A Beginners Guide to SEM: What is Search Engine Marketing?

A Beginners Guide to SEM: What is Search Engine Marketing?

Digital marketing landscape has witnessed the paradigm shift with the surge of search engine marketing (SEM) in recent times. Where search engine optimization (SEO) was considered a part of broad SEM strategies. Until recently some marketers, now professionals from industry kept SEM specific to paid search marketing only.

In this beginner’s guide to SEM, we will understand what is search engine marketing (SEM), how does it work, what are its important elements, it’s important strategies, and more.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

SEM also known as search engine marketing, is a broad term used for paid advertisements that appear on search engine result pages (SERPs). This is done to increase search visibility and get higher rankings. Advertisers bid on keywords that users enter into Google or Bing when looking for a product, answer to a question, service, etc. Thus giving advertisers the opportunity to show their ads alongside the search results.

In simpler terms, you can say search engine marketing is paid advertisement where ads are often referred to as pay-per-click ads. Here, you are charged on per-click (PPC) or per thousand impressions (CPM). We will discuss it later in the article.

How is SEM different than SEO?


Image result for sem vs seo

Source: expresswriters

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) both are important elements of search marketing. Where “search engine marketing,” relates to paid marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) uses organic strategies to rank.

When doing SEO, businesses don’t pay Google for traffic or clicks, rather they get placed into search results by having the most relevant content as per the searched keyword.  Content quality and site authority play an important role when SEO is done.

SEO is a way to drive organic evergreen traffic while search engine marketing requires you to pay to get traffic.

Few important aspects of SEO include on-page SEO, off-page SEO, technical SEO, and more which we already discussed in the beginner’s guide to SEO.

How does SEM Work?

Image result for How does SEM Work

Source: allstarsdigital

As discussed Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is an important element of SEM, and it is used interchangeably. PPC helps drive traffic on your site by charging you when someone clicks on your ad. Thus, it is a cost-effective technique that helps bring more traffic on your site when needed. Before we discuss more about PPC, let’s discuss other important aspects of SEM.

Note: We have discussed search engine marketing campaigns based on our experience making campaigns on Google. Here, understanding how paid campaigns work on Google will help you understand the basics of making paid campaigns on other search engines too as they also follow almost the same process.

Keywords, Ads, and Landing Pages

When it comes to paid search campaigns under search engine marketing, certain elements play an important role. These elements include keywords, ads, and landing pages. To create a paid campaign you first need to do keyword research. These keywords will tell Google when to show the ad.

For example, if you are hotel booking service provider, including hotel booking service it as a keyword in ad copy. This way, Google will show your ad to relevant audience when the search term is hotel booking services.

Now that you know about relevant keywords, next you need to make compelling ad copy relevant to search queries and compelling enough to get click on it. Once searcher clicks on your ad copy, he will be redirected to your landing page. Thus, landing page is next important aspect of your entire paid campaign. Here, your goal should be to converting visitors.

Bidding Type

Another important aspect of SEM is bidding type. You get multiple options to select from. But two major options include Pay-Per-Click (PPC) and Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM).

Under PPC, you will be charged every time someone clicks on your ad. While under CPM, you will be charged per thousand impressions. That means when your ad is displayed for at least 1,000 times or in its multiples then you will be charged a certain amount.

Based on your requirements, you can choose between PPC or CPM to get maximum benefit of your campaign. While PPC brings direct customers to your site, CPM could be a good option if you are looking for a “share of voice”. If you are looking for awareness, then go for CPM, else PPC is best bid in most cases.

Quality Score

Google displays your ad or not does not solely depend on your bid. Instead, it is decided on multiple factors including quality score. According to Google, “Quality Score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. Higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions.”.

Initially, ad placements by Google were solely determined based on bids, but this allowed businesses to bid for something irrelevant easily. For example, if you are cotton thread manufacturer, then you could easily rank for keywords like cotton shirts. All this caused bad searcher’s experience. Due to which Google has now introduced quality score to offer better user experience.

Keyword Match Types

Another important element of SEM includes keyword match types. Here, you find multiple options when you select keywords for your ad campaign. These options include exact match, phrase match, broad match, and other options. We have discussed about these different keyword types here.

The Benefits of Using SEM

Targeted Reach

One of the primary benefits of using paid campaigns is it helps achieve targeted reach. Here, you can target your audience based on demographics, devices, location, time of day, browser type, stage in the purchasing funnel, and more. Furthermore, you are charged only when someone clicks on your ad, thus you get more clients for your business without spending extra money.

Quick Results

While SEO takes considerable time when you start seeing results, SEM brings you quick results. Here, you can make compelling and relevant ad copy for your product & service and it will start ranking above organic results instantly.

Better for Testing

As SEM delivers quick results, it is easy to test multiple strategies to drive traffic. Here, you can revise your ad copy based on interaction, rework on your landing page, target more accurate audience, and try more for best results. Due to this flexibility, you can get instant results from SEM. Unlike SEO that takes a lot of time to deliver results, SEM is the best option if you keep on trying with your marketing strategies.

Accurate Results Tracking

With paid marketing, you get greater flexibility to measure results. Here, you can determine what is working and what doesn’t. It is useful for more effective and quick results.


Search engine marketing (SEM) plays an important role in bringing more targeted traffic and sales for your business. It gives you the flexibility to determine target audience and reach them at the bottom of the funnel when they are planning to buy. In fact, you can reach them at any time of the purchase funnel to convey your message in the most precise and effective manner.

If you have tried paid marketing on any of the search engines recently, do share your experience in the comments below. We would like to know your struggles and successes.

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