Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of digital marketing that involves increasing a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through paid advertising and optimizing content to improve organic search rankings. The goal of SEM is to place ads and content higher in search engines like Google so that they are seen by more relevant searchers.
What is SEM?
SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a marketing strategy used to increase visibility in search engines’ organic and paid or sponsored results. There are two main components of SEM:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – This involves optimizing a website and its content to improve rankings in a search engine’s organic or unpaid results for relevant keywords. SEO focuses on tactics like keyword research, on-page optimization, link building, and providing a positive user experience.
- Paid Search Advertising (PPA) – Also known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, this refers to displaying ads on a search engine’s sponsored results pages. Marketers bid on keywords relevant to their business and pay the search engine when users click on their ads. Examples include Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising.
Together, SEO and PPC make up the primary strategies used in SEM campaigns. The goal is to increase visibility for relevant search queries so that a brand’s website receives more traffic and conversions from search.
How Does SEM Work?
SEM works by optimizing a website to rank better for strategic keywords and phrases that users search for on Google, Bing, and other search engines. There are two ways SEM increases visibility:
1. Organic Search Optimization
SEO focuses on unpaid or “organic” search results that appear because they are deemed relevant and authoritative by search engines’ algorithms. SEO strategies include:
- On-page optimization by optimizing title tags, content, URL structures, etc.
- Conducting keyword research to identify terms users search for.
- Producing high-quality content that answers searchers’ queries.
- Building links from authoritative websites to boost rankings.
- Technical site optimizations like speed and mobile-friendliness.
By applying these strategies, sites can rank higher in organic results for relevant search queries.
2. Paid Search Ads
PPC or paid search ads appear above and alongside organic results because companies pay to be there. Marketers bid on keywords related to their products or services and create targeted ads. When searchers click those ads, the businesses pay the search engine a small fee. PPC helps brands promote their site when people are searching for related products.
3. Appearing In Search Engine Results Pages
SEM improves visibility in search engines’ results pages (SERPs) through both organic optimization and paid ads. When done effectively, a brand’s website will appear prominently for searches related to their offerings. The goal is for searchers to see and click on your site’s links instead of the competition. This inbound traffic from SEM can provide a major boost to lead generation and sales.
Why Is SEM Important For Businesses?
SEM has become an essential digital marketing strategy for businesses of all sizes who want to drive growth through search engines like Google. Here are some of the key benefits of investing in SEM:
- Increased website traffic – By ranking higher in search results, businesses get more visitors from people searching for related keywords. This inbound traffic is highly targeted too.
- Improved brand visibility & awareness – Appearing prominently in search helps establish brand authority and get your business seen by more of your target audience.
- Higher conversion rates – Searchers who click through from SEM are primed to take action, so SEM boosts leads and sales vs. other sources.
- Competitive advantage – SEM helps you rank above competitors in search results for valuable keywords so more searchers see and engage with your site instead.
- Measurability – With PPC ads, you can directly see how much it costs to acquire visits and conversions. SEO results can also be measured through tracking rankings and traffic. This makes SEM efforts easy to optimize.
- Flexibility – SEM can be tailored to focus on specific keywords, location targets, demographics, devices, and other criteria to align with your goals.
Given these advantages, SEM is becoming more critical for reaching audiences online and driving website traffic that converts. Every business should have a strategy for capitalizing on people’s search engine usage.
SEM Strategies To Improve Search Visibility
Crafting an effective SEM strategy requires looking at both paid search ads and organic optimization. Here are some key strategies used in search engine marketing campaigns:
Research Target Keywords
Keyword research provides the foundation of any SEM strategy. You need to identify high-volume terms aligned with your products that searchers are using. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner help uncover this search data so you can focus on optimizing for the best keywords.
Optimize Pages For Targeted Terms
On-page optimization entails modifying your site’s architecture, content, HTML, etc. to target priority keywords. This helps search engines understand your relevance for those terms. Tactics include keyword-focused title tags, meta descriptions, content, URL structures, image alt text, and more.
Create PPC Ads For Selected Keywords
The paid search side involves creating text, display, and shopping ads targeted to your high-value keywords. Write compelling ad copy and integrate keywords naturally. Send traffic to relevant landing pages with clear calls-to-action.
Bid On Branded And Non-Branded Terms
When setting up PPC campaigns, bid on both branded keywords like your company or product names along with non-branded terms related to your offerings. This allows you to target both visitors who know your brand along with those conducting general research.
Build Backlinks From Relevant Sites
Earning backlinks from high-authority websites helps improve organic search visibility by signaling relevance. Identify sites, bloggers, and influencers that are relevant for a contextual link placement outreach strategy.
Localize Your Strategy
Make sure to factor in location targeting if you have a local customer base. Optimize for keywords containing cities, states, or regions along with location-based Google My Business and paid search campaigns.
Create Conversion-Focused Landing Pages
SEM traffic should send visitors to dedicated landing pages designed to convert visitors into leads and customers. Include clear messaging, calls-to-action, and forms to capture contacts.
Set Up Tracking & Analytics
Robust analytics are vital for measuring SEM success and informing future optimizations. Use platforms like Google Analytics to track key metrics like rankings, clicks, costs, conversions, ROI, and more.
By developing an integrated strategy using these approaches, businesses can greatly improve their search visibility both through paid and organic channels. This is key for maximizing traffic from search engines.
Differences Between SEM and SEO
SEM and SEO have some overlap but also key differences. Understanding the distinction helps create a more effective overall search strategy:
- Paid vs. Unpaid – SEM refers to both paid and organic search while SEO focuses solely on organic rankings. PPC ads allow immediately increasing visibility while SEO takes time.
- Ongoing Cost – SEM has ongoing costs associated with paid ads. Once site optimizations are complete, SEO has minimal ongoing costs.
- Control – SEM offers more control over visibility and placement in paid results. SEO relies on search engine algorithms.
- Flexibility – Paid search ads can be adjusted, paused, or targeted quickly. SEO relies on long-term strategies.
- Measurability – PPC offers clear performance data on costs, clicks, and conversions. SEO metrics focus on rankings, traffic, and business outcomes.
Ideally, businesses should leverage both SEM and SEO to maximize search presence. PPC provides fast results while SEO delivers long-term organic visibility. Using both is key for a complete search strategy.
Examples of Effective SEM Campaigns
Here are some examples of successful SEM initiatives from major brands:
- LinkedIn – The professional network runs PPC ads across Google, Bing, and Yahoo leveraging keywords like “professional networking,” “resume help,” and branded terms. They’ve increased new user registrations through precision-targeted SEM.
- Amazon – The ecommerce giant spends millions on SEM, targeting both product- and category-based keywords along with Amazon Prime offers. This reinforces their authority and surfaces relevant products.
- Booking.com – The travel site uses city name keywords and localized ad copy to target travellers researching destinations. Their global SEM presence has helped cement their position as a top accommodation site.
- Peloton – The fitness brand used SEM to build awareness of their interactive exercise equipment using keywords focused on at-home workouts. They’ve leveraged SEM’s measurability to reduce cost-per-acquisition.
- Squarespace – The popular web builder optimizes for keywords like “website builder”, “ecommerce platform”, and “build a website” to attract entrepreneurs and small businesses. Their SEM helps land new subscriptions.
These examples illustrate how savvy SEM implementation can deliver results. Targeting the right keywords and optimizing ads/pages provides strong ROI.
Best Practices For SEM Campaigns
Here are some top tips to drive success from your SEM initiatives:
- Set clear campaign goals and KPIs to properly measure performance. Track metrics like clicks, costs, conversions, and revenue.
- Research competitor keywords and ad strategies using tools like SEMRush to identify opportunities.
- Use negative keywords in PPC campaigns to reduce irrelevant clicks and control costs.
- Write compelling ad copy focused on triggering clicks and leading searchers to convert.
- Create dedicated landing pages aligned to each ad group and keyword that move visitors along the conversion funnel.
- Continuously expand your targeting to reach more types of searching audiences as campaigns scale.
- Use A/B testing to optimize ad creative, landing pages, calls-to-action, and other elements.
- Leverage tools like Google Search Console and Analytics to identify SEO opportunities.
- Build a content strategy to target priority keywords and answer searchers’ questions.
By following SEM best practices and fine-tuning efforts over time, brands can maximize their search visibility and traffic. The key is continually optimizing campaigns.
Top SEM Tools To Boost Your Strategy
Technology and tools can help streamline and enhance SEM efforts. Here are some top SEM tools for businesses:
- Google Ads – Google’s paid search platform lets you manage text, display, shopping, and video ads.
- SEMRush – An intelligence platform for discovering competitors’ organic and paid strategies.
- Moz – An SEO tool for keyword research, rank tracking, site audits, and link analysis.
- Optimize – An AI-powered site auditing and recommendations tool for SEO.
- BrightEdge – Software for managing organic and paid search campaigns and tracking ROI.
- Conductor Searchlight – A suite covering SEO, content marketing, and social media marketing needs.
- SpyFu – Insights on competitors’ paid search, organic search, PPC keywords, and SEO.
- Screaming Frog – A crawler to analyze on-page elements and find SEO website issues.
- SurferSEO – Tool for identifying ranking opportunities and monitoring website health.
- AccuRanker – Keyword rank tracker and website analyzer for small businesses.
The best SEM tools provide insights that human analysis cannot replicate. They enable smarter optimization using robust data, ultimately improving results.
Key Takeaways On Search Engine Marketing
SEM encompasses both paid search ads and organic optimization to improve visibility and traffic from search engines. By mastering core strategies around keyword targeting, website optimization, PPC ads, and analytics, brands can connect with more relevant searchers and drive conversions.
SEM provides a scalable, flexible, and measurable way to increase website traffic, leads, sales, and brand awareness. In today’s digital landscape, businesses cannot afford to ignore leveraging search engines through strategic SEM efforts.
Contact 427 Digital to assist you with Search Engine Marketing!