Posted January 10, 2006 10:00 am by with 10 comments

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Do you agree that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the umbrella term for both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Paid Search (including PPC)?

I’m seeing too many people using SEM to exclusively refer to Paid Search or PPC.

After getting initial feedback in the “comments”, I’ve decided to add a mini-poll.

So how do you define Search Engine Marketing?

  • Oh – yeah, I use SEM to refer to PPC… Thought that was the standard. When I want to refer to both I usually say “SEO and SEM.”


  • So it’s you causing the confusion!!! 😉

    I don’t often agree with SEMPO, but their definition is spot-on…

    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.

  • In the mid 90s, I just referred to it as web site promotion.

    I recall the acronym SEO being around before someone came up with SEM. I use SEO as part of SEM when I talk about either.

  • Zybatsu

    How about some new terms entirely –
    OSO: Organic search optimization
    PSO: Paid search optimization

  • Thanks Andy for putting this to vote. I agree 100%. I have actually used a scientific classification analogy before, placing the SEM as a Kingdom in the domain of “Marketing.” SEO and PPC are Phylums or divisions, depending on them being plant or animal. If I was to go further I would say SEO or PPC can be plant or animal depending on the tactics used…:)

  • Glad you like the definition, Andy. I’m pretty sure that’s what I wrote when I helped draw up the glossary. As for SEM being an umbrella term, I’m obviously for that since I helped popularize it that way in 2001, and have long promoted that to my readers in my primer, I completely disagree with the term PPC to refer to paid, since many things are PPC. The breakdown I like and use (and will continue using) is:

    Search Engine Marketing
    — Search Engine Optimization
    — Search Advertising or Paid Search

  • I’ve always thought it was strange as well but I continue to refer to SEM as encompassing PPC only.

    I don’t think it can be changed this late in the game.

  • I’m with Danny. SEM encompases all marketing that uses search engines. I tend to think it includes things such as comparison shopping engines as well.

    And, PPC is a horrible term. It refers to a financial model, not a marketing technique.

  • OK Danny blinded me with science. He is right on when he says PPC is not accurate to use when referring to all things paid search. That makes PPC a Class under the Phylum or Division of Search Advertising. :p

  • My vote:

    SEM = SEO + PPC