June 2, 2023

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Lingo You Should Know

In the world of marketing, obscure acronyms and fancy jargon come a dime a dozen. If you’re not working in the marketing industry, it can be pretty confusing navigating through all the terms and their definitions. That’s where we come in — we explain marketing in simple, layman’s terms and teach you the fundamentals without getting lost in the weeds.

Many of our clients have at least heard of search engine optimization (SEO) before, but you may not be as familiar with search engine marketing (SEM). Rather than undertaking countless Google searches or raking through the complex language of technical blogs, we’re breaking down common SEM terminology you’ll come across, so you can use SEM and SEO tactics with complete confidence to help your business find greater success.

Your Marketing Glossary


While these terms are wrongly used interchangeably quite often, 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 rank highly in search results — SEM uses paid advertising to do the same. These strategies are used hand-in-hand to deliver a range of touchpoints with your target audience throughout their digital journey.

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.

More and more, search engines, especially Google, are utilizing a blended display for the SERP. This just means that users will see images, videos, and other related queries on the results page rather than simply a page of different links and websites.

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. This is a part of Google’s blended display of the search results page, pulling from Google My Business to show the user a series of matches to their query local in their area.


These terms can sometimes be jumbled when discussing how search engines find and show webpages within SERPs, but they are crucial to understanding how to get your website in front of your audience effectively.

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.

Search engines use bots called spiders (also known as crawlers) that follow every link on your website to index the pages. Using Google’s Search Console to provide a sitemap will help these bots understand how to navigate your site and index accordingly. As Google describes:

“The Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of webpages and is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size. It’s like the index in the back of a book — with an entry for every word seen on every webpage we index. When we index a webpage, we add it to the entries for all of the words it contains.”

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. When used in Google, this data-driven strategy allows you to bid on keywords that your target audience is likely to use within search queries. It will then design ads to show when those keywords are entered within your business’s designated advertising location. If a user clicks on the ad, that’s when you’ll be charged.

Social media platforms, like Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, also provide the option for PPC ads on their sites. You’ll want to determine which social media platforms your target audience uses and focus on those sites for PPC advertisements.

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 other pages the user may go to are no longer spoken about in terms of landing. Any page on your website can be a landing page when considering the possible digital starting points a potential buyer may start their journey.

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 the maximum you’re willing to pay for each keyword you want ads to be generated for. You can customize your bid amounts to be higher or lower depending on what keywords are performing well and where your audience is engaging the most. You can also adjust what keywords or keyword phrases you want to bid for as you gain more insight.

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. Essentially, long-tail keywords are keywords that may get fewer clicks but are highly relevant to your target audience. Think “baseball” versus “how can baseball improve mental health.”

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 identical 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, it 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

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

Rachel Klein

Being a lifelong writer, Rachel is passionate about creating and writing amazing copy for websites, blogs, e-books, and anything in-between. She believes words are a powerful tool in bringing a client’s vision to life and is vital in cultivating a human connection through storytelling with an audience.

In her free time, Rachel spends her time reading a good fantasy book, playing the latest video game, or rolling dice for Dungeons and Dragons. She loves exploring local cafes and restaurants and can be found at the theater (both the movie and musical variety). Her other hobbies include enjoying or creating art, exploring nature, and baking sweet treats!