What Is Search Engine Marketing? The Ultimate Guide to Creating an SEM Campaign

Search engine marketing (SEM) could be the key to unlocking greater success for your business. But what is search engine marketing exactly, and how can you use it to get more traffic, brand awareness, and leads?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the basics of search engine marketing and how understanding it can help you boost success. You’ll learn everything you need to know for a successful SEM campaign, from paid ad types to search engine rankings. Let’s get started!

Key Takeaways

  • Search engine marketing (SEM) is a digital marketing strategy to increase website visibility on SERPs through paid tactics.
  • Objectives of SEM include increasing website traffic, generating leads, improving brand awareness, and driving sales.
  • Types of search engine marketing include PPC advertising, CPM advertising, display advertising, and retargeting.
  • Developing an effective SEM strategy requires keyword research, compelling ad copy for Google ads (Google Adwords) or social media advertising, optimizing landing pages, and building high-quality backlinks.
  • Measuring and optimizing performance includes tracking KPIs such as CTR, CPC, conversion rate, and ROAS and testing different variations of ads and targeting options.
what is search engine marketing

Search Engine Marketing Definition

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a digital marketing strategy that aims to increase a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) using paid advertising tactics.

When people search for specific keywords or phrases related to your business, SEM helps your brand appear higher in search engine rankings. Through various paid advertising campaigns, SEM encourages clicks back to your website, increasing your visibility to potential customers. It can also help you drive more leads and brand awareness.

Search Engine Marketing Terms

  • Ad Group: A set of ads targeted to a particular keyword. Ad groups keep ads organized and improve your ad relevance. When creating an ad group, group ads together by keyword relevance. This enhances your ads’ visibility and drives more relevant traffic to your site.
  • Ad Rank: Ad rank determines your ad’s position in search engine results pages. It’s influenced by the maximum bid you’re willing to pay for a click, the quality score of your ad, and the expected impact of ad extensions and other ad formats.
  • Quality Score: This is Google’s quality and relevance rating of keywords and ads. A higher quality score leads to lower costs and better ad placement. Quality score is determined by click-through rate (CTR), ad relevance, and landing page experience.
  • Ad Auction: Ad auction is how search engines determine which ads to display based on their relevance and bid amounts. The ad auction determines the ad’s position and cost-per-click (CPC) for the winning ad. Advertisers pay only when a user clicks on their ad.
  • Negative Keywords: Negative keywords are the keywords you don’t want your ad to show up for. They help to ensure your ad is only shown to relevant audiences, preventing unnecessary ad spend. By excluding negative keywords, you can focus on driving traffic more likely to convert, improving your ROI.
  • Impressions: Impressions refer to the number of times your ad has been displayed to users, regardless of whether they clicked on it. While impressions can be a good measure of your ad’s reach, you should focus on other metrics, such as clicks and conversions, for a more accurate picture of your ad’s performance.


While SEM and SEO are often used interchangeably, they are different.

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) focuses on optimizing a website’s content and structure to improve its organic rankings in SERPs.
  • Search engine marketing (SEM) involves both paid advertising and optimization techniques.

In other words, SEM includes SEO as a subset but also encompasses other paid methods, such as pay-per-click advertising like Google ads, Bing ads, and social media advertising.

Types of Search Engine Marketing

sem campaign

You can use several search engine marketing tactics to increase your online visibility and drive website traffic. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses, and the best strategy for a given company depends on its unique goals and resources.

Pay-per-Click (PPC) Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising is a form of search engine marketing where advertisers pay each time a user clicks on one of their ads. PPC ads are typically displayed at the top and bottom of search engines and are marked as “sponsored” or “ad” to distinguish them from organic search results.

Google Ads (aka Google Adwords), Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, and Microsoft Ads are some of the most popular PPC advertising platforms.

They offer several benefits for businesses, including:

  • Quickly driving targeted traffic to websites
  • Reaching a wider audience
  • Increased social shares and engagement
  • Tracking and measuring advertising performance

One major disadvantage is that paid ads can be costly, particularly for highly competitive keywords or industries. Additionally, because PPC ads are labeled “sponsored,” some users may be less likely to click on them than organic search results.

Cost-per-Impression (CPM) Advertising

Cost-per-impression advertising involves placing ads on websites or social media platforms and paying based on the number of impressions (views) the ad receives. CPM advertising is often used to increase brand awareness or reach a broad audience rather than drive immediate conversions or sales.

CPM advertising includes traditional media like outdoor billboards and print ads in a magazine or newspapers. Online CPM may include banner ads on websites. CPM advertising increases brand awareness and reaches a large audience at a relatively low cost. Because CPM ads are typically displayed on high-traffic websites or social media platforms, they can quickly generate many impressions.

The significant downside here is you pay based on the number of impressions the ad receives rather than clicks or conversions. As such, it can be challenging to measure the direct ROI of a CPM campaign.

Display Advertising

Display advertising refers to placing visual advertisements on websites or social media platforms, such as banner ads or pop-ups. Display ads can be static or dynamic, including images, videos, or animations.

The ads are highly visual and engaging, making them a good choice for businesses looking to showcase their products or services. However, because display ads are often seen as intrusive or annoying, users may be less likely to engage with them.


Search engine retargeting involves targeting users who have previously interacted with a brand online. Retargeting allows advertisers to show ads to users who have already visited their website or engaged with their brand in some way, increasing the likelihood that these users will convert or make a purchase.

Retargeting can help keep a brand in mind for users who may have forgotten about or lost interest in a product or service. However, some users may find retargeted ads to be intrusive or annoying.

Developing an Effective SEM Strategy

Now that we’ve explored the different types of search engine marketing, let’s dive into how to develop an effective SEM strategy, from Google ads to optimizing your site for search engines.

Conduct Keyword Research

Keywords are crucial to the success of search engine marketing. They are the words and phrases that users enter into search engines when looking for information, products, or services. 

Keywords play a critical role in determining which ads are shown to which users, making it essential to conduct thorough keyword research before launching an SEM campaign.

There are several tools and techniques available for keyword research, such as: 

  • Google Ads Keyword Planner: A free tool provided by Google that allows you to search for keywords and get data on search volume and competition. 
  • Ahrefs: Ahrefs allows you to group keywords into topic clusters, compare historical data, and see backlink growth or decline over time.
  • Semrush: With Semrush, you can search for keywords and search queries to inform your search engine marketing campaigns.

Create Compelling Ad Copy

Effective ad copy is an essential component of a successful search marketing campaign. There are several characteristics that compelling ad copy should possess, including relevance, clarity, and persuasiveness. Ad copy should be tailored to the targeted keywords and relevant to the user’s search query. Clarity is also vital in ad copy, as users should be able to quickly and easily understand the message. 

To write ad copy that converts, conduct thorough keyword research to identify relevant keywords and phrases. Use these keywords to create ad copy tailored to the user’s search query. Consider including a call-to-action (CTA) that encourages users to take a specific action and test multiple ad variations to determine which performs best.

The language you use should change depending on the platform. For example, you might use humor or a more conversational tone with Facebook advertising, but a more straightforward approach might work better on Google Ads.

Optimize Landing Pages

A well-designed landing page can improve conversion rates and maximize the ROI of a search marketing campaign. There are several key elements that high-converting landing pages should possess, including a clear call-to-action, a strong headline, engaging visuals, and trust indicators.

The CTA should be prominently displayed and clearly communicate the desired action, such as “Buy Now” or “Sign Up.” Make the headline attention-grabbing and highlight the value proposition and benefits of the advertised product or service. 

To enhance landing page design and user experience, ensure the landing page is mobile-friendly, loading quickly, and has a simple and intuitive layout. Test and optimize the pages regularly to ensure they perform at their best and drive the desired results.

Build High-Quality Backlinks

Backlinks are a critical component of any successful SEM strategy. They are external links that point back to your website and help to establish your authority and relevance in the eyes of search engines.

To build high-quality backlinks, you can create valuable content that people want to share, reach out to influential bloggers or publications in your industry, or participate in online communities related to your niche.

How to Measure and Optimize SEM Performance

search engine marketing

Once you’ve implemented an SEM strategy, it’s crucial to continuously monitor and optimize your performance to ensure you’re getting the most out of your ad spend. Let’s discuss the key metrics to track in your SEM campaigns and best practices for optimizing your campaigns for maximum performance.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is crucial for evaluating the success of your SEM campaigns and making data-driven decisions to optimize your performance. By following KPIs, you’ll be able to measure the effectiveness of your ads, keywords, and landing pages and identify areas for improvement.

Here are some examples of SEM KPIs you should track:

  • Click-through rate (CTR): CTR measures the percentage of clicks an ad receives from the total number of impressions. A higher CTR indicates that your ad is relevant and engaging to users.
  • Cost per click (CPC): CPC measures the average cost you pay each time a user clicks on your ad. By monitoring your CPC, you can ensure you get the most out of your ad spend and adjust your bids accordingly.
  • Conversion rate: This measures the percentage of users who complete a desired action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form, after clicking on your ad.
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS): ROAS measures the revenue generated from your ad spend. By tracking ROAS, you can evaluate the profitability of your campaigns and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Testing and Continuous Improvement

Tracking your progress and adjusting your strategy is key to sustaining your SEM success. You can use tools like Google Analytics to monitor your website’s traffic, engagement, and conversions. You can also track your PPC campaigns’ performance and adjust your bids, ad copy, and targeting based on your data.

A/B testing is essential for optimizing SEM campaigns and improving performance over time. By testing different versions of your ad copy, landing pages, and targeting options, you can identify which variations are most effective in driving conversions and adjust your strategy accordingly.

By constantly tweaking your strategy based on your results, you can optimize your search engine marketing efforts to drive more traffic and achieve your business goals.

Final Thoughts

Search engine marketing increases online visibility, drives website traffic, and generates leads and sales. Developing an effective SEM strategy involves conducting thorough keyword research to improve search engine results and creating compelling ad copy.

Track critical KPIs, such as CTR and conversion rates, and continuously test and optimize campaigns for optimal performance in your search engine marketing strategy. From Google ads to Instagram advertising, test which platforms work the best for you to find your sweet spot and reach your ideal customers where they hang out the most.