One of the most annoying things about online marketing is the acronyms.  SEM, SEO, PPC, DSPs, GA, and CPC are just a few.  Sometimes, I wonder if the industry does it because they want to make online marketing more confusing to the consumer.

Well today, I want to give some clarity to the most misused of all online marketing acronyms: SEM. What is SEM, exactly? Take a look below.  

Search Engine Marketing

Definition: Search engine marketing
(SEM) is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages through optimization and advertising.

So what does this include?  

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of organic search results returned by a search engine.
  • PPC (Pay Per Click) / Paid Search / CPC (Cost Per Click) – an internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites, in which advertisers pay the publisher (typically a website owner) when the ad is clicked.  These ads are typically, but not always, text ads at the top of search results.
  • PLAs (Product Listing Ads) –  a type of ad featuring an image and detailed information about specific products. Typically appearing in a box on Google Search, separate from text ads and on Google Shopping, PLAs will often show up from different merchants based on a person’s search term.  
  • Contextual Ads – a type of text or display ad that is served on a site based on site content or the users search within the site, essentially showing the consumer an ad relevant to the topic they are searching out or researching. 


Yes!  SEO is a kind of SEM.  PPC is also a kind of SEM.  Basically, it boils down to this: anything dealing with a search engine is Search Engine Marketing.  

Let’s break it down in a SEM visual example.  

In the example below, you’ll see I searched for “black glasses.”  At the top of the search results in the left column, is advertising some Black Reading Glasses using PPC.  Below that, has come up using SEO in organic search results for the same search term.  Lastly, in the far right column above more PPC ads, we have the PLA’s for, and to see the top black glasses they have available, the cost of those glasses and a little more detail like name and special offers.

With 1.2 trillion searches a year on Google, it’s safe to say that every brand and company should be utilizing and care about SEM.  


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