What is SEM? (Applied Search Engine Marketing)

It’s usual to wonder, “What is SEM?” Digital marketing terms can sound alike or have identical definitions. This post willWhat is SEM? clarify all confusion.

We’ll be discussing the importance of search engine marketing (SEM) and the best practices for executing successful paid search marketing strategies.

What is SEM?

SEM (search engine marketing) is the practice of using paid strategies
to increase search visibility. It has referred to both paid and search engine optimization in the past. Now, however, search engine marketing almost always refers to paid SEO.

SEM is where brands pay to have their ads appear as search results in search engine result pages (SERPs). They also choose targeted keywords so that when someone searches for those terms, they will see an advertisement from the brand. The brand only gets charged if the user clicks on an ad.

You can find paid search advertisements on any search result page. They are at the top and bottom respectively of the page.

To answer the question of “What is SEM?” you need to understand how it differs from other terms related to search marketing.

Search Marketing

This is any tactic used to increase brand visibility and get brands to appear more often in search. It can include either an organic SEO strategy or a paid SEM campaign.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization or SEO uses tactics to improve search engine visibility. SEO is not like SEM tactics that charge for placement on SERPs. Best practices for SEO attract search engine results and gain prominent organic search placements. Organic search results do NOT have an “Ad” label on them.

Results from organic searches

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketing

When you are trying to answer the question of “What is SEM?” another term is pay-per-click marketing or PPC.

Pay-Per-Click is a paid advertising strategy that allows a brand to create a digital advertisement and get charged every time someone clicks it. PPC ads that appear in search results are considered SEM.

PPC strategies that people use on channels other than search are not considered SEM. You can use PPC for digital ads, such as promoted tweets or Facebook Ads. PPC includes Google display ads. Brands get charged each time a user clicks on banner ads on websites.

PPC is an SEM tactic. However, it’s also a type of social media marketing.

Next, we’ll look at SEM fundamentals such as the platforms and techniques relevant to paid search engine marketing.

SEM PlatformsSEM Platforms

These refer to a search engine through which a brand can display advertisements when users search.

Google Ads is the most well-known. Billions of users conduct Google searches every day. It can help you reach the most significant online audience.

Bing Ads claims to connect with 3 million more searches than Google. It helps you reach searchers who only use Google to search by placing ads on partner sites like Yahoo! and MSN.

Types of SEM Keywords

SEM keywords refer to the terms and phrases you want to target with your search engine marketing campaigns. Users will see your ads when they search for those keywords. Your ad might appear when a user searches the keyword “virtual assistant,” for example.

The keywords you want to target are the ones you select when setting up an SEM marketing campaign.

Broad match keywords target variants of a term. This could include synonyms, singular or plural forms of the term, misspellings, and stemming. If a campaign targets the broad match keyword, virtual assistance, it may also target virtual associates, online assistants, and virtual teams.

Phrase match keyword phrases target the exact phrase and any phrases that contain words before or after the target keywords. If you target the phrase match keyword virtual assistance, your campaign could also target the best virtual helper, locate a virtual helper, and hire one.

Keywords that closely match the target term are called exact match keywords. These include misspellings, singular and plural forms, stemming, abbreviations, re-ordered words, and paraphrases.

Negative keywords exclude terms you don’t want. They include variations of the broad phrase and exact keywords that you do not want to use in your campaign. These terms might be semantically related to your keywords but not to the search intent of the target keyword, your campaign, and ad copy.

Negative keywords may include virtual assistant salary, virtual assistant training, and other terms related to a virtual assistant. If the advert were to target companies looking for virtual assistants, then the intent for these terms would be irrelevant.

SEM Targeting

Keyword targeting tells search platforms when to display your ads. SEM targeting goes one step further. You can set additional parameters to determine when and who you should show your ad.

You can target people based on their location to show ads only to them.

Ad schedule targeting allows ads to be shown only at certain times or on specific days of the week.

Demographic targeting is a way to show ads only to specific demographic groups based on their age and gender.

Device targeting is a way to show ads only to people who use specific devices like mobile phones, desktops, tablets.

Structure of an SEM Account

Account structure refers to how you organize and set up your SEM campaign. It allows you to group keywords and relevant themes to create campaigns within an account.

Structure of the AdWords accountStructure of a SEM plan

Keywords and Ads: Every ad campaign has its set of keywords and ads. A maximum of three ads per group and not more than 20 keywords is recommended. One example is that an ad campaign targeting virtual assistants full-time might have ads created and keywords used.

Ad Groups: You can use Ad groups to break down a campaign into specific themes. There are usually only a few ad groups for campaigns. It is best to limit the number of ad units per campaign from seven to ten.

One example is a campaign that targets virtual assistants. It might have two advertising groups, one targeting part-time and one targeting full-time virtual assistants.

Campaigns: These are the most crucial level of an account. Each campaign has its budget, goal, bid strategy, and targeting settings. Campaigns help group accounts into more significant themes related to specific products or services.

Create Compelling Ads

A successful SEM campaign should entice searchers into clicking on the ad. When creating your ads, follow these tips to get more searchers to click on the results.

In the ad copy, use the keyword. Communicate to your reader the benefit or solution that you are offering. If applicable, include promotions and prices.

Include a clear call for action. Make use of ad extensions.


High-quality scores help your SEM ads appear more often at a lower click & tweet cost. Incorporate target keywords into your ad copy, landing page, and ad copy to increase your Quality Score. This will let SEM platforms know that your ad copy and destination URL align with the searcher’s intent. This results in a higher Quality Score.

It may seem a little technical to set up for the first time but it really is simple and you will get lots of help from the ad platform that you choose as they want you to succeed.

Let me know how it goes for you and leave a comment if you would like to say hi or ask a question. Thanks for visiting.

If you are considering creating your first website business and need some help, read about my #1 Recommendation where you can host a website and learn all the tricks of being successful. Start today for free and I’ll be there to mentor you!

Warm Regards,

Lily Munday

Spread the love

6 thoughts on “What is SEM? (Applied Search Engine Marketing)”

  1. As a novice in affiliate marketing, I really find articles like this very very helpful. I have known about SEM before but never explained in this much detail like it was done here. It is indeed a very solid strategy for earning good. Thanks for this article, it was really helpful

  2. Allow me to say that I am new to the world of Affiliate marketing, so I have little to offer in the ways of experience.  However, I can offer this.  Before seeing your article, I never knew SEM, but I had heard of SEO through Wealthy Affiliate.  I now understand SEO a little better.  As I scroll to the end of the page, however, it does feel like I’m scrolling forever, and the font seems rather large. It could just be me, though. Overall, I think your page is excellent, and it’s helped me out in learning as well.

    • It is a journey that we all take Nick. Learning about SEO is one part of the picture and when you are ready to learn about paying for promotion you will need to understand SEM.

  3. I don’t think that this tool should be used for beginners. Actually, I don’t think that any tool that requires you to pay some sort of money should be used by any beginner. Also because a beginner would not have much articles on their site so they should not drive traffic as yet 

    • I agree with you, Daniel. This article isn’t about a tool for a beginner. As you can see it is to explain how you can use PPC marketing down the line to drive traffic to your website, once you have built it. This is an advanced technique for people with a budget for promotion.


Leave a Comment