What is SEM

What Is SEM?

What Is SEM? (Search Engine Marketing)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of paying to have your ads placed in front of consumers in order to acquire website traffic through any search engine.

SEM is strictly limited to increasing online visibility and traffic on platforms like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.

The ads placed on search engines are commonly referred to as pay per click advertisements because you can bid to have you ads appear for certain keywords, and you only have to pay when someone clicks.

Search Engine Marketing allows you to pin-point target potential buyers through relevant ad copy and specific keywords that match their search engine queries.

Other Terms for SEM:

Pay Per Click (PPC)

Paid Advertising

Paid Search / Paid Traffic

Search Engine Marketing Platforms:

There are three main search engine marketing platforms that allow you to advertise to their viewers. The top 3 being:

1.) Google

2.) Bing

3.) Yahoo

What Does SEM Consist Of?

Search Engine Marketing consists of any paid search advertising that is done through search engines.

So, this would be Google Ads, Yahoo Ads, Bing Ads, etc. Facebook Ads is very similar to SEM but does not fall into this category because it is a social network. Facebook Advertising would be display advertising.

Benefits of SEM:

Some of the benefits of SEM are that you can build brand awareness and generate revenue much quicker than any other forms of marketing.

That is because you are chipping into the search volume that search engines have already built.

By harnessing the power of high intent traffic and placing your brand in front of interested consumers, you can catapult your brand to a new level.

Brand Awareness:

Bidding on your brand name will ensure that you are always going to be there when someone searches for you.

But, when you are at the top for the search terms of the niche you are in, you can build brand awareness extremely fast.

So, if you are an email marketing software company, some of the keywords you may want to be at the top for are:

• ‘Email Marketing’

• ‘Email Marketing Software’

• ‘Best Email Marketing Software’

On-Demand Traffic:

SEM has the power of generating on-demand traffic to your website.

Search engines are one of the most powerful ways of generating leads and sales for any business because of the customization you have in your targeting.

With search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo giving you access to bid on any keyword, and showing you the amount of traffic each keyword gets prior to you starting your campaign.

This is definitely one of the most profitable advertising avenues for any business looking to scale right now.

Generate Quick Revenue:

SEM is one of the best ways to generate quick revenue. Since search engines are highly used in today’s society, you can tap into the search volume whenever you want.

With over 2 billion Google searches every single day, there is almost unlimited potential.

Before you ever go about launching your SEM campaign you will want to do some prior keyword research to see which terms have a good amount of traffic volume.

High Intent Traffic:

Search Engine Marketing is extremely effective because you are able to bid on the keywords that have high intent. These keywords are the search terms that usually lead to a purchase.

For example, someone who types in ‘food near me’ is usually going to make a purchase from a local restaurant after that search.

So, whichever restaurant has optimized their business to show up at the top of that search with SEO or has paid to have their ad appear at the top for this keyword, will most likely land the business.

Time & Place:

With SEM you are given the option of choosing when to serve your ads.

This feature allows you to cut out times of the day where your ads do not perform as well. For example, in the middle of the night when your customers are sleeping.

SEM Tools:

Google Keyword Planner:

Google Keyword Planner is a tool that allows businesses and advertisers to find other relevant keywords similar to keywords or other domains in their industry.

It is one of the best tools to use for keyword research because you are able to see the previous data of each keyword and its search volume.

In the example below, I typed in ‘email marketing software‘ and it gave me 433 keyword ideas and each ones search volume, CPC, competition, bid forecasts, and more:

Google Keyword Planner

1.) SEM Rush – Marketing Analytics

One of the best online visibility and marketing analytics software tools is SEMRush.

They provide one of the most easily accessible and comprehensive platforms to view all of the necessary data you need to succeed at your next PPC or SEO campaign.

What is SEM
SEMRush: #1 Online Visibility & Marketing Analytics Software

2.) Bit.ly – Link Shorteners

Bit.ly is a website URL shortening software and link management platform.

This is very useful if you have a variation of campaigns with several ads for each group, so you can see track where each click is coming from.

This will ensure you are always collecting the necessary data to make strategic decisions on your SEM campaigns.

3.) ClickFunnels – Landing Pages

ClickFunnels is a funnel building software that makes building any type of sales/opt-in funnel easier than ever.

The main mission of ClickFunnels is to have the highest converting sales funnels possible due to their unique structure.

ClickFunnels also makes A/B split testing your SEM campaigns highly effective.

4.) SendLane – Email Drip Campaigns

SendLane is a marketing automation software that helps eCommerce brands and content creators collect, segment, and automate the customer journey through email and text message marketing.

5.) Hot Jar – Heat maps

HotJar is one of the best ways to see how your visitors are actually using your website, collect user feedback, and turn more clicks into customers.

It helps you uncover insights on how your website is being used and how you can better structure it to capture more attention and conversions.

6.) SimilarWeb – Competitor Research

SimilarWeb is a system that provides business owners with website traffic analytics and competitor research metrics to improve the success of PPC and SEO campaigns.

7.) UberSuggest – Keyword Research

UberSuggest is the perfect content marketing and keyword research tool.

It shows you all the metrics you need to build your next successful SEM or SEO campaign through proper keyword planning.

It also shows you the search volume, how easy/difficult it is to go after each keyword based on how much current competition there is, and how much the average CPC is.

The following diagram shows UberSuggest for the keyword, ‘marketing strategy‘:

Ubersuggest – SEO + SEM Keyword Research Tool

8.) Subscribers – Build a Push Notification List

Subscribers is a push notification software that allows you to build a push notification list from your website viewers.

This is one of the most highly recommended ways to generate on-demand website traffic.

The click through rate on push notifications is usually above 50% since very few people are currently taking advantage of this feature, and the amount of emails we get far exceeds the amount of push notifications.


Search Engine Marketing is any type of paid advertising done through a search engine.

Search Engine Optimization is any actions done to a website structure to optimize it and increase its search engine rankings, therefore increasing its organic traffic.

Google AdWords:

Google Adwords is a PPC Advertising Platform allowing businesses and advertisers to drive traffic to their websites.

Google Ads is known as one of the most sought after ways of advertising due to its high profitability and low cost per click rates.

SEM Targeting:

Location Targeting:

Location targeting gives you the ability of targeting specific cities, states, or countries. With search engine marketing you don’t have as much freedom to target location as you do with other forms of advertising because of the consumers decision to search.

For example, with other forms of advertising like Facebook Marketing, you can plug in an address and have your ads show to people within a certain mile range of that address. But, for your SEM campaign you can focus your location targeting on specific states and countries.

Ad Scheduling:

By default, Google sets your campaign ad schedule to “all day”, meaning your ads will appear no matter what time it is. Ad Scheduling allows you to cut out unprofitable times of the day, or times where your CPC may skyrocket.

For example, you may want to only show your ad on the weekends if you are promoting tickets to a club for the night and the day of is when you can get the cheapest clicks to conversions. Or, if you only want your ads to show during business hours to ensure you have someone who can immediately respond to an inbound lead, you can do that with ad scheduling.

Demographics Targeting:

Demographics targeting gives you the option of only showing your ads to certain age and gender groups. This is extremely helpful if your product or service is focused more toward one gender or one specific age range. That way you are not wasting impressions on people who would never become one of your customers.

SEM Ad Copy:

SEM Ad Copy is very similar to SEO copy. With SEO you want to make your headlines be as appealing as possible to generate as many clicks as possible. But, with SEM since you are doing pay per click, you want to make sure your headlines and ad copy are generating revenue.

If your ad copy is not selling, then your SEM campaigns will fail. Whereas, with SEO, even if your headlines and meta descriptions aren’t very appealing, as long as the contents of your website is useful, you can still generate a large amount of website traffic.

Google Ad Extensions:

Google Ad Extensions are additional bits of information about your products or services that expand your advertisement to make it more useful to the viewers. Ad extensions typically include phone numbers, additional links from your website, customer reviews, information snippets, etc. You should always try to select ad extensions that will better help your SEM campaign.

Call Extensions:

Call Extensions are a Google Adwords feature that give customers a very convenient way of finding and calling your business directly from within the search results. The best part is, these call extensions can be combined with any of the other extensions for greater impact on your SEM campaign.

Sitelink Extensions:

Site link extensions are additional links attached to your ad that will take the viewer directly to a specific webpage. Site link extensions make running seasonal campaigns extremely easy because you can add them on to any existing campaign.

Callout Extensions:

Callout extensions are almost like added call to actions. For example, you can use things like: Free & Fast Worldwide Shipping, 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed, Free Returns, 40% OFF Sale Now, etc. These are the bits of information that get people excited about what you have to offer.

Price Extensions:

Price Extensions are just what they sound like. Whether you are selling a product or a service, you have the option of adding a price extensions for users to see what you charge before they ever click on your ad. This can be very beneficial if you charge a higher price because people who don’t have the money will usually never even try clicking on your ad, saving you a lot of money your PPC campaigns.

Message Extensions:

According to Google, “Message Extensions let potential customers send you text messages right from your ad. With one tap on your ad, people on mobile devices can contact you to book an appointment, get a quote, ask for information, request a service, and more.

Message extensions can help you grow your business by giving people another convenient option to reach you. Google Ads may set up automated message extensions when you set up a call extension using a mobile phone number or when your website indicates that your business goals include getting people to message you. This will allow people to directly message your business.”

Location Extensions:

Location Extensions are useful for businesses with more than one location because it allows you to have location specific ad campaigns and offers. Location Extensions can also help potential customers find your business by having them appear on your map address. By having these available, viewers can also easily access directions to your business, or other relevant information.

Structured Snippet Extensions:

Structured snippets are extensions that allow your ads to highlight or draw attention to specific pieces of information that help sell your products or services. These ad extension snippets allow you to provide your viewer with enough information about your product or service before they ever click your ad, for them to decide whether they want to make a purchase or not.

These structured snippet extensions make SEM campaigns highly profitable because your conversion rates will be much higher than usual. That is because your viewers are already sold before they click through to your website.

DISCOVER: The Ultimate Google AdWords Guide

What is SEO? (Search Engine Optimization)

Search Engine Optimization is the process of writing content with the intention of ranking organically on a search engine for specific keywords. This is an extremely effective way to generate large amounts of organic traffic for your business.

BONUS: Get a FREE SEO Analysis Here

How Much Does SEM Cost?

Search Engine Marketing costs vary depending on what industry you are in. According to the attached graph below you can see that the Cost Per Click averages can vary anywhere from $.88 to almost $17.

This can be a huge factor to look at before starting your SEM campaign because it shows you how profitable you can be given the amount of traffic you generate and your given conversion rate.

What is SEM
US Average – Search Engine Marketing CPC Based on Industry, (Data from SEMRush)

SEM Keywords:

Phrase Match Keywords:

According to Google, with phrase match keywords, “your ad can appear when people search for your exact phrase, even if they include one or more words before or after it.” But, with phrase match there is word order that makes this targeting option very effective. Word order means that your ad will not appear if someone enters an additional word in the middle of your phrase match keyword.

Broad Match Keywords:

Broad Match Keywords is the default option for keyword targeting. It is often the most used option, but the least effective because of the mass variety of search terms your ads will show up for. One of the best ways to make broad match keywords work effectively though, is to use negative keywords to balance out the nonprofitable keyword search terms from the profitable ones.

Exact Match Keywords:

Exact Match Keywords are the search terms or keyword matches that tell the search engines to show your ads every time someone searches for the exact keyword or key phrase you are bidding on. With the Exact Match option, you can show your ad to customers who are searching for your exact keyword, making this one of the most profitable SEM methods, since you have the ability to capture high intent traffic.

Negative Keywords:

Negative Keywords are search terms you can tell Google and other engines not to show your ad for. So, if you choose to have the word “free” as one of your negative keywords, if the word “free” is also any of the other search terms you are bidding on, you ad will not show up. This feature is usually used when you have determined that one single phrase is never profitable or never leads to a conversion, deeming it low quality traffic.

SEM Search Analytics:

By using search data through a number of website traffic analytics providers you can create a much better informed SEM strategy before ever getting started. Some metrics to look for:

1.) High Traffic Keywords with High Intent

2.) Low Difficulty Keywords with High Intent

3.) Keywords with Little Competition in Your Niche With High Traffic

What’s Better? SEO or SEM?

It all depends on your marketing goal. SEO or Search Engine Optimization is going to be a long term game. That is because there is a long more work that goes into ranking for search terms to generate traffic.

Sometimes it can even take months, even years to start generating traffic. With SEM or Search Engine Marketing, you can almost turn the traffic on and off with the flip of a switch.

The difference is, with SEO or Search Engine Rankings, once you rank for a certain keyword, you will stay there for the long term. With Search Engine Marketing, you will only appear for the keywords or search terms when you are actively bidding, making this a much more expensive way of traffic acquisition.

READ MORE: Dominate Your Internet Marketing PPC Campaigns

What Does SEO Consist Of?

Search Engine Optimization consists of creating website content specifically around certain keywords with the intentions of ranking on search engines to generate organic traffic. This method is highly profitable depending on the keywords you go after.

So, it is always highly recommended that you use a tool such as, SEMRush, to check out the search traffic of each specific keyword that you want to incorporate on your website and rank for.

The higher the search volume, the more competition there is going to be. Meaning, the lower the search volume is, the easier it will be to rank higher and have a higher SERP (Search Engine Ranking Position).

On-Page SEO:

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized.

Moz, SEO Software

Blog Posts

Website Loading Speed

User Experience / Landing Page Optimization

Clean Website Formatting

Meta Descriptions, Headlines, Alt Text, etc.

Off-Page SEO:

Off-page SEO” (also called “Off-Site SEO”) refers to actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs).  

Moz, SEO Software



Social Shares

Referring Domains

SEM Ad Auction:

Search Engine Marketing is based upon ad auctions. The way ad auctions work is, when you submit your ads to Google or any other search engine they will become eligible to be entered into an auction where you’re bidding on keywords relevant to the target customer’s search query.

Your max bids, landing page experience, quality score, ad rank, and ad relevance will all come into play when search engines are determining whether your ad qualifies to display on the search keyword.

Max Bid:

The Max Bid is an option that search engine providers, like Google, give you to set a daily cap on your ad spend. That way you do not get hit with an outrageous advertising bill that you were not expecting. In other words, you can say you want to pay no more than $20 per day, and Google will make sure that after the week is over you will have spent an average of $140 in the 7 days.

Quality Score:

Quality Score is given to you by Google in order for you to determine the quality of your ads. There is a 1-10 Quality Score attached to each keyword in your Google ad account which reflects an estimate of the quality of your ads and the landing pages connected to them. The three different factors that determine your Quality Score are:

Expected clickthrough rate

Ad relevance

Landing page / User experience

Meaning the higher your Quality Score is the more Google think your ads and website/landing page are relevant and useful to the keywords that someone is searching for when your ad is clicked on. 

Ad Rank:

According to Google, “Your Ad Rank is a value that’s used to determine your ad position (where ads are shown on a page relative to other ads) and whether your ads will show at all.

Ad Rank is calculated using your bid amount, your auction-time ad quality (including expected clickthrough rate, ad relevance, and landing page experience), the Ad Rank thresholds, the context of the person’s search (for example, the person’s location, device, time of search, the nature of the search terms, the other ads and search results that show on the page, and other user signals and attributes), and the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.”

Landing Page Optimization:

Having an optimized landing page should be one of your first priorities when creating any successful SEM campaign. In the next section, we will go over a brief example of how landing page optimization can completely change your SEM campaign results.

A/B Split Testing:

Split testing variables on your website is critical if you want to increase your conversion rates. Often times just a small change in your website structure or copy can result in a massive increase in conversions.

Some of the things you can try split testing on your landing page/website is: product images or videos, call to action or offer, colors of your buttons, pricing, countdown times, etc.

Conversion Rate Optimization for Search Engine Marketing:

With SEM you are paying every time someone clicks on your ad. So, it is best that you have a fully optimized landing page to run your traffic to. If your landing page is not optimized for conversions, your entire campaign could fail. For example, if one landing page converts at 6%, meaning every 100 visitors to your website, 6 people will make a purchase.

If you are paying $1.25 CPC, you will have paid $125 to get 100 visitors to your website. So, for this example, let’s say that the product you are selling is $40. With 6 sales, you will have generated $240 in revenue. At this rate your profit margin before any product costs will be $115.

Now, let’s say that your landing page wasn’t fully optimized for conversions and it was only converting at 3%. If you are still paying the same $1.25 CPC, you will still be paying $125 to generate 100 website visitors. If only 3 of those visitors make a purchase, you will only generate $120 in revenue. Meaning, your campaign is now losing money before product costs.

That is why having a landing page that works and converts clicks into customers is so important. As just laid out, your landing page optimization can be the difference between your SEM campaigns being profitable or unprofitable.

DISCOVER: How To Skyrocket Your Conversion Rates

Benefits of SEO:

Search Engine Optimization results in free traffic. Yes, you read that right. When you acquire a search engine ranking, that is yours. Meaning that every time someone types in that specific search term, your website will come up.

So, if you rank #1 for ‘Lawyers in New York’ and 12,000 people search that exact keyword every month, you could have 12,000 new unique website visitors. That is why the return on investment for SEO is often times the highest return as far as online marketing. The only downside, is that the results are not as fast as paid traffic. The more work that is done to improve your SEO, the more your visibility in search engines you will get.

Long Term Growth:

Search Engine Optimization provides long term growth because of the compounding effect that it has over time. The more backlinks you acquire over time means the better long term domain authority you will have. The amount of organic growth always seems to compound as you keep at it.

For example, if you look at the graph below, it shows the growth of organic traffic for a particular website over the years. As you can see, the majority of the traffic did not come toward the start, but after months of hard work and optimization. In this example, it even took over 2 years before they started to see the majority of their organic traffic start to roll in.

What is SEM
SEO Organic Traffic Growth

Do I Need Both SEO & SEM?

The more the better. Sometimes having both can make your SEM campaigns that much more profitable. For example, let’s say you are generating 10,000 organic clicks per month through your Search Engine Optimization efforts.

Now instead of paying to have 10,000 new people see your ads, you can pay to retarget the people who have already visited your website and are most likely interested in doing business with you. This will significantly decrease your cost per customer acquisition making your Search Engine Marketing campaigns far more profitable than if you had no traffic coming from SEO.

Now, that is not to say that SEM can’t be profitable without SEO, because it very well can be. SEO will just be your secret weapon if you decide to incorporate both methods into your marketing efforts.


Since SEM (Search Engine Marketing) allows you to place your products or services in front of consumers who are actively searching for what you have to offer, it makes it one of the most lucrative and scaleable internet marketing traffic sources.

Are you struggling to generate profitable SEM/PPC results for your business? If so, please feel free to reach out to us today. We would love to get you setup with your own account manager and help build out your next successful search engine marketing campaign with Aces Media.

Have you invested in Search Engine Marketing for your business? What kind of results have you seen? What could be added to this article to make it more useful for people looking to create successful SEM campaigns?

What Is SEM? (Search Engine Marketing Ultimate Guide) | Aces Media
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What Is SEM? (Search Engine Marketing Ultimate Guide) | Aces Media
Search Engine Marketing is the form of buying ad space on any search engine that drives traffic to your website. Learn how to create & optimize winning SEM Campaigns.
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Aces Media
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5 Responses to What is SEM

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  3. Sherry

    This is a remarkable article Alex. Extremely well researched and delivered. I liked how you broke up SEM and SEO and compared the benefits of the two services. This article is perfect for business owners like myself who are not 100% familiar with online marketing, and this makes it easy to understand. You should consider publishing more content like this.

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