what is SEM

What is SEM? - September 2021 Guide

By Jess Stanier

Help me, I’m lost in SEM.

Assuming you’ve read our SEO blog, you’re about ready to know what SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is. Before we crack on.


A quick list of some lovely SEM jargon before we get started:

SERPs – Search Engine Results Pages

CTR – Click through rate. 

CPM – Cost per mille (thousand) impressions.

CPC – Cost per click.

PPC – Pay per click.

ROI – Return on investment 

Impressions – How many times your ad was shown on a device.


So, what is SEM ? (aka Search Engine Marketing) 

Search Engine Marketing is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages. Advertisers bid on keywords that users might enter when looking for certain products or services, which gives the advertiser the opportunity for their ads to appear alongside the top results for those search queries.


The top 3 paid ads for car insurance


Obviously, you will still want to have a strong SEO strategy in place which will take you as far up in the SERPs organically as possible. But SEO is a longer-term strategy and will require more time and patients before you see results. Whereas with SEM, you can pay to appear alongside the big brands within days.


Google Ads is Google’s SEM platform, and the most widely used.


It’s important to know that even though all SEM platforms use a Pay per click model for advertising, not all Pay Per Click is SEM. For example, Facebook Ads use Pay Per Click but their version is that adverts are just shown to Facebook users while they are randomly scrolling their feed whereas with SEM you are targeting those who have already searched keywords relating to your companies offering. So, they’re already warm customers and more likely to convert.


How do I set up my Google Adwords account?

As the main platform for SEM is Google Ads, you’re gonna need a Google Ads account. The good news is, this is easy to set up.


Head to ads.google.com and sign in. Now you will arrive at the Google Adwords welcome screen. The next parts you will be asked to do is choose a budget, create ads, select keywords and enter billing information. Now you need to select keywords and the account structure.


Keywords and why they’re important:

So you understand that through SEM you are going to show your advert, via google, to people who are searching a phrase or set of keywords that correlate to your business offering.


But, how do you select what these keywords are going to be on your Google Ads account?

Well, you research!


Choosing the right keywords can make or break your SEM campaigns. To bring your CPC down, you want to aim for keywords that have high volume and low competition. Finding these can be relatively easy, you just need some time to put aside and use clever tools to help you out.


How do I choose my keywords?

Luckily there are a lot of fantastic (and sometimes free) tools to help you with the keyword research. Some keyword tools will give you search volume, competition level and even average estimate per keyword. This is really important if you are working with a smaller ad budget – so you can ditch any keywords which are high cost, and going to use up your advertising budget quickly.


Here are a few options that we recommend using:


How much to bid for keywords?

Once you’ve chosen your keywords, you need to bid for them. All SEM platforms work on a bidding system. Whoever bids the most ranks the highest, then second-highest bid as second and so on, and so forth.


The good news is that Google takes into account more factors than just bid before you can actually have that keyword. For example, Google gives each ad a quality score and takes that into account along with the bid. Google ranks your quality score based on the relevance of your landing page to the keyword as well as the relevance of your ad copy.


How does Google rank my Quality Score?

Landing page where the ad will click through to, SEO and how relevant your ad copy is to the keywords you’ve selected is key here. This is why it is so important to have not just SEM, but SEO, social presence and a relevant landing page is so important. Read more about what your quality score is, and how to improve it here.


Your campaign is live. What’s next?

Remember, this is not a ‘suck it and see’ approach like other kinds of traditional advertising, in which you create an advert and just hope the right people read and follow your call to action. You will be able to use the data provided on your campaign to tweak and optimise your campaign so that you get the best ROI on your ad spend.


The beauty of SEM, and digital marketing in general, is that you can track the exact return on investment from each of your campaigns and even from the Keywords in your campaign. This allows you to know exactly what’s working and what isn’t so that you can find the most profitable way to spend your budget.


Do you want to run SEM campaigns that show measurable ROI? Get in touch today!