While SEO involves trying to get your pages to organically rank higher in search results, search engine marketing (SEM) is the more direct route: marketing a business using the paid advertisements that appear in search engine results.
SEM ads, a subcategory of pay-per-click ads, come in a few different forms. The most common are the small text fields that appear at the top of search results pages, and which are typically formatted to look much like other page listings. Product listing ads (or PLAs), which appear under Google’s “Shopping” search results tab, display in a more catalog-like format, with photos, pricing, product details, and even customer reviews. Image search results often display PLAs as well, typically as a row of images atop the organic results.
What Is SEM?
SEM is a great alternative to SEO when your competitors have a head start in establishing their search rankings for extremely common terms. While the click-through rate for SEM ads is not as high as with organic search results, they have the advantage of being much more easily obtainable; if you have the money—search engines like Google and Bing typically sell the ad spots associated with specific keywords to the highest bidder.
And, like SEO, SEM displays your brand and its products to potential customers at the moment they’re most likely to commit to a purchase—as they’re conducting an online search for the type of products your company sells. This makes SEM uniquely powerful among paid advertising—another reason that, while it can’t match the click-through rate of organic search results, SEM is a crucial pillar of any comprehensive digital marketing plan.
SEM can also help analyze your traffic and discover the search intent of your users and customers. Analyzing the ads you run on search engines can allow you to find patterns in search terms, and determine which ads and what forms of messaging generate the most clicks and conversions.
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