Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a strategy for increasing site visibility and traffic using tactics like SEO and paid digital ads. It grows a business by generating brand awareness and driving traffic to a well-designed site, meaning every business looking to leverage its site as a sales tool to grow should consider using SEM.
However, before focusing your time and budget on SEM, make sure that your website is high-quality. Otherwise, SEM efforts will be for not as it doesn’t matter how highly your site ranks and how much traffic it gets if the website fails to serve as a sales tool to convert visitors. Get an expertly-built site from Hibu at an affordable price and turn your site into a sales machine.
SEM vs SEO
SEO is a component of SEM, though SEM is not the same as SEO. While both share the goal of increasing website search visibility, SEO is a long-term strategy to building a website that search engines such as Google deem it a good search result and therefore rank it highly in search results. On the other hand, SEM is both a short-term and long-term marketing strategy to improve search ranking using both SEO and PPC advertising. Learn more about SEO.
SEM vs PPC
While PPC, or pay-per-click advertising, is a part of SEM, SEM and PPC are two different forms of marketing. PPC advertising is a short-term strategy for getting found in search results that involves creating digital ads that are triggered primarily by keywords. SEM is the process of seeking to increase site visibility and page ranking by using PPC and SEO strategies together.
4 Elements of SEM
SEM is comprised of four main elements: search engine optimization, paid search or PPC advertising, and website and landing page optimization. Collectively, these four elements work to create a sustainable strategy for getting found in search quickly and in the long term in a cost-effective way.
Here are the four main elements of SEM:
- SEO: Search engine optimization is the process of strategically building a website so that search engines can read or crawl them and recognize them as a good research result for specific keywords or search terms. SEO is a process that takes time, making it a good long-term strategy for building site visibility in search.
- PPC: Pay-per-click advertising is the process of creating paid ads that display alongside top search results based on keywords. It gives businesses a way to quickly rank in search results on keywords that their site does not currently rank for, making it a good short-term strategy for building brand awareness.
- Landing pages: A landing page is a unique webpage that is designed specifically for a paid ad campaign. In order words, users who click an ad will be directed to “land” on the corresponding landing page, which serves as a sales tool to help reinforce the ad’s message and drive conversions.
- Website optimization: It’s not enough to build a site. Businesses need to continually work to improve or optimize their website so that it ranks higher in search engine results. Even those with top-ranking pages still must work to maintain their rank.
Businesses use these four elements of SEM together to build a well-rounded strategy for increasing website rankings. By doing so, businesses are able to generate exposure and website quickly and sustainably, creating an effective long-term strategy. Keep in mind, using SEM effectively also means having a high-quality website. Otherwise, no matter how much traffic your site gets, it won’t generate leads or sales.
How SEM Works
Search engine marketing works by collectively using different digital marketing channels to gain search visibility and to increase website traffic. It involves both search engine optimization (SEO), which is a slow-growth and long-term strategy, as well as pay-per-click advertising, which is a fast-growth, yet high-cost strategy along with on-going landing page optimizations. When used in conjunction, businesses reach their SEM goals quickly and sustainably.
Businesses begin the SEO process by building a website that can be crawled and considered a good search result in organic search results. To do this, businesses conduct keyword research to find the best keywords to use. These are then built into the site copy so that search engines read the site and identify it as a relevant and high-quality result. Businesses will also work to build domain authority, quality links, online reputation, and to decrease their bounce rate.
SEO is a process that takes time to yield results. So, to rank in search results before SEO efforts kick in, businesses use PPC advertising to land alongside the top of search results. PPC ad platforms such as Google Ads or Microsoft Ads are self-service platforms where businesses can create their own accounts and build out their PPC ad campaigns. While PPC advertising is considered cost-effective, it can get costly, so it’s used as a short-term method to gain exposure.
Reasons to Use SEM
SEM is a smart marketing strategy that comes with a lot of benefits. Ultimately, what SEM does, when used effectively, is enable your business website to become a useful marketing tool that generates leads, sales, and conversions. In the process of achieving this, SEM helps sites rank highly in search engine results pages (SERP), in return, building brand awareness, better competing against the competition, and increasing site traffic.
Here are the top five reasons to use SEM:
- Rank highly in search results
- Build brand awareness
- Compete against top competitors
- Increase website traffic
- Generate sales
There are a number of reasons to use SEM as part of your overall marketing strategy. However, it doesn’t matter how effective your SEM efforts are if your site is not high-quality. Those that overlook the quality of their site may find that SEM will lead to higher search rankings and increased site traffic without an increase in leads or sales. That said, businesses should analyze their site and seek to make it the best sales tool possible before focusing on SEM.
How to Use Search Engine Marketing in 7 Steps
To use search engine marketing, or SEM, start by conducting keyword research and finding the best keywords for your business and market. Use that to guide your SEM strategy and determine how much of your marketing budget to allocate to SEO vs PPC. Then, optimize your website to get found in search, create business profiles, get reviews, build paid search ad campaigns, and finally, monitor and optimize your site, landing pages and ads over time.
Here’s how to use SEM and get found online in seven steps:
1. Conduct Keyword Research
The first step to using SEM is to research keywords, which in other words are the search terms people use in search engines. By doing so, you will be able to determine which keywords are best for your business and which you want to target, how difficult those keywords are to rank for in organic search engine results pages, or SERP, and their average cost-per-click in paid search. This information will set the stage for your SEM strategy and budget allocation.
Get Search Volume & Keyword Difficulty
Keywords are a leading factor in how search engines such as Google determine if your site is a good search result for certain search terms. Start by thinking about the search terms people would use to find your business in search. Make a list of these keywords, and use a keyword research tool such as Ubersuggest to get info such as search volume and difficulty rating. Ideally, you want keywords with high volume and low difficulty, but without sacrificing relevance.
For example, a new dental practice in Chicago recently is looking to use SEM to build awareness and get more patients. It researches keywords such as “dentists in Chicago,” “pediatric dentists near me,” and “professional teeth whitening in Chicago.”
Get Google Ads CPC Estimates
With your selected keywords, the next step is to find cost-per-click estimates. While keyword research tools such as Ubersuggest provide CPC estimates, Google Ads will provide more accurate CPC data. Use the free Google Keyword Planner to get a clearer idea of how much you will need to spend to get found using paid search. This information can guide how you choose to allocate your marketing budget between SEO and PPC later on.
Following the same example, the dental practice uses the Google Keyword Planner to find estimated CPC data within its area. In order to get CPC data for targeted locations, navigate to the “Locations” and select the areas in which you want your ads to display, whether that be one specific city, a handful of states, or the entire US.
2. Develop an SEM Strategy
After conducting keyword research, the next step is to develop an SEM strategy. This includes researching and identifying the keywords you want your site to rank for in search, as well as which channels you want to pursue based on your goals, budget, and audience. Consider your budget and how much of it you want to allocate to SEO vs PPC. Also, consider which PPC advertising platforms best suit your target audience.
While many businesses trying SEM for the first time split their budget equally between SEO and PPC, you should consider how difficult your keywords are to rank organically, how well your site currently ranks for those keywords, the average CPC for your keywords in paid search, and whether you would rather build your ranking more quickly in the near term or more sustainably in the long term.
For example, the dental practice has an SEM budget of $2,000. It needs to start getting new patients and it has a below-average estimated CPC at just $2.12 for its primary keyword “dentists in Chicago,” so it decides to allocate 70% of its budget to PPC and the remaining 30% to SEO to grow its ranking in the long term.
3. Optimize Your Site for Search
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website to get found—and to rank highly—in search engine results. With your keywords in mind, start by writing site copy that includes your keywords through your site pages. By doing so, search engines will associate your site with those keywords. Add your keywords to your webpage headers, the body of the text, menu (if possible), and meta descriptions.
SEO doesn’t end with keywords. There are also a number of other aspects. For example, if you haven’t done so already, design your site for user experience. In other words, consider a user’s journey through your site and check that your site flows logically to drive someone through your sales funnel. Also, make your site responsive and mobile-friendly, and follow Google’s site guidelines to rank highly.
4. Create Online Profiles
Next, create profiles on online directories. The reason for this is twofold. First, when people search for your business, your site and profiles will appear in results. Otherwise, search engines may provide other businesses and irrelevant sites. The second reason is that directories give you a way to get found by those who aren’t aware of your business, and in return, drive traffic to your site. The more traffic you have, the more your site is seen as a quality search result.
Here are the leading online directories for businesses:
- Google My Business (GMB): GMB is a free local listing directory from Google that is best for businesses with a physical address. Learn how to create a Google My Business account with step-by-step instructions.
- Bing Places: Similar to GMB, Bing Places is Bing’s version of a local listing directory for businesses with a physical address.
- Yahoo: This is Yahoo’s version of a business directory where small businesses can add or claim their business listing for free.
- LinkedIn: Every business should create a free business profile on the world’s largest professional social network, LinkedIn. Aside from creating a profile, businesses can use LinkedIn to network with fellow professionals in their industry, which can be an effective marketing tool.
- Yelp: Nearly any type of service business is a good candidate for a Yelp business listing, from restaurants and bars to plumbers and pet groomers. People look to Yelp to find the best services for a plethora of service-based businesses near them. Learn more about using Yelp for business.
- Foursquare: Foursquare is an online city guide that users go to in order to find the best local offerings, whether that’s the best comedy clubs or cheese shops in a city.
- TripAdvisor: Geared toward providing travel tips and insider information, TripAdvisor is the best platform for businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries.
- Yellow Pages: Once a printed phonebook that was a staple across American households, the Yellow Pages are now an online business directory. Like the original version, it’s best for brick-and-mortar businesses, from animal hospitals and auto mechanics to funeral services and private investigators.
- Chamber of Commerce: The ChamberofCommerce.com has an online business directory where any type of business can create a listing for free.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB): The BBB is a public business directory that every business should have a profile on. While it’s not a platform that will generate leads or sales, it is one that can have a strong impact on your business’s reputation.
- Alignable: Alignable is a small business networking site. It’s similar to LinkedIn, but it’s based on location and serves to help businesses network with fellow businesses. It’s a great platform for those in B2B industries.
- Angie’s List: Angie’s List is a directory for home and health services. Businesses can create a listing for free and get connected to users who search for their service-type.
- HomeAdvisor: HomeAdvisor is a home repair and improvement directory geared toward connecting homeowners and those that offer home services such as carpentry or pool installation.
- Houzz: Similar to HomeAdvisor, Houzz is a home design site where businesses in architecture, interior design, landscaping, and general home improvement can create a business listing and gain a good deal of exposure to those seeking your specific service offerings.
- AngelList: AngelList is a startup and tech directory. Businesses list on it in order to connect with venture capitalists, source job seekers, and to increase search visibility.
Consider which platforms and directories best fit your business and the services and products it offers. You do not need to create a listing on every single possible option, but rather create a handful of listings on the directories that are the most relevant to your business. This will help your business not only generate traffic but generate high-quality traffic that keeps visitors on your site and generates conversions. This helps search engines see your site as a good result.
5. Get Reviews
One of the benefits of having online profiles on directory sites and social networks is that most of them enable customer reviews. Search engines and these platforms, whether it’s Google or Yelp, will consider a business’s average rating and the number of reviews it has to determine its ranking. This is because these platforms are looking to provide site visitors with the best results, and those that have high ratings from a number of people are deemed the best.
There are a number of ways in which businesses can start getting customers to leave positive reviews. How a business does this will depend on their industry, how they’re on contact with customers, and the platforms their customers use. For example, a cafe may promote a giveaway and to enter, customers simply leave a review on Yelp, whereas a marketing agency might send an email marketing campaign asking for feedback and reviews on Google.
6. Utilize Paid Ads
To jump-start your visibility in search results, create pay-per-click advertising campaigns that display your ad alongside the top of search results. Businesses can create PPC campaigns across a number of platforms such as Google Ads, Microsoft Ads (formerly Bing Ads), Yelp Advertising, or even Groupon. Each PPC platform will work slightly differently, though, like SEO, they are based on keywords that trigger the platform to display the result.
For example, a web development company wants to advertise on Google to get found for its new app development services, which it does not rank for yet organically. To start, it creates a Google Ads Manager account and then it clicks the “+” icon to begin the new campaign creation process. It follows all of the prompts from selecting keywords to writing ad copy and finally, launches the new campaign.
7. Monitor and Optimize Your Site, Profiles & Campaigns
Even after optimizing your site for search and launching paid search ads that display alongside top search results, your SEM efforts aren’t over. The next step is to monitor your site, online profiles and reputation, and PPC campaigns. Monitor your site using an analytics tool such as Google Analytics, and an SEO analyzer. Track your site’s traffic growth, bounce rate, and domain authority to indicate effective SEO efforts.
Outside of your website, use Google Ads Manager to track your ad campaign performance. Seek to improve areas with the most room for improvement or the areas in which your campaign is the weakest. Update keywords match-types, add negative keywords, adjust bid by device-type, massage your ad copy and offer, and improve your landing page. Manage your online reputation by monitoring profiles and responding to reviews.
7 Best SEM Tools
Search engine marketing may feel complex, if not complicated at times, but the good news is that there are a number of tools available to help make your life easier and your SEM efforts better. The top tools are those that not only make SEM more effective but are those that are easy to use and affordable (if not free). For example, some of the top tools include Ubersuggest, Google Analytics, Google Trends, SpyFu, Hootsuite, and Awario.
Here are seven SEM tools for small businesses:
- Ubersuggest: This tool by Neil Patel is a free keyword research tool that provides keyword data such as search volume, keyword difficulty, and estimated CPC for paid ads in a user-friendly interface.
- Google Analytics: Every site, whether its build with the WordPress CMS or a site builder such as Squarespace or Wix should use Google’s free site analytics tool. It provides website traffic data such as traffic volumes, user geographics, bounce rates, and more.
- Google Trends: Google Trends is a tool that provides data on popular search queries. Businesses can use it to discover new content ideas for content marketing purposes by reviewing what people are currently the most interested in.
- SpyFu: This competitive research tool lets businesses analyze their competition, see which keywords they use and how they rank for them, as well as understand their PPC and SEO strategies. This enables them to get a leg up on their competition and better market themselves to not only beat but stand out from their top competitors.
- Hootsuite: Hootsuite is a comprehensive social media management that gives businesses a centralized way of managing all of their online profiles from Google+ to LinkedIn in one place.
- Awario: Awario is an online reputation management and social monitoring tool. It helps businesses stay on top of reviews and social mentions across the web, keeping them in the loop and able to respond quickly to any reviews or mentions.
- Leadpages: Leapages is a top landing page builder that is used to help businesses more easily create professionally-designed landing pages that get more conversions for PPC ad campaigns.
The best search engine marketing software are those that are the most useful to your business needs and budget. That said, not every business will need every tool, and businesses should focus on which tools will provide them with the most value. For example, while landing page builder can greatly increase conversions, a business that uses Google Ads and sees a high conversion rate without a landing page builder may not find it necessary to use one.
Search Engine Marketing Providers
Many businesses lack the time, resources, and expertise to effectively use search engine marketing. For that reason, consider leaving your SEM in the hands of professionals. The best SEM providers for small businesses include Lyfe Marketing for those seeking expert SEO and social media management, Hibu for those that want affordable and professional end-to-end marketing management, or even Fiverr for finding freelancers for low-cost, project-based marketing tasks.
5 Best Search Engine Marketing Providers
Outsourcing your SEO and social media marketing efforts to the experts
Fully managed and full-service digital marketing management
Sourcing a professional marketing freelancer to hire on a contract or hourly basis
Managing marketing in-house with the assistance of an account manager
Project-based search engine marketing tasks such as optimizing landing pages or building an ad campaign
Every SEM provider offers its own range of services and unique value. Get more information on the best search marketing agencies for small businesses, including pricing and contract information, services, and who they are best for.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What’s the difference between paid search & paid social?
When considering paid search vs paid social, the biggest difference is user intent. With paid search, users are actively seeking a certain product or service, however, advertisers have limited audience targeting as ads are primarily triggered by keywords. With paid social, users are not actively seeking your product or service, but it has robust audience targeting so advertisers can pick who their ads display to. Learn more about Facebook Ads vs Google Ads.
What is paid search marketing?
Paid search marketing is another term for pay-per-click or PPC advertising over search platforms such as Google and Bing. Advertisers create ads to display based on the search terms, or keywords, users search for. It’s generally considered cost-effective, and the benefit is that it gives businesses a way to land alongside the top of search results on keywords their site does not organically rank for.
What is another name for search engine marketing?
Search engine marketing may be referred to in a number of different ways. The most common names for search engine marketing include its acronym, “SEM” and simply put, “search marketing.” It utilizes a combination of both SEO and PPC strategies to maximum a marketing budget for search visibility both in the short term and the long term.
Bottom Line – What is Search Engine Marketing?
Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a culmination of marketing strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search advertising with the shared goal of promoting a website to increase its search visibility and traffic. Businesses use SEM, as opposed to just SEO or PPC, to create a marketing strategy that quickly and sustainably achieves its goals.
One problem many businesses face with SEM is that even though they achieve their goal of ranking in SERPs and increasing site traffic, they still fail to generate leads or conversions. This happens when an SEM strategy is effective, but the website is not. Get a quality website and expert SEM from Hibu to not only generate traffic but leads and sales. Get started today.