What is search engine marketing (SEM)?

Search engine marketing (SEM) once referred to the general marketing strategy used to get websites listed higher up on search engine result pages (SERPs). However, these days, it almost always refers to paid search advertising only. Here we explain exactly what SEM is and how you can use it to promote your business online.

How to do Search engine marketing

If you want your website to feature at the very top of the search results on Google, even before the organic (unpaid) results, then you’ll need to invest in some ads. You can do this through Google Ads (previously known as Google Adwords). Within Google Ads, you can create your search engine ad and bid on keywords that your ad is related to. Note: it’s not guaranteed that your ad will be displayed – this will depend on your bid and what others are bidding on for the same key terms.

What SEM looks like

When you do a Google search, you’ll notice that for some search terms, there are ads at the very top of your search results page, identified with either an “Ad” or “Sponsored” tag.

The ads that you see will depend on your search terms. For example, if you search for “mobile phones” in Google, you’ll see ads that look like actual product listings (sponsored) and listings that look like regular search results (ads). This term is very popular and refers to an actual item you can purchase, therefore a lot of companies are bidding for this key phrase.

However, if you search for the term “eraser”, there are no sponsored ads, likely because buying erasers isn’t at the top of everyone’s priority list, nor is it something you would search for on Google first. For an office supply company, erasers are probably not their most important product to sell, therefore they don’t spend money on SEM for this product.

When to use SEM and why it’s important

Not all businesses use or need to use SEM, however, it’s becoming more and more important to use search engine ads as Google becomes smarter and makes it harder to rank in the search engine result pages. Some things you need to consider when deciding whether or not to pay for SEM, include:

– Do you have the budget to spend on paid ads?
– Is your website already ranking high for key search terms?
– Do you have the resources to manage your SEM?
– Do you have a killer content/editorial team that can help your website rank organically (without using paid ads)?
– Who are your competitors and are they paying for search engine advertising?

If people aren’t clicking into your site from the SERPs or your site just isn’t ranking in the first place, it might be time to think about investing in some SEM to help boost your business, increase your visibility and customers, and ultimately, your revenue.