The term search engine marketing has been around for almost a decade, but its meaning has slowly changed, according to one expert.

Search Engine Land editor-in-chief Dan Sullivan said that back in 2001, search engine marketing covered both pay per click (PPC) ads and search engine optimisation (SEO). Increasingly, however, it seems to only apply to paid placements.

PPC ads took off in 1998, mainly thanks to GoTo, which would later be acquired by Yahoo!, he noted.

The first paid listing on Google appeared in 1999 and its PPC marketing service AdWords, which allows users to set a daily budget or cost per click limit for their ads, launched a year later.

In March 2005, Yahoo! rebranded GoTo as Yahoo! Search Marketing. Mr Sullivan said this was one of key factors that helped to shift the meaning of search engine marketing to purely paid ads.

Another factor was its definition on Wikipedia, which makes no mention of SEO services.

Mr Sullivan questioned if this meaning should stick, or whether it is time to revert to the umbrella term of 2001.

He wrote: "Does it make sense to agree that [search engine marketing] should now mean work solely on paid listings and also be a name for people and companies that do such work?"

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