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What is Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing or SEM is paid advertising on search engines. Usually in the form of text ads but can also include shopping and image ads on non search platforms.

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Google Ads Stats and here and here 

SEM refers to the paid advertising at the top of most search results page while search engine optimization refers to the practice of trying to achieve high rankings in non-paid (organic) search results.

Search engine marketing is the a marketing activity focused on paid ads you see at the top of a search results page on a leading search engine like Google or Bing.  How it works is a person or company will “bid” to have their ad placed at the top of the search results page and the winners of that auction will have their ads shown.  The winner first place, the second highest bidder in second place and so forth.  Your bids are input into the system and each time someone searches for the keyword your targeting an auction takes place.

You use search engine marketing by opening an account on a search engine and creating ads for each keyword and an amount your willing to bid.  Then when someone searches for the keyword you have placed a bid on an auction takes place to determine if your ad will be shown.  You can use search engine marketing to promotes products and services and in other forms of SEM like shopping you can also promote products with additional information like images and prices.  

Paid search engine marketing and search engine marketing are the same thing as all search engine marketing is paid.  Another name for search engine marketing is pay per click or PPC.

Yes Google Ads is one form of search engine marketing.  The other major platform is Bing Ads, although Google has the lion’s share in most countries.  

Let’s take a more detailed look at search engine marketing

Have you shopped online recently?

If so, you’re not alone.

In 2016, over 1.6 billion people worldwide bought something online. And, by 2021, it’s estimated that number will be around 2.14 billion

Big number, right? 

Sure, it’s no surprise that online retail sales have been on the rise (hey, Amazon, we’re looking at you), but you might be shocked at exactly how big e-commerce has become.

As of 2019, it accounted for nearly 16 percent of the retail sales market.

Our tech-focused world doesn’t mean the death of brick-and-mortar stores.

But, it does mean that if you don’t have an online presence, then you need to start developing one.

Fast. As your potential clients turn to the internet and your competitors start ramping up their social marketing campaigns, you need to be one step ahead of them all or you’re going to lose out on some major business.

We’re all looking for that competitive edge that will make us stand out and boost our business, and search engine marketing – or SEM – could be the perfect tool for you.

Our guide to SEM will help you understand what it is and if now’s the right time to use it.

If you’ve ever thought, “How can I make my business the #1 search result on Google (or Bing, or Yahoo, etc.)?” you can stop wondering because we’ve got you covered.

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What is SEM?

You might not know it, but chances are you’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of SEM ads just this week.

Almost every time you visit a search engine (think Google, Yahoo, or Bing), and type in a phrase, you’ll see this:

Example of search engine marketing text ad

Look familiar? All those ads are there, thanks to SEM.

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, and it’s basically paid advertising, the online equivalent of taking out an ad in the newspaper.

The concept is fairly straightforward – Your business pays for more prominent ad spaces on the page to increase the likelihood of clicks, visits, sales, and all that good stuff.

You get to put your business at the top of a list of search results, directly in front of customers who are likely to be looking for your product or service.

SEM vs SEO

Wait a second, you say.

That’s just SEO, isn’t it?

What’s the big difference?

Both SEM and SEO have the same goal; increase traffic to a webpage by giving it a higher place on the search results page.

There are, however, a few differences between the two, with cost being the most important one.

To put it simply, SEO is free, and SEM is not.

But that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other, especially when you look a bit closer.

SEO is also known as organic listing, which means that the search engine, not you, controls where listings rank.

Of course, because SEO is largely based on the quality of your content, there are some steps you can take to improve your chances of ranking high.

But, it won’t be easy.

It can take businesses years to see drastic results, so simply relying on SEO to take you to the top isn’t a great idea.

Free? Yes.

Fast? No.

That’s where SEM comes into play.

As we learned earlier, SEM or paid listings can offer you prime advertising positions at a price.

Let’s look at an example of what both tools might look like to your customers.

We’re going to do a Google search for “men’s novelty socks.”

search engine marketing vs seo

The result at the top of the page is an SEM-generated ad, while all the results following it are organic results.

HOTSOX has paid to put their ad at the top of the page, while Amazon has created content that is relevant enough to earn them a top spot.

Now, have you heard of Amazon? Probably.

What about HOTSOX? Probably not.

As a smaller business, HOTSOX doesn’t have the same SEO power to earn them a top position, so they use other tools at their disposal to get similar results.

Investing in both SEM and SEO campaigns can make for a very successful online marketing strategy.

The Most Critical Element of SEM

If there’s one imperative element of SEM, then it would have to be keywords.

Keywords are the basis of any good SEM strategy, so understanding them is incredibly important. What do we mean by keywords?

search engine marketing

Keywords are what you type into that familiar white box.

And those keywords are crucial to your success.

Let us explain.

It’s important to conduct keyword research at the very beginning of your SEM campaign. That’s right – before you draw up any ads, run any numbers, or place your bids, you’ve got to dive into some research because finding the right keywords could mean the difference between capturing a customer’s attention or forever losing them to a competitor.

There are lots of tools that can help you identify and choose keywords, which is great!

As you go through and make your lists, there are four types of keywords to keep in mind.

Each type will give you a different reach and therefore different results.

  1. Broad Match Keywords.

    These
    keywords will trigger your ad if someone uses them in their search, types in a variation, or types in a related topic.

    Broad match keywords give you a wide reach, but they might not be what that customer is looking for.

Example: You’re selling shoes and your broad match keyword is “shoes.”

Your ad will likely be triggered by searches not only for that keyword but also for “shoe,” “tennis shoes,” “ballet shoes,” “Nikes,” and even “accessories,” to name a few.

  1. Phrase Match Keywords.

    These keywords can trigger your ad to show up when a search matches your specific phrase or a very close variation.

    There may be a few words before or after, but they can’t be added to the middle of the phrase.

    Your keyword is not only more targeted but also more likely to match what the searcher is trying to find.

Example: Your phrase match keyword is “children’s shoes.”

Your ad might be triggered for searches like “green children’s shoes,” “cheap kid’s shoes,” “discount children’s shoes,” “shoes for kids,” or “summer shoes for kids.”

  1. Exact Match Keywords.

    These keywords are exactly what they sound like – they trigger ads when someone searches for your exact keyword or a close variant (a keyword that means the same thing).

    This type of keyword is a little more controlled than the previous ones, but your ad is much more likely to reach the right customer.

    These ads mean less clicks but more serious customers.

Example: Let’s say you’re selling ballet shoes and use “shoes for ballet” as your exact match keyword.

Your ad may be triggered by searches for “ballet shoe,” “ballet shoes,” “toe shoes,” and “ballet dance shoes.”

  1. Negative Match Keywords.

    Unlike the other types, negative match keywords are all about what searches you don’t want your ad to appear in.

    In other words, these keywords are like your target keywords but aren’t what you’re selling.

Example: Going back to our handy shoe example, let’s say that you’re selling bowling shoes.

You might want to exclude keywords like “bowling balls,” “bowling alley,” “dress shoes,” and other terms that don’t match your product.

And those are your four types of keywords.

Still with us? Good, because you’ll also need to consider that some keywords indicate a greater intent to buy.

Words like “buy,” “discount,” “coupon,” and other similar words mean that person is more likely to make a purchase.

So, you should definitely consider including them in your keyword category.

Which category? We’ll let you figure that out.

We’ve gone on about keywords, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only element to consider for your SEM campaign.

Let’s go back to our sock example.

search engine marketing example

An effective ad, isn’t it?

But it wouldn’t be possible without the right keywords.

Understanding keywords will help you make great advertisements.

And when you’re ready to do that, make sure to check out our article on the right way to implement an SEM campaign

Benefits of SEM

Well, you’ve read this far, and here’s the section we’ve all been waiting for, all the great benefits that SEM can offer you.

If we haven’t already convinced you to give SEM a try, we’ll let these seven amazing benefits do the rest of the talking.

  1. Quick results.

When you go the SEO route, don’t be surprised if achieving great results takes months, years, or doesn’t happen at all.

Your SEM campaign can be up in a day (though we recommend spending a bit more time than that).

But our point is, if you want quick results, SEM is the way to go.

  1. Attract more attention – look at me

That’s exactly what your SEM ad is saying to customers.

Whether or not your ad is clicked, being at the top of a list of search results has some hefty benefits.

In fact, even if your ad doesn’t get clicked, you’ve still got some good publicity at no cost.

  1. Target a specific customer

About demographics, that is.

One of the great things about SEM is it allows you to narrow down things like location, gender, and age so your ad is only shown to people who have a genuine interest in your business.

That means your Californian novelty sock shop ad isn’t going to appear on the search page for someone in Rhode Island unless you want it to.

  1. Easy to implement

Alright, we admit that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the SEM process is ridiculously easy to set up and manage.

In fact, both Google and Bing offer help for businesses looking to utilize SEM on their sites, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost in your own campaign.

  1. Keyword focused

We just can’t stop talking about keywords because they’re so great!

You have complete control over what keywords to chose and exclude and how specific to make them.

That’s great because it means you also have control over which customers will see your ads.

This means a higher ROI, more clicks, and all-around better results.

Ranking high for keywords may take a long time with SEO, which makes SEM a great short-term solution.

  1. The price is (usually) right.

Yes, you have to pay for keywords and initial costs.

But, after that, it’s only the cost of a click.

That means if you’re keyword-savvy, then you’ll have a cost-efficient campaign on your hands.

7. Customer insights.

Not only are SEM ads great for giving businesses a quick boost, but they’re also fabulous tools for data collection.

You’ll gain a better understanding of your clients and competitors, and find a niche for yourself in the market that will lead to better business decisions in the future.

Is SEM right for me and my business?

Now that you’ve learned about SEM, the importance of keywords, and have an idea of a few of the benefits you might gain from an SEM campaign, the question is: Is this right for me?

Many businesses balk at the idea of SEM because they think success depends on how much money you have, but that’s simply not true.

It’s nice to have some extra funds lying around for those popular keywords, but successful SEM campaigns don’t have to be expensive.

Yes, SEO campaigns are free, but it might take years to see an increase in traffic without additional tactics.

If you need instant results, SEM can make them happen for you.

Does that mean SEO is useless? No!

It just means that SEM is a great short-term solution for businesses who are still trying to build their SEO campaigns to a point where they begin seeing increased organic traffic.

These campaigns are simple to understand and create and have the potential to provide great ROI if executed correctly.

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