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What Is Search Engine Marketing And How Do I Get Started?

With more than 1.5 billion searches per day on Google, the importance of showing up in Google's search results can't be overemphasized. And it's even more important to be at the top of the results as multiple reports show that about half of clicks on search results go to the top-ranked sites.

This is one of the most compelling reasons to engage in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) for your business. With a good SEM strategy, you can reap the rewards of ranking well on search engines and growing your business in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

What is Search Engine Marketing? 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a type of digital marketing that aims to increase the online visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs). It is a marketing strategy that enables your business to appear when a user types in a certain keyword.

Ideally, your site should rank well on search engines like Google and Bing if you do everything you ought to do, but the truth is that it is hard to appear on the first page if you're not a big company as the SEO is simply not in your favor. SEM is an effective way to ensure that you appear on search engine results pages and generate traffic to your site.

Google and Bing allow you to pay to put your website at the top of their SERPs for certain keywords, so your website is visible when users are looking for certain goods and services. Advertisers typically bid on keywords, which can be exactly what users search for or more general keywords. 

What makes this marketing attractive is that your business appears in front of motivated customers who are ready to make a purchase at the time. No other type of digital marketing has this benefit, showing why SEM is a popular strategy for advertisers.

What's The Difference Between Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? 

The difference between SEM and SEO is subtle, but they are basically two sides of the same coin in that they focus on generating website traffic via search engines. They also both rely on keyword research, which is why it's easy to think they are the same. 

SEO strategy focuses on getting traffic from organic search results, while SEM aims to achieve visibility and traffic from organic and paid search results. In addition, SEO is a practice for website owners looking to rank higher in SERPs by following the rules and is, therefore, free, while SEM is a practice that lets you rank higher through paid advertising. 

A related blog post: What is eCommerce SEO?

Another major difference between SEM and SEO is the time it takes to complete. While SEO can take anywhere from 3-6 months, SEM is instant or as soon as your ads launch. The reason is that you will need some time to build backlinks or fix issues from an SEO audit, but SEM lets your website rank high as soon as your ads launch. 

Other differences between SEM and SEO include:

  • The search results of SEM usually carry the tag 'Ads' while results from SEO efforts do not. 

  • SEM results feature ad extensions, while SEO results have featured snippets. 

  • SEM requires you to pay the search engine every time someone clicks on your ad, while SEO doesn't require you to pay a fee.

  • SEO requires a lot of effort, while SEM is relatively simple to set up and use. 

How Does SEM Work? 

Search engine marketing is a type of digital marketing that involves advertisers paying for impressions that result in visitors, hence the name 'Pay-Per-Click' (PPC). For advertisers to reach users who require certain information or goods and services, they must go through a keyword auction process. Here are some of the key concepts that sum up what SEM is about:

1. SEM Keyword Research

Like several other types of digital marketing, keywords are the foundation of SEM. They determine your visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) and the quantity and quality of traffic that lands on your webpage. 

Thus, to succeed at SEM, it's vital to conduct keyword research so that you can identify the words that your prospective customers are likely to use when searching for your products and services. 

You can brainstorm the words that users use when searching for your business or leverage keyword research tools to compile highly searched keyword items. Using keyword research tools is a fast way to conduct your research. It can help you identify the words to bid on and negative keywords that are unlikely to result in conversions and that you want to be excluded from your ads' results. 

2. Pay-per-click Marketing 

Pay-per-click (PPC) is an online marketing model where advertisers only pay for advertising when users click on their ads. It is a paid way of attracting visits to your website rather than earning the visits. 

For example, if you bid on the keyword 'black sneakers,' your ad might appear on the top spot on Google's results page, but you only pay a small fee for advertising when a user clicks on the ad.

Many advertisers love PPC because there is a direct link between cost and performance (visits), and there's a good chance of conversion since only interested users will click your ad. 

However, you are not the only business wanting clicks through SEM, so you will have to participate in bidding and outbid your competitors. 

3. Setting Up an Ad Auction

Once you're ready to get started with SEM, you will enter an ad auction. It is a straightforward process where you select the keywords you want to bid on and enter the maximum amount you're willing to pay for a click. Every time a user searches for a product or service, the search engine will run a real-time ad auction and award each ad space to an advertiser. 

In contrast to what many people think, search engines do not award ad space solely based on the maximum amount advertisers indicate. Your quality score is also a major factor. In other words, you're more likely to win a bid if the search engine judges your ad as a 'fit' for the user. This brings us to the next concept. 

4. Measurement of Ad Quality

Google and Bing put a lot of effort into ensuring that search results meet users' needs, which is why they constantly improve their algorithms to deliver highly relevant search results. 

Ads that are useful or relevant to a search or webpage tend to score higher than others. Your quality score changes constantly, but here are the following elements used to determine your ad quality:

  • Keyword clickthrough rate (CTR) 

  • The relevance of the keyword within its ad group 

  • The relevance of the keyword 

  • Your account history 

  • Your landing page experience 

  • Landing page load times  

  • Optimization of campaign ads 

  • Device and location bias 

  • Ads extensions (site links, callouts, etc.) already factored into CTR

5. Optimization of Campaign Ads 

It's important to optimize your campaign ads to get better results. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Target more ad groups as long as they are relevant to the keywords used. If you have a few ads with the same keywords, your ads won't be important to your users because they will find it hard to see the specific ad they are looking for.

  • Improve your keyword research by considering how they perform in the grand scheme. Before choosing keywords, consider how they are used, how important they are to users, and what opportunities they have to pull users to your site. 

  • Optimize your ad content to focus on a specific product or service. The location of keywords also counts, so they should be distributed across the title, headings, subheadings, and main content. 

  • Work on the landing page to be more visually attractive and load fast. It should be easy to use and contain your select keywords.


Search engine marketing (SEM) is one of the most effective ways to reach your target customers and skyrocket traffic to your website. 

If you are a business owner with users who use Google or Bing, you should probably be engaging in SEM to grow your business. 

We are helping SMEs and remain your all-in-one E-business platform to grow your business. If you need help creating your dream eCommerce site, contact us online to book a call with our expert today.

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