What Is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines. The main difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) is that traffic coming from SEO (organic) is free while traffic generated from PPC is not free (as the name implies you have to pay a cost per click).

Related SEM Synonyms & Acronyms

“Search Engine Marketing” was once was used as an umbrella term to encompass both SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search activities. Over time, the industry has adopted the SEM acronym to refer solely to paid search.

We generally use SEM and/or “Paid Search” to refer to paid listings, with the longer term of search marketing used to encompass both SEO and SEM. Below are some of the most common terms also used to refer to SEM activities:

  • Paid search ads (e.g. – Google Ads or Bing Ads)
  • Paid search advertising
  • PPC (pay-per-click) *
    • PPC (pay-per-call) – some ads, particularly those served to mobile search users, may be charged by the number of clicks that resulted in a direct call from a smartphone.
  • CPC (cost-per-click) *
  • CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions) *
    • Most search ads are sold on a CPC / PPC basis, but some advertising options may also be sold on a CPM basis.
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