May 21, 2021

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Lingo You Should Know

In the world of marketing, questionable acronyms and fancy jargon come a dime a dozen. But how do you know what is helpful to familiarize yourself with if you are not in a marketing industry career? That’s where we come in, whether it’s discussing marketing like a human or teaching you the fundamentals without you getting lost in the weeds.

Many of our clients have at least heard of search engine optimization before, but one such term that can be confusing to laypeople is search engine marketing (SEM). Rather than undertaking countless Google searches or taking a blundering tumble through technical blogs, we’re breaking down the SEM terminology you’ll find most helpful to understand as you delve into the many ways SEM and SEO can help your business find greater success.

Your Marketing Glossary


While these terms are often — and wrongly — used interchangeably, they refer to two different marketing strategies that can be employed to reach your target audience on search engines like Google. 

To boil it down, SEO strategically uses organic optimizations to have a website appear ideally in search results whereas, SEM uses paid advertising to do the same. These strategies are used hand-in-hand to deliver consistently optimal user touchpoints at every step along their digital journey for the best results. 

Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

The search engine results page refers to the Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other search engine pages of website listings that appear when someone enters a query. When marketers speak of ranking, this is about the order in which your URL listings appear on SERPs.

Local Search

As the name suggests, local search refers to search engine results specific to the user’s location or intended location. These results tend to show your Google My Business profile, maps, and more. 


While these terms can sometimes be jumbled when discussing how search engines find and show webpages within SERPs, they are crucial to understanding how to get your website in front of prospective customers effectively online. A sitemap is an essential addition to your website that can typically be found in the footer. The sitemap stores an organized list of URLs on the website that helps search engine crawlers find the pages for indexing. For example, here at PHOS, we opt for a simple sitemap integration using Yoast, a WordPress plug-in that generates XML sitemaps for website creators.

PHOS Creative Sitemap Example

Search engines use crawlers (bots) that follow every link on your website to index the pages. As Google describes: 

“The web is like an ever-growing library with billions of books and no central filing system. We use software known as web crawlers to discover publicly available webpages.”

From there, systems behind search engines sort through the crawled pages and index them, meaning that they note the key components of each page, from keywords to freshness. These features are what prompt search engines to rank your webpage higher or lower in the search results. 


Pay-per-click (PPC) is one of the most fundamental SEM tools in a marketer’s toolbox. This data-driven strategy allows you to bid on keywords that your target audience is likely to use within search queries and design ads shown when those keywords are entered within your business’s designated advertising location.

Want to learn more about PPC management? Check out how our team approaches this SEM tool.

Landing Page

A landing page specifically refers to the webpage users land on first when entering your website. Once a user is navigating within your website, the downstream pages are no longer spoken about in terms of where users are landing. Any page on your website can be a landing page when considering potential user journeys’ possible digital starting points. 

Target Audience 

Your target audience is set when creating an advertisement. This tells search engines which users to serve your ad to and can include user details and demographics from location, age, and gender to consumer behaviors. 


A bid refers to how much you’re paying for each keyword for which search engines show your ad. Depending on which keywords are performing well with your ads or which segment of your target audience is optimally engaging with your ads, you can customize bids to put more or less money into different keywords, segments, and more. 

Long-Tail Keywords

Long-tail keywords offer a unique opportunity to harness the power of knowing the interests of your target audience well enough to bid on less broad keywords that often come with a far lower cost-per-click. These keywords tend to be more specific to your particular business or a niche service or product offering.

Conversion Testing

When running new advertising campaigns, conversion testing is a data-driven approach to determining the optimal ad structure and delivery. To do so, there are two main strategies, either A/A testing or A/B testing. A/A testing involves testing two ads or landing pages to see which performs better. A/B testing consists of using a baseline control version of your ad or landing page and comparing it to various other versions that have changed only a single variable. 

Reach vs. Impressions

These two terms can keep even marketers on their toes as different advertising platforms can report ad performance through either metric ambiguously. When you see the word impression, this refers to the number of people shown your ad, regardless of whether they actually consumed the content. On the other hand, when you see reach, this refers to the number of people who saw your ad, taking the metric a step further than simply being shown the ad. 

Reporting on impressions can often inaccurately inflate your advertising performance, leaving you with a faulty perception of its traction with your target audience. 

Click-Through Rate

In short, the click-through rate is the percentage of users who click on a link or ad out of the total number of those who are shown it. When discussing the performance of your presence in search engines, whether paid or unpaid, the click-through rate of your business’s result indicates how effectively placed or curated it was to drive engagement and gain traction with users. 

To see an ideal click-through rate for your business for SEM, check out WordStream’s Google benchmarking data paired with your specific industry. 

Get Ahead Without Getting a Headache

When it comes to exploring the many ways in which your business can reach more potential customers online and grow its impact through a strategic multi-channel digital approach, it can be daunting. 

That’s why our team partners with you to not only help you reach your most audacious business goals but to help you learn along the way for empowered, visionary thinking. Connect with us to learn more about pushing the needle for your business with SEM. 

Whitney Snyder

Whitney Snyder

With faith in fostering empowerment through imagination and building community through connection, Whitney’s excited to spark meaningful relationships with clients. During her time as an Inbound Marketing Intern, she aspires to help clients integrate their voice and purpose into creative marketing strategies that continue to share their narratives with the communities they serve.

While away from PHOS, you can find Whitney studying for her degrees in Biology and Business Administration at the University of Florida. Her free time is usually swept up in testing out a new recipe in the kitchen, cultivating an indoor jungle in her apartment, and belting out to her favorite showtune classics.