What Is Search Engine Marketing? A Beginner’s Guide to SEM

Historically, search engine marketing (SEM) has had a hazy definition among marketers and bloggers. Due to the ever-evolving nature of digital marketing, the concept of SEM has shifted over the years. If you’re confused about the term, you’re not alone.

What is search engine marketing?

Essentially, SEM is the process of using paid advertising to make websites appear within search engine results pages (SERPs). SEM answers the question, “How do I make my website show up on the first page of Google search results?”

For example, if you run an interior design business, you want your website to show up on the very first page of search results when someone looks for “online interior design.” SEM makes this happen using paid advertisements.

The text ads that appear within light yellow boxes above the first set of search results for a product or service is SEM.

You probably realize that this sounds similar to search engine optimization (SEO) — the on-site and off-site practices you follow to rank higher in search engines.

SEO and SEM are both used to make a site appear on the first page of search results, but they are fundamentally different.

SEO versus SEM

SEM previously served as an umbrella term which included both SEO and advertisements. The term was used in reference to every strategy for ranking optimally in search engine results, both paid and unpaid.

The old formula looked like this: SEO + Paid advertisements = SEM

Around 2006, online marketing became more intricate, and SEM came to be associated with paid advertising only.

The modern view of SEM looks a bit different: SEM = paid advertisements.

SEO is considered a standalone strategy that goes hand in hand with SEM for optimal growth.

Implementing good SEO (organic reach) and SEM (paid reach) strategies is key for a successful business.

How does SEM work?

The most popular ad network for implementing SEM is Google AdWords. In 2017, Google owned almost 80 percent of the U.S. market for search-ad revenue. The remaining amount was divided between Microsoft, Yahoo!, Yelp, Amazon, Ask.com, and AOL.

There are two main types of paid search:

  • PPC (pay per click): You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. This is the most common type of paid search.

  • CPM (cost per thousand): You pay for every 1000 people who view your ad.

Your ads appear on SERPs through a process called bidding. Once you establish a budget for your ad, you compete against other advertisers who want to use the same space. Google chooses which ads to display, and how often to display them depending on the bids placed and the relevance of the ads. You have a better chance of appearing more often if your bid is higher than the others, and if you have a high-quality ad.

With AdWords, you can accurately target your ideal audience using a variety of filters. You compile your target list using email addresses, mailing addresses, and phone numbers, according to Search Engine Land.

Why is SEM important?

SEM should be an integral part of your growth strategy for the following reasons:

  1. Targeted reach: Paid search lets you narrow down a target market in accurate ways. You can target your ads by device, location, browsing habits, time of day, stage in the purchasing funnel, and more.

  2. Faster growth: SEO is vital, but it’s a long-term approach. SEM boosts your growth significantly in the initial stages of business development, so you don’t have to struggle for months or years to see results.

  3. Accurate results tracking: Every SEM strategy is measurable. You can clearly see what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly to make your reach more effective.

Fast-track your success

SEM might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s a valuable strategy that can boost your business, especially when it’s coupled with effective SEO practices.

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