What is SEM? Search Engine Marketing Explained


SEM, or search engine marketing is the process of using paid strategies to increase search
visibility and ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). SEM is also commonly referred to as paid search ads, paid advertising or pay-per-click (PPC).

Paid search advertising uses platforms like Google, Bing and Yahoo as business bid on the placement of ads appearing as a sponsored link on SERPs. SEM can be a very effective strategy for businesses to gain exposure to new customers, increase revenue and control expenses for acquisitions. Especially when Google, the world’s most used search engine resource, holds 75% of the search engine market share globally.

What is the difference between SEM, SEO and PPC?


While SEM focuses on paid advertising to increase a website’s ranking and visibility on the first SERP, search engine optimization (SEO), on the other hand, relies on certain strategies that improve the overall well-being of a website to appear higher in organic search rankings.

Although SEM and SEO are different, they are both closely related strategies that rely heavily on keywords and should be used together to improve exposure, conversion rates, and lower bounce rates. The advantage of SEM is remarketing to customers who already visited your site across the web.

Since SEM is predominantly focused on paying for rankings on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, it is important that when users click on an ad, the website they are directed to is optimized for user experience, and even more importantly, optimized for user conversion.

By offering valuable and useful content and having a user-friendly website that is fast, you have a better chance of attracting high-quality traffic and improving conversion rates. This can help to increase the average session duration of visitors on your site that can increase the chances of generating conversions.

If you pay to advertise your website on the top of SERPs but offer a low-quality website, this may lead to an increase in bounce rates. It also tells Google the site is not relevant to the search query. If you look at load times, for example, the probability of bounce rates increases by 32% as page load times increase from 1 second to 3 seconds. Google Ads platform has two systems embedded that calculate Quality Score and Ad Rank.

Quality Score looks at the quality of your ad and your landing pages. If someone clicks on your ad but doesn’t stay because of a poor experience, Google can charge more for each ad click. Google also rewards higher quality ads by offering lower prices and better positions on SERPs.

Ad Rank is a value that determines your ad position and whether your ad will show at all. This value is based on expected click-through-rates (CTR), ad relevancy, your bid amount, ad formats you enable, and also landing pages.

Expected CTR is a prediction of how often your ad will be clicked on when shown for a keyword.
Ad relevancy analyzes the language used in your ad to determine how well it relates to a search query. Your bid amount, not to be confused with the amount a click on your ad costs, is the maximum amount you’re willing to spend for a user to click on you. Ad extensions are the most common type of ad formats which allows you to include a sitelink, address, or phone number that may bolster your rank. Your landing page plays an important role in providing users information they are looking for creating a positive experience.


When exploring SEM, a closely-related term you will discover is pay-per-click marketing or PPC. PPC is commonly referred to as a form of SEM but there are certain limits to its relation to each other. PPC, similar to SEM, is a type of advertising where businesses place ads online and pay for every time someone clicks on the ad.

Paid search advertising uses platforms like Google, Bing and Yahoo as businesses bid on the placement of ads appearing as a sponsored link on SERPs. However, PPC ads are not limited to search engines. Paid advertising is also used on other PPC platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and LinkedIn. Since these ads only appear on social media, this form of advertising is no longer considered search engine marketing and is a part of social media marketing. These types of ads are referred to as display advertising and can take the form of graphics, videos or paid posts.

How does SEM work?

Two of the most used search engine advertising platforms used are Google Ads and Bing Ads. Companies bid on relevant keywords that are based on a user’s search query. Advertisements can come in the form of text-based ads, shopping ads (PLA) and local search ads. First, let’s have a look at the search engine marketing platforms.

SEM Platforms

Two of the most significant search engine marketing platforms are Google Ads and Bing Ads. In 2019, ad spending in the Search Advertising segment is estimated to amount to $36.5 billion in the USA and $1.98 billion in Canada.

Google Ads

Google is the most used search engine in the world earning over 3.6 billion search queries per day. With such a significant hold on the search engine market share, there is no denying that Google can be an effective search marketing platform. For this reason, the Google Ads platform is one of the most popular on the market.

Google Ads offers advertisers two ways to reach potential customers: through the Google Search Network and through the Google Display Network. The Google Search Network allows you to create three types of ads: text ads, shopping ads (PLA), and local search ads.

Text ads are the most common type of ads appearing at the top and bottom of SERPs and includes an “Ad” label. Shopping Ads, or product listing ads, display an image of a product and a link to where you can purchase that product. Local search ads are ads that feature your business location and can be shown to users when they search on Google or Google Maps.

The Google Display Network, on the other hand, integrates ads into carefully curated websites reaching users while they browse or read on other sites. Google’s Display network is the largest in the world, with 90% reach across all internet users worldwide. These types of ads don’t necessarily relate to search engine marketing since they are not displayed on search engines.

Bing Ads

Another useful platform in search engine marketing is Bing Ads. As of April 2019, Bing has 1.2 billion visits making it a vital resource in search marketing. Bing Ads work similarly to Google Ads in that you can run ads on the Bing search network. Bing Ads also allow you to create text ads that appear at the top and bottom of the SERP.

With Microsoft’s partnership with Verizon Media, owner of Yahoo and AOL, when you advertise on one platform, your ad is automatically added to all three search engines. As of June 2019, Bing, Yahoo and AOL account for 12.39% of the search engine market share globally making it a viable option as a search marketing platform.


Enter your website

What are text-based ads?

Text-based ads are the most basic form of search engine ads and show up above or below search results. Text ads have four parts to them: headline text, a display URL, description text and extensions.

A headline is the first thing users will read and what attracts users to click on your ad. It is important to include keywords in the headline that people may have searched for.

The display URL is listed below the headline and shows your website address. Display URLs are created from your final URL where customers see your product or service. This helps people who see your ad understand where they will be redirected when they click your ad.

The description portion of the ad offers the opportunity to highlight details about your product or service. If you have an ecommerce store, this is the ideal section to include a call-to-action like “Show now” or “Buy now”.

Extensions are additional pieces of information that expand your ad. Extensions include call buttons, location information, additional links and additional text. Extensions show with your ad when a specific extension is predicted to improve your performance.

If you’re looking to improve in-store traffic consider location extensions that encourage people to visit your business by showing your location or a call button to encourage phone calls. For an ecommerce business consider price extensions and promotion extensions that showcase your products or services with prices or showcase specific sales and promotions across your ads.

How to write successful text ads

Once you’ve set up your Page for your business, your next step is to focus on how to create posts that effectively engage with your customers. There are five main post types that you can use on your Facebook Page:

  • Showcase your uniqueness
    Highlight what makes your product or service special by showcasing details that make you competitive. Maybe you offer free shipping or a unique variety. Let users know that you stand out from the rest.
  • Include important information
    When people search for products, they are looking to compare products before making a decision. Including important information like prices or promotions allows consumers to make decisions on certain products.
  • Empower your customers
    As mentioned earlier, adding a call-to-action is important in guiding people to the next step. If you’re offering a product or service, adding a call-to-action like “Buy now” or “Get a quote” allows potential customers to learn more about what you offer.
  • Include keywords
    Keywords are one of the most important aspects of your text ad. Keywords add relevancy to what people are searching for. Using the right keywords can attract the kind of customers that are right for your business.


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Keyword match types for ads

Broad match

Broad match is the default match type that all keywords are assigned to that enable you to reach the widest audience possible. These types of keywords are commonly searched for by a large number of people. Search engines look for relevant versions of the main keyword including misspellings, synonyms, and related searches.

Modified broad match

Modified broad match gives you more control than broad match. This type ensures that your ads only appear in searches that include the words you marked with a plus sign, such as +men +shoes. They are more targeted and can increase clicks and conversions.

Phrase match

Phrase match is more targeted than broad match but offers more flexibility than exact keywords. You can show your ad to customers who are searching for your exact keyword and close variants of your exact keyword, with additional words before or after. It provides greater flexibility in attracting visitors to your website because you can control how closely the keyword has to match with someone’s search query.

Exact match

Exact match keywords are the opposite of broad match terms. Ads using exact keywords show on searches based on identical or closely related search queries. Close variants of the keyword includes searches that share the same meaning. Exact match keywords are the most difficult to master but can attract prime customers your business thrives on.

Negative keywords

Negative keywords allow you to exclude terms from your campaign to help focus only on keywords that matter most to your customers. This helps to prevent your ad from showing on unrelated search or websites.

What are shopping ads?

Shopping ads or product listing ads are based on product-based searches that appear on the left and top of search results. Shopping ads have a significant difference from text-based ads in that they feature an image of a product, including the price and vendor along with shipping fees or product review. This type of ad is tailored towards product keywords and product categories. Clicking on any of the ads will bring you directly to the product page.

Benefits of shopping ads:

  1. Better qualified shoppers
    When creating an advertisement, you can increase the quality of your shoppers by featuring important information about your product like online and local inventory directly within your ad. This helps shoppers make informed decisions when deciding on a purchase.
  2. Campaign management
    Instead of using keywords, shopping ads leverage a product’s attributes chosen by you to show your ads based on relevant searches. You can use Google Merchant Center to feed product and brand data like product prices and shipping fee.
  3. Broader presence
    With Google product list ads, more than one of your ads can appear for relevant search queries and can be seen alongside your text ad. For Bing Ads, they can also appear on Yahoo and AOL because of the Microsoft- Verizon Media partnership.
  4. Important metrics and data
    The ability to track the success of your product ads is important in determining which ads are working and which ads need to be optimized. Being able to track click-through rate at the item level and conversions against competitor bids are crucial in adjusting your bid to ensure better placement and impressions.


Enter your website

What are local search ads?

Local search ads features your business location and can be shown to users who search on Google or Google Maps using a search query like “optometrist near me”. You can add a location extension by adding your address, a map to your location or the distance to your business. These types of features can increase in-store traffic or phone calls for your business.

Why is SEM important?

Search engine marketing can help to deliver more relevant traffic to your website in a shorter time frame attracting new visitors that can convert into customers increasing revenue and conversion rates. SEM can be used to create awareness for your brand even if your ads don’t earn clicks. Your brand name is still visible at the top of SERPs and users may recognize the product, company name or page name creating free impressions. This may lead to organic brand searches in the future.

Search engine marketing is considered one of the most important sources of internet traffic because it is targeted. With search engine ads, you have the opportunity to target potential customers based on their search intent. By conducting keyword research, you can determine how people search for products so you can adjust your ad copy and calls to action based on where users are in the acquisition funnel.

How does SEM benefit businesses?

Search engine marketing is a beneficial strategy to use for businesses. Search engine ads benefit businesses because it generates greater exposure and brand awareness, and allows for control of your marketing spend.

In-store foot traffic benefits

Search engines are heavily trafficked and highly visible places where you can be sure to gain a lot of exposure. SEM platforms allow businesses to use location-based ads that show in areas that a business operates in. Local SEM ads give businesses an advantage when generating foot traffic for local stores.

According to Google, 76% of people who conduct a local search on a mobile device visit a physical store within 24 hours. If your business has a physical storefront, local search ads can significantly increase your in-store foot traffic. Local ads also increase visibility for businesses in the community. SEM can be used by businesses who want to reach local customers that are searching for products, services or information they offer.

Lead generation benefits

Search engine marketing not only creates exposure and visibility for your business and website, you will also be targeting the right users. Through search engine ads your website will remain visible to users’ search queries relevant to your product or services. SEM also allows for optimization, giving you multiple chances to target people who have already visited your site.

You can easily associate the source of leads and where they are coming from by tracking contact forms, phone calls and sign-ups. If you find that certain ads aren’t working as well, you can perform an A/B test by comparing your current ad with a slightly changed one to determine which is more relevant and effective in accomplishing your goal.

Ecommerce marketing benefits

Search engine marketing can help to increase online engagement when a customer makes a purchase or signs up for a newsletter. The ability to use shopping ads or PLA allows you to target brands and categories of products that can attract customers to your website at the exact moment they’re making a search. Shopping ads provide people with important information and a visual of the product creating familiarity when they arrive on your website.

Final thoughts on Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing allows you to market to users who are actively searching for what your business has to offer. Taking advantage of search engines like Google and Bing can be a significant asset in advertising your business. An effective SEM strategy can increase your brand visibility, generate leads and traffic, and grow sales. However, it is important to implement both an effective SEM strategy and SEO strategy to achieve optimized results.


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