When we engage with new prospect and clients, we often find that the conversations are laden with acronyms. SERP, SEO, PPC, SEM… LOL. It seems like there are acronyms in every facet of business and digital marketing is no different. I wanted to break down some of these acronyms for the uninitiated so there’s an understanding of what we’re all talking about… in blogs or live in dialogue.

SERP – Search Engine Results Page

When we think of search marketing as a whole – paid and organic – what we are trying to do is gain share of a search engine results page (SERP). When a search is conducted that has to do with your brand or keywords related to your products, solutions, or services, you want your website URLs to display as early and often – whether that be in the paid section using Google Ads, or in the organic section thanks in part from our optimization efforts.

In the below screen shot, you’ll see a partial SERP for the search “best dog food”. The Google Ad results are at the top and have the Ad notification to the left in the green square. Those without the Ad designation are the organic search results. It’s important to note that while Google Ad results appear before the organic listings, 70 to 80 percent of search engine users focus only on the organic results (from HubSpot) smart marketers need to think holistically when it comes to the SERPs.

SERP Example

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

SEM is really a catch-all term to encompass all of those marketing tactics that have to do with search. While this can include search engine optimization (SEO) it more often than not refers to the paid side of search marketing having to do with Google Ads. Because ‘search engine’ is part of the SEM acronym it makes sense that it really only encompasses those efforts that help improve clicks from a SERP.

In the above example, those results at the top (and there are usually some at the bottom and even to the right) that contain the Ad label. These paid SEM tactics are often referred to as PPC – or pay-per-click (see below). What order your ad is displayed is a blog of its own (coming soon), but it’s a combination of keyword strategy, budget, offer strategy, and the ad itself.

PPC – Pay-per-Click

PPC, as mentioned above, is part of the SEM umbrella when it refers to Google Ads. But PPC is more than just Google Ads and SERPs. There are a number of internet venues where you can advertise and then pay on a per click basis. Here are a couple that are most common:

  • Google Display Network – Beyond the SERP, Google maintains a network of over two million websites that claim to reach 90 percent of all internet users. You can run text or banner ads for your brand, products, or services that will display on these websites. You can target sites by content and interest by letting Google choose the sites for you or you can use ‘managed placements’ and choose those sites yourself. Remarketing is part of a display campaign and lets you target people who have clicked on your Google Ad but did not convert. NOTE: You need to have an active Google Ad campaign running for you to qualify for a remarketing campaign.
  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – These major social media platforms (and others) provide you with an opportunity to place banner ads into their stream and target people based on a number of different demographics and other variables. You pay on a per click basis. Depending on what your product or service is would determine the best venue for your ads. An agency can play a vital role in putting together a smart, targeted action plan.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization

SEO utilizes strategies and tactics to help your website gain visibility in a search engine’s organic SERP. The list of these tactics is too numerous to list out in a blog post, but there are categories of tactics that can be helpful when explaining where efforts are directed with an SEO strategy:

  • On-page SEO. The strategy here is to optimize all the areas of your website using keywords and smart content usage. This encompasses Meta data, heading tags, image tags, and web copy to best incorporate and utilize keywords to improve rankings and organic traffic.
  • Off-page SEO. Here we want to connect your website to other, relevant sites or content to help improve your link profile. Link building is a major part of this off-page effort, but it needs to be done strategically and carefully, avoiding blackhat practices that can put your site in peril. Ultimately you want to build your brand reputation and trustworthiness.
  • Technical SEO. Optimizing the site structure and architecture can help improve metrics such as bounce rate, and page load speed. It can also help with indexing and help reduce broken links while making the site mobile friendly. The better the site experience for humans and search crawlers, the better your site will perform when it comes to SEO.

It’s important to understand that SEO takes a lot more time than SEM or PPC in terms of driving traffic. The investment is worth it, however, when you consider that earlier stat of search engine user trust of organic vs. paid SERP listings. Also, when you stop pouring money into paid search, your traffic stops entirely. Over time, you might be able to reduce your SEO spend and not see any measurable decline in immediate traffic. This, however, may not be the case if you’re in a highly competitive industry.

How to Balance These Strategies?

The short answer is… it depends. On your industry. What you’re selling. How costly it is. When we start up with new clients we always try and take a step back to understand what their goals are and how we might best realize success. It often is a combination of SEO and SEM and PPC that provides the prospect conversions and marketing longevity that our clients are seeking.

Bonus Acronym – KPI: Key Performance Indicator

We can really talk about digital marketing success without mentioning KPIs. Key Performance Indicators are those metrics that allow us to measure success across the digital spectrum. When we think about PPC, we might look at conversions (the penultimate KPI) or others such as CTR (click-through-rate).

Looking at SEO there are KPIs like time-on-site, organic traffic, conversions, bounce rate and others (Domain Authority or DA). Here’s a good blog on some KPIs for tracking SEO success.

Regardless of the KPIs, it’s important to establish them at the outset of your campaigns and then measure them along the way. Establishing benchmark KPIs before you start your efforts will allow you to track success of your work over time.

Reach out and we can work with you to put together a plan that maximizes your budget reach and effectiveness.