For all the “SEM”s out there, “Marketing” is a BLANKET TERM!
Newbies may read the title of this article and wonder why the statement even needs to be made, but those in the industry probably understand right off the bat. If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym SEM, it stands for Search Engine Marketing or Search Engine Marketer. Some correctly interpret this to mean any marketing activities to promote a business, brand or product through search engines OR a marketer who performs any activity to promote a business, brand or product through search engines. Since there are two ways for a domain to appear in search engine results pages, organic or paid results, this term implies that the marketing professional who works with search engines could either be an SEO (search engine optimizer who performs search engine optimization) or a paid search professional or both.
However, it has been a major trend for agencies to state that they do “SEO and SEM”, as if SEM implies advertising only and excludes SEO. This has even carried over into social media, where social media advertisers call themselves “facebook marketers” or “social media marketers” and they don’t focus on natural engagement, just the advertising.
Well, believe it or not, marketing existed long before search engines. (I know, it’s hard for a lot of digital marketers to fathom). Even before the advent of the internet, the word “marketing” was (and still is) a blanket term that could mean any activities that are performed to promote a business, brand or product. This could include public relations, advertising or sales since these are all ways to generate leads and build a brand. Public Relations executed strategies to help promote a brand in free (or earned) media. Advertising was a way to promote a brand in paid media. (Sales for this article is not as relevant, but it mostly includes one-on-one communication with a live human being – of course that’s no longer relevant in a digital world, right?)
One only needs to look at one of the predecessors of a search engine results page, the newspaper, to see how marketing has maintained some familiar characteristics. A newspaper mostly consisted of editorial with ads placed around it. The editorial was the free or earned media that was written for the newspaper’s audience. There are even guidelines for newspapers (which still exist at the time this article was written, believe it or not) that require a certain percentage of editorial to be considered a newspaper instead of a magazine.
A public relations specialist was usually required to do whatever they could to get a journalist to publish a positive article about their brand. The organic, non-paid search results of a search engine are the “editorial” and ads are placed around it. The major difference is a newspaper ad was not nearly as targeted as an ad on a search engine. While the newspaper could usually provide some helpful demographics of their audience which were general in nature, search engine ads appear as a result of the user searching for a specific keyword, which means the results are specific for that user at that time. So while there is editorial and advertising, they are both results that serve the user which fulfills the purpose of a search engine. Therefore SEO is a new form of public relations since it deals with the free or earned portion of a search engine. Also, search engine optimization and paid search advertising are both ways to promote a brand on search engines.
So if marketing on a search engine can consist of both search engine optimization and paid search advertising, then why would professionals who only work on the advertising call themselves “SEMs” or “search engine marketers”? That kind of implies that they do both services when they only do the advertising. Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land, who is seasoned in the industry and now uses the phrase “search marketing” as the blanket term, explains how this trend evolved and partially attributes the problem to the fact that search advertising professionals don’t have a decent title. The service of advertising on search engines is often referred to as PPC or CPC. PPC stands for Pay Per Click and CPC stands for Cost Per Click. But the professional can’t call themselves a PPC-er or a Pay Per Clicker. One who performs search engine optimization can call his- or herself a search engine optimizer, but there is currently no equivalent for advertisers. And dadgummit in the world of digital marketing we just have to have acronyms!
Since Mirex Marketing is an advocate of continuing to use the word “marketing” as blanket term, regardless of whether you label it “search marketing” or “search engine marketing”, we propose that one of two possible titles be given to paid search advertising professionals:
Paid Search Marketing or PSM
If you really want to use the blanket term “marketing”, then qualify it to describe what type of marketing by adding “paid search” before it. That clearly defines what the professional does and it follows suit with the acronym SEO by labeling the service and the professional who provides the service. While SEO stands for both Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Optimizer, PSM can stand for both Paid Search Marketing and Paid Search Marketer. The following option does this as well:
Search Engine Advertising or SEA
If “SEM” is the blanket term, and “SEO” is for the organic results, then keep the “SE” but instead of using the blanket term “marketing”, use the specific term that applies , which is “advertiser” or “advertising”. You could probably also have some fun with it by saying “search engine advertisers create a SEA of opportunities for your business” or “we create leads like drops in the SEA“. With this option paid search advertisers would arguably have one of the few abbreviations in marketing that is actually an acronym and not simply an initialism, since “sea” is an actual word and most other marketing acronyms are not. But I guess that is a whole other discussion.
If you’re a business owner (which makes you the consumer in the case of marketing services) please tell us your perspective. Before you read this article what did “Search Engine Marketing” or “Search Engine Marketer” mean to you?
If you’re a marketing professional tell us whether or not you agree and why?