Search Engine Marketing (SEM) – Short Conceptual Explanation

Search engine marketing (SEM) involves marketing a business through the use of paid advertisements and using keywords and phrases throughout the content. It primarily refers to the use of search engine advertising (SEA) through the use of pay-per-click ads. However, an SEM campaign can also include SEO, which can increase the chances of website content appearing higher on the search engine results page organically.

What is search engine marketing (SEM)?

What traditional advertising is to print, television, and billboards, search engine marketing (SEM) is to search engine advertising. It can encompass pay-per-click advertising, as well as keyword strategies.

This form of advertising differs from online advertising. Online advertising encompasses marketing techniques that don’t relate to search engines. A few examples include newsletters as well as connecting with customers and clients on social media.

SEM, in contrast, relates to advertising on search engines, like Google. Its primary goal is to get the content in front of the largest, most relevant audience possible. That means ranking high on search engine results pages.

The vast majority of users searching the Internet will not click through to the second page of the search results. In addition, most users will click on one of the first few options on the page. Not only is it beneficial for companies to appear on the first page of the search engine results, it’s also beneficial to appear as one of the first options at the top of the page. A good search engine marketing strategy can help a company appear on the first half of the first page.


Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine advertising (SEA)

Search engine marketing and search engine advertising are related because most SEM strategies include SEA.

SEA involves advertising through the use of pay-per-click advertising. These ads are purchased by a company, and payment is only processed based on the number of clicks the advertisement gets.

These advertisements are found at the top and at the bottom of search results pages. They enable a company to ensure that their content appears on the first page, regardless of their SEO and keyword strategies.

The advertisements appear very similar to the organic search results on the page, but they are labeled as ads. It is considered a form of native advertising, which means the advertiser must follow FTC guidelines to ensure the advertisement is clearly labeled. That way, users aren’t misled into thinking they are part of the organic search results.

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The quality score

This form of search engine marketing isn’t straightforward. Instead of purchasing ads for certain keywords and phrases, companies must bid on that particular keyword or phrase. Where the ad appears depends on how much has been bidden, but it also depends on a quality score that takes a number of factors into account including:

  • Click-through rate
  • Landing page
  • Historical performance
  • Ad relevancy
  • Keyword relevancy
  • And more

However, the final placement of the ad depends less on the amount that was bidden and more on the overall quality score. For example, a company may bid less than others on a certain keyword phrase, but because their quality score is higher, their ad will appear on the first page of the search results.

This may seem counterintuitive, but it is the job of search engines to provide users with the most relevant content based on their queries. Giving priority to content that has the highest quality score ensures they continue providing a quality service to Internet users.

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO)

A search engine marketing campaign can include search engine optimization as well as search engine advertising. Both strategies are used to increase the search engine ranking of a page of content on the Internet, but SEA uses paid advertising, while SEO does not.

Instead, SEO focuses on strategies that enable a piece of content to appear high on the search engine results page organically. It uses keywords and phrases throughout the content to ensure it’s noticed by search engines.

Some places where keywords are used include:

  • Throughout the content
  • In titles and headings
  • In meta content
  • In image tags
  • In the URL

SEA provides a company with immediate results, while SEO is best when used with a long-term marketing strategy. It is time consuming, and it takes Google time to review the website. But once established, it can provide companies with a no-cost way to appear high on the search engine results page.

Choosing the right keywords

In order for an SEM strategy that utilizes SEO to be effective, the right keywords and phrases must be chosen. That includes identifying the target audience, and conducting keyword research on which words and phrases that are most relevant to that demographic.

Although it may make the most sense to use keywords and phrases that get the most traffic, this strategy often backfires. Because there is a lot of traffic, more companies will be competing to appear on the first page of the search engine results. Focus on ranking for keywords and phrases that receive a few thousand searches each month instead of focusing on keywords and phrases that get hundreds of thousands of searches in that same time frame.


Benefits of combining strategies

Although search engine marketing is most often associated with pay-per-click advertising, it can also include SEO, and combining these strategies is often the best way for companies to get the most out of their presence on search engines.

SEA provides companies with a quick and easy way to boost their search engine ranking. It can be expensive, but it’s beneficial that search engines, like Google, don’t rely on ad spending in order to determine ranking. With the right strategies in place, a company can rank high and get their ads on the first page of the results without spending a lot of money.

In contrast, SEO takes time to establish. It takes time to create content that includes keywords and phrases in all the right places, and it can take time for the search engines to review the content and place them in the rankings. However, it’s a great way to boost the chances of appearing higher in the search results without spending any money on advertising. Using both SEO and SEA as part of a search engine marketing strategy is a good way for companies to boost their exposure now and in the future.