What Is Search Engine Marketing & How to Do It Right

In a world where online visibility governs success, mastering Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is crucial. It’s a powerful strategy that puts your brand in front of a crowded audience on search engines. But what exactly is it, and, most importantly, how can you leverage it effectively?

This article will explain the answer and several Search Engine Marketing optimization strategies to help you create the best campaigns.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the practice of promoting websites on search engine results pages (SERPs) primarily through paid advertising, and sometimes through search engine optimization (SEO).

Search Engine Marketing works as a pay-to-play model where you buy your way to the top of search results, aiming to capture people’s attention. SEM allows businesses to pay for potential leads, turning search engines into marketplaces.

Why is Search Engine Marketing important?

Search Engine Marketing is important because of its instant visibility and competitiveness.

SEM delivers immediate results

Unlike organic SEO strategies, which may take months to bear fruit, SEM delivers instant results by placing your ads at the front line of search results.

It expands your brand’s reach, targeting a vast audience, and offers high conversion potential.

SEM fits in your audience’s workflow

This form of marketing has the perfect timing for the audience. When users search for a keyword on search engines, they are ready to purchase. Thus, SEM can guarantee to help your business get more sales.

Moreover, unlike other marketing methods, paid search ads don’t interrupt the users’ workflow. Thus, it is a natural way to get more leads.

What are the three types of search engine marketing?

The three types of search engine marketing are:

  • Paid Search Advertising (Pay-per-click): Advertisers pay a fee for each click their ads receive. PPC advertising is instant and targeted, allowing you to quickly put your message in front of potential customers.

  • Local SEO: Local SEO is the process of optimizing your website to rank higher in local search results, such as Google Maps. A well-optimized local SEO campaign helps you attract more customers and increase brand awareness.

  • Organic SEO: Organic SEO (known as Search Engine Optimization) is the practice of optimizing your content to make it appear in organic search results. It involves keyword research, content writing, link building, and other techniques to help your site rank higher for relevant searches.

The Basis of Search Engine Marketing: Keywords

SEM keyword research

Keyword research is a critical aspect of search engine marketing (SEM). It helps you understand your potential customers.

To do keyword research properly, use an SEO tool to identify keywords your customers will type in when searching for your products or services.

I highly suggest you use SE Ranking. This tool helps you gain insights into search volume, competition, and relevance, allowing you to refine your keyword strategy.

The next thing you need to know is master search intent. Dig deeper to understand what your customers are looking for. Are they looking to purchase a product or service, or are they just researching?

Focus on search terms with commercial intent as they can bring you the most leads and revenues. Some of the high-converting commercial keywords are:

  • Buy.

  • Deal.

  • Discount.

  • Free shipping.

Moreover, avoid keywords with informational intent. They are less likely to get you sales. For instance, if you are selling shoes and bidding for the keyword “how to wash shoes”, you are less likely to get leads.

How to structure your ads account

Consider your keywords as the bedrock. An efficiently structured SEM account is crucial in improving your campaigns’ performance.

Start with keyword groupings, which should be reflected in your ad campaign and ad group organization.

For instance, if you’re selling footwear, you might have separate ad groups for “running shoes”, “hiking boots”, and “casual sneakers”.

Each ad group should contain a small set of closely related keywords. This process allows more targeted, relevant ad copy and landing page, thus increasing the chance of conversions.

Once you have all the keyword groups you need, you can create ad campaigns. You can target multiple groups in each campaign, as long as they are related to your products.

Follow this Google Ads account structure for optimal results:

Google Ads account structure

Search Engine Marketing Ad Auction

An ad auction is a process where marketers are competing for keywords. For the simplicity of this example, I will use Google Ads.

How an Ad Auction Works

When a user enters a search query, Google quickly scans its ads pool and decides which ones to display in the search result pages and in what order.

You will need to identify the keywords you want to bid on and state how much you are willing to pay for these keywords per click. If Google thinks the search query contains your keyword, you enter the auction.

How to Win an Ad Auction

One of the misconceptions about winning an ad auction is having a lot of money to spend on advertisements. Having a large marketing budget is indeed advantageous, but there’s another crucial factor that you should consider.

Google will use a metric called Ad Rank to determine how your ads should be displayed on SERPs. Here’s how it works:

How to calculate Ad Rank

Maximum Bid is the maximum amount of money you are willing to spend on that ad. Quality Score is the score Google gives to your ad for its quality. Quality Score focuses on relevance, CTR, landing pages, etc…

I believe this factor is way more vital than Maximum Bid as it can help you achieve higher ranking with lower cost-per-click.

Here’s how to calculate CPC on an ad auction:

How to calculate CPC on an ad auction

You can see that the first ad has the highest relevance score. Even though it has the lowest maximum bid and cost-per-click, it still ranks in position 1.

Therefore, creating high-quality ads is key to dominating the ad auction.

How to Write an Ad Copy

Once you have all relevant keywords structured, it’s time to write your ad. Creating an effective ad copy requires a stark understanding of your target audience and a keen insight into what compels them.

An ad copy has several components:

  • Title.

  • Display URL.

  • Ad Descriptions.

Here’s the step-by-step process to write the best copy for your ad.

Understand your audience

The first step in creating compelling ad copy is understanding who your audience is. What are their habits? What are their desires? What problems do they have? This understanding will help you in tailoring your ad copy to suit them.

Highlight the benefits, not just the features

Your audience doesn’t care how many features the product or service has, they only want to know how it solves their problems. Thus, focus more on the benefits they’ll receive from your products and services.

Create a compelling headline

Ads Headline example

The headline is the first thing your audience sees. It should be catchy enough to make them want to read the rest of the ad. Make sure it clearly states what you’re offering in a way that piques their interest.

Include a clear call to action (CTA)

After reading your ad, your audience should know what to do next. A clear CTA guides them on the next steps, whether it’s to visit your website, make a purchase, or sign up for a newsletter.

Keep it concise

Conciseness is key in the ad copy. People generally don’t have the patience to read long ads, so keep your sentences short and your points clear.

Constantly manage your campaigns

In addition, PPC is not a one-time effort where you write an ad copy and forget about it. You need to constantly update your campaign to ensure you have the best copy available and eliminate all wasted budgets.

How to use A/B testing to complement SEM

A/B testing (a.k.a split testing) is an essential tool that can significantly improve your SEM efforts. You create two ad versions and see which one performs better.

The key is to change just one element at a time – the headline, the image, or the call to action – so you can attribute any changes in performance to that one variable.

To start with A/B testing, first you need to decide what element you want to test. Then, create two versions of your ad, one with the original element and one with the changed element. Run both ads simultaneously for a set amount of time and then analyze the results. Which one had a higher click-through rate? Which led to more conversions?

Conducting A/B tests and analyzing the results is not a one-time practice. It’s an ongoing process that helps you continually refine and improve your SEM efforts. You gain more insight into what your audience responds to after conducting each test.

How much does SEM cost per month?

Search engine marketing can cost somewhere between $3000 to $10000 per month. However, the exact depends on various factors.

The cost of SEM depends on the market you’re targeting, the competition in that market, and how much budget you have for your campaigns. Generally speaking, more competitive markets tend to cost more than less competitive ones.

You also need to factor in any additional costs such as hiring an agency to help manage your campaign or running A/B tests.

If you want to learn more about SEM cost breakdowns, check out this guide on HawkSEM.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Search Engine Marketing

SEM is one of the best marketing funnels because of its advantages.

  • Immediate Visibility: Unlike SEO, which can take time to deliver results, SEM offers immediate visibility in search engine results. This makes it especially valuable for new businesses looking to establish a digital presence quickly.

  • Targeted Reach: SEM allows advertisers to target specific keywords, demographics, and geographic locations. Thus, you can reach an audience that is most likely to convert.

  • Measurable Results: With SEM, every impression, click, and conversion can be tracked and analyzed, providing clear insights into the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Besides its benefits, SEM also has several drawbacks that you need to consider.

  • Accumulated Costs: While SEM can deliver impressive results, these come at a cost. Competing for popular keywords can become expensive quickly, and without careful management, the costs can outweigh the benefits.

  • Dependence on Continuous Investment: Unlike SEO, where your site can continue to rank well based on past efforts, SEM visibility ends once you stop investing in ads. It is, therefore, less sustainable in the long term.


In conclusion, search engine marketing is a powerful tool that can significantly boost your business’s visibility online. From understanding how keywords work to mastering the art of creating compelling ads, the process may seem intricate but its benefits are immense.

Regular A/B testing and cost management are integral parts of an effective SEM strategy. The journey to mastering SEM is ongoing, but with each step, you gain valuable insights into your audience and the strategies that resonate with them. Keep refining your approach and you’ll see your efforts pay off with increased website traffic, conversions, and sales.


What is an example of search engine marketing?

An example of search engine marketing is Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). This is the most popular SEM platform among marketers.

Google Ads allows you to create ad campaigns targeted towards specific keywords that can appear at the top of search results.

Another example of SEM is Bing Ads, which operates on the Bing search engine. They offer similar functionalities to reach their users. Both tools provide an efficient way to reach potential customers who are searching for products or services related to your business.

What is SEM vs SEO?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are both strategies to increase website visibility in search engines.

SEM often involves paid advertising, like Google Ads or Bing Ads, where you bid for keywords to rank higher. On the other hand, SEO involves optimizing your website through relevant content, keywords and backlinks to organically rank higher in search results.

While SEM gives quick results, SEO provides long-term benefits.

Featured Image Source

Tracy Mcgee

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