Acronyms are one of the great minefields of the business world. From law to finance to marketing, you’d be hard pressed to run a company without coming across an acronym or two near enough on a daily basis. And while they are very useful for in-the-know specialists to save their breath on a few syllables, for everyone else they can become something of a pain.


We know that our own field of expertise, digital marketing, is full of acronyms. We also understand just how much confusion they can cause. So for this week’s blog, we decided to look at two of the most common, and potentially most confusing, to help you understand what on Earth everyone is on about next time you are sat in a marketing meeting.


PPC stands for ‘Pay-Per-Click’, and refers to a type of online advertising. SEM stands for ‘Search Engine Marketing’, and is the blanket term used for any kind of activity intended to improve how easy it is to find a particular website via a search engine.


The room for confusion stems from the fact that both PPC and SEM are both concerned with promotion via search engines. Pay-per-click advertising tends to specifically relate to the type of adverts you see at the top of a search results page on Google or Bing. PPC is therefore a flavour of search engine marketing, which is a much broader umbrella term covering many different types of promotion through search engines.

What does Pay-Per-Click Mean?

PPC advertising gets its name for a quite simple reason. With PPC, you don’t pay for the ad on the search results page directly, as you would with a banner or display ad. Instead, you pay each time someone clicks on that ad to get to your website.


Pay-per-click ads work on the basis of keywords. PPC services like Adwords will give different search terms and phrases a value, based on how common they are and how many people want to use them in adverts. Your PPC ad will mimic the look of a real, or ‘organic’ search result. But the key to it is that it contains the keyword or phrase that you bid for. Whatever price was fixed when you bid, that is the price you pay each time the ad is clicked.


Search engine marketing explained

SEM is a confusing term for a couple of reasons. One, it is used much less commonly than search engine optimisation (SEO), and there is a tendency to assume the two mean the same thing. Secondly, SEM can be confusing because people don’t understand the differences between PPC, SEO and other search engine marketing strategies.


Like PPC, SEO is a particular type of search engine marketing. Unlike PPC, the aim is to avoid having to pay to increase your brand’s visibility in search results. Instead, SEO tries to get a particular website or page to rank high in the ‘organic’ search results, below where the PPC ads appear. There are various means of trying to do this, including careful use of keywords, creation of high quality, useful content, and curation of internal navigation and external links.


SEO might be accompanied by other strategies, such as search engine reputation management. This approach concentrates on establishing a website as a recognised authority with the search bots - the idea is, once a site has acquired a positive reputation with a search engine, SEO on individual pages is likely to have a greater effect. Likewise, PPC campaigns can be accompanied by a variety of other paid-for strategies, including paid search ads.

All of these fall under the category of SEM.


Which should I choose?

Marketers will often use the umbrella term SEM because, to achieve maximum results in promoting a brand via search, a blend of paid-for and organic strategies are recommended. PPC has the advantage of delivering quick wins and means budgets can be controlled carefully. Long term, however, you are unlikely to gain the same level of visibility and conversions you can get with effective organic search marketing, especially as most users click through on organic results more than they do paid for ads.


Reaping the rewards of SEO and other tactics can, however, be a long and laborious task. Although ostensibly free, it takes a lot of time and effort to get right. That is why a good SEM campaign will usually include elements of PPC and SEO, plus other strategies, to ensure the best balance of impact over time and cost effectiveness.


Learn more about our comprehensive range of search engine marketing services by contacting our digital team today.

Written by Emma Puzylo November of 2017