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What Is Search Engine Marketing and How Does It Work?

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What is Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing, also known as SEM, is a powerful online advertising strategy that helps businesses increase their visibility and attract more customers through search engine results pages.

Did you know that 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine?

That means that if you want to market your business online, you can reach the vast majority of users by marketing through Google.

For that reason, search engine marketing (SEM) is a prevalent advertising strategy among digital marketers and online businesses. If you’re not using it yet, there’s a good chance your competitors are — so if you want to keep up, consider implementing it.

But what is search engine marketing, and how does it work? Read on to find out.

Then consider partnering with WebFX — the SEM agency with over 1,100 client testimonials — for our SEM services. Just call us at 888-601-5359 or contact us online to get started today!

We foster and form long-term partnerships so that your business has long-term results.

Over 90% of WebFX clients continue partnering with us into year 2 of their campaign.

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What is search engine marketing?

The initial, broader definition of search engine marketing is just what it sounds like — any marketing that takes place through a search engine.

That definition previously included two marketing strategies: Search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

SEO refers to the optimization of site pages to appear in organic results in Google, while PPC refers to the paid ads that appear above the organic rankings.

Despite both SEO and PPC being included in the earlier definition, the meaning of SEM has changed in more recent years. Today, it primarily refers to paid search advertising, while SEO is considered a separate strategy.

More on SEO and SEM in the video below.

When we talk about SEM, we’re talking about paid ads.

These ads appear at the top of Google search result pages and look similar to organic results except for the “Ad” label in the top corner.

synergy mechanical ppc ad

How does paid search advertising work?

Now that we’ve defined what we mean by search engine marketing, it’s time to talk about how SEM works and what it accomplishes.

How can you create paid search ads?

SEM typically takes the form of pay-per-click ads, which you can launch through Google Ads.

Other platforms support PPC ads on other sites, but Google Ads is far and away the most essential one to use due to how much traffic Google receives, so our focus will be there.

In Google Ads, you can create ads to appear at the top of search results, along with landing pages for users to land on when they click them. Before you get too deep into the ad creation process, though, you first have to determine which searches your ads will appear.

How does PPC bidding work?

The way you determine where your ads appear in search (or if they appear at all) is by bidding on specific keywords that are relevant to whatever it is you’re marketing. When someone searches for a keyword, Google displays ads based on:

  • Bid amount (how much a company bid on the keyword)
  • Quality Score (Google’s assessment of an ad’s overall quality)

With an optimal bidding strategy and well-designed ads, your ads can appear at the top of search results in front of the exact audience who has the most need for your products or services.

The best part is, you only have to pay for your ads when people click on them, making PPC a highly cost-effective strategy when executed well.

[BONUS READING: How to Find the Best SEM Company]

How can you optimize your SEM strategy?

You now know how SEM works, but that doesn’t mean you know how to get the most from your campaign. Creating and launching paid ads doesn’t guarantee automatic success. For the best results, you have to implement a winning SEM strategy.

Luckily, there are several things you can do to improve the performance of your paid search advertising.

Here are four tips for running your SEM campaigns!

Want some help with your strategy? Check out some top SEM agencies that can help you get started!

1. Target branded keywords

When you’re looking for keywords to bid on in Google Ads, you want to focus on keywords that will help you reach the most relevant audience — the audience that’s most likely to convert. And who’s more likely to convert than people who already have an interest in you?

That’s why you can benefit from bidding on branded keywords — that is, those that feature branded terms associated with your business. Anyone directly looking up your brand name already has some interest in you, making them more susceptible to your ads.

You don’t want to miss out on such promising leads, so consider bidding on your branded keywords.

2. List negative keywords

While most keywords are meant to tell Google, which searches you want your ads to appear, negative keywords serve the opposite function.

They tell Google in which searches not to display your ads. For instance, if you sell pickup trucks in Wisconsin, you might target variations on the keyword “truck dealership Wisconsin.”

But then your ad might appear in a search for “semi-truck dealership Wisconsin” — which doesn’t apply to you! To avoid showing your ads in irrelevant searches and thereby wasting your resources on uninterested users, you can add “semi” as a negative keyword.

That will tell Google to avoid showing your ads there.

3. Use custom audiences

One of the best things about how SEM works is that it allows you to target a highly specific, highly relevant audience — and not just by bidding on keywords.

Google also allows you to create custom audiences, where you can hone your focus even more. With custom audiences, you can select specific traits to target, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Location

By selecting the specific demographics you want to target, you can avoid showing your ads to an irrelevant audience. For example, if your audience is mostly composed of women in Kansas City, you can restrict your ads to that group.

4. Harness RLSA

A final way to improve the effectiveness of your SEM in Google Ads is to use remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA).

With RLSA, Google will track which users visit certain pages on your site, and then target them with search ads for your products or services later. This feature is valuable for the same reason as branded keywords — people who’ve already visited your site have a preexisting interest in you, making them some of the most likely users to respond positively to your ads.

By targeting them, you have a shot at drawing some of them back to finish converting.

WebFX helps companies like yours reach their business goals

“Our marketing department has a lot of key performance indicators that WebFX has always helped us achieve… WebFX has always worked hard to make sure that we’re getting what we need out of the partnership, not just what may seem like the best result.”


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Let WebFX give your SEM strategy a boost

Want to harness the power of Google to reach a wider and more relevant audiences online?

SEM is the way to do it — and WebFX, an SEM management agency, can help you get the best results from an SEM campaign! We’ve been optimizing search marketing for over 28 years, and we’re not about to stop now.

With our SEM services, you’ll get help implementing each of the tips listed above and more.

You’ll also receive a dedicated account representative to keep you in the loop on everything we do for your campaigns.

To get started with one of the best SEM companies in the business, call 888-601-5359 or contact us online today!

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