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What the Heck is Search Engine Marketing?

What Are We Doing Here?!

SEO, PPC, SEM, SMM, Content Marketing, Link Building, etc…. You know that it all has to do with search engines, but that’s not really enough is it?

I agree. That’s not enough. So, I want to give a breakdown of what all of these acronyms and phrases mean. But first, let’s take a look at a SERP:

Smart Phone Case SERP


Yes, that is a “SERP” or “search engine results page” for the query “smart phone case.” Let’s break down what exactly a SERP contains, and keep in mind that each section falls into two categories: organic and paid. Organic is a result that appears based on the merits of its content (SEO-based) and paid results appear based on bids for space (paid ads).


Snapshot of Result Subtypes:





Not every SERP will contain this sort of snapshot, but depending on the query, you will usually see a sampling from one of Google’s search subcategories, including Shopping, Images, News and more. In this case, we get a “shopping snapshot.”

Usually, these snapshots would be purely organic, but Shopping results differ a bit. They are halfway between organic and paid, since certain e-commerce sites can pay for placement int he shopping section. However, for image search, news and any of the other subcategories that Google lists directly below the search bar, these snapshots will be entirely in the organic category.


Top Ads:


Paid Ad


You could call these tops ads for a few reasons. First of all, when they appear, they normally appear at the top, above all other results. Secondly, they aren’t the only ads on the search page. Lastly, they belong at the top, because they constitute Google’s main source of revenue, because they typically sit in the most competitive spot in a SERP.

So, as you’d imagine, this section is categorized as paid.


Organic Results




Hmm, I wonder what category this falls into?

Yes, while the top ads get the first spot(s) in a Google SERP, many people skip right over to get to organic search – and for good reason. Organic results get their placement based on merit. Therefore, users like organic results, because they usually answer their queries more accurately.


Side & Bottom Ads


More Ads


Side and bottom ads (the first of which you can see above) also typically appear in a SERP. As you would imagine, these are paid ads that didn’t quite get the bid for top placement.

I would like to point out that the above example does not feature Maps / Places results, which you will also see in many search results, and they’ll look like this:

Maps / Places


Another form of organic content, Maps / Places results take up a lot of real estate in a SERP.


So, what is Search Engine Marketing?


Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is the practice of getting a website to show up as much as possible in a SERP. This can, therefore, include both paid ads and organic results. Paid ads come from PPC efforts, while organic results comes from SEO efforts.

Both SEO and PPC have their benefits and shortcomings, that’s why SEM takes a holistic approach to attacking the SERP for your website.

In other words…



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