The question is whether SEO and SEM are now mainstream enough terms with marketers to warrant being utilized in a stand-alone fashion. Given my longstanding enthusiasm toward our industry, and the belief that all organizations (large and small) should be utilizing SEO and SEM, I am of the opinion that most individuals who are employed in a marketing capacity today understand these terms and are sufficiently up to speed on the basics of our industry. Then last week, I had a call with a prospective client that caused me to scratch my head, shaking my confidence (albeit briefly) in my assumptions.
The gist of the conversation was this individual explaining to me why "pay-per-click" wasn't right for his business, although he freely admitted that he didn't have any experience with it. He continued by suggesting that pay-per-click is for "retailers" and that it doesn't make sense for a business-to-business site like his.
It would be great if businesses today could rely exclusively on SEO to deliver a steady flow of visitors to their sites, but that's not a realistic or intelligent strategy for most companies; especially if the long-term value of a new client is substantial, as it is in many business-to-business environments. Even companies that have successfully garnered a strong natural search presence often find a benefit to targeted SEM. Granted, SEM is not perfect and can be expensive, but it works for most businesses that have the energy and discipline to arrive at effective, well-performing campaigns.
In other discussions, I have listened to attempts at philosophical rationalizations for avoiding SEM. The theory goes that searchers understand the difference between paid and natural listings and view paid advertisers in a negative manner. I don't see it that way. In fact, I would argue that a higher percentage of searchers don't understand the distinction between paid and natural - more than those that have an aversion to companies who pay for placement.
The year is 2007; SEO and SEM continue to evolve and thrive. Most organizations have become significantly more efficient at utilizing these channels and have grown their efforts as a result of their successes. If you are not currently involved with both SEO and SEM, the time is now. And by the way, we plan to use the acronyms on our new site this fall.