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It’s an increasingly competitive world out there for brands that market online. As companies jockey to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs), they’ve found one big way to pull ahead: search engine marketing (SEM). SEO alone typically won’t get the same results as SEO and SEM combined do. If you’re wondering what search engine marketing is, take note. SEM might feel like one snowflake in a blizzard of online marketing buzzwords, but it’s actually pretty straightforward.

When brands and marketers set up pay-per-click (PPC) ads on SERPs, they’re using search engine marketing. That’s why SEM is also known as paid search. It’s a way to attract website traffic and ultimately grow sales and other types of conversions by paying for top placement in search engine results. Displaying your site at the top of search results lists helps get your brand in front of consumers.

Everyone who wants to reach a larger target audience should use SEM marketing. That’s true whether you’re a small business or a large company, organization or institution. Both B2B and consumer marketers can benefit from using SEM.

The Benefits of Using SEM

When you use SEM, you’ll discover why it’s a crucial part of the marketing strategies of many top brands. The benefits include:

Ease of Competitor and Keyword Research: There’s nothing complicated about researching keywords and analyzing competitors. That’s because companies like Google and SEMrush have made doing the legwork easy for brands and marketers. They’ve done this through creating SEM competitor-analysis tools like AdWords Auction Insights. You can use keywords in your ads that reflect the intent of your target market.

Ease of Setup: Just as they’ve done with competitor research, companies have created tools to make setting up your SEM efforts a breeze. Along with Google AdWords, SEM platforms like Yahoo! Search Marketing are easy for businesses to put in place.

Short-Term and Long-Term Results: One great thing about SEM is that you can get results immediately. However, you can also maintain those results over the long term when you continue to invest in your SEM strategy.

Cost-effectiveness and Scalability: You can start small and test the SEM waters at a very low cost. Then, you can increase your SEM marketing efforts as your business grows.

Ad Customization: With SEM, you can customize your ads and the search engines they appear on to your target audience. You can make your ads as niche or as broad as your target audience is, too.

Level of Control: With SEM you have control over exactly where and when your ads run, including the time of day and the day of the week. You can target markets practically anywhere in the world and in just about any language.

Ad Display: Consumers see paid search ads before they see organic search results because paid ads display at the top of the page.

Brand Awareness, Traffic and Conversions: SEM puts your brand right where consumers are looking and helps them find the products and services you offer. Your ads are showing at the right time and displaying in the right place for consumers to act immediately. Consumers see your campaign, but you only pay per click, so you’ll get impressions for free.

Options for Mobile Marketing: As mobile device use continues to surge in popularity, consumers use mobile search engines in high numbers. That’s why mobile marketing is a must for most brands. SEM’s emphasis on search goes hand in hand with mobile usage.

What Marketers Need to Know Before Using SEM

SEM is all about bidding for the keywords that consumers will use when searching for products and/or services like yours online. When your ads use these keywords, your brand ranks higher on SERPs. Google AdWords is one example of a paid search and keyword tool, and it also happens to be the most popular and the biggest. But there’s more to know before you begin using SEM.

Quick Guide for Starting an SEM Strategy

There’s a lot of information available about SEM. It can be a little confusing to figure out what’s most important to know and do. The good news is that you can quickly put a successful SEM strategy in place by following these basic guidelines:

Research Your Target Market: Do a deep research dive into who your target market is and what drives them to buy. With SEM, you can target consumers based on things like their behaviors, locations, ages and genders. Once you know who your audience is and what their needs are, it’s easier to figure out what kinds of ads they’ll respond to.

Research the Competition: Use competitor analysis tools to create the right ads for your product. Look at the types of ads and landing pages competitors are using. See how many and which keywords your competitors are bidding on and how much they’re bidding for them. Find out what your competition’s PPC rate is.

Research Keywords and Branded Keywords: Use keyword research tools. These help you see what some of the most commonly used keywords and brand terms are for searches relevant to your product. Brand terms/keywords are the words that consumers use when they’re searching specifically for your brand. These phrases include your brand’s name or a different version of it.

Define Your SEM Goals: Define your goals for things like brand awareness, leads, conversions and website traffic. That way, your team knows what it’s aiming for and how it’s doing. Determine how much you’re spending now and the results you’re getting. Then define the kind of results you’d like to get and the budget you can use to do so.

Measure Your SEM Results: Measure your SEM results during the campaign and after it so you can manage and make any necessary tweaks to it. Tools like Google Analytics can show you which keywords are getting the best results in driving traffic to your website.

Consider Using Google Ads Extensions: You can dispense a lot of information about your brand with SEM. For instance, with Google Ads extensions, you can give your audience more valuable details about your business, like location, hours and prices. Google’s app extensions also allow consumers to download your app if you have one.

Make Sure Your Website Is User-Friendly: Make sure that your website is easy for consumers to understand once your SEM takes them there. Your SEM ads should perform well and drive traffic to your website. If it’s not clear and simple for consumers to navigate your site when they get there, then you’ve just wasted money. Make sure consumers have options to do things on relevant landing pages with clear calls to action. It should be easy for them to ask for more information or buy your product.