Translating the Language of Search

  |  November 10, 2008   |  Comments

Are search engine marketers talking over your head? Here are definitions to commonly used SEM abbreviations and jargon.

Those of us who have been in this industry for a while are accustomed to throwing around industry-specific abbreviations and jargon. When I talk about search, I use industry terminology without even thinking about it -- until recently when a client stopped me and said, "Whoa, back up. You lost me."

For example:

    "The Google dance has struck again and the SE algorithm has changed, so we might want to evaluate our linking strategies."

    Translation: Google has once again changed how it ranks sites. This might have an impact on our current search engine positioning, so we might want to explore other ways to get other sites to link to ours.

    "We will deliver an SEM/SEO report, focusing on your organic and sponsored rankings, CTRs, CPCs and conversions."

    Translation: We will prepare a report on our search engine marketing and search engine optimization activities, specifically looking at where your site ranks in both the paid and unpaid search engine results, the click-through rate on our listings, the average price we're paying for a click, and the number of people who completed our desired action when they came to the site.

If you knew right off the bat what those two sentences meant without the translation, you're welcome to sign off. You know your search definitions. But if you had to stop and think for a minute, thinking about the abbreviations, then this column may be for you.

Here I have compiled a list of some of the most frequently used search industry terminology, jargon, abbreviations, and so on and simplified definitions:

  • Conversion: When a user completes a predefined desired action on your Web site (e.g., purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, registering for more information, etc.).

  • CPC: Cost per click is defined as the price you pay when someone clicks on your sponsored listing/paid search ad.

  • CTR: Click-through rate is the number of clicks divided by the number of ad impressions/views. It's the rate at which people see your ad and actually click on it.

  • Inbound links: Also know as external links, which occurs when other sites link to your site. It's generally accepted that a big factor in search engine algorithms (see below) is the number and quality of inbound links pointing to your site.

  • Keyword: A word or phrase that is typed into a search engine. Site owners typically want their sites to be visible in the search engines for specific keywords that relate to their product or service.

  • Link building: Since inbound (external) links influence a site's organic rankings (see below), many site owners will undertake the process of link building. This can consist of explicitly asking other sites to link to them, or encouraging inbound links by creating valuable content or tools, posting product reviews or forum comments on other Web sites, or partnering with relevant sites.

  • Organic ranking: The position that your Web site appears in the unpaid ("editorial") listings of the search engine results, which typically take up the majority of the page.

  • PPC: Pay per click typically refers to paid search marketing, where you pay for your ad to appear in the sponsored listings of the search engine results.

  • Quality score: The rating assigned by Google and other engines to keywords within a paid search account. The QS is calculated by taking into account maximum bid and relevancy (how closely your ad is targeted to the query; whether your landing page contains relevant information to the query).

  • SE: Search engine.

  • Search engine algorithm: A complex formula that search engines use to compute how to rank site A over sites B to Z. Apparently they are made up of thousands of unique factors, but we will likely never truly know since SEs make a habit of not disclosing details.

  • Search engine submission: A sort of archaic practice of submitting your site to the search engines for indexing. It was thought that this could speed up the time of search engines initially indexing, then returning to, your site. The traditional means of doing this is no longer widely practiced, but programs like Google Webmaster Tools enable site owners to make their sites more visible to Google and keep the engine up to date when changes are made.

  • SEM: Search engine marketing. This is where it gets tricky: sometimes this term is used mean both paid and unpaid search marketing, but sometimes it's used to mean only the paid activities. Industry organization SEMPO, uses "SEM" as the umbrella term. I'll let you decide how to use it.

  • SEO: Search engine optimization involves undertaking activities to make your site rank higher in the search engine results. Often it involves attempting to intuit how search engines rank sites and applying industry best practices.

  • SERP: Search engine results page, which is the page that comes up after you perform a query in a search engine.

  • Sponsored listings/ads: The text ads that typically appear along the periphery of the SERP (see above), such as along the top and the right hand side. Advertisers determine which terms they want their ads to appear for and compete with other advertisers to achieve top positioning.

I could go on, but this should give you a quick overview of some commonly used vernacular. That said, there are a number of lists out that provide a comprehensive compendium of search marketing terms. Check out SEMPO's Search Engine Optimization & Marketing Glossary for a well-rounded glossary of terms used in both search and Internet marketing.

Join us for a Advanced Keyword Research for Search Ads on December 3 at 1 pm EST. Learn how to identify and refine the initial set of possible keywords; score your keywords by popularity, specificity, and other factors; and more!

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Julie Batten

Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.

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