What is SEM? An introduction to search engine marketing

Discover how search engine marketing (SEM) can help put your business in the spotlight and reach more customers.
· 25 October 2023 · 4 minute read

You may have come across the term search engine marketing or SEM when exploring the digital marketing landscape. So what exactly is search engine marketing (SEM)? In this article, we explore just this. And how SEM can help your business stand out.


What is SEM?

Think of a time when you searched for something on a search engine like Bing or Google. You may have noticed that related ads for businesses appeared in the results. At its core, this is what SEM is. SEM allows businesses to display ads on a search engine results page, which can be a great way to increase visibility and raise brand awareness.


How to get started: Keywords and bidding

SEM strategies typically start with keyword bidding. Keywords are the words and phrases that help connect your business to the people searching for what you offer. Having your ads display in association with these keywords is where bidding comes into play.

Bidding is where businesses compete by setting a maximum price for their ads to appear when the chosen keywords are entered into a search engine. This is why selecting the right keywords for your business is such an important part of SEM.

To get started with an SEM keyword strategy, you should identify the keywords that customers will likely use when searching for your products and services. Consider volume, cost, and search intent when conducting your keyword research.


How to get started: SEM ad formats

SEM ads can take various visual formats, including text ads and display ads. If a user clicks on your ad, you’ll only be charged for that click. This is referred to as pay-per-click.

The quality of the ad itself will help determine whether it’s displayed. This is what’s known as a quality score. Looking at search engine guidelines and recommendations when crafting your business ads can be a good idea. Certain platforms, such as Google, even have a diagnostic tool that can be used to test your ad’s effectiveness.

To optimise your ads for quality score, focus on the following things:

  • Relevance: Ensure your keywords, ad text, and landing pages interrelate. Keywords across your ads and website should match and be highly relevant to each other.
  • Click-through rate: To improve your engagement and click-through rate, craft compelling ad copy. This can improve your chances of people clicking on your ads. 
  • Landing page experience: Optimise your landing pages to help offer a seamless user experience to potential customers. And feature keywords relevant to your offering. 


How SEM differs from SEO

SEO (search engine optimisation) refers to the art and science of improving the traffic quantity and quality to a website from a search engine. Improving your businesses SEO can help make your webpages appear higher up in a search engine’s results page.

SEO can be improved by optimising your website content to include keywords. Learn more about SEO tips to help boost website performance.

The fundamental difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is an organic strategy. It involves making changes to improve your website's organic search results. Investing in SEO can greatly impact your search rankings over time. SEM, on the other hand is about improving traffic and visibility through paid ads.

SEM vs. SEO: Which should you focus on?

Picking the right search engine strategy for your business all comes down to preferences. SEO is typically a slow burn that improves traffic to your website over time. Whereas SEM is all about driving conversions quickly through paid ads.

Rather than choosing one over the other, it can be beneficial to combine SEO and SEM to maximise your online presence and marketing impact.  A combined SEM and SEO strategy can potentially lead to higher click-through rates, as your business will appear in both paid and organic search results. This approach can help boost your website traffic and increase sales.


Final thoughts

SEM can be a potent tool for small businesses looking to thrive in the digital landscape and reach more customers. By developing a strategic SEM strategy, you can harness its potential to connect your business to motivated customers and help drive conversions.

If you’d like more information on digital marketing for your business, take a look at the below articles:

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