Search Engine Marketing is paying to show your ad to people searching for your product or service on the Internet.
The main advantage of this type of marketing is showing your ad in the exact moment someone is searching for your product, and since you skip many of the marketing processes, such as generating interest, branding, audience definition and more, it is usually the most profitable kind of advertising. It is also considered "Inbound Marketing" because you just need to receive those already interested in your product.
In Search Engine Marketing (SEM), you pay when someone clicks on your ad, so it is a type of Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising, which also includes Display, Video and other ad formats.
Last updated: September 1st, 2020
This is an information page covering all the fundamentals of SEM. If you wish to learn more about our SEM Services, visit our Search Engine Marketing Services page or use the top Navigation Menu. You can read this page top to bottom or jump to any section that interests you by clicking on the following:
SEM is one of the many tools of online marketing, so we must see where it stands in the world of marketing as a whole, then digital marketing and the “click economy” (or the online attention competition) and Pay Per Click Marketing. Then we will compare it to its twin brother, SEO, understand how Search Algorithms work and finish with SEM's pros and cons, its main elements and some recommendations along the way.
Marketing is the science of attracting potential customers and delivering them to your sales team when they are ready or almost-ready to buy.
Your Sales Team then works on overcoming any remaining objections the potential customer has, and then “closes” the sale.
This over-simplified view of the process may help to understand why some people refer to the “Sales Funnel”, where first you have a large group of people (the public) and then, through your marketing and sales efforts, thin the number down to those who actually pay you.
Once someone enters your “Funnel”, they become a “lead” until they become a paying customer or until we know they will definitely not buy from us.
There are a million books and courses on these and all other subjects we will mention in this introduction to SEM, so we will try to maintain a bird’s eye view of them all.
Marketing and Sales resemble a detective’s investigation so much that they share terms (such as lead, close, canvas, etc.) and also share investigative tactics (spying on your target, your competition and even on yourself), but with the huge difference that marketing focuses on the future, and helping what you want to happen, actually happen.
There are many ways to deliver your message and attract customers. We call them “Channels” and some have existed for centuries, while others just the last few years.
Before the Internet, marketers could only dream of what we can achieve now; knowing so much about our audiences, choosing who sees our ads, and being able to personalize each ad, and even change your ads as often as you like.
What is Digital Marketing's Main Advantage?
Digital marketing allows you to start, run or even just try effective campaigns with very little money, reaching a local, national or global audience, even with a small budget.
Advertising has always depended on the attention span of your audience, and how you could “distract” someone from whatever they’re doing to focus on what you’re telling them. It’s therefore an “attention competition”, with many advertisers vying for your attention.
Although your target audience could have your material in front of them, on average it takes 7 views for someone to actually “see” your content. Therefore, most marketing platforms sell “views” or “impressions”: how many people read this or that magazine, how many people drive past that billboard, etc.
Although there are still online marketing efforts that focus on “views” such as video, influencer mentions, advertising on websites, etc., there are many advertising campaigns that focus on results: how many people actually click on your ad, instead of how many see it.
As we will see in the Paid and Organic Clicks section below, there are two kinds of "clicks" or "website visit driving activities": Those that are directly paid for and those that come through organic links, such as listings on a directory, a friend linking to your webpage on her blog, a press release which includes a link to your site, etc.
In PPC, you pay to show your ad on someone else's online property. It usually is paid for on a click-by-click basis (only when someone actually clicks on your ad), but there are other ad formats, specially video, that charge for every thousand views instead. This goes for online and Social Media advertising, where there are usually both kinds of campaigns, but since the same platform has both the cost per click and cost per thousand views, it all got stuck with the PPC title.
Although this category by definition refers to advertising that costs you money only when someone clicks on your ad, it also includes other paid online advertising campaigns, such as showing an image or video in a magazine's website, the ads that show before YouTube videos, audio advertisements in music streaming services, etc.
An acronym uses the initial letters of each word in a name to shorten it. Think of NASA instead of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Although there are many more, to maintain the balance between thoroughness and interest, these are the most popular or commonly used terms in SEM:
Sponsored Listings on Search Results.
Improving a listing's position on SERPs.
The percentage of people who saw your ad and clicked on it.
The page that Search Engines present with results to your query.
A marketing effort in which you pay for every user's click to your site.
How much money each click costs your campaign.
This is one of the most important concepts in Search Engine Marketing and SEO. Paid Clicks are those you directly pay for in a one-by-one basis. Organic Clicks are those "earned" visits that did not directly cost for every single click.
The term, "Clicks" in this context, refers to a click in someone else's website (think Google or a Newspaper's Website) that takes their visitor to your website.
It's important to distinguish that in "Organic Clicks", just because there wasn't a cost directly associated to each and every click, it still might have cost money. Think of a listing in an Industry Directory's Website. You pay an annual subscription and they include you on their site. If someone clicks or doesn't click on your link in that site, it doesn't affect how much they charge you. With Paid Clicks, there is always a tool measuring how many "clicks" your link received.
If you post a link to your website on your Social Media account, and one of your followers sees the post and clicks on it, it can be considered an Organic Click. However, if you "sponsor" your post, and therefore pay to get clicks, they will be considered a Paid Click.
Search Engine Optimization is focused on growing the Organic Clicks your website gets. Search Engine Marketing is focused on paying to get visitors, paying for one click at a time. In our experience, the best strategy is to work on both at the same time.
The quick popular answer is SEO doesn't cost per click, while SEM does. This doesn't mean SEO is free while SEM costs money. Both require effort, time and investment, but the difference between SEO and SEM resides both in the time to see results, where SEO takes anywhere up to 24 months to show effects while SEM can be set up the same day, and that SEM often shows above "organic" results and lets you craft different ads for every set of keywords you choose to target, but you are charged for every single click.
In this short section, we will see their advantage over each other, then define them and finish with an example and some recommendations.
One of SEO’s main advantages is that on the long term you might see a lot of visits to your site without having to pay for each click.
These are called “Organic Clicks” versus SEM’s “Paid Clicks”.
One of SEM’s main advantages is that you can have different ads for a single “keyword”, whereas in SEO, if you want to change what is shown in the SERP, you need to change the page title, description and/or content, which takes a while to update in the Search Results Page and affects your position or "rank" within those Results.
SEO is a process which seeks to improve your position in the Search Results Page by helping Search Engines understand what a page is about, ensuring that Search Engine Users find your page when they are looking for your topic. SEO used to be about “tricking” Search Engines into listing your page as the first result, often ruining the page for human users.
Have you ever visited a site that read like it was written by robots? While it may have helped the author lure you into the site, it probably wasn't a site you enjoyed and probably left no business or profit to them.
Furthermore, if all the results that the Search Engine of your choice ever returned to you were like that, you would probably soon change and use another Search Engine.
Well, Search Engines got wiser and changed their algorithm to value the User Experience (UX) above everything.
SEM implies paying Search Engines when someone clicks on your ad, when it is displayed because the searcher entered the keywords you chose to sponsor. We say SEM takes one more step because as we will see in the “Searcher Centrism” section, Search Engines won’t show ads that won’t meet the Searcher’s expectations, so you still have to take care of User Experience Optimization.
Search Engines give a “Quality Score” to ads, benefitting those that are more relevant to Search Engine Users and penalizing those that aren’t, either by making the advertiser pay more to be listed and more often, not even showing the ads at all, regardless of how much the advertiser offers to pay.
For example, we recognize you are searching for an answer to “What is Search Engine Marketing?”
Let us rephrase: You have a question and are looking for an answer. Although it sounds obvious, many web pages try to lure you to click on them and once you are there, do not address your concern but theirs instead. What would have happened if you came here with this question and found instead just a Marketing Agency’s SEM service? Would you have clicked the “back button” on your browser and then clicked somewhere else until you found a page that answered your question or even just given up your search altogether?
Keep the Searcher’s Experience and Intentions as your first priority while creating your site’s internal pages and create dedicated Landing Pages for each ad group.
Think of what the searcher wants to find while searching for different things, and not just what you want to show.
Disclaimer: Since we are Google Partners and Google Certified Search Experts and display the Google Partner Badge on our site, we are required to inform you that Google does not endorse or verify any SEO service, only paid SEM Services.
The search algorithm is a mathematical formula which calculates how much a page's content matches the searcher's query, assigning each webpage a "rank score" to then display the matching Results on a Search Engines Results Page (SERP), sorted by "rank score", listing the highest scored result first and then listing the rest in descending rank.
Many Search Engines have come and gone. The ones that remain are the ones that return the most relevant and up-to-date results to a searcher's query, so even Sponsored Results (SEM) need to be relevant and useful to the Searcher.
Always keep in mind that Search Engine Users will change Search Engines if they constantly cannot find what they're looking for. Quality Results are THE priority.
As of June 2020 (and for the foreseeable future) the Search Engine Market in the US is dominated by Google (around 75%) and Bing (around 25%), so we focus on Google Search and its algorithms throughout this article (and as an Agency).
One of the most common ways to "optimize" for search engines was to literally write FOR robots, which might have worked if robots were the customers, but instead, humans found pages that repeated so much the topic's title and any possible alternative way to call it, that those pages sometimes even forgot to answer anything. To the Search Engine's computer, the page was about that topic. To humans, the page was gibberish... so this became a problem about the Quality of the Search Results.
The Quality Score is a brilliant solution to the Search Result Quality problem, because it modifies the "rank score" of both Organic and Paid listings by considering how actual users interact with a page displayed on their results. Big Data and Machine Learning have allowed Search Engines to "listen to their customers" by measuring how searchers use their tools.
Google measures the Clickthrough Rate (CTR) of every single result they list, and if a listing is clicked, the amount of time their users remain on that page, if the user navigated within that site or just "bounced" back to the Search Results Page quickly and then clicks on a different listing.
The Clickthrough Rate is the result of dividing how many times a result was clicked out of all the times it was showed. This statistic is usually expressed as a percentage.
If a link is clicked 10 times and was showed 100 times, it has a 10% C.T.R. (10 ÷ 100 = 10%).
For example, we will analyze this page. It clearly refers to "What SEM Is", and the Search Engine (SE) lists us on their results page when their users enter this question into their search bar. If this page was listed 100 times, and got clicked 100 times, the Search Engine would assign a score off 100% to the CTR portion of our "search rank". Since every time they listed our page it got clicked on, this means that our Title and Description work great.
The Search Engine so far has every reason to consider that this page answers their user's question. However, if many visitors were to quickly "bounce back" (click on the "back button" on their browser) and then enter another listing, this would tell the SE that although the page is about the topic, many of their users either don't like the way the information is presented or there is something else wrong. This would lower the "Page Experience" Score. But let's assume that users don't quickly "bounce", but rather stay on this page. According to the length of this article, it should take on average 20 minutes to fully read it. If users stay 20 or more minutes on this page, it would send all kinds of positive signals to the Search Engine that this page is a) about the topic, b) interesting and c) valuable enough for users to spend their time here.
As we mentioned in the SEO section, it used to be about "tricking" Search Engines into showing your site on their results by having their computers think your page was the most relevant. Part of this was done by "writing for robots", using the "key words" as often as possible even to the point of becoming gibberish to humans. Now, Search Engines "Crowdsource" how relevant a page is to a particular query by actually measuring how their users interact with their results.
In Google Ads, each ad receives a «Quality Score» which is taken into consideration by its algorithm to determine which advertiser to place above the others. They then multiply it by the advertiser's bid and determine the ad's position in the Search Results and the amount of money to charge for each click.
Google Ads works as an Automated Auction, where advertisers select the key word or phrase for which they want to their ads, and establish the maximum amount of money they are willing to pay for each click (Max CPC). Every single time a searcher uses that keyword or key phrase, Google runs their auction and selects which Ad to place first, second, and so on.
If Quality Score (QS) wasn't taken into account, each advertiser would pay 1 cent above the bid below them. For the following two examples, we will use 3 advertisers, called John, Paul and Ringo.
If John established a Max CPC of $100, Paul $10 and Ringo $2, since John's bid beats Paul's at $10.01, Google would charge John $10.01 and place him first. Then Paul would pay $2.01 to beat Ringo, placing him in the second spot. Then Ringo, who has to beat $0, will pay $0.01 per click and be placed third.
Google's Quality Score (QS) goes from 1 to 10, where 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest. It takes into account the Expected CTR, Ad Relevance and Landing Page Experience. It will not even show low QS Ads to maintain Search Results Quality.
As we saw before, imagine online stores that sell a lot of brands and products. They could simply have a very low bid and show up every time someone searched for a product they carried, and if someone clicked their ad, they would be taken to the Shop's Homepage where the Searcher would then have to search for the product within that site.
This (for lack of a better word) sucked. To avoid this poor experience, Search Engines now give a Quality Score and it affects the bid and position. Suppose John ($100) has a QS of 1, Paul ($10) has a QS of 10 and Ringo ($2) has a QS of 7.
While Google's mathematical formula (algorithm) is a secret, it rewards better quality with better ranking and penalizes bad quality with higher costs.
Disclaimer: We have no private insight into Google's Proprietary Information, this is simply how we would do it.
Its sole intention is to convey the importance of Quality in SEM and help understand the Bidding System.
Warning: Contains Maths
Example formula: $Bid x QS3 ÷ 100.
John = $100 x 13 ÷ 100 = 100x1÷100 = 1 point
Paul = $10 x 103 ÷ 100 = 10x1000÷100 = 100 points
Ringo = $2 x 73 ÷ 100 = 2x343÷100= 6.86 points
Paul (100 points) = 1st Place
Ringo (6.86 points) = 2nd Place
John (1 point) = 3rd Place
John = $10.01 to beat next
Paul = $2.01 to beat next
Ringo = $0.01 to beat next
Example formula: $ Winning Bid x (10/QS)3.
John $10.01 x (10/1)3 = $10.01*1000 = $1,010
warning Exceeds his Maximum CPC, do not show John's Ad unless his bid is $1,010.
Paul $2.01 x (10/10)3 = $2.01 x 1 = $2.01
Ringo $0.01 x (10/7)3 = $0.01 x 2.91 = $0.03
With those Quality Scores and Bids, Paul would get the first place, Ringo the second and John the third. Paul would still pay $2.01 to beat Ringo. Ringo would pay $0.03 and John would be charged the full $100 of his maximum CPC if his ad ever got shown and clicked on.
When most people think of marketing, they think of someone doing a fancy advertisement. While Advertising is one of the cornerstones of Marketing, it's a Science and not just a Magical, Creative Art Process.
Advertising requires knowing:
SEM has many of those questions already answered, thus lowering the cost and effort required to run effective, high-yielding campaigns:
Search Engine Marketing can be divided into 4 main activities:
Selecting and monitoring keywords, budgets, targetting, market reach, quality score, CTR and Conversion Rate. This is mostly done through the Search Platform's Advertiser Console.
Showing the best-performing version of your Landing Pages through Split Testing and Copywriting to ensure you get the best results out of the visits you're paying for.
There are many ways to say something. Knowing when to persuade and when to inform, when to excite and when to scare (fear is a powerful seller), Copywriting is a full field of study, and it's intended use in SEM is to craft the most effective message to sell your product or service.
SEM requires web pages to match the searcher's intent and the words used to trigger your ad. These pages within your site are called "landing pages" and the more effort you place on them will improve your results. Go to Landing Pages Section topic
A Landing Page is the internal section or "page" where the visitor first arrives (or lands) on your website.
Psicology tells us that empathy is very powerful in human social interactions, and landing pages allow us to empathize with the visitor by echoing what they have on their minds. The easiest way to to this is by writing your header text as close to their original query as possible. For instance, if you want to know "What is Search Engine Marketing", we will try to use those exact words for our page's header text, but that is not enough. We must address your question and try to answer it. The title or header text will help your user's subconscious to begin or avoid reading your page. Once the user begins to read your page, the actual content and the way it is presented will be what the user's mind judges to continue reading or abandon the page.
Many businesses have a single-page website in the name of simplicity and minimalism. Single-page websites are very popular because of their low cost and quick design delivery times. While they may be effective in some applications, imagine if you had to read all you've read so far on this page to see if we carry the product or service you're seeking, or if we service your area. Being as "simple" (on topic) as possible to the User will help bring better business results.
If some unknown person finds your website, instead of having met you before in a trade show, your brick & mortar store or just in the serendipitous elevator ride, all the contact that the stranger will have with you is through your website. Therefore, it must act as your sales person all on its own.
Whereas a person that previously met you might enter your "home" page by typing your website's address on their browser, all marketing efforts to "strangers" should lead to "internal" pages specific to them; specially if you're running Online Marketing Campaigns, such as SEM.
Landing Pages help improve the User Experience (UX) and the effectiveness of your website by presenting the information that the user wants and expects to see, most importantly when they "land" on your website through a Search Engine or an Online Ad. Imagine if you are searching for a specific brand and model of a shoe, and instead of landing on the page specific to that brand and model, you land on a shoestore's homepage, where you then must navigate to find the model you were looking for. This usually leads to that user clicking the "back button" and going to another site which does show the exact model on the first page they see.
Even "offline" campaigns should try to lead users to a "landing page" so they see information relevant to them. Sometimes this is achieved through printed QR Codes or a easy to type web addresses such as yoursite.com/nyexpo, allowing you to show them information relevant to the event, plus having the added benefit of you knowing the source of your visitor. There are many ways to help your prospects enter a specific page inside your site, and if you have "landing pages" specific for them, the power of empathy and relevance will help you get more business.
We can learn a lot by the way a potential customer searches for our product. There are 2 categories of queries: "research" and "action" searches. Google publishes every December a "Year in Search" video and report (see their "2019 Year in Search" here - opens in a new tab) and usually the top searches are informational queries. Think back about your last 10 searches. What did you search for? Although many informational searches just lead to the user learning something, some become "actionable" once the question is answered.
Although the "best" layout or elements for your specific market may differ, a safe bet is to include at least the following elements:
Think of an "Active Voice" as if giving orders. "Click Here", "Buy Now", "Think this..." are all examples of an Active Voice. This increases the likelihood of an action being taken.
The opposite is a "Passive Voice", which is more like an encyclopedia entry. This paragraph is written in a "Passive Voice".
Try to be as relevant to your visitor as possible, using the language and content that said visitor expects to find. Here are a few questions that may help you jumpstart your landing pages:
You know your product and market inside out, but does your visitor? Do they refer to your product's components the same way as you? Avoid using technical terms that only an expert would use and understand, unless you are targetting experts. (See the "salt" example above)
Briefly, we will exemplify landing pages for an imaginary Electrician based in Manhattan that services clients throughout the whole of NYC. We first begin by taking the supposed 4 most searched terms in the NYC area for the services he offers: "NYC Electric Handyman", "NYC Electric Contractors", "Reduce Power Bill NY" and "Electricians in Manhattan". Although local residents would search for a specific area in their borough, we're aiming to exemplify only.
Now, if we showed the "Reduce Your Power Bill" page to someone searching for help with a broken lightswitch, even if they might benefit by lowering their power bills, that's not what they're looking for and will most likely "bounce back" and check out a competitor, even if the "bill reduction" would be great for them... it's just not what they're looking for right now.
If the visitor is looking for an Electric Handyman in Raleigh, there is no point in advertising to them because our example only serves the NYC region, and couldn't service them even if they wanted us to, so limiting our ads geographically is a great idea, reducing costs and time spent following up on non-starters.
A point can be made that 3 of those searches are nearly identical, but each of the three has a different nuance that tells us, the marketers, what to tell the visitor. If someone searches for "NYC Electrician" and sees a title reading "NYC Electric Contractors", it's related enough that they're still likely to read and engage with the page, but if the page's title matched word for word their search, in this case "NYC Electrician", they subconsciously register that this page is all about what they're searching for, and are more likely to engage (request a quote, call, etc.) as statistics prove time and time again. And that's just the title! If your content follows suit and refers to "NYC Electricians", your "perceived empathy" rises and you increase the amount of "Conversions", or an action that converts a stranger into a prospect, oportunity or directly into a customer.
By using "Handyman", we could imply that the user is searching for some light work (pardon the pun) such as changing a light bulb or switch.
We can imply this user is looking for heavy electric wiring and other installations services.
We can imply this user is looking for something in between the other two, and by adding "Manhattan" in the keyword, the user also wants to narrow down to those electricians that actually serve the Manhattan Burough.
If you don't address the concerns the user has at the very top of the page, the user will probably not continue reading. The "very top of the page" is what is viewable without scrolling. We call this region of the page "above the fold", referencing how newspapers are folded in half, and always place their top stories (or at least introduce them) above said fold on their front page so it is visible even without touching it.
In conclusion, the most important thing to keep in mind in any Search Engine Marketing activity is to value all the three players in the SEM team: the Searcher, the Search Platform and yourself.
A searcher-focused approach requires to present an ad which is closely related to what they searched for, which leads to a highly relevant landing page, and then a clear and easy way to do business with you.
Search Engines, above all, need their users to keep searching through them. It wouldn't matter how much they charged if people stopped using their search platforms. In order to maintain their dominance over other search engines, Google gives a "Quality Score" to advertisements on their platform, with better scoring ads often costing less and showing in better positions of the Search Results Page.
For you, there isn't much value in a ton of traffic from people that are searching for something you don't offer. Imagine if you were searching for "search engine marketers" and landed on a kayaking site. For the searcher, this would be a waste of time, and for you as the advertiser it would be a waste of money.
One of the most common mistakes all beginner Search Marketers make is just sending everyone to their homepage and not a "landing page" for a topic or product. This would most likely lead to someone clicking your ad, not seeing what they were expecting and then clicking the "back button" to the results page and going with your competition. Avoid this at all costs! Have at least a landing page that closely relates to the words used to find you.
If you need Search Engine Marketing Services, we're here for you with a wide range of involvement, from DIY consulting, in which our human experts give you monthly recommendations and feedback specific to your individual campaign, up to our full Digital Marketing Services Suite, and everything in between.
It's your account, we'll request access to you, not the other way around.
Comission-based spending rewards spending more. Instead, we charge flat fees and strive to improve your campaigns' profit AND drive costs down.
We're not a "set-and-forget agency" that only does the work the first couple of months. We actively review and interpret your marketing data on a monthly basis and do the heavy lifting.
We would love to have a million clients in the same niche, however as we've seen in this article, SEM is an auction-based effort; while other agencies won't mind outbidding themselves, and thus increasing their comission income at their customers' expense, we see each client as an ally and therefore, we will give you local, state or nationwide exclusivity on your market niche.*
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