Search Engine Marketing: The Basics

Whether through organic or paid methods, knowing how to attract web traffic is key to acquiring quality leads. One way to achieve this is through search engine marketing, a highly effective strategy that boosts your ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

The question now is, what is search engine marketing (SEM)? And how is it different from search engine optimization (SEO)? This article will discuss the basics of SEM so you can better understand how it works and what it can contribute to your business.

What is search engine marketing?

Search engine marketing is a digital marketing strategy focusing on maintaining website visibility across search engines. As more and more customers transition to online shopping, it’s important to have a strong presence online so you can generate the utmost traffic. Brands can obtain a favorable position on the search engine results page in two ways:

  • Organic search results – SEO plays a crucial role in organic search results. Google’s algorithms analyze the quality of the page’s content, the keywords used, and the site’s authority to determine where its position will be.
  • Paid search results – Paid search results come from bought advertising space like Google ads. The advertiser will pay a specific amount whenever a user clicks the ad. It helps you drive website traffic faster than organic search, but you’ll need to optimize your keyword bids for the best results.

People often confuse SEO with SEM since their primary function is to deliver traffic to your website. The key difference is how they deliver that traffic. SEO focuses on optimizing your website through unpaid methods, while SEM focuses on targeted, paid ads like pay-per-click advertising (PPC).

Both digital strategies work hand-in-hand to help you acquire more site visitors. A website with a solid SEO foundation will have a higher chance of landing favorable results when using SEM.

How does search engine marketing work?

Search engines rely on complex algorithms to provide users with the most relevant search results. Regarding search engine marketing, paid ads appear on the page result’s top and right columns. These ad placements allow users to discover the ad immediately after typing in a search term, thus enabling brands to generate web traffic.

For example, if a customer types in the search term “Nike shoes,” the SERPs will show various ads that best match the search term the user typed. Since paid listings are highly relevant to the user’s search term, the likelihood of them clicking your ad is very high.

That’s how paid advertising works in a nutshell. To better understand search engine marketing, here’s what a marketer typically does when setting up campaigns for SEM:

  • Analyze keywords and choose the most relevant ones for their product/services
  • Choose a geographic location where the paid ads will appear
  • Write text-only ads to display in the SERPs
  • Create product listing ads (also called shopping ads) to provide visibility for their products/services
  • Bid on the paid ad’s price that the marketer is willing to pay

Newly established websites can use SEM’s immediate benefits to put their name out there and become discoverable to their target audience.

Search Engine Marketing Benefits
Search Engine Marketing brings immediate results to any brand wanting to generate more web traffic.

How do you implement SEM?

Getting started with search engine marketing isn’t difficult; you just need to know which steps to take. Here’s the 101 on implementing SEM:

1. Figure out relevant keywords to use

The first thing you need to know about SEM is that keyword research is paramount to your success. Keywords are the driving force behind your campaigns as they’re responsible for getting your ad to appear on the search engine results pages.

The good news is that plenty of online tools help you conduct keyword research effectively. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Moz’s Keyword Explorer help discover new keywords for your ads while providing in-depth insights on keyword costs, search estimates, and more.

You can even discover long-tail keywords that can attract quality leads to your website since they require more specific search terms. It’s all about finding the keywords you know will deliver the desired results.

2. Bidding on keywords

After conducting keyword research, you should have a solid list of keywords you plan on targeting. The next logical step is to bid on those keywords so your ads can appear on the SERPs. Again, using a keyword search tool will prove valuable as they often include cost-per-click (CPC) averages on the keywords you plan to bid.

There are plenty of factors that affect a keyword’s bid price. Keywords with high search volumes are often expensive because of stiffer competition. For example, the keyword “insurance” costs $54.91 because it’s frequently searched by users online and provides high lifetime value to businesses.

3. Writing ad copy

The last step of implementing search engine marketing is to write copy for your ads. Your copy is what your target audience will see once your ad appears on the search engine results page and can often determine whether a user will click on your ad or not.

You can go about writing ad copy in many ways, but the main factors you should keep in mind are:

  • Be clear with what you’re trying to solve for the user. For example, if the user wants to sell their car, you can write ad copy telling the user you want to buy it from them. Mirror the user’s objective to entice them to click your ads.
  • Make your headlines attention-grabbing. You only have a few seconds to capture your audience’s attention, and a lackluster headline can result in fewer ad clicks. You can use verbs, numbers, and emotional triggers to make your ad stand out.
  • Keep your ad copy short and sweet. PPC ad copy has character limits; following this will ensure your audience will digest your message quickly.
  • Use CTAs to get users to take action. A well-placed call-to-action is crucial to maximizing your conversion rates as it encourages your audience to click on your ad.

Why should you use search engine marketing?

There are a couple of reasons businesses should include search engine marketing as part of their digital marketing strategy. Here’s why:

1. SEM boosts your conversion rates

While it’s true that marketing campaigns focus mostly on generating traffic and sales, search engine marketing can also prove beneficial for boosting your conversion rates. That’s because paid ads are directly related to conversion-focused landing pages where you can guide your leads down the sales funnel.

Paid ads help you reach marketing campaign objectives like building email lists, getting new subscribers, and even entries to contests that you may host.

2. SEM increases brand awareness

Another reason to use search engine marketing is it strengthens your brand presence online. Whether users click on your ad or not, they will still appear on the SERPs pages, thus giving your brand exposure. Users sometimes take note of brands that include search terms for competing brands as it’s natural for customers to compare brands side by side.

Overall, SEM can boost brand awareness by up to 80%, keeping you at the top of your audience’s minds when using search engines.

3. SEM gets you more foot traffic

Search engine marketing isn’t reserved for web traffic only, as it’s also effective at getting customers at your shop’s door. Local marketers use SEM to direct foot traffic to their establishments and connect with their communities. If you’re a service-oriented business, it’s worth implementing search engine marketing as it allows you to be a part of Google’s Local 3-pack.

The Local 3-pack refers to the top three business listings on search engine results pages when a user searches for a product/service near them. Brands that appear on the pack benefit from increased local traffic as it provides all the information the customer needs, like directions, contact info, and reviews.

With SEM, you can position yourself in Google’s Local 3-pack and make it easy for local customers to learn more about your business.


Marketers know how powerful search engines can drive web traffic, acquire leads, and expand brand awareness. SEM will help you maintain a strong online presence and reap the instant rewards it offers when used alongside proper SEO strategies. Hopefully, this article provides a solid introduction to search engine marketing and helps you get started on how to implement it.

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