the other does not mean the more expensive one is what is called Search Engine Marketing and make SEO “that thing you do…”

    Also with recent changes and social media updates being shown in search results, SMO or SMM is also coming under the umbrella of SEM.

    This is a great post Danny.

  • Ash Nallawalla

    I lost many subscribers when I blogged and can only take solace in the fact that Yahoo Search Marketing will be gone, along with its “SEM = PPC” proponents.

    I used the latest SMX-West SEM session as an example of an event that had no PPC coverage in it.

  • http://AlanCh AlanCh

    I find my students get so mixed up trying to segregate SEO and on-SERP advertising that in my books I cover SEO in one chapter and SE ads in the chapter on advertising – though, naturally, I start the SEO chapter with an intro that explains why I have divided them such.

    An added advantage with this is that the Adwords and Adsense concepts & operation are so similar it is easier to cover them as part of ‘advertising’.

    But yes, SEO + CPC does = SEM

  • kevinpike

    …since you asked for comments Danny. Yes, you are correct.

    SEO = SEO
    PPC = PPC
    SEO + PPC = SEM

    Opposite of you, I started in PPC and migrated to SEO & I still see it the same way.

  • hugoguzman

    Hey Danny! You actually got on me for referring to paid search as “SEM” a few years back over at Sphinn. I tried to tell you that even though your logic was correct, it was too late to change the perspective in corporate America (which is why I used the term in that manner, to speak to that audience in their language).

    Agencies and many marketing stakeholders at Fortune 1000s always use the term “SEM” when referring to paid search.

    It might not be right, but it’s become the standard meaning in those circles.

  • jeffreynichols

    Google Quality Score forces SEM to include SEO.

  • ann_donnelly

    Who decides what these things mean? Many SEOs just manipulate the popularly searched terms to come up for content of things they offer. (I’m sometimes guilty of that.) To me SEM should mean Search Engine Marketing — all methods of marketing using search (search engines and other search apps) – so PPC, SEO and maybe even some social media things. I normally swear by what Wilipedia says, but in this case I don’t agree!

  • Arthur Coleman

    100% in agreement and it’s how we use the term on our web site and in OnlineMatters service offerings (ouch! we have it right on the services offerings but I just looked at our glossary and we define it as paid search. I’ll change THAT today). Ontology to be clear is as follows

    SEO = SEO
    PPC = PPC
    Paid Search = All forms of paid search – PPC, banner, content network, CPL, CPA whether through exchanges, networks or direct deals with publishers
    SEM =SEO + PPC

  • adammoro

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the logic that PPC professionals were looking for an acronym to label themselves with (even though I never thought SEO made sense to describe a person either, until Google used the term “Search Engine Optimizer” on their SEO page).

    I admit that when I first got into Search, I confused the terms in that I synonymized SEM with PPC (never CPC, however, as I always considered CPC a metric/component of PPC advertising). But sure, SEO is a form of marketing, no? So why wouldn’t it be considered a sub-discipline of Search Engine Marketing? My vote is for SEM to remain an umbrella term for SEO and PPC.

    Did I use enough acronyms in my comment? :)

  • Ironshef

    I am definitely in the SEM = paid search + SEO camp. Although, similar to hugoguzman I have been guilty in the past of lazily (adjective for me, not hugo) using SEM to refer to paid search when speaking with certain audiences.

    I’m not a fan of referring to paid search marketing as PPC, since PPC is the cost model not the activity. I also don’t like saying “paid search marketing” every time I want to communicate the concept. Quite frankly, I don’t think I really like SEO anymore either. I’m not optimizing the search engines. They are optimizing themselves. I’m optimizing websites to achieve better organic listings.

    So, I vote for the following:

    PSM = paid search marketing/paid search marketers

    OSM = organic search marketing/organic search marketers

    Obviously, neither is novel; but, they feel more accurate.


    SEM = PSM + OSM

  • Ironshef

    lazily = adverb…duh.

  • lihall

    Speaking purely from an ecommerce marketing perspective, I consider SEM to mean paid search PPC, and SEO to be the organic/natural flavor. This stems more from the functional areas within an ecommerce marketing organization that are responsible for each piece. SEM/PPC costs hard marketing dollars, and is therefore measured and tweaked on a daily basis. SEO is part art and part science, and requires good website structure in addition to a strong PR campaign and presence. These dollars are more “soft dollars” which cannot be directly attributed to specific ROI on a daily basis the way a paid keyword can. I wonder if you asked this question on an ecommerce forum instead of search engine forum, if the comments would differ. I need to differentiate paid search PPC from comparison shopping PPC, which is why “SEM” is a handy shortcut.

  • Francis Petty

    Hi Danny,
    I consider Search Engine Marketing to be the umbrella of Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Advertising. So SEM =SEO+SEA. Just like every definition of marketing includes advertising.
    I think Search Marketers, and Online Marketers in general, should acknowledge they act as evangelists in many oportunities leading people into the online world and teaching them how these different marketing activities are named. They should bare that burden with responsibility and should do their best to disambiguate terms, just like you are doing with this article. Considering this, YSM has been an epic FAIL.
    CPC and PPC are acronyms that exceed SEM just like CPA so I would not consider them able to stand for SEA.
    I agree to some extent with Ironshef, but i wouldn´t go on to rename SEA, that has still to be used and promoted as a term, and SEO that is definitively questionable but already positioned in the minds of our target audience.

  • raphaelric

    Hi Danny,
    If follow your writing from Paris through
    Stick to your beliefs: in France, we have the same confusion between SEM and SEA. Of course, SEM = search = SEA+SEO. I have already converted 1000 to 2000 peoples through the training seminars I give in Paris :-) The fight is even harder in France as we have translations (SE0= referencement naturel, referencement organique, SEA=referencement publicitaire, achat de mots cles, liens sponsorises, liens publicitaires, SEM=marketing dans les outils de recherche). We will win on the long term as people from ad agencies who know nothing about SEO, will be outdated soon. They arrived late on the “search” market and or no experts…. and very often do a poor consulting job: the actual point is less terminology than arbitrage…. Very often when they confuse SEA and SEM, they also overweight the SEM budget compared to the SEO budget thus increasing average cost of acquisition.

    BTW: as affiliate marketing pionner, I think you must not confuse PPC and SEA.
    PCC = banner ppc campaigns (Valueclick like) + SEA + contextual advertising (like google Adsense, which is also billed by google adwords but is not the same traffic at all as the one from SEA) and other forms of performance based campains.

  • Stupidscript

    I noticed the shift, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal, to me.

    Really, it comes down to “confusion”, as in “who will be confused by using SEM to mean ‘paid search’”? IMHO, nobody gets confused by it, because those of us who know include SEO in the mix, and those who don’t … don’t. Simple. The context of the discussion very quickly provides the definition.

    For example, if I’m speaking with a client, and they start talking about SEM, I know they are referring to the paid search elements of their marketing. If they start talking about SEO, then they are talking about the non-paid search elements. If they start talking about SEM and are including SEO in that reference, then the conversation will clearly reflect that.

    After all, it’s just nomenclature. It’s not like the differences between what professionals call something and what consumers call it has any real bearing on that thing’s validity.

    And I realize that it has been a long time since anyone discussed it as a serious marketing framework, but let’s not forget about PPM in all of this … neither SEO nor PPC … but 100% SEM.

  • Stupidscript

    PS: I’m noticing more and more articles in the mainstream media that use SERP as an acronym for “Search Engine Results Page”, instead of the traditional “Search Engine Results Position”, too. We should probably gird our loins.

  • Webnext Solutions

    I myself was so hurted with this non-sense going all round. People are really misguided through wrong use of the term SEM – even google adwords learning center says ”Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of promoting and marketing a website through paid listings (advertisements) on search engines”. But at the same time they say “Although SEM refers to placing ads just on search engines, online advertising as a whole is much broader. The possibilities of online advertising include placing ads on nearly any type of website or page a user might browse, such as news, blogs, reviews, entertainment, online magazines, and marketplaces. In AdWords, these other sites make up the Google Display Network”

    So basically they say search engine advertising as online advertising and that is also worng because online advertising includes not only search engines nowadays, they incude the social media sites too.

    I was myself thinking of a correct differenciation. Even the same probelm is going to exist for term SMM that is social media marketing.


    SEM (Search Engine Marketing) = SEO (Search Engine Optimization) + SEA (Search Engine Advertising)


    SEM (Search Engine Marketing) = SEO (Search Engine Optimization) + PPC (Pay Per Click Advertising Through Search Engines)


    SMM (Social Media Marketing) = SMO (Social Media Optimization) + SMA (Social Media Advertising)


    SMM (Social Media Marketing) = SMO (Social Media Optimization) + PPC (Pay Per Click Advertising Through Social Media Sites)

    NOW I think SEM is not limited to search engines becasue even when we do social media marketing it finally gives more visiblity in search engines and so social media benefits in search engine visibilty.


    Vaibhav Jain (Internet Marketing Professional)
    Founder / Director – WEBNEXT SOLUTIONS
    URL :

  • Webnext Solutions

    Although This nonsense hurts me but still sometimes it make me feel to use SEM as paid method and come up with a new umbrella term and for this reason still my domain is under developed. Currrently it shows SEM as paid method but right now I am under thinking process that what way to go and as soon as I decide the domain will be fully developed and functional.

    I am really serious about it’s correct use

    Vaibhav Jain
    Webnext Solutions

  • Webnext Solutions

    Send me your suggestions – what you think ?

  • AgentsOfValue

    This is an eye-opener post by Danny Sullivan! SEM and SEO are usually used as two different terms when they should belong in one group. SEM and SEO are cousins in real life, right?

    There’s this agent in our company who wrote an article about search engine marketing. His article was well-written. There was no mistake in grammar but there were loads of mistakes in facts. He really thought SEO primarily refers to link building techniques while SEM is the online marketing practices outside SEO. Thanks for this article – and when this agent of ours stumbled upon this blog, everything was cleared since then.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide