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Many of you may be wondering: what is search engine marketing (SEM)? Most of us have heard about search engine optimization (SEO) but are unfamiliar with SEM.

Both SEO and SEM are important parts of the digital marketing world, making it vital you understand exactly what SEM is, and the difference between it and SEO.

Let’s jump into SEM and what it stands for so we can understand and use it in our marketing.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Defined

We’ve included a definition for SEM you might find helpful. “SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.” – Source: BruceClay

You can identify target keywords or phrases that your website or specified website content will show up for on a search engine. This is regardless of your organic ranking for that keyword or phrase. 

Paid Search

SEM is also known as “paid search” because it is simply paying to show up in a very specific consumer online search. Online marketers who utilize SEM get instant search impressions on their desired keywords and phrases, putting them directly in the search discovery path of their target consumers and audiences. 

How does SEM truly work? 

Let us walk you through it:

If your business wanted to market a product or service online through SEM they would first need to identify what their target consumers are looking for in their organic search. We like to call this reverse engineering the search.

Second, once you have determined the best target keywords and phrases, you would login to a search engine ad platform (such as Google Ad Words) and set up your SEM using those keywords. 

Third, when setting up your SEM you will narrow down your target demographics, set your budget, and determine the call to action and KPI for the SEM efforts. 
It is important to understand SEM is not a one-size-fits-all advertising method. Most search engine ad platforms have many options you can choose from. Some of the more common are:

SEM is available on search engines like Bing, Google, Yahoo, Safari, and many more. Businesses “pay for their adverts to appear alongside queries in search engine results.” SEM “offers advertisers the opportunity to put their ads in front of motivated customers who are ready to buy at the precise moment they’re ready to make a purchase.” Source: Marketing Business News

What’s the difference between paid search (SEM) and organic (SEO) search? 

SEM is a paid digital advertising tool used for paid reach and impression alongside organic search, while SEO is used for organic search results. This means you can not pay to show up as a top SEO result. That takes content and website optimization. 

SEM requires a designated budget. While SEO can require an investment of time and money, it can be done in house. It’s important to note that SEM can be pretty expensive if not managed properly. As long as you budget effectively with your team while considering the best target search options for your company, SEM may be a great option for you. 

SEM and Paid Social Media Marketing 

SEM relies on clicks, search engines, and search results, and paid social marketing puts your ads, campaigns, and posts on their apps and or platforms for their users to see. Both have many benefits and can be helpful to you and your marketing team. 


Here’s why: visibility for your company’s website can be improved with SEM ads. 

These paid ads, depending on your target audience’s interest, can lead to generating more revenue for your business. In other words, SEM will keep your audiences coming back for more. 

Paid social marketing leads audiences into making quick decisions and purchases. If a consumer sees an ad with a product that they have been considering, your paid social ads can recommend that product on their platform. Then it becomes an easy purchase decision and click of a button to purchase the product or service directly from their social media experience. 

SEM and Visual Ads

In the same way that paid social marketing utilizes media content, SEM can be used with media visuals as well. Incorporating inviting graphics draws audiences in so that they pay attention and ultimately click on your ad link. 

For example, if you’re shopping for a friend’s birthday, Amazon might recommend a couple of ideas to you on the right side of your search engine. 

Seeing that SEM offers impressive features for marketing professionals, we also have plenty of resources for in-depth content regarding SEO.

If you’re wanting to know more about how SEO works, check out these posts:

Understanding Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Improve Your SEO by Only Updating Your Copy!

Reverse Engineering the Search – End User Approach to Digital Marketing

How To Get Started with Keyword Research

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