What is SEO, SEM and PPC and how do I utilise these acronyms?

If you’ve been wondering how to navigate the digital world , but have no idea how to make sense of all the jargon, you have come to the right place. Let’s start with some definitions.

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation – is the process of maximising the number of visitors a website has through free or organic means by ensuring that the site features high on the list of results returned by a search engine.

As an example, when I was working for an e-commerce homewares store in 2013, with each new product uploaded, certain key terms were repeated and utilised (as the image title and in the product description) in order to maximise exposure. It’s best to implement SEO (on-the-page and off-the-page) as you are building each component of the website. Essentially, by using SEO, this lets Google (or the applicable search engine) know that this site and its contents are important for searchers of certain terms. If search engines deliver relevant results and websites rank highly and gain greater traffic, this is essentially a win-win. The more relevant a search engine is, the more popular it is among searchers and the more likely it will stick around and generate revenue through advertising.

While I could break down every component for you, it’s actually fairly complex and you might be better off checking out the periodic table developed by Search Engine Land.


SEM – Search Engine Marketing – is an internet marketing tool which involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility (primarily through paid advertising).

If you’re wondering how this differs from SEO, I can understand the confusion; they’re actually interlinked and are therefore fairly similar. To illustrate, SEO is the process of tweaking content within your website, while SEM is the culmination of all of your internet marketing activities, such as the aforementioned SEO as well as social media marketing and pay per click (explained below).

PPC – Pay per Click – is a business model (SEM tool) whereby a website (typically a business) agrees to pay a certain amount per click generated in order to gain exposure. Essentially what this means is, every time a searcher clicks on the website, the website owner pays Google (or the applicable search engine) a fee for advertising its content or ranking it at the top of the search.

For high end products (think more luxury cars or international airlines than peanut butter), Pay per Click can be a great way to ensure a high degree of traffic when searchers enter key terms. It is also easily measurable (you know how many people are clicking on the site and can track what key words were most commonly searched or resulted in the greatest interest towards the website). Of course, it does rely on having a certain degree of information – Pay per Click can be costly, so you want to know that you are reaching the right market with your choice of search terms to target and ensure you are monitoring the campaign’s success.

Now that we have all the basics out of the way, what does SEO mean for marketing and what is the nature of search going to look like in the future?

Well, in case you haven’t heard, mobile is booming, which means that utilising mobile SEO is also becoming increasingly important. A lot of consumers (myself included) will often search for key terms using their mobile, researching potential purchases on the way home from university or work. It’s still a little clunky to buy a lot of things through the websites we may be browsing (because optimisation hasn’t yet caught up with demand), so when arriving home, consumers open up their laptop and make the final decision on the big screen. It’s possible there is also a psychological phenomenon going on here – I personally would feel a little nervous purchasing big ticket items on my phone such as international flights, as I may accidentally click something I didn’t intend to with my uncoordinated thumbs. Again though, this just comes back to a need for business to address website usability and functionality to create an increasingly fluid mobile experience.

Search Engine Land (can you tell I am now their biggest fan?) claims that a responsive website is no longer enough to survive in this rising mobile digital landscape – designers also need to ensure that the desktop website has translated correctly to its mobile counterpart in terms of structured data, pagination (mobile may use infinite scroll for consumer ease, but this isn’t ideal for SEO pick-ups), internal link structure (less links = happier consumers, but also less SEO points), site configuration and a variety of other components. Because mobile is an entirely different platform with a significantly smaller screen, it’s possible that SEO information traditionally built into desktop websites may get lost in translation with the never-ending jostle between user experience and exposure.

These are big issues. As a designer and a consumer I can certainly understand the conundrum. On the one hand, you want to maximise usability for this new mobile generation, but on the other, you may be completely messing up your SEO.

So what can we do about this? Well, Google’s RankBrain (which uses AI learning) looks for conversational human-generated content, so perhaps the best advice is don’t sound like a robot (rather ironic considering AI is judging this) and to the best of your ability, keep up with the current algorithm and deliver meaningful, relevant and quality content. I wish there were a more definitive answer to this, but it would seem as though SEO is as much a science as it is a blindfolded finger painting that Google is trying to squash in the mud.

So, all that aside, have you implemented some of the SEO success factors into your website? How do you see the future of SEO and the interlink between optimisation and AI learning? Let me know your thoughts in the comments on the sidebar.

2 thoughts on “What is SEO, SEM and PPC and how do I utilise these acronyms?”

  1. Hi Hannah! Let me just say, WOW. You have seriously helped me to further deepen my understanding of search engine marketing tools, thanks for that! I absolutely agree with you about being a little nervous about making big purchases on my phone. It’s so easy to accidentally click the wrong button or enter in the wrong information into the tiny boxes they give you, let alone using that mini key pad!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Astrid, thank you so much for reading this post (I know it was a mouthful of jargon!) and sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your comment.

      It really is so easy to click a button to make a purchase, it’s happened to me a few times on Amazon with their single click purchase. I’ve actually banned myself from online shopping for 2 months, so here’s hoping it helps to break the cycle of needless consumerism!


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