What Is Search Engine Marketing?

If you want to give your business a boost and get it noticed by more potential customers, you should definitely consider search engine marketing (SEM). This powerful tool can help increase your visibility on search engines like Google and Bing. How? By making it easier for people to find your business when they're searching for products or services like yours.

In this article, you'll explore SEM, how it differs from SEO, how to set up your SEM campaign, and how to measure success. Let’s dive in.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing, often abbreviated as SEM, is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on increasing a website's visibility on the SERP through paid advertising. 

Here is what search engine marketing campaigns look like:

Unlike SEO, which involves optimizing a website to rank organically in search results, SEM basically involves paying for ad placement to drive traffic to a website.

SEM vs. SEO: What’s the difference?

SEM and SEO are both strategies used to improve a website's visibility in search engine results, but they differ in several key ways:


  • Involves paid advertising
  • Provides immediate results
  • Allows for precise targeting and control over ad placement


  • Involves organic strategies to improve rankings
  • Takes time to see the results
  • Relies on optimizing website content and structure

How does SEM work?

Search engine marketing works on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis. Advertisers bid on keywords that match their business. When a user types in a search query that matches the advertiser's chosen keywords, the ad appears in the sponsored listings section of the search results. Advertisers only pay when a user clicks on their ad. This makes search engine marketing a money-saving way to attract new customers – if set up correctly, of course.

There are different types of search engine marketing campaigns to target specific audiences and achieve marketing goals:

  • Search сampaigns: Text ads displayed in search engine results based on relevant keywords. These ads appear above or somewhere in the middle of organic search results and are labeled as "sponsored."
  • Display сampaigns: Image or text ads displayed on websites within the Google Display Network. This network includes millions of websites, blogs, and apps where advertisers can reach their target audience with visually engaging ads.
  • Shopping сampaigns: Product ads displayed in search results for e-commerce businesses. These ads showcase products with images, prices, and other relevant information directly in the search results. Shopping ads make it easier for users to find and purchase products.
  • Video сampaigns: Video ads displayed on YouTube or other video-sharing platforms. These ads can appear before, during, or after videos, as well as in search results and on YouTube's homepage. These ads help advertisers reach a highly engaged audience with video content.
  • Local Service Ads: Ads displayed for local businesses in specific geographic locations. These ads appear at the top of search results when users look for local services, such as plumbers, electricians, or locksmiths. These ads make it easy for users to find and contact businesses in their area.

What SEM tools and resources will you need?

Here are some cool tools to level up your search engine marketing game:

1. Google Ads Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner helps you find the right keywords and estimate the number of people searching for them. It's great for researching keywords and generating ideas for your campaigns.

2. Google Analytics

Google Analytics gives you insights into how people are using your website. You can track user behavior, see where your traffic is coming from, and find out how well your campaigns are performing.

3. SEO PowerSuite 

SEO PowerSuite is perfect for doing keyword research, analyzing your competitors, and optimizing your website for search engines. It's a must-have for anyone serious about SEM and SEO.

Download SEO SpyGlass

How do you set up your SEM campaign step-by-step?

1. Set up a Google Ads account

To get started with SEM, you'll need to create a Google Ads account. Simply visit the Google Ads website and sign up for an account using your email address and website URL. 

Once your account is set up, you'll need to provide billing information, such as a credit card or bank account, to fund your ad campaigns.

2. Develop campaign structure

Before launching your SEM campaign, it's essential to define your campaign objectives and set specific goals. Are you looking to drive website traffic, generate leads, or increase sales? 

Once you've established your objectives, you'll need to set a budget for your campaign and determine how you want to allocate your budget across different targeting options, such as keywords, demographics, or interests.

3. Run keyword research

Keywords are the foundation of any search engine marketing campaign, as they determine when and where your ads will appear in search results. 

To find the right keywords for your campaign, start by brainstorming a list of relevant terms and phrases related to your products or services. 

Then, use keyword research tools like Google Ads Keyword Planner or SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker (which offers 20+ keyword research methods including Keyword Planner) to identify additional keywords with high search volume and low competition.

Download Rank Tracker

Tip: Look for relevant keywords with commercial and transactional intent while doing your research to get real profit. 

4. Write a compelling ad copy

The success of your SEM campaign depends on the quality of your ad copy. To create compelling ad text, focus on writing clear, concise headlines that grab the reader's attention. 

Clearly communicate the benefits of your products or services. Here are a couple of essential rules to follow:

  • Highlight your unique selling proposition (USP). Your ad should clearly show what sets your product or service apart from competitors. Focus on what makes your offering unique and valuable to the customer. For example, your headline can be "Get 50% Off Our Organic Skincare Products!" and the description "Experience the power of natural ingredients. Shop our organic skincare line now for radiant, healthy skin."
  • Use clear call-to-action (CTA). Directly instruct the audience on what action to take next. Use strong verbs to prompt engagement and clearly state the benefit of clicking on the ad. For example, the title can be "Transform Your Workspace Today!" and the description "Discover ergonomic office solutions for enhanced productivity. Shop now and enjoy free shipping on orders over $50."
  • Emphasize benefits over features. Focus on how your product or service solves the customer's problem or fulfills their needs rather than listing its features. Highlighting benefits resonates more with potential customers. For example, the headline can be "Stay Comfortable All Year Round!" and the description "Our energy-efficient HVAC systems keep your home cozy in winter and cool in summer. Invest in year-round comfort for your family today.”

5. Optimize your landing page

Once users click on your ads, they should be directed to a landing page that provides a seamless and relevant user experience. 

To optimize your landing page SEO-wise, make sure to read and follow our SEO Guide to a Perfectly Optimized Landing Page. This way, you ensure that your copy is both search engine and user-friendly. 

Also, it’s worth optimizing your landing page for conversions. Ensure that the pages align with your ad messaging and offer clear calls to action that prompt users to take the desired action (like making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or contacting your business).

6. Exclude negative keywords

Negative keywords are search terms that you don't want your ads to appear for. 

By identifying and excluding negative keywords from your SEM campaigns, you can improve ad targeting and ensure that your ads only appear for relevant search queries. 

For example, if you sell luxury watches, you may want to exclude terms like "cheap" or "affordable" from your ads to prevent them from appearing for users looking for lower-priced options.

7. Launch your SEM campaign

Once you've completed the setup and optimization steps, it's time to launch your search engine marketing campaign. 

Before hitting the launch button, double-check all your settings to ensure everything is in place. Review your ad copy, keywords, targeting options, and budget allocation to make sure they align with your campaign objectives.

After launching your campaign, monitor its performance.

How do you measure SEM campaign success?

It's essential to use the right tools and techniques to measure the success of your search engine marketing campaigns effectively.

One of the most commonly used tools for tracking search engine marketing campaign performance is Google Analytics. 

With Google Analytics, you can monitor various metrics, including traffic sources, user behavior, and conversion rates, providing valuable insights into the effectiveness of your campaigns. 

Plus, Google Ads provides its own set of tools for tracking and optimizing SEM campaigns, such as the Google Ads dashboard. There, you can analyze key performance metrics and make adjustments to your campaigns in real-time.

Key metrics to track in SEM campaigns are the following:

  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of users who click on your ads after seeing them.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of users who take a desired action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form, after clicking on your ads.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): The average amount you pay for each click on your ads.
  • Return on Ad Spend (ROAS): The ratio of revenue generated to advertising spend.
  • Quality Score: A metric used by search engines to evaluate the relevance and quality of your ads and landing pages.

By keeping an eye on these metrics and checking how your campaigns are performing, you can figure out what you need to improve and make smart choices to make your SEM strategy even better.

How to Track SEO Results: KPIs and Tools Learn more

How can A/B testing be used in SEM?

A/B testing, also called split testing, involves comparing two different versions of an ad or landing page to see which one works better. 

To enhance your SEM campaigns, you can test various elements, such as headlines, ad copy, or landing page designs. 

For example, you can try testing two different headlines to see which one gets more clicks or two different landing page designs to see which one converts more visitors into customers. 

What are the SEM best practices & expert tips?

The first thing you need to remember is that SEM is an ongoing process, so it's important to test different ad creatives, targeting options, and bidding strategies to get the best results. 

Keep your keyword lists up-to-date and relevant to your business, and regularly review and update your negative keyword lists to ensure that your ads only appear for relevant search queries. 

Also, use ad extensions like sitelinks, callouts, and reviews to provide users with more information about your business and increase the visibility of your ads. 

Lastly, stay informed about industry trends and updates to search engine algorithms to ensure that your campaigns remain effective.

Do you really need SEM for business success?

SEM is a big deal in today's crowded digital landscape. It helps businesses stand out and attract potential customers. 

Search engine marketing has many benefits, including increased visibility and brand awareness, targeted advertising to specific demographics, and the ability to track performance and ROI in real-time. 

SEO ROI – How to Measure and Forecast SEO Revenue Learn more

SEM also gives you the flexibility to adjust your campaigns on the fly to ensure you are achieving the best possible results. By investing in search engine marketing, you can get a competitive advantage over your competitors, who rely solely on organic traffic.

It doesn't matter if you're a small local business or a big online store, SEM can help you reach the people you want to reach and get more customers.


How much does SEM cost?

It depends. The cost of search engine marketing varies depending on how competitive your industry is, how popular your keywords are, and what your campaign goals are. 

You set your budget and pay for each click on your ads. The cost per click (CPC) can be anything from a few cents to several USD, depending on how competitive the keywords are and how good your ads are.

How long does it take to see results from SEM?

Search engine marketing can bring in more website traffic and conversions right away, but it might take some time to fine-tune your campaigns and achieve the best performance. 

You should start seeing some initial results within a few days or weeks of launching your SEM campaigns, but it could take several months to optimize your campaigns and get the most bang for your buck.

Is SEM suitable for small businesses?

Absolutely! Search engine marketing can be super effective for small businesses that want to get more online visibility and attract more customers. With careful planning and budgeting, even businesses with limited resources can benefit from SEM. 

By targeting specific keywords and demographics, small businesses can reach their target audience and compete with bigger competitors.


Search engine marketing is a super powerful digital marketing tool that can help businesses boost their online presence and drive traffic to their websites. 

With SEM, you can get measurable results and stay ahead in today's competitive online world. It doesn't matter whether you're a small business or a big one, search engine marketing is a cost-effective way to reach potential customers and grow your business online. 

You just need to be smart with the types of campaigns you run, do thorough keyword research, write ads that really grab people's attention, make sure your landing pages are top-notch, and measure your success with analytics. 

If you do all that, you can maximize the effectiveness of your SEM efforts and achieve your marketing goals.

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