What is Search Engine Marketing?

What is Search Engine Marketing, or SEM?

Search Engine Marketing in the broad sense refers to the combination of SEO (see “What is SEO?” page for more) and search engine advertising, commonly referred to as pay-per-click advertising. SEM in its more narrow sense only refers to pay-per-click advertising. That said, here’s my definition of Search Engine Marketing (“My?” Isn’t this a big company?)

Definition ofSearch Engine Marketing: Advertising that is based on the idea that an internet user can be qualified as a potential buyer by their behaviour online. It is a form of contextual advertising where the context is determined by keywords.

Online behaviour
: The behaviour in question is searching and surfing the web. For example, if someone searches for “diamond rings” on Yahoo, this shows that they want information on diamond rings. Potentially, this could mean that the searcher is interested in buying a diamond ring.

You may have noticed that I said “behaviour,” instead of search. That’s because since it was created, SEM has been extended to people reading about a topic. For example, if someone is reading about diamond rings, SEM ads targeted to that context (the targeting is based on keywords) will be displayed. Advertisers infer that their reading behaviour shows they’re interested in buying diamond rings.

By placing an advertisement next to the search results that offers diamond rings for sale, an advertiser can get the searcher to visit his site and buy a diamond ring. Advertisers therefore pay for each searcher that comes to their website, since their search qualifies them as a lead. Hence the other name for search engine marketing: pay-per-click advertising, or pay-per-click for short.

Where: Search engine marketing takes place on search engines like Yahoo, where ads are displayed according to the keywords used in the search, and on their “contextual network,” where ads are displayed according to the keywords on a page.

When: The ads can be run year-round, but like other forms of marketing, advertisers can use seasonal specials. An option also exists to run the ads between certain hours, while another choice allows ads to display until the daily budget runs out.

How it works: At its most basic, SEM is very simple. Advertisers write ads about the length of a newspaper classified. Then they pick a page on their site that the ad will bring visitors to, when they click on it.

Next, advertisers set a maximum price per click they’re willing to pay. When search engine users search for the keywords selected by the advertiser (toy cars, for example) the ad they wrote is displayed near the search results. If the searcher clicks, they then go to the page the advertiser designated (commonly referred to as a “landing page”). Finally, the search engine user takes the action desired by the advertiser (buy, request a quote, subscribe to a newsletter etc.) or leaves the website.

The Difference between SEM and SEO

Three key points differentiate between SEM and SEO.

First, SEM results and SEO results are shown in different locations in the search results. SEM ads are listed under the ‘Sponsored Links’ heading, usually to the side and sometimes above the main body of results, which are attained through SEO. The ads listed on top may also be coloured light blue or yellow at times.

Second, SEM allows much greater control over the message shown to visitors on the website than SEO does. SEM ads are tied to a landing page of the advertiser’s choosing. Regular, or organic, search results lead to whatever page the search engine deemed relevant to the search. For example, a search for “Intel” might return an About-Intel company page in the organic results and a “Buy Intel chips” ad in the Sponsored Links section. (Which is one of the many things that gives SEO ROI the edge over other companies; the integrative approach means more focus on the bottom line and turning visitors into clients. For instance, the About page for Intel as optimized by SEO ROI would discuss its position as a constant innovator, and link to a sales page for its newest chips.)

Third, with SEM, one pays for each individual visitor in addition to SEM consultant/agency fees. With SEO, the traffic itself costs nothing and the fees are limited to those charged by the consultant or agency.

SEM’s Use for ROI-focused Keyword Research

Since search engine marketing allows advertisers to gain traffic much more rapidly than SEO does, SEM has an essential role to play in the keyword research phase of any SEO campaign.
By enabling the advertiser to see which keywords generate the greatest amount of profit, SEM helps advertisers by giving direction to their SEO campaign. Instead of optimizing for the keywords that intuitively seem most promising – potentially spending time and effort inefficiently – search engine marketing enables SEO efforts to focus on the keywords proven to be most lucrative.

If your question wasn’t answered above, take a look at the SEO Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) posts and/or at the What is Search Engine Optimization page.