What is SEM? Search Engine Marketing Explained

How to market your website in the major search engines.

SEM Search Engine Marketing Explained
•••  Credit: Michail_Petrov-96 | Getty Images

SEM is an acronym for search engine marketing, which involves tasks that help search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, find and rank a website. In other words, it's the things you can do to make sure your website appears in search engine results when someone searches for information related to your business.

The 2 Major Search Engine Marketing Strategies

There are basically two ways you can do search engine marketing:

  • SEO (search engine optimization) for organic search: SEO is a free method of SEM that uses a variety of techniques to help search engines understand what your website and webpages are about so they can deliver them to web searchers. These techniques include things like using titles, keywords and descriptions in a website and webpage's meta tags, providing relevant content on the topic, using various heading tags (i.e. <H3></H3>), and linking to and from quality online resources. 
  • PPC (paid search marketing): PPC (pay per click) advertising involves paying to have search engines display your website offer in or alongside search results. For example, Google's Adwords program will display your ad at the top or right side of the search results page (placement depends on many factors including keywords and quality of ad). Google will also feed your ads to websites running its Adsense program. There are other types of PPC marketing, such as Facebook Ads. In PPC advertising, you pay each time someone clicks on your offer. Paid search differs from organize search in that you're paying to have your website or offer displayed higher in search results.

    Which is better?

    Many people know which search results are paid versus natural and often give precedence to natural search options. On the other hand, if your website shows up on later pages of the search results, you might have better luck using PPC to get seen. Because PPC costs money, you might consider using it for items that you sell, as opposed to promoting a free offer or your blog.

    With that said, many people have successfully used PPC marketing to promote a free lead magnet.

    Regardless of whether you use PPC or not, you should employ SEO tactics, because it's free and it does work. 

    Search Engine Marketing to Market Your Business


    Although you don't want to rely on search engines alone to bring you clients and customers, they shouldn't be ignored either. SEO strategies are free and the search engines are always crawling and ranking websites, so it doesn't hurt help them find your website. 

    The first step is to use titles, keywords, and descriptions in your metatag code. This is what search engines read to learn about and rank your website. Your front-side content that your website visitors see should also have titles and keywords, as search engines scan this as well. 

    Website ranking doesn't just come from what's on your website. Google, the number one search engine used today, uses a variety of other factors to rank websites. Things like your social media activity, appearances on other sites through interviews or guest blogging, and being listed as a resource on another site all increase your standing in Google's eyes.

    However, if you try to game the system, as was common practice for many years, and which Google, in particular, has been working hard to stop, can hurt your rankings.

    So make sure you understand SEO before using it in your search engine marketing strategy.

    Paid Search
    The advantage of paid search is that you can have your website listed on the first pages in a prominent spot on Google and other search engines. However, showing up is only part of the process. You need to create an ad that not only leads to clicks, but to sales or whatever result you're looking for. If you don't know what you're doing, it's possible to write an ad that people are drawn to and click on, however, you don't make sales. Since you pay per click, and clicks can add up quickly, you can lose money. For example, if you pay 50 cents per click and 100 people click the ad per day, that will cost you $50 for the day. If you let the ad run for the month, you'll pay $1,500 ($50 a day multiplied by 30 days) for those clicks.

    The point is to make sure your paid ad not only gets clicks, but also, those clicks turn into income.

    Search Engine Marketing Services as a Home Business

    If you master SEM techniques, there are other businesses that will pay you to help them. Running a search engine marketing service can be a lucrative home business. The key to getting started is to be able to show proof of your results, including organic search ranking for keywords, as well as income or other results from paid search.