What is Search Engine Marketing & How to Do it: Explained

What is Search Engine Marketing & How to Do it: Explained
Welly Editor

Welly Editor


SEO Knowledge

# SEO Knowledge

# SEO Tools

Search Engine Marketing, SEM, is a digital marketing practice, including paid advertising & organic search, to boost websites' visibility on search engines

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing, or SEM for short, is a dynamic digital marketing strategy that involves paid advertising to increase a website's visibility on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.


You may wonder how SEM is different from SEO. While both share the goal of boosting online visibility, they take on different approaches.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) revolves around optimizing website content and structure to improve organic search rankings over time. On the other hand, SEM incorporates Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising on the basis of SEO, delivering immediate results as site owners bid for keywords to let their ads appear on the paid section of search results.


In fact, SEM can seamlessly complement SEO efforts, since it offers a direct method to reach potential customers at the very moment they’re searching for the product or service, while SEO works its magic over the long term.

If you’re new to the concept of SEO, you can check out this article for more insight: What is Search Engine Optimization: Your Best Guide to SEO Basics

Why Use SEM for Your Business?

Why is SEM Important in Digital Marketing?

Nowadays, most people hit up Google or any other search engine when they’re looking for something new, making it the first step in their online shopping journey. This creates the perfect opportunity for you to catch the attention of potential customers and increase your site’s conversion rates, as the information users find at this stage will greatly influence their choices in the end.

Search Engine Marketing Benefits

With that in mind, here are some other common benefits of SEM:

  • SEM offers instant visibility. It allows your products or services to appear prominently in search results. This is also why it can be a quick and easy way for newer businesses to attract attention.
  • SEM may enhance organic rankings and trust signals. When you drive more traffic to your pages through paid advertising, it not only boosts immediate visibility but also sends positive trust signals to search engines, gaining your website credibility and user engagement, which could potentially raise your organic rankings.
  • SEM campaigns are highly targeted. It reaches the right audience based on specific demographics, location, and the user’s search intent, becoming a powerful tool for increasing brand awareness and traffic, while ultimately driving conversions and revenue.
  • SEM provides measurable results. The rate of clicks on your ad and actual purchases that come from it are visible on SEM platforms, enabling you to analyze your campaign performance and make data-driven decisions along the way.

Challenges of Search Engine Marketing

While SEM offers immense potential, it's not without challenges. There are several aspects that you have to consider before getting started:

  • The cost. Marketers often grapple with budget management, as PPC can be expensive over time, so it might be better to use SEM as a complementing asset, rather than a long-term strategy.
  • The competition. There are always other companies wanting to secure that best spot in the search result pages and bidding on competitive keywords can drive up costs.
  • SEM demands a constant learning curve. With the digital marketing landscape always evolving, it requires time and effort to stay updated with algorithm changes and industry trends.
  • Navigating customer trust and ad blockers. Many users harbor reservations towards ads, perceiving them as obstructive and less reliable than search results that are organically generated. These users might apply ad blockers, which could hinder SEM campaigns. So marketers have to balance promotion and user preferences, to regain trust and engage audiences effectively.

This makes strategic campaign management essential for the success of search engine marketing.

How SEM Works?

Understanding SEM Advertisement

These ads won’t just appear with any search query. It all comes down to the user’s search intent.

Picture yourself as a customer seeking a product or service online. You turn to your trusted search engine and enter your search terms (or keywords). Then on the result page, you notice search results or product listings that are marked as “sponsored”, strategically positioned at the top and on the side, blending in with the organic search results. They are usually completed with a title, a web page summary, a call-to-action, and a URL hyperlink to the website.

How SEM Works? Google Search Ad

These are the PPC ads hand-picked by the search engine’s sophisticated algorithms and ensured to be highly relevant to your specific search. They are less intrusive than traditional ads, making you more likely to click on them and explore further.

SEM from a Marketer's Perspective

Now, let’s talk about what you have to do to get a PPC ad up and running.

There are several steps involved in this process, you’ll have to:

  1. Select a network to set up your SEM campaign.
  2. Conduct research to select keywords that match your content or product.
  3. Specify the geographic location for your ad to show up in.
  4. Write an ad copy to display on the search result pages.
  5. Bid in an ad auction to determine your ad’s placement and cost.

Each step plays a vital role in the success of an SEM campaign and we'll dive into them further in the next part of this article, so stay tuned.

How Does Google Ads Auction Work?

All PPC ads go through an ad auction before making it to the search engine result pages. This process determines the ad’s placement and cost, which may impact the overall success of your SEM campaign.

Even if you do have the highest bid, the top spot might still go to competitors with more relevant content, so you should always consider all the aspects when bidding in an ad auction. 

Google Ad Auctions, for instance, focuses on 5 main factors:

  • Bid Amount: The maximum amount that you are willing to pay for each click on your ad.
  • Quality Score: An assessment score between 1-10 that’s assigned by Google to summarize how relevant or useful your ad is to users.
  • Expected Impact from Ad Assets: Additional information in your ad (a.k.a. ad assets), like a phone number or links to specific pages on your website that might impact your ad performance.
  • Ad Rank: Rankings based on the minimum quality threshold set by Google to ensure high-quality ad content.
  • Ad Context: The relevancy of your ad in contrast to the user’s search term, location, device type, and various other user attributes.

You can monitor your ad performance on the platform and optimize it according to these guidelines to get better results.

SEM Strategy

With the basics of search engine marketing in mind, let’s get into actual SEM strategies that you can put to use. We’ll mainly focus on Google for this part, but other search engines usually apply the same logic, so you can simply tailor these steps to meet your own needs.

Choosing the Right SEM Keyword

A successful SEM campaign begins with keyword research to choose the right keywords.

Factors like keyword intent, volume, competition, and cost should guide your choices, to make sure you attract users who are more likely to click on your ad and even make purchases.

Keyword Intent

There are 4 main categories of keyword intent, which include:

  • Informational Intent: Users want to learn more about a topic. (e.g. How to choose a sofa?)
  • Commercial Intent: Users want to research a type of product or service, before making a decision. (e.g. 10 Best Modern Sofa)
  • Transactional Intent: Users want to make a purchase or complete a specific action. (e.g. buy IKEA sofa)
  • Navigational Intent: Users want to look for a specific website. (e.g. IKEA website)

Keyword Volume & Keyword Competition

Keyword volume refers to how frequently a specific keyword is searched for and it’s highly tied to the keyword competition in ad auctions. High-volume keywords can attract significant traffic but tend to have higher competition. Conversely, low-volume keywords offer limited traffic, but that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked! Keywords with lower search volume bring in a highly targeted audience, while being less competitive to bid on.

Keyword Cost

The cost associated with a keyword, known as cost-per-click (CPC), varies widely based on factors like competition and relevance.

It's essential to strike a balance between keyword relevance and cost. As we mentioned earlier, while competitive keywords may yield high visibility, they can also strain your budget quickly. Therefore, it's wise to apply a combination of high-CPC and low-CPC keywords to achieve a cost-effective yet impactful SEM campaign.

Creating a Well-Structured Ad Campaign

Now that all your keywords are selected, you can now set up an ad campaign.

Start by signing up for a Google Ads account and follow each step on the official guidelines to create your campaign.

You will have to work on 4 parts of an ad:

  • Campaign: Ad group sets that share settings such as target location and budget.
  • Ad Group: Ads that are sorted together based on keyword themes.
  • Keyword: The search terms that you’re bidding on.
  • Ad Copy: The actual ad that will be displayed for users.

It requires careful planning to make sure your ad campaign is well-structured and effective. Stuffing all your keywords in one ad just won’t do! It might even hurt your budget and quality score.

Define a campaign goal and group the ads according to their main theme, then apply specific keywords that will attract the attention of your target audience.

The final structure of your Google Ads Campaign will look something like this:

Google Ads Account Structure

Write a Captivating Ad Copy

After building your campaign, it all boils down to how you write your ad. Search ads in Google are usually made up of 4 components:

  • Headline: The title of your ad.
  • Display URL: The web address that’s displayed on your ad, which can be a shortened version of your actual web page URL.
  • Description: Describe what your ad is mainly about.
  • Ad Extensions: Call buttons, links to a specific site page and other additional information that might let users understand your website better.

Ad Copy Example

An ad copy that resonates with your audience can make all the difference.

Put yourself into the user’s shoes and be concise to make sure you address their main issue in your ad copy. Highlight the unique selling points of your website, while incorporating action-oriented language to entice clicks. Also, avoid being too lengthy, or you might lose the user’s interest halfway, or even get your carefully-written ad shortened by Google.

Analyze Your Competitors

It’s easy to get caught up in your own search engine marketing efforts, but if you take time to study your competitors, you can identify trends, discover successful strategies, and uncover gaps in the market. This way, you can apply whatever works to your own campaign and boost its performance.

Best SEM Tools

Running an SEM campaign is definitely a long-term effort, as it requires some trial-and-error and tactical management. With the help of the right tools, you can discover valuable insights to fine-tune your strategy efficiently. So, here are 6 useful SEM tools to help you stay ahead of the competition.

Google Trends

Best SEM Tool: Google Trends

Google Trends provides real-time insights into search trends and can help to identify rising search terms. By tracking a term within the specified region, language, or time frame, you can stay ahead of the curve and lower the risk of wasting money on a keyword that’s losing popularity.

The only downside to Google Trends is that you can’t actually see the specific search volume of a keyword, just a line graph that shows you its search popularity rate.

Fear not. This is where keyword planner tools come in handy.

Google Keyword Planner

Best SEM Tool: Google Keyword Planner

In addition to letting you analyze a keyword’s monthly search volume and estimated bid, Google Keyword Planner also provides keyword suggestions that are relevant to your search term, making it easier for you to plan your campaign.

Its interface is simple and straightforward, so it’s very beginner-friendly.


Best SEM Tool: SEMrush

SEMrush offers a range of comprehensive tools with SEM capabilities, from keyword research, site auditing, traffic analysis, to competitor analysis and so much more! It empowers you with valuable data to make informed decisions in your SEM campaign.

Though very detailed, the data reports produced by SEMrush may be more complex, so we only recommend this for more experienced digital marketers


Best SEM Tool: Spyfu

As we’ve mentioned earlier, understanding your competitors is crucial for optimizing your own content.

Spyfu allows you to peek into a competitor’s campaign, revealing the keywords they’ve bought and every variation of ads they’ve run in the past few years. All you have to do is enter their domain or URL into the search box!

Spyfu also lets you track the performance of your own paid ads and SEO content across various search engines.


Best SEM Tool: Wordstream

Wordstream is PPC management platform that streamlines the process of managing large-scale campaigns. It features performance analysis and bid optimization tools that enable you to efficiently handle ads across different channels, such as Google Ads and Facebook.

However, if your website is relatively new, Wordstream might not be the SEM tool for you, since there’s not enough content for it to process.


Best SEM Tool: KeywordTool.Io

Keywordtool.Io is a treasure trove of keyword suggestions. It allows you to research keywords through various channels, including Google, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and more, which can be very helpful in enriching your content and expanding your campaign reach.

Want to Learn More About SEM?

Don't hesitate to embrace SEM as a part of your digital marketing strategy, as it connects brands with potential customers, while fostering growth and engagement. Bear in mind to stay up to date with the latest SEM trends and try your best to adapt to this ever-evolving industry.

If you're ready to dive deeper into the world of search engine marketing and explore how it can transform your business, feel free to reach out to Welly by clicking on the yellow button below and let our experts guide you on your journey!


最專業的 SEO 營銷團隊!

現在就與 Welly 一起將目標關鍵字攻上 Google 首頁吧!