My Opinion: SEM=Paid Search

SEM=Paid Search

Personally, I am in the camp that refers to SEM as paid search, not SEO

By Richard V. Burckhardt

Being the Danny Sullivan fan boy that I am, it’s rare that I find myself in disagreement with him, but that’s where I find myself after reading his Search Engine Land post Does SEM = SEO + CPC Still Add Up? where he opines that SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is an umbrella for all forms of search marketing, paid and organic.

In the article, Danny gives quite a bit of history supporting his idea that all forms of search related marketing should be lumped under SEM. It’s a great read.

Nonetheless, I have always been in the camp that feels that SEM refers to paid search marketing. My reasoning is very simple. With search engine optimization you have SEO. That’s it. With paid search you have all kinds of variations – PPC, CPA, CPC, banner ads, etc. If anything needs to have an umbrella, it’s paid search.

And, what about other forms of web related marketing (example: e-mail marketing) that aren’t necessarily search related. They don’t fit under a “search” umbrella.

Personally, I feel it makes more sense for the umbrella for all web marketing to be something as simple as, well, “web marketing.” That allows better segmentation of organic (SEO), paid (SEM), social media optimization (SMO), e-mail marketing and affiliate marketing while keeping them all under a “web marketing” category.

That said, the fact that Danny has “found it annoying that over the years, more and more people use SEM to mean paid search, as if SEM excludes SEO” points out the fact that if we in the industry don’t have a standardized definition of what SEM is (and SEO, SMO, etc. for that matter), then how are companies trying to hire us going to be anything but clueless as well?

I am frequently contacted by businesses looking for help with their sites. As I am an in-house SEO without time to take on extra clients (other than SEO workshops and speaking), I try to refer these folks to my SEO buddies, but I am amazed at how often these companies confuse what is SEO, what is paid, etc.

For instance, for months I noticed an ad running on LinkedIn and on just about every web marketing blog I went to for an SEO position at a major entertainment site (I won’t mention a name to protect the innocent. They would be SOOOO embarrassed). Finally, out of curiosity I clicked on the ad. The title was “SEO (Search Engine Optimization)” but the job description was completely about paid search. What they were really looking for was a Google Adwords expert. No wonder the ad ran forever.

Go on any job listing site like Craigs List and you’ll see it all of the time. An ad for an “SEO Manager” will mix in PPC, blog editing and e-mail marketing. Another ad for an SEM might give a job description that includes web design and social media optimization.

Obviously an industry accepted definition for each segment of our industry is a must. What we need is for our leading Internet marketing organizations (SEMPO, eMA, etc.) to agree on exactly what “SEM” is so that we are all in agreement.

With a standardized definition of exactly what SEM is, Danny and I could agree and I could retain my fan boy status!

And, it would make finding jobs for folks in the various segments of web marketing less of a crap shoot.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s