August 6, 2020

What Is SEM, and Why Do I Need It? Here’s What You Need to Know

When growing your business, you want to make sure you are putting forth your best marketing efforts. Digital marketing is the best way to grow your brand – it has completely overtaken traditional forms of marketing.

Among the best methods of digital marketing is Search Engine Marketing or SEM.

This is the approach your brand should take if you are serious about gaining traffic, acquiring customers, and establishing your company in your industry.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide for you to understand SEM and how to implement it.

Everything You Need to Know About SEM

Use this guide as a reference for growing your brand. We suggest sharing it with all members of your marketing team.

Here’s what you need to know about SEM:

1. What SEM Does

Search engines remain one of the primary ways in which internet users find websites that meet their needs. 

SEM uses paid advertising to help a website increase its ranking in search engines. A brand uses SEM to create an ad that can reach the top (or near the top) of a search engine results page (SERPs).

When going to a search engine results page, you may notice a link at the top of the page with an ‘Ad’ icon placed next to them.

If your ad has an image, you may see it as part of a ‘carousel.’ This is a series of images juxtaposed to one another. These images will usually be of a product that your website sells along with a caption displaying details such as the product name and price.


One may confuse SEM and Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. The latter refers to using keyword research and keyword implementation to increase a website’s ranking in search engines. SEO requires a brand to implement these keywords into their web site’s written content to increase the likelihood of showing up at the top of search engine page results.

SEO is indeed a great strategy and it is one that doesn’t require paying for ads. But while we recommend SEO, it must be acknowledged that it is still incredibly competitive for a website to stand out. Using the paid advertising route that SEM brings is a much more effective way of ensuring high search engine visibility.

We think SEO matters and you should give it importance. But SEM also needs to be strongly considered if you really want your website and what you offer to stand out.

3. Is SEM the Same as PPC?

This is the source of a lot of confusion. PPC stands for Pay Per Click ads. These are ads placed on social media to promote a brand, website, product, or service to an interested audience.

These digital ads are placed on a social media website and the brand owner has to pay a fee every time the ad is clicked on by a visitor.

As this type of advertising focuses on social media and doesn’t work on increasing search engine visibility, it should not be confused with SEM.

While social media marketing certainly is important and shouldn’t be ignored, there are still numerous advantages for SEM.

4. SEM Platforms

Almost all search engines will have the option of advertising through SEM. The most popular SEM platforms are Bing Ads and Google Ads. Both of these SEM platforms can create ads to be displayed on their respective search engines.

We suggest using both of these platforms for growing your brand. 

To use these platforms effectively, you also need to know the fundamentals of working with SEM.

SEM Strategies You Need to Know

Now, let’s move on to strategies you and your marketing team need to know to effectively use SEM.

1. SEM Keywords

SEM keywords are the keywords used in the ads to promote your brand and what you offer. Your ads will appear when internet users search with these keywords. Just like you would with SEO, you need to research the right keywords to target your audience and that makes your brand stand out in its niche.

SEM keyword research, however, is a bit more complex than what you may be used to with SEO.

There are four types of SEM keywords to focus on:

  1. Broad Match: This version of the keyword includes many variations of a given keyword. For example, if you are discussing a cell phone, you may also use the keywords ‘mobile phone’ or ‘smartphone’ to reach the same audience
  2. Exact Match: These are either verbatim matches of the keyword or a slight variation that doesn’t alter the meaning. For example ‘smartphone’ and ‘smartphones’
  3. Negative Match: This type of keyword should be avoided. For example, if you want to avoid ‘smartphone repair’ you want to let your marketing team to not use this keyword when designing the ad
  4. Phrase Match: This includes the target keyword and any relevant word that may make it stand out. For example ‘best smartphone’ ‘cheapest smartphone’ etc.

Make sure that your marketing team looks over these keywords to decide which are best for your ad. It is imperative that the keywords are decided upon before submitting your ad for consideration.

For researching the appropriate keywords, you want to be able to analyze the trends in your industry. Among the tasks that need to be handled include Search Engine Research and Reporting, which we can help with.

Once you have managed to shortlist the best keywords for your search engine ad, you can now move on to the next step.

2. SEM Targeting

Once you have figured out the right keywords, the next step is to make it clear whom you want to reach. This process is known as SEM Targeting.

Here are the different types of SEM Targeting that your marketing team should know about:

  1. Location Targeting: you will get to choose the location of your targeted audience. This can be as broad as a set of countries or as specific as within a certain ZIP code
  2. Ad Schedule Targeting: with this option, you will choose the specific times/dates to display your ad
  3. Device Ad Targeting: with this option, you can choose to only show the ad to users of specific devices – computers, mobile phones, tablets, etc
  4. Demographic Ad Targeting: with this option, you choose a demographic based on gender, age, etc., and target your ad to this demographic exclusively

Unlike SEO which can be used to target a broad and often unspecified audience, SEM Targeting is used to reach a specific audience. This is one of its strengths. Your marketing team should ideally research which potential audience is likely to react to your brand and what you offer.

Based on this research, your brand is likely to connect with potential customers and you don’t have to worry about convincing a possibly uninterested demographic.

3. The Structure of an SEM Ad Campaign

An SEM Ad campaign has a complex structure that you and your marketing team must understand.

Each campaign will be used to serve a particular purpose. This may be to promote the website, a specific page on the website, signing up for the email newsletter, or selling a particular product or service.

When preparing a new campaign, your marketing team will have to decide on its purpose. Once the purpose has been established, your team will consider the target audience, and the appropriate keywords to reach these potential clients.

Within each campaign, you may create several ad groups. These are intended to further target a specific audience. For example, you may have one target audience looking for the ‘best smartphone’ and another group who is looking for the ‘cheapest smartphone.’

Once you have established your various ad groups, you will have to determine the appropriate keywords for each ad. For example, one set of keywords might be related to the ‘best smartphone’ and another to the ‘cheapest smartphone’ as mentioned previously. At this time, you would choose one of the SEM keyword categories to best meet your needs. 

Then, once your keywords have been established, you will make an ad for each keyword. There might be an ad for ‘best smartphone for professionals’ ‘cheapest smartphone for students’ and so on.

Make sure your marketing team plans their campaigns and the structure well in advance. After a blueprint is written down, only then should the team begin to prepare the ads.

The next step is to prepare the copy for your SEM ads.

4. Preparing Your SEM Ads

When preparing your SEM Ads, you will want to make sure you have the best creative services to help you design them. 

The main focus of your ad, however, always has to be its copy. 

Your ad copy is short and simple but has to be attention-grabbing. 

It will usually consist of two headlines. These two headlines are meant to sell the brand or product or service to the audience. For instance, continuing with the smartphone example you may wish to write:

Ditch Your Old Mobile | Get The Best Smartphone For Professionals

This headline immediately grabs your audience and tells them to do something.

Underneath your headlines, you’ll include the URL that you want to direct your audience to. In this example, it might be directed to the ‘products’ page of your website.

Next, you’ll want to include a brief description of what your brand is offering. This will be the copy that convinces the reader of the importance of what you offer – such as the best smartphone in our example.

Underneath the description, you may wish to put extension links. These can include a link to your newsletter (‘Gain Industry Insights’) or to contact your brand (‘Get a FREE Consultation’)

This is the procedure for the traditional SEM ad. For the product carousel format, you’ll need a high-definition image of the particular product (such as an iPhone 11) with a brief description (‘iPhone 11 64 GB 4K Camera’), the price written underneath in bold, the retailer (your company name) and any ‘grabber’ underneath. The ‘grabber’ could be starred reviews of your product or an indication that you offer free shipping etc.

5. Auctioning Your SEM Ads

As your ads will face competition from similar brands who might be following similar strategies, you will have to fight to have your ad placed at the top of the search engine results page.

This happens through an ad auction. You will have to meet three factors for the search engine to decide whether or not it’s your ad’s turn to show up at the top.

The three factors are as follows:

  1. Ad Rank: This is built over time. The more popular and well-crafted your ad is, the higher its rank will be. The search engine determines the ad rank and will take it into consideration when showcasing your ad
  2. Max CPC Bid: This is the maximum amount you are willing to pay to the search engine when a visitor clicks on your ad. Obviously, the higher you go the higher your chances of showing up first
  3. Quality Score: This score will also be determined by the search engine platform. They will look at how well-designed your landing page is and if it’s relevant to your keywords and how it has been performing in search results over time (how many clicks, page visits, etc.)

In the beginning, you want to focus on creating the best SEM ads possible. Once time passes, you can focus on auctioning your SEM ads to get them to the top of the search engine results page.

6. The Best Practices

Finally, you should know the best practices to always succeed with SEM ads.

Take these practices as rules and revise them before submitting your ad for consideration:

  1. Always perform keyword research. Mix in high-ranking keywords as well as keywords with little to no competition
  2. Do not indulge your budget when auctioning your ads; start with small amounts of money for your CPC even if it means you may not be at the top at first
  3. Always use high-definition images for a product carousel
  4. Use direct language for writing copy

Following these four rules before submitting your ad will ensure that you increase your success!

Build Your Brand

Now that you have completed our comprehensive guide to SEM Ads, you are ready to implement them to build your brand and advertise what you offer.

But to truly be successful with digital marketing, you need to have a helping hand.

Reach out to us and see how we can help! We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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