What Is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Ben Tippet

Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Search Engine Marketing

SEO is a popular phrase you may know about since marketing professionals and search engine enthusiasts use it a lot, but what is SEM?

SEM, or search engine marketing, involves many complex factors, including paid and organic strategies, that can work together to boost your brand awareness.

SEM is tricky to master, so below, our experts at Perth Digital Edge discuss everything you need to know, including what SEM is, the top SEM methods, benefits, costs, and how to get started.

What Is SEM?

Search engine marketing is a digital marketing practice that focuses on making a website appear high on search engine results to boost its awareness and overall click-through rate. SEM usually involves paid advertising to get a kickstart on ranking, though it can also include organic SEO (search engine optimisation) methods.


SEM is an umbrella term covering many digital search engine marketing strategies, including SEO.

SEO is a particular practice that involves adjusting (optimising) a website to meet search engine crawler standards and rank high for specific keywords.

While SEO relies only on ranking in organic search (without pay), SEM can include paid advertising tactics combined with SEO strategies.

Often, SEM only involves paid advertising campaigns. With the inclusion of SEO, you can both:

  • Pay to rank a website high
  • Work toward optimising the site to the point that is begins to rank well on its own, so you no longer have to pay

Many people believe that paid keyword ranking is the same as SEO, but that is incorrect. When payment is involved, the strategy falls under SEM.

How Does Paid SEM Work?

The thought of paying to pop up at the top of Google may sound delightful, but it still involves a bit of work. This process includes:

  • Selecting the best keywords that you would like to pay to rank for
  • Crafting the advertisement itself
  • Building a landing page where you will direct leads

Essentially, you will pay a search engine platform, like Google Ads, to promote your advertisement to people of specific demographics that search for your desired term or phrase. This targeting can be super-precise, such as “25-year-old-men who live in Perth who make over $50,000 a year,” or it could be more broad, like anyone who searches for “Dog trainers near me.”

The more competitive a word or phrase is, the more expensive it will be. Words with low competition are cheaper, but they also often yield lower traffic. You will create a bidding strategy for how much you are willing to pay for your chosen term, and this dollar amount will determine how high you rank.

SEM Methods

Since SEM is a broad term for various digital marketing strategies, many proven paid and organic methods exist. Top ranking companies combine the following techniques to optimise their websites:

1. Choose Keywords

Keyword research involves analysing and determining which keywords will work best for your company, whether you are paying to rank for them or doing so organically. A lot of factors go into making this decision, including:

  • Traffic: The number of people who search for a particular term or phrase daily or monthly is the traffic. This volume can help you decide which words will have the most extensive reach to the right target audiences, generating more leads.
  • Competition: Words with high traffic volumes often yield high competition. Highly competitive terms and phrases are harder to rank for, meaning you will have to pay more for the keyword or put in a ton of effort to rank organically. High traffic is significant, but you also need feasible terms within your budget and resources.
  • Search intent: People often search for similar words but with different motives. Luckily, search engines can determine the general search intentions of your keywords and phrases so you can decide whether or not the majority of people searching for these words are interested in purchasing what you sell.

2. Build Website Authority

Search engines consider a website’s popularity when deciding how high it will rank. Crawlers see websites that have many well-built pages and visitors as more reputable. For organic SEM, building website authority can help you rank high without paying for ads, though this is more of a long-term marketing strategy.

Some ways you can generate more website authority include:

  • Generating backlinks from other sites
  • Building more pages with high-ranking keywords
  • Linking site pages to each other
  • Utilising social media for backlinks
  • Creating easily shareable content

3. Improve With Targeted Analysis

SEM is not a one-and-done strategy. Ranking a website high involves continuous work to evolve your ads or organic efforts over time. Analysing your search engine marketing campaign will help you determine which keywords are working well, what ads are worth the money, what the competition is doing well, and any website problem areas.

You can even utilise different tools that will crawl your website for you, as a search engine would, and tell you how you can improve it to rank higher organically.

The Benefits of Paid SEM

Paid SEM yields many benefits that you cannot achieve by ranking organically, including the abilities to:

  • Rank faster: Organic SEO efforts can take months or years. Paid advertisements rank your website almost immediately, bringing instant traffic and leads.
  • Reach the right people: Paid advertisements allow you to choose the exact demographics and groups of people you wish to see your ad. This targeting will enable you to not waste efforts on reaching people who won’t convert.
  • Hit long-term goals: Paying for short-term keyword goals and seeing instant results can allow your site to reach long-term goals organically since more visitors will generate your site authority.

Is Paid SEM Worth the Cost?

Search engines charge paid advertising campaigns by the click. This method means you only have to pay for each person who clicks on your ad. You can also bid on the amount you would like to pay to stay within a specified budget, even if many people click through. You may have heard this method called PPC, or pay-per-click.

Paid SEM can yield excellent results that are worth the costs, though this is not always a realistic option for smaller companies. Organic SEO can work just as well, though it takes longer and involves more manual work. While organic SEO might be free, the number of resources you spend on the hours it requires might cost more than just paying for an ad.

If you’re considering paid SEM, you should ensure that you spend your funds on the right terms and best target audiences to yield the highest results. We recommend conducting ample research and learning as much about the topic as possible before purchasing any advertisement.

Improve Your SEM Strategy With Our Help at Perth Digital Edge

Mastering search engine marketing requires in-depth knowledge and understanding that can take years to develop when doing so by yourself. If you’re asking the question, “What is SEM,” you’ve already taken your first step toward becoming digital marketing savvy. SEM involves various complex marketing strategies that will yield high results if you can master them.

We are ready to help you learn how to build the best campaigns for your website. Contact the team at Perth Digital Edge to find your digital edge today.

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