The Condescending SEM (Search Engine Marketer)

I’m guilty of speaking down to clients. Never intentionally; but it happens all too often. I run through a report or an audit and ramble off five acronyms per paragraph and expect the client to keep up. At the conclusion of the thought, or during a break to catch my breath, I get the blank stare of confusion. “What is XYZ?” they ask. As I answer their question with a robotic-like answer, I think to myself, “How much of that did they absorb? Did they miss the entire meaning or just the definition of the acronym?”

The answer to my question is that they did not fully grasp the entire thought that I was trying to get across. It’s hard to follow an idea when the subject is based on an unknown term. Even if the following sentences support the idea, the listener will still be trying to define the unknown and you will lose their attention. We as search marketers sometimes don’t realize that our every-day speech is foreign to many clients. By speaking in our own code, we are not directly speaking down to people, but it may come off wrong if we continue to do so.

So how do we solve this? A basic education on your (SEM) every day speech needs to be given to your client / audience. A list of definitions is a start, but not the answer. What client in their right mind would want to sit down to study a list of acronyms so they could speak with their search marketing provider? It’s part of your job to be the conduit between them and their Internet marketing efforts. That includes effectively communicating with, and educating them.

So aside from the definitions, have a talk with your clients before you dive into the subject. Break away from the reporting and give them a heads-up on what you are going to talk about in the next few minutes. Take questions from them on the acronyms and provide the meanings of those acronyms, in addition to the actual definition.


  1. Easy to skim list of SEM (search engine marketing) acronyms.
    a.       Breakout of the acronyms into real words.
    b.      Quick, basic English, definition of that phrase in your own, experienced words.
    c.       Seriously use your own if you can. If you copy SEOmoz or Google’s definition you will have to explain 2 more words in that definition.
  2. Introduction to the subject BEFORE you go into the report or presentation.
    a.       Do they know what XYZ stands for?
    b.      Do they know what XYZ actually means for your business?
  3. Write out the acronym in the early stages of your professional relationship.
    a.       Report your Clickthrough Rate (CTR) and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) like this. Not simply CTR and ROAS.


Tip: Educating and involving your client will instill trust and add value to your service. If you’re good at what you do, why wouldn’t you want to show off and discuss in detail your CTR, ROAS, and ROI with a client? People and companies unwilling to take the time to educate their clients are hiding behind their invoice, not standing behind their work. At least it appears that way to those of us that are open in what we do. Working with a knowledgeable client only makes your job easier and allows the account to grow more rapidly.


  • Rachel Howe

    I think you hit the nail on the head here. I really believe that if you follow the tips you explained clients will really appreciate the extra effort it takes to do something as little as explaining the tidbits of the data. Going that extra step usually always puts you ahead of your competition.

    Also, people are naturally drawn to others they can relate to. When you make them more aware and part of the process they can relate with you better and they feel better working with you.

  • Anonymous

    Internet marketing used to be considered “free and easy” but has evolved into a full-fledged professional industry as specialized as the fields of law and medicine (ok…maybe that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point).

    Having the foresight and patience to educate the client is one of the best ways to instill a sense of value over your competition…and makes for a much more cooperative and successful marketing effort. After all, we all want more referrals from highly satisfied clients!

    Great post!

  • You make a good point about communicating SEM.  The language and tactics, while obvious to those in the know, unfortunately lend themselves to nothing more than marketing techno-babble to clients.  In my experience, educating the customers is one of the first steps to long-term relationships.

  • Daryl, I appreciate you reading and commenting on my site. Thanks a lot!

  • Thank you for reading and the nice comment! Communication is key to a good client relationship.