The Semantics Of 'SEM Strategy'

Lately, it seems that phrases like "search engine marketing" and "search strategy" are being used so liberally in conversations, news and blogs that it has become increasingly difficult to discern a point-of-view without first qualifying the person or writer's bias.

Media planners, business marketers, marketing strategists, social media marketers and SEOs commonly apply "SEM" and "search strategy" to their own point, while often meaning something more specific within the search or marketing landscape. As a result, I'm spending more time trying figure out where they are coming from, rather than focusing on the merits of the discussion or idea.

I've also been a bit peeved lately about SEO and PPC purists who talk about search absolutes they proclaim everyone should follow or believe, based on things that have worked subjectively for them.

I mention this because these positions are often presented as "search strategy" or "SEM strategy." They really should be "SEO strategy" or "PPC/SEA strategy" or some other subset terminology. It may sound like nitpicking, but the bottom line for enterprise marketers is that implementing this kind of advice without considering the big picture is simply bad search strategy.



What isn't nitpicking is that some enterprise marketers and IT professionals are actually buying into the misinformation, usually out of the convenience of having a supporting opinion that will justify their dismissal of search engine marketing.

But enough of my ranting.

If you've been reading Search Insider for the last few months, then you are aware of the renewed sense that SEM is truly in transition right now; lines are quickly blurring into many different areas of marketing and business strategy. And you are aware of the difference between strategy and tactics, as Gord Hotchkiss outlined in a series of columns.

-Constructing a holistic search strategy requires expertise or knowledge across a variety of search channels, particularly in an enterprise situation. A holistic search approach should be a consideration for every enterprise marketer, as it is imperative to look at search-marketing strategy starting with all of its components, and to deduce the right mix to meet the objective, whether it's paid, natural or any other combination of search elements.

With all of the possibilities in creating a well-rounded and holistic search strategy, keep in mind that the core of "search engine marketing" contains the following components:

1. Natural search
2. Paid search
3. Contextual / content targeting
4. Paid inclusion

Within these classifications, you may have myriad sub-strategies, tactics and nuances. A search engine marketer has to deal with many different questions when setting strategy. While many of the answers are immediately obvious, based on a given situation, holistic search experience speaks to which new questions must be asked and answered.

For some small businesses, search alone, and even SEO or PPC alone, is the business strategy. For larger businesses and enterprises, it's more often a part of the strategy, and while often tactical in approach, there are exceptions when search is a foundation of an enterprise business strategy.

As the lines continue to blur, search strategy is increasingly impacting business strategy at the enterprise level. Because of the extreme diverse applications of SEM to different situations, it is important to know where a person is coming from when they talk about their respective SEM experience -- particularly if you are thinking about applying their advice to your business.

So the next time you encounter the phrase "search-engine marketing strategy," or search strategy discussed in conversation or in writing, try and determine whether the context is about one particular area of search, or if it is truly considering a holistic approach. Think critically about the person or writer's particular bias (even mine). You just might gain a better perspective on how to develop a successful search strategy that fits your objectives well.

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