Marketing terms to know in a digital ecosystem

Gillian Barnes, Digital Marketing Coordinator
Posted on Aug 4, 2022

Building a strong search strategy positions your company in front of the right stakeholders at the right time. Before you get started, you need to understand the basics of paid search, organic search, and direct traffic.

With so many marketing terms buzzing around – like pay-per-click (PPC), direct traffic, organic traffic, SEO, SEM, and paid search – it can be difficult to fully comprehend the marketing ecosystem. Imarc’s digital marketing services team has experts in all types of marketing, but two areas occupy a large number of our efforts: paid and organic search. Let’s dive into these five elements and discuss how they can help you to build a stronger, more comprehensive search strategy:

Paid search (PPC)
Organic search
Owned media
Direct traffic & Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Marketing ecosystem basics

Let’s begin with paid search, also referred to as PPC or sponsored ads. While talented copywriters are able to blend keywords seamlessly to provide helpful information, you can easily tell the difference between paid search results and organic search results.

The word “Ad” appears in front of sponsored ads on Google listings. If you click on ad content, the advertiser will be charged for your click – hence the name paid search. In turn, the advertiser will receive engaged traffic to their website.

Paid marketing example

Organic search

While paid search is sponsored, organic search is earned through search engine optimization (SEO). Just to clarify, earning your rank on search engines is not the same as earned media, which is another word for publicity. In the case of SEO, “earning'' means that your content provides one of the best answers to the user’s search. Overall, SEO ranking is based on factors like relevance, domain authority, linking, and some other ranking indicators.

example of organic search

Owned media

Owned media is anything that you have total control over, like your website or your blog. Owned media may be optimized for organic search, but it’s more about control of a property than earning outside publicity. The optimal way to utilize these properties is to follow SEO best practices.

Direct traffic and search engine marketing (SEM)

Finally, the last two terms – direct traffic and search engine marketing (SEM) – are pieces of the previous terms. Direct traffic is when a user arrived directly on the website, and there is no referral information in Google Analytics (GA). There are several reasons why that might occur:

  • A person directly entering the URL into the search bar (perhaps they saw your outdoor ad, received your mailer, or heard it on the radio, and typed it in)

  • A click from certain email marketing campaigns

  • “Dark” social media clicks (ones that can’t be tracked because they are generated in Messenger and other messaging applications)

  • HTTPS to HTTP referrals

SEM on the other hand, has evolved over time. It used to encompass both paid and organic search activity, but now you’ll find most people use it interchangeably with paid search or PPC. In the most basic terms, SEO is organic and SEM is paid, but an ideal search strategy mixes the two.

Find a partner

Being a subject matter expert on everything is simply not possible. You might be excellent at PPC, but need a little help to rank higher organically. If you are looking for a partner to help improve your digital marketing efforts, let’s talk!

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