What (the heck) does “SEM” mean?

What (the heck) does “SEM” mean?

The acronym “SEM” is one of many found in the digital marketing alphabet soup. (SEO, PPC, CPC and SERPs are closely related). SEM stands for “Search Engine Marketing”, which actually has a history of what it means.

Traditionally, the word “marketing” is a blanket term that covers any activities that are used to promote your brand and business, including public relations (PR), advertising and sales. So naturally one would think that the phrase “search engine marketing” or SEM would also be a blanket term, covering any activities that are performed to help your business appear in search engine results. Since search engine results pages (or SERPs) are divided into two main sections, paid and organic, search engine marketing would be interpreted by many to include both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click advertising (PPC, or CPC which is cost per click).

However, there are some who equate the meaning and use “search engine marketing” interchangeably with PPC only, as if it does not include SEO. For example, a digital agency may say that they specialize in SEO and SEM, the SEM meaning they manage their clients’ paid search advertising. The use of the word “marketing” in this sense has carried over to social media. Now that many of the most popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, have advertising, there are many digital marketers who say they do social media marketing (SMM) to express that they manage advertising on social media. For example they may say that they do “Facebook Marketing” and mean that they manage Facebook Advertising for their clients.

Part of the reason why some in the industry have evolved to use the term “marketing” for a service that is just advertising, not PR or sales, is because in digital marketing the acronym for the service is also the acronym for the service provider. SEO means search engine optimization, but it also means search engine optimizer. So “an SEO” is one that performs SEO. Yet, this doesn’t work for advertising professionals because the acronym is PPC and it doesn’t make sense to call the professional a PPC because they’re not a “click” or a “clicker”.

As an advocate for using the word “marketing” as a blanket term, Mirex Marketing proposes that one of the following service descriptions, titles and acronyms be applied to paid search advertising and the professional who performs it:

  • PSM, Paid Search Marketing and Paid Search Marketer (or Paid Search Manager) – if you’re going to use the blanket term then qualify it with the “paid search” before it.
  • SEA, Search Engine Advertising and Search Engine Advertiser – use the specific term instead of the blanket term and follow the same pattern as “SEM” and “SEO” by keeping the “SE”. That way, instead of SEM = SEO + PPC it would be SEM = SEO + SEA. Then perhaps social media would follow suit with SMM = SMO + SMA; SMO being social media optimizer and SMA being social media advertiser.

For more details, feel free to read our similar post: For all the “SEM”s out there, “Marketing” is a BLANKET TERM!

Tell us what you think? If you’re not in marketing, what did “search engine marketing” mean to you before you read this article? If you are in the industry, do you agree or disagree with the proposed titles/acronyms, which one should it be and why?

Share this post

Leave a Reply