A glossary of online marketing cliches, acronyms and other marketing-speak.
I’ve watched clients spend more time trying to interpret marketing-speak than trying to understand the digital strategies and tools they actually need to understand.
I’ve prepared this digital marketing glossary as part of my personal crusade to demystify marketing-speak. I plan to add to the list as various acronyms and cliches flourish. Please make suggestions.
Algorithm (Short version): An algorithm is a basic element of computer programming, but in online marketing, the word is most often used when debating how search engines decide which websites to show in response to any given search term.
Algorithm (Longer version): Algorithms have been used in mathematics for centuries, but the word itself was first used in the 12th century as “algorismus,” in a Medieval Latin translation of works by Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. (The story of the word’s origin is almost as confusing as, well, an algorithm.)
An algorithm is defined as a set of instructions to solve a problem or reach a final result. One website compares algorithms to recipes — a series of instructions that result in a finished meal. The algorithms used in modern computing are juuuuu-st a bit more complex. They control everything from factory robots to the digital thermostat in your home. For modern marketers, however, “algorithm” translates to “secret code.”
Search engines build algorithms — instructions — for how to deliver the most relevant results to people searching for things like “algorithm definition” or “how to paint a basement floor.” Why care about those instructions? Because somewhere, buried deep inside all that Matrix-like code, is the secret to appearing at the top of a search engine results page. At least, that’s what search engine optimization experts believe.
Decoding search algorithm secrets is like alchemy. Search marketers experiment with keywords, backlinks, schema, page titles and more, all with the hope of turning their clients’ leaden websites into Google gold. Experimentation moves them closer to the answer, but never all the way.
You might hear marketers use “algorithm” when explaining something that’s out of their control. For example, “Your SEO program is not working as well because Google changed its algorithm.” (Just so you know, the algorithm changes constantly, although major updates are infrequent.)
To sum up, an algorithm is a set of instructions used in computer programming. Search algorithms are secret instructions that determine which websites to show in search results in response to any given search term.
Bing (now Microsoft Bing): Even though its popularity ranks far below Google, the Bing search engine should not be forgotten. At this writing, it’s the fifth largest search engine in the world (behind Google, YouTube, Amazon and Facebook). Operated by Microsoft, Bing also powers searches on Yahoo! — yes, people still use Yahoo!..
Bing Ads (now Microsoft Ads): Bing Ads are Microsoft’s version of pay-per-click search ads. They work similarly to Google Ads, but you’ll get different results because the audiences and algorithms are different. Bing Ads can be a successful traffic driver, and they can be less expensive, too.
Bounce rate: This is a metric within Google Analytics that indicates whether website visitors are engaging with content. A bounce occurs if someone visits a website page and leaves without clicking any links or buttons on the page. The bounce rate is the percentage of visits that end with a bounce. This metric will not be part of Google Analytics 4, which Google started rolling out in 2021.
Call to Action (CTA): In the context of digital marketing, a call to action is a phrase, a link, a button that encourages a customer or potential customer to take the next step. They should appear frequently on websites, on landing pages, in social media posts and in emails so people know what they are expected to do next. “Buy now,” “Subscribe,” “Get Your Free Updates,” and “Learn More” are examples of calls to action
Click: An action that is recorded when a web user clicks on a link or button.
Click-through rate (CTR) – A percentage derived by dividing the number of clicks by the number of impressions delivered within a certain time frame. A marketing campaign that generates 100 clicks from 1,000 impressions has a CTR of 10 percent.
Conversions: In Google Analytics, a conversion is measured when a user completes a goal, whether it’s clicking the play button on a video or completing a purchase. If you use Google Ads, make sure you link that account to your Analytics account and set the appropriate conversion tracking codes on your website.
CPA (Cost per acquisition): A method of charging for online advertising based on the effectiveness of the ad campaign. The acquisition can be defined as a sale or some other action, such as a download or a subscription, deemed valuable by the advertiser. The advertiser pays based on the number of times the ad campaign results in an acquisition. CPA rates are usually much higher than CPM rates.
CPC (Cost per click): Often used interchangeably with PPC (pay per click), CPC also is a metric within Google Ads that expresses the amount paid for search ads within a given timeframe compared to the number of clicks on the ads. (A spend of $200 that generates 100 clicks = a CPC of $2.)
CPM (Cost per thousand): A method of charging for online advertising — usually display / banner ads — based on the number of ad impressions to be served. A CPM rate is expressed as $X per thousand impressions, and the rate is paid no matter how many times the ads are clicked.
Display advertising: This is a print advertising expression carried over to the online world and refers to ads that contain images. Marketers often use “display ads” and “banner ads” interchangeably. Display ads need to follow strict size requirements that have been standardized by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). https://www.iab.com/
DIY, DWY, DFY: Digital marketing agencies often talk about offering three levels of service:
- providing enough education so you can do it yourself (DIY);
- complementing what you already know by doing it with you (DWY);
- and plain ol’ do it for you (DFY)
Doing it yourself is less expensive. With this option, an agency will spend a few weeks or months helping you understand digital marketing and your options. You and your team learn something and gain some online marketing skills. The disadvantage, of course, is DIY takes more time.
Time vs. Money
Do it for you is the full-service option, of course. The agency handles all the heavy lifting. You save time but pay more to the agency.
Do it with you is the in-between option. The agency handles some things, and you handle the rest. By putting in your own time and effort, you save some money and you learn a few things.
Choosing who you do it with depends on your own digital marketing skills, your desire to learn more, and the amount of time or money you have to spend.
Facebook: The world’s most popular social media network, and, as a result, it is one of the world’s most important marketing media. Your customers are on Facebook, and your business should have a presence there, too.
Facebook Ads: A robust advertising program that allows businesses to create ads and sponsored content that can be narrowly targeted to Facebook users in particular locations or with particular characteristics, or both.
Facebook business page: These are pages that can be created within Facebook specifically geared to promoting a business or organization. Maintaining an up-to-date Facebook page has almost become mandatory marketing for business. You must have a Facebook business page to set up Facebook Ads campaigns.
FOMO (pronounced foh-moh): This is one of those psychological tactics (tricks) marketers use to generate an emotional response that will lead to a purchase. The acronym stands for “Fear of missing out.” You see it everywhere in marketing and advertising messages — “Sale ends Thursday!” “Limited Inventory!” “Early Bird Discount!”
It’s an effective way to generate interest and sales. It works especially well on me. I once stood in line for two hours on Black Friday to get some really inexpensive golf balls at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
FLoC (Updated): Google has decided (Feb. 2022) that FLoC wasn’t such a good idea after all.
With FLoC, Google proposed tagging and placing web users into cohorts based on their browsing history. For example, car shoppers might be in one cohort. Those shopping for gardening information would be in their own cohort.
Google’s new plan, Topics API, would be similar. However, instead of tagging users, the Chrome browser would provide Google with topics based on user behavior. Google wouldn’t collect info on specific behaviors. It would only know the topics.
Here are some of the details or the original plan. The operative word was “cohorts,” a word used in tech and marketing communities to describe a group of people with similar characteristics.
FLoC has been flying around in conversations about internet privacy and marketing because Google is planning to use FLoC as a replacement for third-party cookies. Third-party cookies are tiny bits of code that websites can place in your web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) that tell other websites where you’ve been. For example, if you’ve been browsing for information about planning software, an ad for Trello that you see on CNN.com was generated by a third-party cookie.
Cookies have been an extraordinary boon for marketers, who rely on them to show you ads of interest where you happen to be browsing. But concerns about online privacy have finally swayed Google to abandon third-party cookies in its Chrome browser (used by more than half of us).
Instead, Google — ever the marketer’s friend — will algorithmically plop internet users into cohorts, groups of people with similar interests. Grouping people into cohorts will make it more difficult to identify one particular user, Google says, while maintaining 95 percent of target marketing’s effectiveness.
Funnel: Marketers LOVE to talk about the “funnel.” The funnel is a visual illustration of another favorite marketing buzz phrase, the “buyer’s journey.” As you might expect, that journey starts at the top of the funnel — the awareness stage. This could be the point where prospective customers realize a need for your product or that you sell something they need.
As the funnel narrows, buyers move to the consideration stage. They ramp up their research, look for reviews, study information on websites, ask questions on social media, and even subscribe to newsletters to learn more.
The conversion stage is at the bottom of the funnel. This is where buyers decide that, yes, they’re ready to make a purchase.
Marketers also tend to obnoxiously abbreviate top of the funnel, middle of the funnel and bottom of the funnel as ToFu, MoFu and BoFu. I am not kidding.
Just because it’s jargon doesn’t mean a funnel isn’t important. As a business owner, you’ll want to create different types of advertising targeted at people depending on where they are in the funnel.
Goals: If you’re using Google Analytics (and you should be), set up goals so you can see how many times are doing things like signing up for emails, making purchases or downloading white papers.
Google: The world’s largest search engine and, as a result, one of the most popular and powerful advertising platforms for any type of business.
Google Ads (formerly AdWords): This is Google’s pay-per-click advertising platform. With Google Ads you can create campaigns for search advertising, display (banner) ads and remarketing ads.
Google Analytics: Google’s free tool for measuring website traffic. We recommend this be installed on all websites to help track the results of your online marketing tactics.
Google Business Profile: (formerly Google My Business): A free tool from Google, it lets businesses manage how they appear in Google Search and Google Maps. If you run a business, you should claim your Google Business Profile and fill it out.
Google+: A defunct social network experiment created by Google that morphed into Google My Business, which in 2022 has now morphed in Google Business Profile (see above).
Google Search Ads: These text-only ads appear on search engine results pages. Ads are published based on an auction in which advertisers bid on keywords and keyword phrases. The advertiser pays Google only when a searcher clicks on an ad.
Google Search Console: A free Google tool that monitors the health of your website in terms of search engine optimization. This is another recommended must-have for all websites.
Growth Hacking: Life hacks are things you can do to make your life a little easier. Did you know you can make a chocolate cake in your microwave in about seven minutes? Now that’s a life hack everyone needs!
But I have trouble when I read “growth” in front of “hack.” It must have something to do with making business growth easier, but beyond that, I’m shrugging my shoulders.
According to Google Trends, searches for “growth hacking” started taking off about 10 years ago. It turns out that growth hacking is about accelerating business growth, but it ain’t easy.
Based on a little bit of research, growth hacking is a strategy that uses a set of tactics to grow revenue as fast as possible. The only metric is growth. Don’t bother a growth hacker with questions about return on investment, clicks, or cost.
Growth hacking is a series of experiments in which you learn as much from failure as you do from success. Try spending a bundle on social media ads. If that doesn’t work, try a contest. If that doesn’t work, try free samples. Try blogs, new ads, new landing pages, A/B testing, etc. You get the idea.
It doesn’t sound easy to me, nor is it for the faint of heart.
Why can’t we talk about all those tactics without combining them under the meaningless label of “growth hacking?”
Hashtag (#): This character, once more commonly known as the “pound” or “number” symbol, has become a way of tagging and sharing information. Twitter was the first to popularize it, but it is now used on Instagram and, to a lesser extent, on Facebook. For example, if you wanted to see all the Twitter or Instagram posts featuring diamond rings, you might search for #DiamondRing.
Impressions: An ad impression is recorded every time an ad is shown on a web page or on a search results page. Impressions are counted the same way no matter where they appear on a page and no matter whether the ad is seen or clicked.
Inbound marketing: A popular buzz phrase that is the opposite of outbound marketing. Inbound marketing refers to marketing efforts meant to attract people into your website. Creating content such as blogs, videos or podcasts are tactics that fit under inbound marketing. Search engine optimization is an inbound marketing tactic because it is meant to attract people. Outbound marketing includes tactics such as online display advertising, email marketing, TV commercials, etc.
Instagram: A social network, owned by Facebook, that is built around sharing images and videos. Businesses can advertise on Instagram using Facebook Ads tools.
IP Address: IP stands for Internet Protocol. An IP address is a unique identity assigned to machines on a computer network. It is a series of digits separated by periods. Most internet users are unaware of their IP addresses, but the information is sometimes useful if you want to filter out internal visits to your business website.
Keyword / keyword phrase: Keywords and keyword phrases are the fundamental building block for search engine optimization and paid search advertising. They are words commonly associated with a subject or business that people are likely to use when searching for information about the subject or business. For example, some keywords related to a mortuary service are funeral home, funeral director, burials service, how to plan a burial, funeral home in Rockland, etc. For search engine optimization, it’s important to include keywords in website content. In paid search advertising, advertisers bid on keywords and phrases so their ads appear when people search for those keywords.
KPI: I swear it took me a year-and-a-half to sear the meaning of this jargonic acronym into my brain. It stands for Key Performance Indicator (whatever the heck that means!). Here’s the tricky part: a key performance indicator for your business might be different than a KPI for somebody else. In business, profit is the uber KPI (one KPI to rule them all), but marketers use lesser key performance indicators to evaluate campaigns.
For example, online ad campaign KPIs could be how many people clicked on an ad and how many of those who clicked bought something. Really, key performance indicator is just another way of saying “These are the important numbers to look at” (TATINTLA).
Landing page: Without these, your online advertising and marketing campaigns will, uh, crash and burn. Even though the nautical / aeronautical meaning of “landing” carries over to the description of landing pages, somehow it always seems to need further explanation.
When people click on your ads or links in your emails and social media posts, they should end up on a page that encourages them to take an action, like register for a course or buy a widget. These landing pages, or conversion pages, are critical to the success of any online marketing campaign. They should fulfil the promise of the ad or link.
It doesn’t matter how many clicks you get, if people don’t find what they expect or know what to do once they arrive on your website, you won’t get the business.
Lead generation: A marketing buzz phrase, often shortened to lead gen, that includes marketing tactics that identify and collect lists of leads, or potential customers.
LinkedIn: The social media network for business. LinkedIn allows members to exchange business contact information, interact with colleagues in the same industries and promote their services and products. It also allows companies to promote themselves as well as job listings. LinkedIn is often used as a recruiting tool.
Long-tail keyword: The Long Tail Theory was postulated by writer Chris Anderson in 2004. It proposes that our culture and economy are moving away from mass marketing for a few things to niche marketing of many things. Long tail keywords are niche-driven and specific. “Cookbooks written between 1900 and 1920” is an example of a long tail keyword.
Lookalike audience: Lookalike audiences can be created with Facebook Ads. A lookalike audience is a group of people who have characteristics matching or similar to the characteristics of people who already are fans of your business. Ads delivered to lookalike audiences have better response rates.
Marketing Stack: In addition to those of us who practice online marketing, there’s a whole other industry devoted to technology to make marketing better, easier, more effective. The purveyors of this technology call themselves “martech.”
These martech folks want to make sure you’ve got the best marketing stack. A marketing stack is a collection of software that helps your business accomplish its marketing goals.
A stack can include things like customer relationship management software, content management software for your website, an email tool, search optimization and keyword search tools, texting software, and analytics to help you track how well each tool does its job.
Some martech vendors will try to ease your marketing burden by offering one tool that handles everything. Eventually, though, you’ll likely have to stack some new tools on top of that.
Meta description: A meta description is a block of text written into website code that describes the page content. Search engines often, but not always, use the meta description as the “snippet” of text that appears with a search engine result. Meta descriptions by themselves do not affect search ranking, but a well-written, enticing description can influence whether a searcher clicks on your link.
NAP: Stands for name, address, phone number, and is information that should be standardized for your business across all your directory listings, your website and your social media profiles.
Organic: Organic describes traffic that arrives at websites after clicking on an unpaid search engine result. It is sometimes called free traffic, but that overlooks the reality that increasing traffic from search engines — search engine optimization — requires time and money.
Pay per click (PPC): A type of online advertising in which the advertiser only pays when someone clicks on an ad.
Pinterest: A social network also built around sharing images, but with more of a bulletin-board or scrapbook feel. It’s an aspirational network, where people post images of cars, clothing, homes, recipes or furniture they like.
Programmatic advertising: A method of managing display advertising that uses software and machine learning to bid on and schedule ads to appear in front of the most relevant audiences.
Quality Score: In Google Ads, the quality score is an assessment of how well your keywords match the content of your text ads and landing pages. In other words, it measures relevancy. The score is measured on a 0-10 scale, and the higher the score, the more likely your ads will be shown.
Remarketing: / Retargeting Remarketing is a tactic that allows a business to advertise specifically to people who have already visited its website. The idea is that people who have already visited have an interest in a product or service, and additional ads targeted to them will move them closer to becoming customers. It’s accomplished by placing cookies, small bits of code, on a visitor’s browser. Ads follow the browser onto other websites that display remarketing ads. Remarketing is often referred to as retargeting.
Responsive web design: A responsive website is one that adjusts its appearance depending on the viewer’s screen size. Because so much web traffic now comes from mobile devices, it’s important that websites display appropriately on small screens and that they are easy to use.
ROAS: Return on ad spend (Sometimes pronounced as “row-az”): It’s one thing when somebody spits out an acronym or six like KPI, PPC, CPM, FBI, CIA or DOA — at least if you don’t know what they mean you can tell what letters are involved. But if somebody asks you what your “row-az” was on that last ad campaign, you’re completely lost because, you know, there ain’t no such word.
Return on ad spend is one way to measure the effectiveness of your advertising. It compares how much you spent on advertising to the sales revenue attributed to the ads. For example, if search ads costing $400 are responsible for $2,000 in sales revenue, the ROAS = $2,000 / $400, or $5 for every $1 in ads, a ROAS of 5. On the other hand, if your $400 in ads only accounted for $100 in sales, your ROAS would be .25 — not a good way to make a profit.
Return on ad spend, however, is an incomplete or at least intermediate metric. It doesn’t tell the whole story. To really understand whether your advertising helps you make a profit, you need to account for the cost to make whatever you’re selling. If your $400 in ads generates $2,000 in sales, but it costs $1,600 to make those products, you’re just breaking even.
Keep return on ad spend in context, and it can help you determine whether profitability lies in reduced marketing, higher prices, or lower costs of goods sold.
Search engine marketing (SEM): A broad term that covers all things related to marketing on search engines. It includes buying pay-per-click search ads and search engine optimization.
SEO: Search engine optimization might be better described as “optimization for search engines.” SEO encompasses a variety of tactics that make it easier for search engines to understand your website content. “Optimizing” your website for search helps real live people find your website with Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.
Why is SEO important? Because most interactions with the internet start with a search engine.Also, people who visit your website via search are more likely than people visiting from other sources to convert — buy, subscribe, download, donate, etc. You can help people (and search engines) find you by providing up-to-date articles and information on your website. When your website contains the phrases people search for, the search engine is more likely to offer your site in the search results.
I like to think of SEO as putting signposts on your website to help search engines deliver the most relevant results to searchers.
That, friend, barely scratches the SEO surface. You can learn more about search optimization in this article.
SERP: Stands for search engine results page, which is the page of results that appears after typing a query into a search engine.
Session: A session is a site visit, without regard to who is doing the visiting. A single user could create more than one session within a given time frame. Google begins tracking a session as soon as a user opens a page. If the user takes no other action, the session automatically ends after 30 minutes, and the session is recorded as “bounce.”
Snapchat: A mobile app and service for sharing photos, videos and messages with other people. The content disappears after a certain amount of time.
Twitter: A social network built around sharing short messages. Many Twitter users share links to interesting articles and engage conversations about information and events. Many businesses use it as a customer service tool.
URL: Stands for Uniform Resource Locator, but it is more commonly known as a web address. For example, the URL for my website is https://markwhittaker.com.
Users: Users tracked by Google Analytics are not people. They are IP addresses. Analytics can’t tell if more than one person uses the same computer, nor can it tell if the same person visits a site from more than one machine or device.
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life): Relax. I’m not threatening you. “Your money or your life” is often abbreviated as YMYL in marketing circles.
It refers to articles and other content that could affect your happiness, health, safety, or financial stability. In its search algorithms, Google labels topics such as personal finance, health and wellness, safety, many types of news, and even shopping information as YMYL.
When ranking web pages with YMYL information, Google determines whether the information comes from a reliable source (that’s a whole other acronym).
Other web media companies scrutinize YMYL content, too. Facebook has special ad categories for ads related to credit and housing, and it filters lifestyle ads it deems potentially offensive. For example, you won’t see a fitness ad on Facebook that says “Are you fat?” or “Do you need to lose 20 pounds?”
Instead, an ad may ask “Do you want to start exercising?” or “Are you ready to reach your weight goal?”
If your marketing depends on YMYL information, look for ways to establish expertise, and always check the advertising rules for whatever media you use.