What Search Engine Marketing Is and How You Can Create an Effective SEM Strategy

The days when shoppers hopped around brick-and-mortar stores are over. According to Statista, 85% of the world’s population shop online. Out of this, about 48% of purchases start with search engines. That’s why businesses strive to appear on top in search engine result pages (SERPs).

Businesses use various strategies to grab that coveted top rank on SERPs. Search engine optimization (SEO) is a key strategy. Businesses also use Search engine marketing (SEM) to boost their visibility on search engines.

So, what is search engine marketing? It’s securing a top rank on SERPs through paid methods.

For instance, If you search for ‘athletic shoes,’ you’ll see shoe vendors pay Google to show you advertisements. That is a part of their search engine marketing strategy.

Google Shows Paid Ads When Users Search for Specific Products/Services

Brainlab showed 74% of marketers say that paid advertising is a huge driver for their business. Therefore, you don’t want to miss that opportunity. Let’s look at what search engine marketing is and how to do it well.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

Search Engine Marketing 101

Keyword Bidding to Ad Auction: PPC Advertising Workflow

Tips To Create a Winning Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Final Thoughts: How To Create an Excellent Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Search Engine Marketing 101

Marketers used SEM as an umbrella term consisting of all techniques to improve a website’s search ranking. But in recent years, businesses have started using SEM only for paid advertisements.

SEO, SEM, and PPC — you often come across these terms during your efforts to improve search ranking. But how do they differ? 

Difference Between SEO, SEM, and PPC

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to techniques you use to improve your search ranking organically — for example, website optimization and link building.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to getting a top position on SERPs by paying the search engines. We’ll look at SEM in detail later.

Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC) is paying search engines only when customers click on your ad. SEM is often used interchangeably with PPC. But, PPC campaigns are not limited to search engines. Advertisement channels like social media and YouTube also support PPC advertising.

To create an effective search engine marketing strategy, you should know search engines’ logic to display ads. Let’s see how search engine marketing works with Google Ads as an example.

Keyword Bidding to Ad Auction: PPC Advertising Workflow

How Does Google Decide Which Advertisements To Show on SERPs

Search engines like Google strive to give users the most relevant search results. Hence, Google will only display advertisements that are highly relevant to the search.

Here’s an approximate workflow Google follows to choose relevant ads to display on SERPs.

Comparing Bids That Match User-Supplied Keywords

Assume you run a hand-made jewelry business. You want to show your ads on Google when your target audience searches for ‘buy hand-made jewelry.’

There might be hundreds of businesses selling hand-made jewelry who compete for the same advertisement spot on Google’s SERPs. So, you enter into the run for the ad spot by creating an advertising campaign on the Google Ads website.

To set up an advertisement campaign, you should furnish the following:

  • Keywords for which you want to show the ad
  • The maximum amount you’ll pay per user click (Cost Per Click)
  • Advertisement copy
  • Landing page address

Once you submit your campaign to Google, it knows that you are interested in showing an advertisement when a user searches for ‘buy hand-made jewelry.’ But, as you can see, there are only a few ad spots, and you have to compete with other businesses to grab one of them.

Search Engine Marketing Campaigns Try To Grab one of the Few Ad Spots

As a result, Google needs to select a few businesses whose ads will appear on top of SERPs. To do that, Google conducts an ad auction.

Computing Ad Rank and Selecting Ad Auction Winners

Search Engines Only Choose High-quality Ads to Display on Their SERPs

To select ads to show on the SERPs, Google runs an auction for the few available spots. Multiple businesses may have bid for a keyword. You may be willing to pay 10 cents/click, while another business may have a bid of 30 cents/click.

But, unlike traditional auctions, the maximum bid doesn’t always win. Google’s ad auction takes various factors into account during the decision-making process.

They are the following:

  • Bid amount 
  • Quality score
    • Relevance of your ad to the keyword (Ad copy)
    • How likely people are to click (Click-through Rate, CTR)
  • Ad relevance with respect to user location and search intent
  • Historical performance of your advertisement

Google comes up with an ad rank for each bid based on the above factors. The business with the highest ad rank wins the top ad position on Google’s result page, followed by a few others.

The Ad Position Is Based on Ad Ranking

You need an excellent search engine marketing strategy to beat your competition and grab a top ad position. Here are a few tips on how to do it.

Tips To Create a Winning Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Your search engine marketing strategy should help you win a prime advertisement spot at the minimum cost.

Like we mentioned, Google doesn’t give away ad positions to top bidders. Instead, it considers a combination of factors. So, your SEM strategy should optimize each of these factors.

Let’s see how you can do that.

Optimizing Your Keywords

Choosing Relevant Keywords Is the First Step in Paid Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing starts with creating an ad campaign with target keywords. Keyword research isn’t an easy task, so you need to approach it systematically.

The following steps will help you come up with an initial set of target keywords:

Based on your advertising budget, you need to narrow down your initial keyword list. Here are a few tips for selecting highly effective keywords for your ad campaign:

Improving Your Ad Quality Score

Google Uses Ad Quality Scores in Its Algorithm To Compute Ad Rank

Google considers the quality score of an advertisement as a crucial factor while calculating ad rank. The higher your quality score goes, the lower your cost-per-click becomes.

Let’s see how you can optimize your quality score to reduce costs.

Optimize Ad Copy

Your ad copy is the text you display as a part of the search engine advertisement. It has a heading, description, and outgoing link. It should also closely match the search term and intent.

The more relevant your ad copy is, the higher the chance a user will click on your ad. It enhances the CTR, which is a factor in the quality score.

Optimize the Landing Page

The quality score also depends on where you lead your customers from the ad. Hence, landing pages are a crucial part of your SEM strategy.

Here are a few tips for creating an impressive landing page:

  • The landing page should match the keyword and ad copy
  • It should have a clear call to action (CTA)
  • It should help the user achieve their goal quickly
  • The landing page should load fast

Adjust Your Maximum CPC Bid

The maximum CPC bid is the money you are willing to pay for each user’s click on your ad. While it’s not the sole determining factor, it’s still crucial in deciding ad rank.

You could start with a ballpark figure based on how others are bidding for this keyword. You can use tools like Google Keyword Planner to see the average bid amount.

Once you decide on the initial bid and submit your advertisement campaign, don’t stop there. You should monitor how your ads are doing and make changes to your bids in small installments.

While monitoring your ad performance, focus on the following parameters:

  • Number of views each of your ads received
  • Ads that received the highest number of clicks (CTR)
  • Locations from which you are getting more clicks
  • Number of clicks that convert into a purchase

Based on these observations, you may identify Keywords with high CTR. Even if a keyword has a moderate CTR, it might have a high conversion rate. You should increase your bid amount on these types of keywords.

You also need to show your ads only during the hours when your customers are active. Showing your ads in specific geographic locations also might bring good results.

Diversify Your PPC Advertisements.

You can prioritize Google as it has a 91.67% market. However, you should also try out search engines like Bing and Yahoo!. They will help tap into a different customer pool at a low cost.

Should you implement these tips correctly, you’ll enjoy the benefits SEM has to offer. They are the following:

Benefits of Search Engine Marketing

  • SEM helps you increase your revenue by utilizing the popularity of search engines
  • You need to pay only when a user clicks on your advertisements
  • SEM attracts more customers and may improve organic traffic and boost brand awareness
  • Paid advertisements are effective as the users already have the intent to buy
  • SEM is a non-intrusive marketing method that doesn’t make your customers feel targeted

Final Thoughts: How To Create an Excellent Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Search engine marketing is an excellent strategy for you to appear at the top of SERPs. However, paid advertising is very competitive as businesses try to grab premium ad spots.

Therefore, you need a well-thought-out search engine marketing strategy to beat the competition.

Your SEM strategy should:

  • Optimize keywords
  • Improve Ad quality score
  • Minimize cost per click

So, are you ready to take your business to the next level with search engine marketing? Set up your first ad campaign in just a few clicks using Bluehost’s pay-per-click services.


Tiffani Anderson
Tiffani Anderson |
Tiffani is the Content and Social Marketing Manager for the Bluehost brand. She has a passion for creating engaging content, SEO and social media!

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