After search engine optimisation, the next level of your SEO strategy will be search engine marketing or SEM.

Whereas SEO is the organic, unpaid strategy to boost traffic to your website and online content, SEM is the paid method of promoting your website to increase visibility. This paid advertising is the primary way search engines make their money.

Although SEM and SEO complement each other they are not the same nor should SEM be confused with pay per click (PPC), still with me? ( I give myself a headache sometime too).

SEM is not simply about search engine advertising, it includes a number of other aspects, such as branding, sales and customer service.

Like SEO, you can also carry out search engine marketing yourself, in-house, or by using an advertising agency with experience in this type of digital marketing.

If you read my SEO guide then you may remember that Danny Sullivan first coined the term “search engine optimisation”, well four years later in 2001, he went on to coin the term Search Engine Marketing.

So, how does it work?

SEM works in a similar way to SEO but instead of businesses altering their digital content to increase traffic using keywords or phrases, in SEM, a search engine will charge a fee for a website to be included in the search results page. You will usually see these at the top of pages with “sponsored” under the title and aptly so, are referred to as sponsored listings.

Like SEO, keywords form the basis of a successful SEM strategy. First, a business will identify the keywords or phrases that relate to their advertising campaign and will then attempt to purchase the permissions for these within a search engine. If these same keywords match those a user might use to search for a particular service or product and it happens to be what the business is offering, then the user will be shown the sponsored listing (advertisement) in the search listings.

In short, SEM is paying to advertise your website as a product or service, and usually takes traffic to your homepage. SEO is used to organically increase traffic to a specific area or piece of content, this could be a page on your website, a product or service landing page or in most cases, a blog post.

For a potential SEM campaign, identifying relevant keywords is not as simple as selecting relevant keywords and using them, in order for a business to obtain a keyword they will first need to go through what is known as an ad auction.

Ad Auction

An ad auction is the process in which a business obtains the right to use a specific keyword or phrase.

It works by a business indicating which keywords or search terms they want to use and how much they will pay to use them, on a pay per click basis. If the business/website is then deemed as being within a user’s search terms then are placed into the auction.

Although money does play a role, it is not always the highest bidder that gets the keyword and when certain ads are used is dependant on the maximum bid and quality score.

The quality score, is indicated by the overall quality of the ad. The higher the score the better it ranks.

Quality score ranking works in a similar way to SEO, taking into account how the website functions, how well it loads, and how easy it is to use.

The benefits of using Search Engine Marketing.

When used properly, the use of SEM as a digital marketing strategy is a huge benefit to a business.

As well as, allowing a business to control who is viewing ads and where they may be placed, it can also bring about an increase in traffic almost immediately and over time.

Cost control

Another big benefit to of using SEM is cost control because the business can easily manage and control how SEM is allocated by setting budgets to determine how much should be spent per day whilst taking advantage on specific times and demographics. A direct result of this management and the fact that paid listings provide substantial data about the users, providing a direct link between the amount of money spent and its return on investment.

Also, because paid advertisements generate an increase in traffic it will actually help improve the SEO of a business too.

Finally, SEM can also increase brand awareness, whether a user clicks on the business’s link or not, the fact that it is more often present at the top of search engine listings it generally sticks in the mind of users, particularly if it is viewed repeatedly, leading to the brand becoming familiar and the increasing the perception of trustworthiness.

What about the risks?

Whilst there are a number of advantages, there are also a few things to watch out for when using SEM and the following should be considered:

When it comes to an SEM strategy, there are alot of steps involved in creating a well executed plan. Again, managing these campaigns takes a lot of time as well as, experience for them to be successful. To ensure an SEM strategy doesn’t fail before it has even begun there are a number of things that need to be considered, i.e. choosing the right search engine, selecting the right keywords and demographic etc.

On top of that, the amount of competition one needs to break through is exhausting. With the ever-increasing pressure to get to the top of the listings, higher competition equals higher costs.

Finally, the rising use of ad blockers to prevent pop-up ads and other types of advertisements can make SEM more ineffective resulting in higher cost for lower return on investment.

And what about Pay per click?

Pay per click is a way to implement search engine marketing and is the process of bidding on keywords used in searches. Also known as paid search marketing, PPC is more controlled in that a user is directed to a specific section of a website. Nor is it exclusive to search engines as it can also be found within a website and used to transfer a user to a landing page found on another site. Think google adwords, facebook and linkedin.

How does PPC work?

Again, like SEO and SEM, it works through keyword matching but with PPC, ad space is achieved through either flat rate or bid rate methods.

Basically, flat rate PPC is when a predetermined amount has been set for each click of an advertisement, leading users to a website. Bid rate, however, is usually carried out via an advertising agency. A business provides them with the information and the amount they are allowed to bid and the agency then enters auctions for PPC placement.

The results of PPC advertising are instant and easily measurable and is the quickest method of gaining high-quality traffic, combine that with the fact that a business only has to pay when a user clicks on an advertisement means that it can be an excellent way to experiment without the burden of high financial investment. The other great thing about PPC is the ability of a business to control the marketing efforts.

The downside of PPC is that, when it’s not managed properly, it often leads to junk traffic especially if the search criteria is not aligned with the advertisement being shown, this can lead to a higher volume of traffic but from users that aren’t your target market. 

If you haven’t already, head on over to Your Guide To Search Engine Optimisation for some easy to implement tips for search engine optimisation.

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