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When you first enter the world of digital marketing, you’re bombarded with acronym after acronym. From SEO, to KPIs, CTR and ROI, the marketer’s ability to shorten long phrases into bite size chunks is amazing!


Digital marketing is relatively young, so it makes sense that we are still defining phrases and processes, with acronyms changing as the discipline evolves.


The trouble is, this can cause a huge amount of confusion, and there’s no real jargon dictionary. As phrases take on new meanings, it can take a while for people to ‘get the memo’. One example is SEM (Search Engine Marketing).


SEM has been a confusing acronym from the start and was often misunderstood due to similarities with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).


To clarify, there are 3 ways the term “SEM” is often used. The first is usually by people who don’t quite “get” the varying aspects of search marketing. These people tend to resort to using SEO and SEM interchangeably.  


The second is using SEM as an umbrella term for all search marketing, incorporating SEO under that umbrella. This is usually the handiwork of upper management marketers, who didn’t get the memo yet. This is understandable for the most part, because in the past this definition was correct.


Now though, SEM refers only to paid elements of the umbrella term “Search Marketing”. Instead of SEM, many marketers often use either “pay-per-click campaigns”, “search ads”, or “paid search”.


The most common platform for SEM is Google AdWords. Though both Bing and Yahoo! each have their respective search ad platforms, as well as a handful of smaller search engines.


With these platforms, the idea is that you pay for your ad to show up in a relevant search, and are charged on a per-click basis.


The process is pretty simple: You create an advertising campaign, and within that campaign you have an advert set with specific target demographics. You add your creative, set a budget and the desired campaign duration, and submit it for approval. Once approved, your ad begins to surface on relevant searches.


In contrast to the “paid” elements of SEM, SEO encompasses all the “organic” elements of search marketing, such as keyword strategies, and content marketing.
Congratulations! You have now gained some awesome knowledge on SEM! Thank you for reading.