Audience Driven Naming
Marketers put a lot of time into naming the services and products that their companies sell. Before the advent of search engines, such naming efforts more often than not aimed to appeal to emotions. The keyword-driven nature of search though has forced marketers to at least consider the gap that may exist between what they call something and what their potential customers call that same thing.
And so I read with much interest the reaction to Hugo Guzman's recent article titled SEM vs. SEO. It's the title that caught my eye because it strongly implied that SEM was different than SEO. However, my definition for these terms is that SEO is a subset of SEM where SEM refers to any and all activities related to driving traffic to your site from a search engine. This includes paying for advertising (paid search), optimizing your site to obtain top rankings (SEO), and using other sites to control more of the SERP listings (social media marketing and optimization).
Hugo argues that, “If you go look at RFPs for Fortune 1000 companies, a lot of them refer to SEM when what they really mean is paid search.” He's right. I've seen that same distinction used not only in RFPs, but also during phone and in-person discussions with prospects.
And yet, an industry heavyweight, Danny Sullivan, felt the need to restate his position that SEM is an umbrella term that encompasses more than just paid search.
So who's right? That depends. You saw that answer coming, didn't you?
I believe you should write for your audience and use the terminology that will resonate with them. Was Hugo's article intended for the same people sending RFPs to his company or was it intended for search marketing professionals? I can't say for sure who he's actually targeting, but given that most of the responses have largely glossed over the topic of his article while focusing on the terminology suggests to me that he made a tactical error. However, he probably is spot on with his terminology when talking to his clients.