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What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM) | Digital Guide 2023

A person utilizing a laptop for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) with a graph displayed.A person utilizing a laptop for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) with a graph displayed.

With 35% of product searches starting on Google, and the average Google search lasting only a minute, it's crucial your business's product or service appear at the top of a search engine result page (SERP) when a user is searching for it. With millions of businesses out there all competing for the same eyeballs, it’s never been more important to advertise online, and SEM is the most effective way to promote your products and grow your business.

In this article, we will introduce you to the basics of SEM and how it could benefit your business.


What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It is a type of online marketing that uses PAID tactics to gain visibility on search engine result pages (SERPs). A paid SEM strategy includes purchasing and optimizing ads on search engines as well as setting a budget that pays for the placement of ads. Not to be confused with SEO, which is another branch of search marketing. We have discussed the similarities and differences between these two terms in our previous articles here.

With SEM tactics, brands conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target the most relevant keywords for their industry, products, or services. When users search for those keywords, they see the custom ads at the top or bottom of SERPs. The brand is charged each time a user clicks on the ad. That is why this strategy is often referred to as paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. Google Ads (formerly Google Adwords) is the most commonly used search provider for this strategy. 

Search Engine Marketing

Here are some of the basics for a successful SEM strategy:

  • Conduct Keyword Research
  • Launch Google ads campaigns with a specific target audience in mind
  • Create ad groups that consist of target keyword variations
  • Write compelling and relevant ad copy using those selective keywords
  • Set an ad budget
  • Monitor metrics like clicks, impressions, click-through rates, and average cost-per-click
  • Create retargeting audiences
  • Develop targeted social media ads on appropriate networks, such as LinkedIn

Benefits of Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing – SEM can help you build a strong presence on Google search, enabling you to fully reach your business objectives. Here are some reasons why Paid Search Ads are one of the most valuable tools for any business.

Reach Your Clients Instantly

SEM is often used as a short-term strategy to quickly gain visibility for your products or services. Paid search ads can give you fast results as they allow you to reach your target customers almost instantly, compared to SEO which could take months.

Increase Brand Awareness

Google SEM Search Engine Marketing allows brands to expose their name either in the ad’s headlines, description, display URL or extension links. Therefore, these paid search ads contribute to high brand awareness, especially that they often appear on top of Google search results.

Increase Traffic Through Ad Visibility

Search Ads generally have high visibility since they appear on top of the first Search Engine Result Page (SERP), above the organic results. With the right budget, optimized bidding and appealing ad copy, you can ensure high ads visibility and therefore drive traffic to your website.

Simple Implementation and Management

Paid search ads can be created and managed pretty easily. Google Ads and other search ads platforms allow setting up a schedule for each of your campaigns, which means you can start and stop your ads at any time you want. It is also simple to set up a specified budget and designate the performance speed of your campaigns accordingly. This can help you optimize your ads and bring more traffic to your business in a short period of time with minimum budget.

Optimize Ads For The Right Target

SEM is an effective way for brands to reach a specific audience based on their search intents. You can optimize your ads to appear only to consumers who are searching using the keywords closely related to your products or services. Choosing the right keywords can broaden the chances for your ads to reach the right target.

Toggle Keyword Match Types

Google’s keywords planner tool helps you determine the most popular keywords used to search for your business. Google ads offer you multiple keywords matching types i.e. broad match, exact match, etc. based on which your ads will be served to users. By using these specific keywords in your campaigns, you can make sure that your ads reach the right audience. 

Location-based Search Ad Targeting

SEM offers you the option to target audiences based on their location. Advertisers can create ads in different languages and decide where they should appear based on the user’s geolocation; you can specify the country, the city and even a specific region anywhere in the world.

Pay Only Per Action

Your Google Search ads can be created for free, and you will only pay when someone clicks on your ad. This means that you can get free visibility and brand awareness on search engines and only get charged when somebody clicks on your ad, visiting your website. 

Place Your Ads On Competitors’ Keywords 

Every search marketer does this, it is recommended to create search ads that are triggered to appear on your competitors’ related keywords. This will secure your exposure on those keywords and eventually increase the chance to convert clients from competitors to you.

Measure Your Performance

Paid search ads give you the opportunity to test your ads’ performance and measure the results you’ve gathered for each campaign. Google Ads gives you access to in-depth data on the best performing ads in terms of impressions, clicks, Click-Through-Rate (CTR), top performing keywords, etc. Depending on your campaign goals, you can evaluate your performance and identify what you ultimately need to optimize for better performance in the future.

Google SEM

Frequently Asked Questions

What is SEM vs SEO?

The main difference between the two is that SEM drives traffic through paid advertisements, while SEO drives, monitors, and analyzes organic (unpaid) traffic. SEO is often considered the better marketing approach for long-term results. It's possible to get free traffic and take advantage of SEO. Whereas SEM only works when you pay.

Is SEO better than SEM?

SEM offer more immediate results than SEO since you can create advertising campaigns almost instantly and start getting targeted traffic. While SEO more likely will give you good rankings and traffic if you are willing to wait a long time.

What are the most popular Search Engine Marketing Platforms?

The most popular platform to do SEM is Google Ads, while Bing Ads and Yahoo Search Ads are other ones available to use. Facebook Ads and other social media ad platforms, for example, are pay-per-click platforms that do not fall under the SEM category.

What PPC means?

A pay-per-click (PPC) model is online advertising in which an advertiser pays a platform every time an advertisement link is clicked on. It's known as the cost-per-click (CPC) model. The pay-per-click model is offered primarily by search engines and social media platforms.

Is Google Ads PPC?

Google Ads is Google's pay-per-click (PPC) advertising solution. Businesses and website owners can bid on the chance to show their ads next to searches on Google.com, right when people are looking for what they have to offer

Is Google Ads free?

Signing up for an account is free. You won't pay until your customers take action, like when they click on your ad to go to your website.

Need Help Planning Search Engine Marketing Strategy for your brand?

Does your brand need help with Search Engine Marketing? Sphere Agency is here to help you gain traffic to your brand website and grow your business with strategic SEM plans. Check out our Google Ads Services for more information and contact us today.

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By Yaya Adam on April 26, 2023


Sphere is a digital agency that helps brands create meaningful relationships with today’s highly-connected consumers. Based in Bangkok, Thailand, we offer end to end digital solutions built on strategy and driven by data.

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