ABCs of Search Engine Marketing

A Glossary of Marketing Terms, KPIs, & Definitions

Search engine marketing (SEM) is packed with its particular language. If you’re new to paid ads or SEO or just figuring out digital marketing jargon, it helps to have a cheat sheet! This glossary covers basic terms,  Google Ads campaign essentials,  key performance indicators (KPIs), and other words you’ll encounter navigating search marketing.


  • A/B Test (also known as Split Test): The most common experiment where you compare two versions of a given element (ad copy, landing page, etc.) by showing each version to a random portion of your traffic.  Your chosen performance metric determines the winning variation.
  • Ad Extensions: Features you can add to your Google Ads to provide more information, such as your business address, phone number, additional webpage links, product prices, or promotions. Options are available to customize the types of ads you show. See the list below for specific examples.
    • Call Ads: Include a click-to-call button for easy phone connections.
    • Image Extensions: Add visual appeal by showing images next to your text ads.
    • Price Extensions: Show prices for your products/services directly in your ad.
    • Promotion Extensions: Highlight sales or limited-time offers.
    • Sitelink Extensions: Include extra links within your ad (to different areas of your site).
    • Callout Extensions: Include extra text at the end of your ad description.  
  • Ad Groups: Collections of ads within a campaign that share relevant keywords and targeting settings.
  • Ad Rank: An internal Google Ads calculation (Max Bid & Quality Score) used to determine your ad’s placement on the search results page.
  • Ad Scheduling: A setting specifies the days and times you want your ads to run.
  • Alt Text: Text alternative for an image on a website; used for accessibility and search engine indexing.
  • Anchor Text: The visible, clickable text of a hyperlink.
  • Assisted Conversions: Involve multiple ad interactions; a user might initially click an ad without converting, then return later to complete the desired action.
  • Attribution Model: A set of rules determining how conversion credit is given to different touchpoints during a user’s path to conversion.
  • Audience Targeting: The practice of focusing your ads on specific groups defined by demographics, interests, past website visits (remarketing lists), and more.
  • Affinity Audiences: Groups of users based on their broader interests and lifestyles (e.g., “Sports Enthusiasts,” “Travel Buffs”). This targets people interested in your products even if they’re not actively searching for them.


  • Bid Adjustments: Options to increase or decrease bids by a percentage based on factors like device, location, or audience attributes. Certain bid adjustments only work with certain bid strategies.  
  • Bidding Strategies: Methods for setting bids in Google Ads to meet your objectives:
    • Manual CPC: You directly set bids for each keyword.
    • Enhanced CPC: Adjust your manual bids to help get more conversions.
    • Target CPA: Google sets bids to get as many conversions as possible at or below your set cost-per-acquisition.
    • Maximize Conversions: Google focuses on getting the most conversions for your budget.
    • Target ROAS: Google maximizes conversion value while targeting a set return on ad spend.
  • Black Hat SEO: Unacceptable practices designed to boost rankings artificially. This violates search engine guidelines and can lead to penalties.
  • Bounce Rate: The percentage of website visitors who only viewed one page and took no action before leaving.
  • Brand Restrictions: A tool within Google Ads to modify keyword matches in the campaign.  Used on broad match-only campaigns, the brand restrictions feature acts as a modification so that all matched queries relate to the brand(s) defined in the setting.  
  • Brand Exclusions: Similar to Brand Restrictions, this feature ensures your ads aren’t triggered by specific brand names that might be unwanted associations or competitors.
  • Broad Match: The default and most relaxed keyword matching type. Your ad can show searches containing your keyword, synonyms, related searches, and other relevant variations. It offers the broadest reach but might include less directly relevant searches. Uses more inputs/signals for automated bidding than other keyword match types.  
  • Bumper Ad: Short (6 seconds or less), non-skippable video ads designed to deliver brief, memorable messages. They appear before, during, or after YouTube videos.
  • Brand Lift Study:  Specifically focused on tracking changes in brand awareness, perception, or purchase intent due to an ad campaign. Google offers these surveys within its platforms, while external vendors may use other methodologies.


  • Call Ads: Ads prominently feature a “call” button so users can contact your business directly by phone.
  • Clicks: The number of times users have clicked on your ad.
  • Campaign: In Google Ads, a campaign houses ad groups and dictates settings like budget, location targeting, and overall strategy.
  • Campaign Types: The kinds of campaigns you can run on Google Ads:
    • Search Network: Text ads on Google search result pages and partner sites.
    • Display Network: A more extensive variety of ads (image, video, text) on a vast network of websites, apps, and videos (ex, YouTube).
    • Standard Shopping: Product-focused ads suitable for e-commerce.
    • Video: Video ads are shown on YouTube and the YouTube Partners Network.
    • Demand Generation: Special ads run on Google Apps, Gmail, and YouTube.  
    • App: Ads that promote app downloads and engagement.
    • Performance Max: A cross-channel Google product that runs on all available inventory in Google Ads.  
  • Canonical Tag: An HTML element (in a website’s code) indicating the preferred URL when multiple versions of the same content exist. This addresses duplicate content issues.
  • Carousel Ad: A format that displays several images in a scrollable/swipeable sequence within a single ad unit. It helps showcase multiple products or highlight different aspects of an offering.
  • CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act): Law granting California residents rights over their data (ability to know what’s collected, to ask for deletion, and to opt-out of data being sold).
  • Consent Mode V2: The Google Tag feature lets your site’s tags adjust behavior according to users’ cookie consent choices.
  • Conversion Window: The timeframe after an ad click during which an action (purchase, lead generation, etc.) is considered a conversion.
  • Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA): The average price you pay for a customer acquisition through your paid ads.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures how much the page layout unexpectedly shifts during loading. Unexpected content shifts can be jarring and disruptive to the user experience.
  • Custom Intent Audiences: You create audiences using a combination of data sources such as keywords, apps, and websites.
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of people who clicked on your ad after seeing it (Clicks / Impressions). A higher CTR generally indicates compelling messaging/visuals or a highly relevant audience target.  
  • Click Share: An estimate of the percentage of clicks you’re receiving compared to the total number of estimated clicks you were eligible to receive. Click share combines information about both rank and bidding to provide a view of how your ads are performing overall.
  • Companion Banner:  Small image ads that appear alongside YouTube videos or on specific “channels.” These can work in tandem with video campaigns to reinforce your brand messaging.
  • Conversion Lift Test: Designed to isolate the true impact of an ad campaign beyond what you can directly track, like clicks and direct conversions.   This uses techniques like control groups (who don’t see the ads) and helps assess hard-to-measure actions.


  • Display Network: A vast network of websites, apps, and videos where Google Ads can be shown.
  • Demand Generation Campaign: A form of Google Ads focused on building demand and interest for your brand/products via Gmail, YouTube, and Google Discover – ideal for reaching prospects higher in the marketing funnel.
  • Dynamic Search Ads (DSA): Google generates headlines and targets your ads based on your website’s content; excellent for filling keywords gaps.
  • Dynamic Display Remarketing: A form of display ad retargeting where the ad content is automatically personalized based on the products or pages a user has previously viewed on your site. This makes for highly relevant ads, often boosting engagement and conversion rates.


  • Enhanced Conversions: The Google Ads feature combines basic tracking with your 1st-party customer data (hashed for privacy) for improved conversion measurement.
  • Exact Match (Indicated using brackets): The most restrictive match type. Ads will only show for searches that match the keyword, without variations or additional words. This lets you target with precision but provides a smaller overall reach. Google Ads has adjusted how variations are treated as of July 2021. Even close variants (misspellings, singular/plural differences, etc.) of the exact match will automatically be included. While still serving a purpose, these match types sometimes work differently than they used to.
  • Exact Match Variation: With recent Google Ads changes, close variants such as plurals, misspellings, and similar searches are now captured within regular Exact Match. You no longer explicitly need to include these additional variations.


  • Frequency: The average number of times an individual user sees your ad within a given time frame. Frequency should be monitored to balance visibility and avoid annoyances from an ad showing too often.
  • First-Party Data: Information your company collects directly from customers (website behavior, purchase history, CRM data). This is extremely valuable in a landscape where targeting based on third-party cookies is changing.
  • First Contentful Paint (FCP): A metric measuring the time it takes for the first content element (text, image, etc.) to appear on a user’s screen. An aspect of core web vitals influences perceived performance and user experience.
  • Focus Keywords: The primary keywords targeted within a web page or ad, signifying the intended search topic you want to be displayed for.
  • Fraudulent Traffic: Non-genuine clicks or impressions on ads, often caused by bots or click farms. Invalidates performance metrics and is something Google tries to address with fraud detection features.


  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation): A comprehensive EU law concerning the privacy and protection of personal data for EU citizens.
  • Google Ads Editor: Desktop software allows you to manage large Google Ads accounts offline and make bulk changes.
  • Google Merchant Center: An essential platform for running Shopping campaigns; you use it to manage product feeds and listings.
  • Google Tag: The Google code snippet on your website allows other Google and 3rd-party tags to function for web analytics and marketing purposes.


  • Header Tags (H1, H2, etc.): HTML elements structure your page content with hierarchical headings. Proper use helps search engines understand your content.
  • Heatmaps: Visual representations of website data with color changes showing higher and lower activity areas. These help analyze click patterns, navigation habits, and even page scrolling behavior.
  • Holdout Test: An experiment where a portion of your audience is deliberately not shown ads. Comparing those who experienced your campaign versus the “holdout” group highlights the true incremental impact of your advertising.
  • HTTPS: The secure version of HTTP. HTTPS websites offer enhanced security through encryption, vital for any site containing forms or customer data. Google provides a slight ranking boost for sites using HTTPS.


  • Image Extensions: Images you can add to standard text ads for more visual appeal.
  • Impressions: The number of times your display ad has been shown. Note that an impression doesn’t guarantee someone saw it; it just means it loaded on a page they visited.
  • Impression Share: This shows your ads’ performance by calculating the percentage of ad impressions they got when they were eligible to be seen.
  • Interaction to Next Paint (INP): A metric for evaluating how quickly a website responds to user interactions. INP measures the time between the user input (like a click, tap, or keypress) and when the webpage visually updates as a response.  A low INP indicates good responsiveness, while a high INP could lead to frustrated users.
  • In-Market Audiences: Audiences generated by Google based on signals of purchase intent. People in this category have actively researched and shown buying behavior related to a specific product area or service.
  • In-feed Ad:  Appears on YouTube’s homepage, search result pages, and within “suggested video” lists. In-feed ads typically feature an image thumbnail and short text that users can click to watch the video.


  • Landing Page: The webpage a user reaches after clicking your ad. Its quality impacts the overall success of your ad campaign.
  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures how long a page’s most significant content element becomes visible to the user. A good LCP is essential for creating a positive first impression.
  • Location Targeting: The ability to show your ads only to users within specific geographic regions (countries, states, cities, or a radius around a place). 
  • Lookalike Audiences: Audiences generated by Google Ads based on your existing, high-value customers. Google’s algorithms try to identify new users with similar interests and characteristics as those who have already converted. You choose input lists and target from broad and balanced to narrow.  
  • Lost Impression Share Due to Budget: The percentage of potential impressions missed because your budget was too low. Consider increasing bidding or daily budget to capture more visibility if this figure is consistently high.
  • Lost Impression Share Due to Rank:  Refers to the percentage of potential impressions your ads missed due to a low Ad Rank. Ad Rank is a composite score Google calculates based on your bids, Quality Score, and the competitiveness of the auction.  A low score limits how often your ad will be shown in a top position or sometimes at all.


  • Manual CPC: Bidding strategy where you manually set bids for individual keywords.
  • Masthead Ad: Prominent ads are shown on the YouTube homepage.  They might autoplay videos, contain clickable images, or combine elements depending on the format. Mastheads usually require a reservation.
  • Meta Description: A summary (~160 characters) of your webpage’s content. While not a direct ranking factor, a well-written meta description can help attract clicks from search result pages.
  • Mobile-friendliness: Your website’s compatibility with browsing on smartphones and tablets. This factor significantly influences search engine rankings.
  • MVT Test (Multivariate Test):  Similar to an A/B test, it allows you to test changes to multiple elements on a page or within an ad simultaneously. Useful for uncovering how variables such as layout, headlines, and CTAs impact performance.


  • Negative Match Types: In Google Ads, keywords or phrases you use to prevent your ad from showing on irrelevant searches. Types include:
    • Negative Broad Match: Excludes any searches containing variations of your negative keyword.
    • Negative Phrase Match: Excludes the whole phrase and close variations of it.
    • Negative Exact Match: Prevents your ad from showing only for that exact keyword.
  • Non-Skippable In-Stream Ad: Also plays before, during, or after videos, but unlike skippable ads, users must watch the entire ad (up to 15-20 seconds long) before the video resumes.


  • Optimization Score: A percentage figure in your Google Ads account that suggests potential changes you can make to improve your campaigns. It analyzes multiple aspects of your account and offers optimization ideas.
  • Organic Results: The websites and webpages are featured in search engine results pages (SERPs) due to their relevance and authority, and not because they are paid ads. SEO efforts try to boost the ranking of a site in organic results.
  • Overlay Ads: A type of display ad floats over a website’s content, capturing attention but possibly being seen as intrusive if not done right.


  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC): The core advertising model within search engine marketing (and paid advertising in general), where you pay a fee each time a user clicks on one of your ads.
  • PPC Automation: Utilizing platforms or rules within Google Ads to streamline bid management, keyword research, ad creation, or other SEM tactics.
  • Product Listing Ads (PLAs): A type of Shopping ad that presents product images, price, and other essential information directly in search results, leading to highly visual ad placements.
  • Page Feed: A tool within Google Ads for creating specific landing pages or campaigns directly related to a product or service listed in your product feed.
  • Performance Max:  A Google Ads campaign type using extensive automation to serve ads across numerous Google networks – Search, Display, YouTube, and more. The goal is to reach broader audiences and drive conversions.
  • Product Feed: A structured data file (usually a spreadsheet or XML) that lists your products, their attributes (price, description, image, etc.),  and other details required for platforms like Google Merchant Center to use in shopping campaigns.
  • Product Feed Testing: Vital for any business running Shopping campaigns.  Tests can range from basic validation of product data against Google Merchant Center requirements to comparing variations of your product titles, descriptions, and image choices.
  • Phrase Match (Indicated by using quotation marks): Ads can show for searches that include the phrase of your keyword and additional words before or after it. Phrase matches give you more control than broad matches but are still somewhat flexible.


  • Qualified Leads: Contacts obtained through marketing who have expressed genuine interest in your product or service. This level of interest distinguishes them from mere website visitors.
  • Quality Score: Google assesses the relevance and usefulness of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. High-quality scores can give you a better ad position and lower costs.


  • Rank Tracking Tools: Software for monitoring your web pages’ positions in search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords.
  • Remarketing (or Retargeting): Advertising strategy that specifically targets users who have visited your site in the past but have yet to convert.
  • Retention (or Loyalty): Strategy with tactics that specifically target past customer lists.  
  • Responsive Search Ads (RSAs): Ad format where you provide multiple headlines and descriptions, and Google then mixes and matches the variations to test which combinations perform best.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): A crucial metric measured as the revenue generated per dollar spent on advertising. It helps evaluate the profitability of your marketing strategy.


  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Actions taken to organically improve your website’s rankings in search results pages (SERPs), which is often considered free, “earned” traffic compared to paid SEM efforts.
  • Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs): Pages a search engine generates in response to a search query. This is where both organic and paid listings appear.
  • Search Terms: Actual words or phrases people enter into search engines. Keyword research aims to uncover what search terms your potential customers are using.
  • Shopping Campaigns: Ad campaigns explicitly geared for e-commerce, requiring setting up a product feed in Google Merchant Center.
  • Speed Index: Analyzes how quickly content visually populates during page load. Google Lighthouse is a standard tool for assessing this alongside other web vitals.
  • Structured Data: Code added to your web pages (often in JSON-LD format) makes it easier for search engines to understand your content’s elements (recipes, product reviews, event information, etc.). This can lead to rich snippets or unique displays in search results.
  • Skippable In-Stream Ad:  Plays before, during, or after a YouTube video.  After 5 seconds, users have the option to skip the ad.


  • Target CPA (Cost-Per-Acquisition): A Google Ads bidding strategy to optimize your campaigns for the average cost you want to pay per conversion. It is the capped version of Maximize Conversions.  
  • Target ROAS: A Google Ads bidding strategy that caps performance around a target ROAS.  It is the capped version of Maximize Conversion Value.  
  • Time to Interactive (TTI): Measures how long it takes for a page to become fully interactive (all visible elements are functional and responsive to user input).
  • Total Blocking Time (TBT): A metric reflecting how much time is “blocked” between First Contentful Paint (FCP) and Time to Interactive (TTI) where the browser cannot respond to user input. A high TBT is indicative of slow pages.
  • Toxic Backlink: A link to your website from a low-quality, spammy, or potentially penalized site. These can harm your site’s reputation in search engine algorithms and should be removed or disavowed.
  • Title Tag: The main title of a webpage, visible in search result listings and a browser’s tab. A crucial element for SEO, title tags should accurately describe page content and include relevant keywords.


  • UTM Parameters: Special bits of code added to URLs used to track campaign performance metrics in web analytics tools like Google Analytics.
  • Unique Selling Proposition (USP): What makes your product/service stand out from competitors? Communicating your USP through ads can make them more powerful.
  • User Experience (UX): A person’s overall experience when interacting with your website, app, or ads. Good UX design is crucial for customer satisfaction and conversions.
  • URL Slug: The final part of a URL that uniquely identifies a specific page, e.g., in the URL, the slug is /seo-tips. Optimizing URL slugs for clarity and targeted keywords helps both users and search engines understand your content.


  • View Rate (specifically for video ads): The percentage of times your video ad was played for at least 2 seconds. A high view rate suggests your video captures attention and doesn’t immediately cause users to scroll past it.


  • XML Sitemap: A file formatted in XML that lists URLs on your website, helping search engines crawl and index it effectively.


  • YouTube Advertising: Running ad campaigns across YouTube’s platform via Google Ads, including in-stream videos, in-feed display ads, companion banners, short ads, and more.
  • YouTube Shorts: Vertical video format similar to TikTok or Instagram Reels.  Specific advertising capabilities around Shorts (like “Shoppable Shorts”) will continue to evolve, though standard Google Ads placements can now be targeted alongside them.


  • Zero-Click Searches: Instances where search engine results satisfy the user’s query without clicking a website link (familiar with featured snippets, knowledge graphs). This demonstrates changes in user search behavior to be aware of.

We know this is a lot to keep track of, especially considering the landscape of search advertising is constantly evolving! Let this glossary be your go-to reference. Did we miss any essential terms?  Tell us! We’ll keep this page updated so it remains a valuable resource for marketers of all levels.