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What You Need To Know About SEM

What is SEM?

SEM term acronym explanation on green chalkboard

You may wonder what is SEM. I would give a short brief on what you need to know about SEM in this blog.

Search Engine Marketing is the process of driving website traffic by purchasing ads on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Originally, SEM included all marketing activities on search engines (SEO & Search Ads), but over time, the industry has adopted the term to refer solely to paid search advertising. Do not confuse them with display ads, which use third-party websites rather than search engines as ad delivery platforms.

With SEM, brands pay for ads to appear as search results on search engine results pages (SERPs). They target select keywords so that when a user searches for those terms, they see an ad from the brand. The brand is charged only if a user clicks on the ad.

Paid search ads can be found on almost any search results page. These paid placements are typically located at the top and bottom of the page. They include an “Ad” designation to let users know that it is a paid placement.


SEO and SEM are really two sides of the same coin, but they consist of very different actions and relate to different aspects of marketing. Sometimes the two terms are used together to reference a similar set of activities, which can be confusing for those of us who aren’t as familiar with this world.

Sometimes SEO used as an umbrella term that includes SEM, but because SEM refers strictly to paid advertising, they are actually separate. Besides, SEM is about getting traffic via paid ads but SEO is more about acquiring, monitoring and analyzing organic (unpaid) traffic patterns.

Both SEO and SEM heavily rely on keywords to drive traffic to business websites and web pages. Though the marketing techniques used for each are different, they are both focused on traffic flows and how these relate to marketing activities. People will use search engines to search for something that they’re looking for, and they’ll be able to find it by the organic results (SEO) or by the paid results (SEM).

How SEM works?

  1. The advertiser picks relevant “keywords” or “key phrases” that they want their ads to show up for.
  2. The advertiser then states how much they’re willing to bid per click.
  3. When consumer searches trigger any of the associated keywords or phrases, ads will get shown/ranked dependant on who bids the most, along with several other variables.
  4. If the consumer clicks on an ad, the advertiser is charged for the click.

Here are some examples of SEM-based advertising activities:

  • Targeted (paid) ad campaigns
  • Writing copy using very selective keywords
  • Ensuring that advertising activities fall within an allotted budget
  • Applying key performance indicators like click-through-rates (CTR) and cost-per-click (CPC) towards future advertising activities

SEM Platforms

An SEM platform is a search engine where a brand can place search ads that are displayed when users perform a search. The most common SEM platforms are Google and Bing.

  • Google Ads is the most widely used SEM platform. Billions of Google searches are performed a day, so it can help you get in front of the largest online audience.
  • Bing Ads claims to connect with 3 million searchers that Google can’t reach. By serving ads on partner sites such as Yahoo and MSN, Bing Ads help you connect with searchers who aren’t exclusively using Google for search.

SEM Keyword Research

Before you can choose which keywords to use in your search engine marketing campaigns, you need to conduct comprehensive research as part of your keyword management strategy.

First, you need to identify keywords that are relevant to your business and that prospective customers are likely to use when searching for your products and services. One way to accomplish this is by using WordStream’s Free Keyword Tool.

Simply enter a keyword that’s relevant to your business or service, and see related keyword suggestion ideas that can form the basis of various search engine marketing campaigns.

In addition to helping you find keywords you should be bidding on, thorough keyword research can also help you identify negative keywords – search terms that you should exclude from your campaigns. Negative keywords aren’t terms with negative connotations, but rather irrelevant terms that are highly unlikely to result in conversions. For example, if you sell ice cream, you might want to exclude the keyword “ice cream recipes”, as users searching for ice cream recipes are unlikely to be in the market for your product.

This concept is known as search intent, or the likelihood that a prospect will complete a purchase or other desired action after searching for a given term. Some keywords are considered to have high commercial intent, or a strong indication that the searcher wants to buy something.

Why SEM Is Important

With 48% of digital ad spend going to paid search ads, accounting for roughly $35 billion in 2016, it’s something your business needs to do to stay competitive.

Why has search engine marketing grown exponentially over the past decade?

Because SEM is one of the most effective ways to promote your products and grow your business. By presenting someone an ad that’s directly related to what they’re searching for at the moment of intent, you’re reaching a highly receptive audience. Plus, if done right, it can be very cost-effective.

SEM is also an important part of building brand awareness. By putting your brand at the top of a search page (whether it’s on Google, Bing, or Yahoo) for specific keywords and search queries, people will begin to think of your brand when they think of the keywords that they’ve searched.

Another reason SEM has become a necessity for digital advertisers, is it gives you quantifiable data on how your ads are performing so that you understand your return on investment (ROI) and can make better informed decisions about your ad spend.

The benefits of combining SEO and SEM in your marketing strategy

  • They are symbiotic. If you invest part of your marketing budget in paid advertising, you will get more subscribers to your website. Also more users who share your content on their social networks and other sites, which in the long run will have a positive impact on SEO.
  • Both of them help you multiply the clicks. According to data from Google, having an ad and an organic result in the first place at the same time generates 50% more clicks ( including visits and potential conversions) than if we were positioned only in an organic way.
  • It helps you reach customers in different stages of the conversion funnel. With SEO, you can capture users who are beginning to look for solutions to their need. Later, when this same user is searching with purchase intent, he may find a paid ad. Therefore, the two areas of SEM marketing do not hinder one another but complement each other.
  • The combination of SEM and SEO allow you to optimize your efforts. For example, if you have done keyword research, you can use what you have learned in both SEM and SEO campaigns.
  • Multiply your online visibility. Even if users don’t click, seeing your brand twice when doing an online search increases the user’s memory of your brand and associate it with what they need.

Web Delegate has SEM specialists to help you on SEM. Just check our SEM package or contact us for free consultation.

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