What is Search Engine Marketing ? SEM in Digital Marketing 

In the digital marketing landscape, especially paid marketing, you will encounter many acronyms- SEO, PPC, SEM, CRO, SMO, and whatnot. Remembering all these terms can be challenging. Hence, it’s important to understand each topic in detail so you can keep track of all the concepts.

One such crucial digital marketing topic is SEM- Search Engine Marketing. In this blog, we will learn what search engine marketing means, its terminologies, benefits, and more. 

SEM is an effective digital marketing technique for reaching new customers and growing your business. Although brands prefer organic strategies to drive traffic in the long term, they need to employ paid marketing to compete with leading businesses. That is where SEM comes in. 

So, without further ado, let’s start by answering the main question- What is SEM? Read below.

Meaning of Search Engine Marketing

SEM stands for search engine marketing in digital marketing. The term may sound like a broad concept, but it has a specific meaning and use. SEM refers to using paid ads on search engine result pages (SERPs) to enhance brand visibility online and attract new customers. It is also known as paid search ads, pay-per-click, or paid advertising. Most search engines use some sort of SEM, and out of the available paid marketing tools options, 

Google Ads is the most common one. 

When a user searches for a query and types keywords in the search bar, it’s SEM that enables businesses to appear on the top of search result rankings. SEM overlaps other marketing strategies, such as social media marketing, search engine marketing, etc. The only difference that sets SEM apart is that it is paid advertising. 

SEM leverages the power of search engines so that the content or product reaches the right customers at the right time and converts them into paying buyers. 

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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Digital marketing is filled with terms with similar meanings. This can lead to confusion among beginners and even professionals. There are also terms that may sound or feel the same but are completely different. One such example is SEO and SEM.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the marketing tactic to optimize a website and boost its search engine traffic to drive organic traffic. Although SEO is a free marketing strategy, as you don’t need to pay for your content to appear on SERPs, creating quality content demands time. Driving traffic to the website, creating backlinks, and optimizing the website is a long-term investment. However, it may not help businesses achieve their marketing goals all the time. 

Due to ever-increasing competition in the digital space, attaining the top ranks in search results can be a hard row to hoe. Therefore, we need search engine marketing (SEM) to fill the gap. SEM is a paid advertisement tactic to appear at the top of search results, especially when competition for organic results is too fierce. Advertisers pay for each click on their ads. However, even for paid traffic, you need to optimize your website and enhance its quality.

In a nutshell, SEO improves the efficiency of a website, while SEM improves its paid ranking. If the website is not optimized, all your SEM efforts are in vain. SEO plays a crucial role in paid marketing because a seamless user experience is what matters in the end. 

SEO helps you attain long-term goals by driving organic traffic, whereas SEM brings quick results and expands click-based impressions rapidly.

Search ResultsAppear as ads and uses ad extensionsUsed for organic search results and features snippets. 
CostYou pay for each click on the ad.You need not pay anything.
VisibilityVisible to only target audience.Visible to everyone
ResultsQuick results.Results take time.
Click-through Rate (CTR)LowHigh

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How Does Search Engine Marketing Work?

Now that you have decided to invest in SEM, the next big question is how SEM works.

There are different search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, offering ad auctions for paid marketing. Similar to any ad you see on Google search results, you also enter into the ad auction. 

For this, you need to identify the keywords that consumers use while searching for related products or services. You bid on these keywords based on your paid marketing budget and how much you are ready to pay for every click on your ad. 

You create an account on Google AdWords or any other search engine to manage all ads and participate in the ad auction. Once Google knows that the keywords you have bid on are the same as a user’s query, it will show your ad on SERPs. 

Please remember that just because your keyword is a good fit for an ad doesn’t mean you will win the bidding. Ad auction on search engines depends on two primary factors- maximum bid and quality score.

Key SEM Terminologies

Apart from search engine marketing definition, you also need to have a fair knowledge of SEM-related terminologies and concepts to master SEM.

1. SEM Platforms

SEM platforms comprise search engines where you display paid ads when users search for a query. Common SEM platforms are Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. 

2. Keyword Cost

High-ranking keywords are highly competitive to bid. The more competitive keywords mean higher the cost. There are a few other factors as well that affect the keyword cost, such as quality score, click-through rate (CTR), ad rank, etc. 

Using quality score; search engines assess the relevance and usefulness of your ad to the keywords you are bidding on. The closer the relevance, the higher the quality score and the lower the cost-per-click.

3. SEM Keyword Types

SEM keywords refer to phrases or terms that you want to target in the SEM campaign. When a user searches for SEM keywords, they will see your paid ad in search results. There are mainly four types of SEM keywords:

Broad Match- They target different variations of keywords, such as plural, singular, misspelled, similar phrases, synonyms, and so on.

Exact Match- They are closely related terms or words to the target keywords and include reordered phrases, abbreviations, plural/singular forms, etc.

Phrase Match- They target exact match words and also include phrases with added words before or after the target keywords.

Negative- They exclude the words and variations of other keywords you don’t want to target at all.

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4. Campaigns

Search engine marketing also allows us to run several campaigns, but they are paid ads. We can have multiple campaigns within a single account. It can be a display campaign, search campaign, or call-only campaign. Each campaign is designed to attain a specific business goal. 

5. SEM Targeting

Out of all the strategies in digital marketing, search engine marketing is one of the most effective ones, as it allows marketers to run more targeted campaigns. They can target users by device, location, and time of the day. When ads are targeted toward potential buyers, they have more chances of reaching the intended audience and giving a higher return on investment.

6. Ad Auctions

Simply setting up an SEM campaign is not enough to get your ad displayed on search engine result pages. All search engines and SEM platforms follow a system to decide if and when your ad will appear in results. This is known as SEM auction. You need to enter into the auction to place your ad on top. Also, it decides how your brand will compete with other ads targeting the same keyword. Here are a few factors that affect ad auctions:

Quality Score- It refers to the rating that SEM platforms give to your ad. Quality score is based on different factors, such as keyword relevance, CTR, previous ad performance, and landing page relevance.

Max CPC Bid- It is the maximum amount to be paid when a user clicks on your ad.

Ad Rank- It is the position or rank of your ad on search engine result pages. 

7. Ad Copy

SEM is not just about setting up an ad and getting clicks. You have to make your ad attractive to earn clicks. So, once you zero in on the keywords and structure your account, write a suitable ad copy to get more clicks. SEM ad copy can show more information about the product or brand. Moreover, there is a standard ad format that contains two headlines, a great description, and a URL. Here are more things to add to an ad copy:

  • Call extension
  • Message extension
  • Sitelink extension
  • Location extension
  • Advertiser ratings
  • Price extension
  • Structured snippet extension

8. SEM Targeting Types

To understand what is SEM in digital marketing, you also need to learn about SEM targeting types. Targeting keywords tell search engines when to display your ads. It allows you to add parameters to decide when to show your ad and to whom. The following are the four SEM targeting types:

Demographic- So that your ad is shown to people from a specific demographic, including age and gender.

Location- It ensures that people from a certain location see your ad.

Device- You choose this parameter when you want to show your ad to users with specific devices.

Ad Schedule- It allows you to show your ad during a specific time of the day or on particular days of the week.

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Benefits of SEM

Lastly, let’s take a look at the importance of SEM in digital marketing:

1. Highly Intent-driven

SEM helps businesses reach potential customers at exactly the same time they are looking for an answer to a query. You reach them in a market and solve their issues. It gives you an opportunity to influence their buying decisions and compel them to purchase your products without directly convincing them.

2. Immediate Results

SEO and social media marketing strategies may take a few weeks or months to show results. Adding to it, Google can take a year to improve your search engine rankings. However, SEM gives instant results by displaying your ad at the top of search results. You go from having no or little brand visibility to appearing on the first page of Google, which grabs a lot of attention from users. 

3. Faster Brand Visibility

Startups and small businesses rely heavily on SEM to enhance their online visibility. It is a great way for them to keep pace with more established brands and mark their presence in the crowded field. 

4. Instant Revenue Generation

When you run a powerful campaign equipped with correct planning and impressive ad copy, you can get sales the same day. It is a convenient and quick way to boost sales and revenue. 

5. Measurable Results

Next, in this blog about what is SEM in marketing, we have one of the major benefits of SEM. This marketing tactic shows you the number of people who click on your ad against the number of people who buy your products. 

So, with clearly defined marketing goals, such as higher lead generation, improved sales, increased readership, etc, SEM is a quick way to measure real-time results and make changes accordingly. If you think your campaign is not generating expected results, you can reallocate your money immediately.

6. Better Reachability

There are more than 3 billion internet users, and 92% of them start with a search engine. No wonder search engines are the most reliable and effective sources to drive website traffic. People use search engines because they need something or want immediate answers to their queries. 

If you can deliver them what they want, it can take you a long way, accelerating your business growth and building a brand. Hence, most businesses also kickstart their marketing journey online, regardless of the product or service they are offering. With the right marketing strategy, they can boost sales in no time.

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7. Targeted

SEM is a highly targeted marketing strategy, which means you can target a specific section of the audience. Your SEM campaigns can be device-targeted, geo-targeted, and scheduled. This helps you reach the right users without shelling out much.

8. Business Growth

Thanks to its scalability, it’s easier for small-scale businesses and marketers to get started with SEM. However, in the beginning, they need to evaluate campaigns meticulously to see what works and what doesn’t so that they can invest money wisely. 

As their revenue will go up, they can increase the number of ads, which will add to the success of the business. They can invest in the ads that are driving better results and remove the ones that are not working well. 

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Search engine marketing is considered one of the most effective ways to drive website traffic. You appear on the top of search engine rankings through targeted ads and reach more customers who are genuinely interested in your products. This gives your business a head start in launching their platforms while keeping you ahead of the competition. SEM has been the foundation of the popularity of many renowned and leading brands. 

Businesses that have still not embraced SEM must now realize the significance of SEM to earn higher ROI and adapt to this powerful marketing strategy to thrive in the industry. They need to devise a wise SEM strategy to get the best results. We hope this blog helped you understand SEM and its benefits and answered all your queries. 

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  • Ashima Jain

    Ashima Jain is a Content Editor and Strategist at WsCube Tech and has been in the content marketing industry for 6 years. She is a writer by day and a reader by night. It was actually her love for reading that made her try her hands at writing. She has completed her postgraduation in Economics and Financial Management and has also done diploma courses in Journalism and Digital Marketing. When not working, you can find her in a cafe enjoying a cup of joe and a book.