Originally posted 5/1/2012. Re-edited for republishing in July 2021.
Digital marketers tend to throw a lot of acronyms around, and sometimes we forget that everyone else doesn't necessarily know (or care!) what they mean. It's because they mean SO much to us, and there are so many nuances within the field, that we like to be specific about how we define ourselves to others.
Therefore, we're going to break down the different roles we play and the acronyms/lingo we use to describe them.
2 quick notes:
- These definitions are intended as "laymen" definitions for non-experts. There are a LOT of intricacies here, but the average person doesn't inherently need all the details. We're only speaking to the high-level, critical insight view here.
- This industry is forever changing as new technologies surface. As such, this guide will continue to be updated with new marketing acronyms, terminology, abbreviations, lingo, slang... whatever you want to call it. Consider this a digital marketing glossary that you can always check back on!
Let’s start with a quick clarification, then we'll dig in:
Marketing Term(s) vs Digital Marketing Terms - “Marketing terms” are specialist names given to a broad range of marketing activities (digital and otherwise) and their functions, whereas "Digital Marketing Terms" are a subset of these overall terms that are specific to digital channels. This includes, but isn’t limited to, email marketing, social media marketing, and SEO. Overall, “marketing Terms” tend more towards classical marketing methods (like branding and in-real-life advertising.)
Algorithm, Algo - A set of rules and operations a computer or server follows; search engines like Google and Bing use them to power search results. An "algorithm (or algo) update" - in search engine terms - is a change to the existing ranking formula with the intended effect of improving said search results. These updates cause websites, and web pages on those sites, to change rank - up or down - which can cause traffic drops (and therefore panicked marketing & SEO teams!)
Analytics - Data that has been processed in such a way that patterns emerge. Tools like Google Analytics, Microsoft Clarity, and HotJar all collect different data into different patterns to tell a brand owner different information about how their websites and/or apps are used by site visitors.
Audience - A group of people that brands want to engage with. These people have been identified as likely to be interested in what a brand is doing - whether it’s the products they sell, the services they offer, or their mission. Audiences can be pretty big, so often they will be split into segments. These segments can be based on location, age, interests, and more. Individually, audiences can be referred to as users. When users convert (ie. buy a product from you), they can become customers, consumers, or clients. See also: Personas.
Backlink, External Link, Hyperlink - A backlink is a link to your site that is found on another website. These can also be known as "Inbound Links" or External links. Backlinks from trustworthy, authoritative sites can help your pages rank higher in SERPs. Think of them as a friendly recommendation to search engine algorithms! However, it can work both ways. Backlinks on untrustworthy, spammy sites can negatively affect your SEO performance. Internal links - links from your website to other pages on your website - can also impact SEO.
Bottom-of-Funnel (BOFU), Middle-of-Funnel (MOFU), and Top-of-Funnel (TOFU) - Each of the BOFU, MOFU, and TOFU designations relate to a relative position on the Customer Journey Funnel. "BOFU content" is strategic content aimed at moving a potential customer from lower levels of the funnel into the purchase stage (so more evaluation and consideration,) vs. "TOFU content" which is at the top of the funnel - aka strategic content that aims to aid brand awareness efforts.
Business-to-Business (B2B), Business-to-Consumer (B2C) - These terms relate to whom a business sells its products or services to - either other businesses, or directly to consumers.
Call To Action (CTA) - What are you asking people to do, or what is the desired action you want them to take - and how do you ask that of them? If you sell products online, the product page's CTA is typically "Add to Cart"; if you have an eBook, the CTA is generally "Download Now".
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) - The practice of changing website elements or interactions with the goal of increasing the percentage of your website's users that take action defined as a goal or conversion for the website.
Customer Experience (CX)- The journey a user takes when they interact with your brand in different ways. This could be what it’s like to buy from your website, to chatting with your customer service team. It’s all closely aligned to what customers feel about your brand. Customer experience is also closely linked with User Experience (UX), which we will get into further on in this guide.
Customer Funnel, Customer Journal Funnel, Customer Acquisition Funnel - The series of steps a customer or consumer takes as they consider purchasing a product or service from a brand; this creates a "funnel" as some people leave at each stage of the process. Typically those steps include the following - but note that there are different models to choose from, with more/less steps:
Data Science - The practice of pulling patterns out of data which can then be used for making better, data-informed decisions. A Data Scientist works in Python or R (typically), and can work to define what data is collected, and how that data is structured to make the best use of it. A Data Analyst is similar, albeit lower-level, working in SQL or Excel, and typically only uses the data that is already available to them.
Digital Marketing Campaign - An online strategy designed to encourage people to engage with a brand within the terms of a time-bound specific event, sale, promotion, etc. This is a pretty broad term and covers lots of marketing activity, such as Digital PR campaigns, social media advertising campaigns, and more. Campaigns are "time-bound" for relative periods of time. For example, you can have a "Labor Day Promotional Campaign" within the broader context of your overall digital strategy.
Digital Marketing Strategy - A (digital-specific) plan of action designed to help achieve the overall aims of the business. It's more about the "why" and "what" of what your brand is looking to achieve vs. the tactical specifics of "how" you'll achieve it. Learn more about strategy & what it should contain.
Inbound Marketing - A type of "pull" marketing type that focuses "bringing people in" to your website vs. "push" marketing channels (also known as "outbound" marketing) like paid advertising. This is done through organic marketing activity, such as content marketing and SEO. The basic line of difference: attracting users to come to you vs. going out, finding them and asking them to come.
Keyword, Search Term or Query - What users enter into search engines in order to find something. These can be broad, singular terms, such as "dresses," or specific phrases, such as "what color dress should I wear to a baby shower?" More niche terms are called long-tail keywords.
Keyword Density - How many times a target keyword is found within a piece of content on a website. In general, Keyword Density is a dated concept that you don't really need to worry/stress about for SEO.
Keyword Stuffing - When a target keyword is overused in a piece of content so it does not appear natural. This approach can negatively affect the SEO performance of your page, as a search engine may determine that it's spam.
Influencer - A person or brand with the ability to persuade others to like/dislike - and potentially purchase - products or services that a brand offers.
Landing Page (LP) - A web page upon which a user "lands" initially on a website. Whatever the first page is that a user sees - that's their landing page. Landing pages are often used across many digital channels, and can be well-customized to the specific channel - not to mention well-tailored to a specific Audience or Persona, on a specific campaign, in a highly personalized way.
Local Optimization, Local SEO - A local optimizer specializes in the geographically targeted aspect of SEO and online marketing. This entails increasing website traffic and sales/leads from local listings like Google My Business (GMB), map websites like Google Maps or Apple Maps and Mapquest, review sites like Yelp, Angie's List, HomeAdvisor, and directories like YellowPages.com or SuperPages.com.
Marketing Automation - The practice of automating certain repetitive marketing tasks by specialist software. Why do this? Automating tasks can save both time and money, as well as make certain processes more effective! An example of this is "items left-in cart" notifications.
Marketing Communications Resources (MCR), Marketing Communications (MARCOM) - These are the range of marketing messages that brands can use on different platforms to reach certain audiences. For example, certain audience demographics may engage more with television adverts than TikTok adverts. So, what is MCR advertising? This is a marketing strategy based on MCR, focusing on targeting certain audiences.
Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) - A lead that has indicated interest in a brand, and may be more qualified than a typical lead. This stage typically happens prior to becoming a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).
Mobile Optimization - This is a person that lives & breathes their smartphone (and/or tablet) - and what happens on them from a marketing perspective. It can include a mobile website, a responsive website, mobile applications (like those games you download on your iPhone or Android,) and any other methods in which people engage with your brand in a digital - but non-desktop - manner. Because mobile searches are often about local services and destinations, this job often involves elements of local optimization.
Online Lead Generation - Lead generation combines sales knowledge, usability, best practices, testing, and strategy to increase the number of leads a business gets from a website.
Paid Search, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) - These cover a related (or sometimes the same) concept, both of which refer to the management of online advertising. Pay-Per-Click refers specifically to search engine paid advertising on search result pages, most often Google Ads and Microsoft Ads. Paid Search refers to additional digital advertising methods including Google Shopping, Remarketing or Retargeting, display ads, and the like.
Paid Social - An example of a Performance Marketing channel, paid social marketers work to ensure that your business is found through paid advertising on social media channels, using common advertising and display marketing tactics, while - hopefully! - closely managing your advertising spend.
Performance Marketing - Implies the management of a paid advertising platform, usually search (Google Ads) or social (usually Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.) It specifically does not include organic channels, like organic social or organic search.
Persona, Buyer Persona - A personified profile of a brand's customer that details typical traits including demographics, income, brand engagement, how & why they might use that brand's products, key pain points, etc. Marketing and UX professionals use personas in an attempt to put themselves in that user's "shoes", gain empathy and understanding of that customers wants & needs, and therefore provide a better product or service to that user (and/or *sell* more products/users to that customer, more effectively!)
Product Detail Page (PDP) - The specific web page upon which you sell a single product, and potentially close variations. For example, you might have a PDP of a purple t-shirt with different size variations.
Remarketing, Retargeting - A form of advertising to the subset of users who have visited a website before, using cookies to find these users later, in other places/sites.
Roadmap - A detailed, tactical plan that outlines all the steps a marketing or product team will take in order to implement a strategy or work to achieve business goals. Learn how to make an SEO roadmap.
Software as a Service (SaaS) - A type of company that has built software in such a way that it acts as a "service" to the person who uses it; the services offered may also be referred to as "SaaS." Users pay a monthly subscription fee to utilize the services which the software provides. Dropbox and Zoom are examples of such businesses.
Sales Funnels - An important part of the User Experience. A funnel traces the different journeys that customers can take to convert on your site - whether this is making a purchase or filling in a form. It anticipates what they might do, and feel, at each stage, so you can strategize on what could encourage them to convert.
Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) - A lead that has been properly researched and vetted by marketing and is, therefore, ready to hand off to the sales team. This typically happens after a lead was a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).
If you hear "SQL" from a sales team, chances are this is the definition they are referring to (see the Engineering section below for another version of SQL - to really confuse you!)
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - A bigger umbrella of paid online advertising, including display ads, remarketing (also called retargeting). There are many (many) online ad networks out there, big and small, that may be included as well. However, this generally does NOT include paid advertising on any social channels. This is an example of a Performance Marketing channel.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - The art and science of trying to rank a website and its pages in organic search results so they can be found more frequently.
Search Engine Rankings - The different positions that websites can appear on a SERP. The nearer the top on the first page, the better!
Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) - When you search for something on Google (or Bing, Yahoo, or Yandex), the "SERPs" are the pages that contain the results.
Social Media Marketing (SMM) - This refers to using social media websites for marketing purposes, whether they are paid (Facebook for Business) or free (posting to Twitter).
It encompasses the process of setting up social networking accounts to work together, as well as building your website in a way that functions optimally when users share your content on websites like Facebook & Pinterest, using formats like OpenGraph and Rich Pins markup.
Application Programming Interface (API) - A way for computer systems/software to communicate and share specific data in a structured way. If a tool offers APIs that connect to another system you use, that generally implies some sort of integration wherein you can get (some) data from one tool into the other.
Client-Side Rendering (CSR) - When a website relies on CSR, then the client, or often the browser, is required to handle all rendering and data fetching. This is one of the reasons a website may have different functionality or look on different browsers (Chrome vs Edge vs Safari).
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) - A common computer language used to define how pages will look, including the colors, fonts and general layout of the page. Web designers and UX/UI designers use CSS to "style" how a page should look & feel.
Content Management System or Web "Admin" Center (CMS) - Technology platforms that digital marketers and web administrators (among others) use to organize & update the contents of a website and web pages. It's typically an easy way for a team to update the content, images, and links on a specific page. Wordpress and SquareSpace are example CMSs.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) - Technology (typically a platform) a brand uses to organize customer (or potential customer) data, including facts, key interactions, and timestamps - all with the goal of improving the customer's interactions with a brand, and therefore that brand's profitability. Salesforce is an example CRM platform.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) - A computer language that defines the structure of a page, including headers, tables, text, links, forms, etc.
Google Ads (formerly Adwords) - A paid search advertising platform. People can bid for their adverts, products or videos, to appear on SERPs for certain keywords.
Google Analytics (GA) - A free analytics platform provided by Google. A premium version for larger data needs is also offered called Google Analytics 360.
Google Search Console (GSC) (formerly Webmaster Tools) - A tool provided by Google for website owners to better understand how Google sees their site and how it performs within Google's search results.
Server-Side Rendering (SSR) - When a website uses SSR, then its server is responsible for taking the framework or technology supporting the website and creating the HTML to serve to clients who request it. This means that the client, or often the browser, will not need to carry the task of rendering the content.
Structured Query Language (SQL) - SQL (pronounced according to the letters S, Q, and L, and also like "sequel", depending on who you talk to!) also refers to a language that software engineers & data analysts will use to communicate with databases - typically updating the data it contains, or pulling the right data from the database. MySQL and PostgreSQL are common types.
If you hear "SQL" from software devs, and (in most cases) data scientists/analysts, it likely refers to this version of the definition. It may sometimes also be pronounced like the word "sequel". (Versus the Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) term used by sales teams - noted above.)
Usability - Traditionally considered a web design role, usability is becoming more and more important to Internet marketing in general. Without a website that's easy to use, users just won't do what you want them to do - as often as you want them to do it. A usability expert will use best practices in combination with testing - user, A/B, and multivariate testing - to improve how a visitor interacts with your website.
User Experience (UX) - The UX is how a user - who's interacting with a product (digital or physical) - experiences that product; the practice of "UX design" is intended to create positive, usable interaction.
User Interface (UI) - The UI is the page or screen a user interacts with; UI designers work to create usable and useful pages, so the practice of "UI design" is intended to create a positive digital product experience.
In the digital world, UX and UI often go hand-in-hand, and designers (or developers) typically do both - though some do specialize. Learn more about the differences between UX & UI.
Bounce Rate - A metric that measures the rate at which users land on a website and then don’t perform any additional, measurable actions. These are known as "bounces." For example, a user may open an email, or go to your homepage (these are called sessions), but click out of them. Actions may include going to another page, clicking a link, or filling out a form.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) - How much it costs to get users to convert to your website. Also known as CPA, which stands for “Cost Per Action” or “Cost Per Acquisition”.
Cost Per Click (CPC) - The price a brand pays - generally on digital ad platforms like Google Ads - for the number of clicks (rather, for each clink) on an advertisement. This abbreviation can also stand for “Cost-per-Conversion.”
Cost Per Lead (CPL) - Similar to a CPA, but specific to the lead-generation world (vs, say, an eCommerce business.)
Cost Per Thousand (CPM) - On some ad platforms you can choose to pay for impressions of an advertisement instead of a click, this is referred to as the CPM; m stands for "mille", which is Latin for "thousands." It's more typical to use a CPM payment model for brand awareness campaigns.
Click-Through Rate (CTR) - What percent of the time - when a thing (usually a search listing, social post, or advertisement) is seen, is it actually clicked on?
Conversion Rate (CR) - What percent of people start (any action that you care about) vs. how many finish? Related: Conversion Rate Optimization, or the practice of working to improve your site's (or app's) conversion rate.
Engagement Rate - Measures how users actively interact with your brand and your marketing activity. There are different types of metrics that can be used to analyze engagement rates. Some examples include views, likes, comments, and shares on social media platforms, along with bounce rates and sign-up rates.
Key Performance Indicator (KPI) - A KPI is a measurable form of a goal; you might have a business objective or goal or of "reducing bounce rate" in which the KPI is "Reduce bounce rate on product pages by 10%".
Lifetime Value (LTV), Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) - Refers to the value of a particular customer or segment of customers. For example, you could compare the LTV of customers from different channels, to better understand what value you are getting from one vs. the other. LTV can also be referred to as eLTV, or "estimated Life Time Value."
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) - A measure of profitability related directly to the cost of advertising tactics. This does not include overhead costs, such as campaign management, cost of goods/services sold, website hosting, etc. This is generally used to provide insight into specific advertising tactics, while ROI (explained below) looks at the overall profitability.
Return on Investment (ROI) - A measure of efficiency/profitability on an action taken (that involves spending time or money.) If you are happy with the product or service you paid for, you might refer to it as having a "good ROI" (colloquially speaking.) You can calculate ROI by subtracting (1) the value you received, from (2) what you paid for it, divided by (3) what you paid for it; the answer is communicated as a ratio or a percentage.
Share of Voice (SOV) - Metric used for measuring brand awareness. It looks at how frequently social media users and media sources are mentioning your brand. This is then compared to similar brands. From here, you can determine how much of the market discussion your brand takes up. This is a useful indicator to gauge what people think, and feel, about your brand.
Account Manager - An SEO Account Manager either:
1.) Coordinates projects or client accounts and does actual Internet marketing work
2.) Handles the account/project management coordination and assigns tasks to other, internal Internet marketing folks to complete them.
Affiliate Marketer - Much like the title might suggest, an “affiliate marketer” runs affiliate programs. Affiliate programs enable website owners to use copy and advertisements for products and services of different companies and get a commission for either the traffic, sales or leads they send their way.
Analytics Analyst - This person spends all day looking at, analyzing, reporting and making decisions based on the data they gather from an analytics program like Google Analytics, Omniture, etc., just like we do when providing GA/GTM auditing & tracking setup services.
Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) - The head of all marketing within an organization, and a member of the executive team.
Community Manager - Closely related to social media marketing (SMM), a Community Manager is usually in charge of creating buzz around one or more social "communities" or networks, be it Yelp, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or some combination thereof.
Conversion Optimizer - If you want more sales and/or leads from your existing traffic, you want someone that can do this. A conversion optimizer is intimately familiar with conversion best practices, or how and why users do what they do on websites. They use that information, along with data from a/b and multivariate tests to try and get users to do more of what you want them to do once they are on your website. That can be buying something, buying more things, buying more quickly, giving you better leads, etc. The field is referred to as Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).
Copywriting & Content Writers - Because search engines value quality content, we do too. An SEO copywriter is a copywriter with SEO keyword research and implementation skills. As copywriting is among our areas of expertise, you can take a look at the services we provide under copywriting to get a better understanding. They write compelling content that includes the keywords that you are trying to rank your website for, so you stand a better chance of ranking for it.
Email Marketer - Likely another intuitively named role, these marketers use email to get users to your website, buy something, or... do something else you want them to do. It also includes growing the email list to increase the reach of the email campaign. This often involves a large amount of testing over time & strategic user flow setup to improve the rate of return on an ongoing basis.
Growth Marketing Manager / Growth Product Manager / Growth Hacker - Someone in charge of multiple digital (or "in-real-life"/IRL) channels which are aimed at growing business results through:
(a) closely analyzing the customer funnel & other core company data to find & fix key levers
(b) prioritizing quick wins, scalable operations, and sometimes "hacks" to get results faster.
Inbound Marketer - A much more broad term, inbound marketing generally includes all organic marketing channel (not just the online ones) in an attempt to drive traffic to a website. This can include SEO, going to events, public relations (real-life PR and the online variety) and more.
Link Builder - Link building is hard to do, and though it's a large part of SEO, many search engine optimizers don't offer this as a service directly (we offer Link Building Strategy & Auditing services.) They will use a variety of means to garner quality, related links for a website (we hope). These guys are tricky because the results they can get can be pretty phenomenal.
Or they could do nothing for you.
Or they could get you kicked off of Google.
So, buyer beware.
Public Relations (PR) - An SEO public relations professional is an asset that's hard to find. That's because SEO's don't typically have the media connections PR pros do, and PR pro's generally don't understand the complexities of SEO - probably because they're busy maintaining their media connections.
In order to combine the two, an SEO PR pro needs to have both the connections and the technical (and content creation) know-how; not just how to be compelling to a reporter, but also how to be compelling to a search engine. This can also be known as Digital PR.
Quality Assurance (QA) Specialist - Somebody has to check all that content and make sure we spelled "superfragilisticexpialidocious" correctly! And double-check to see if Analytics code was properly implemented, and people can buy things on your site... the list goes on. An SEO QA, or “quality assurance” specialist, is the one who makes sure this happens smoothly and nobody sees our silly mistakes. Learn more about QA for SEO.
Analysts vs Specialists vs Managers vs Ninjas vs Rock Stars
These kinds of qualifiers often tell you more about the organization’s size and culture than something specific about an individual’s role.
Managers vs VPs vs Directors vs CMOs
Keep in mind that the seniority & skill set of titles varies dramatically across different organizations based on their size and stage of business, e.g. a Director at an early stage startup is different than a Director at a late-stage startup (where there are likely to be bigger teams, budgets, and complexities to manage.) There’s then a bigger gap between these roles and a Director at a large, multi-national corporation.
That’s not to say that people at early-stage startups are inherently less experienced; there are plenty of good counterexamples in fact (they are frequently more experienced and hands-on with channel-specific work, for example, and that can create efficiencies and scalable wins that many team-only-managers can’t replicate.) But don’t assume a “Digital Marketing Director” at one org is inherently a 1:1 fit for skillset and seniority at another.
Hopefully, we have shed some light on some cryptic terms and helped you to understand some of the nuances of our industry. I believe I covered the important ones but if there is something I left out, please let us know in the comments below this entry. As mentioned at the beginning of this guide, expect to see this updated on a regular basis. Digital marketing continues to evolve and there will always be new lingo to learn!