Search Engine Marketing (SEM): A Beginner’s Guide for Business

Looking to Increase Traffic to Your Website, and Fast? SEM is an Economical & Effective Method to Drive More Customers to Your Business.

What is SEM and How Can It Benefit Your Small Business?

If you’re a small business owner who’s been looking for a way to drive traffic to your website almost instantaneously, search engine marketing may be right for you.

Search engine marketing (SEM), also commonly known as pay per click (PPC) advertising, is a marketing strategy that involves paying for keyword-based advertisements. These ads are then displayed on search engine result pages (SERPs) when potential customers search for those relevant keywords. The best part? You only pay for ad impressions that bring visitors directly to your website.

Interested in learning more about SEM, how it works, and why it’s important? Our crash-course covers all the basics.

SEM process with icons

How Does SEM Work?

Each major search engine offers its own SEM platform, with popular choices including:

And while each search engine has its own SEM algorithms and nuances in place, they all operate in more-or-less the same way. The marketer selects a keyword or set of keywords they’d like to advertise for, as well as a geographic location in which the ad will be displayed. From there, some short text-based advertising copy is written and the marketer “bids” on a price that they’re willing to pay for each time a person clicks on the ad.

When there is competition for an ad and the search engine’s algorithm has to choose which ad to run, this is often referred to as an “ad auction.” If there are multiple “bidders” for a selected keyword (which is often the case), the advertising spot doesn’t necessarily go to the person who has offered the highest price per click.

Instead, platforms like Google take into account other factors, including something known as an ad’s quality score This score is calculated based on the ad’s relevance to a website’s landing page. This means that you can have the lowest bid for an ad but still end up with the highest ranking, so long as you have a high quality score.

A search engine ad can be up and running in a matter of minutes, and businesses can begin seeing results (including increased website traffic) right away.

The Link Between SEM and SEO

It’s not uncommon for search engine marketing to be confused with search engine optimization (SEO). After all, these two strategies are very closely linked. The main difference, however, is that you don’t pay the search engines for SEO; instead, you use content marketing and other strategies to organically  improve your search engine rankings. With paid search/SEM, you’re spending your marketing dollars directly on ads.

Both involve a focus on getting your site on SERPs, but in very different ways. And, ideally, both SEO and SEM should be a part of your small business marketing strategy.

Benefits of Using SEM

There are many advantages to incorporating SEM into your organization’s marketing strategy.

Geo-Target Your Ads

One unique aspect of paid search ads is that they allow you to designate a geo-targeted area in which your ads will be displayed. This is an excellent opportunity, especially if you have a smaller brick-and-mortar business. Search engine ad platforms like Google Ads also make it possible for you to customize your ad in whatever language you’d like. In this sense, even if you’re advertising to a target audience in another country, you can achieve the results you’re looking for with paid search ads.

Gain Instant Access to Buyers

There isn’t really another form of marketing that allows you to enjoy the instantaneous results of search engine marketing. Within minutes, you can place a bid for an ad, have it published, and begin seeing results. This is very different from organic SEO marketing, which can take weeks or even months to reach measurable results.

Increase Web Traffic

Since people who click on your ad are taken directly to your website, search engine display ads are a great way to drive traffic to your site. 

Optimize Your Budget

Because you only pay for each click on your ad, SEM is a very low-risk marketing strategy. And it’s important to remember that even when people aren’t necessarily clicking on your ad, they’re still seeing it. In this sense, search ads can be considered “free” advertising for your business.

What Goes Into SEM?

Ready to put search engine marketing to use for your small business? Now is a good time to think about your budget and which specific search engines you want to target. Generally, Google Ads are going to get you the most exposure because Google is the most widely used search engine in the world. In fact, it is estimated that about 70% of online searches are conducted on Google.

Yes, you might spend a bit more to land paid ads on Google, but for many businesses, the exposure is worth the price. And depending on your budget, you may want to branch off into other search engines as well. Ultimately, only you will be able to decide which search engine’s ad platform is right for your current needs and budget. Some small businesses decide to start on less expensive platforms like Bing Ads and Yahoo Search Ads, whereas others may be willing to spend more on Google Ads.

Once you've decided on the platform(s) you'll be targeting with your search ads, it's time to get started in creating your first ad campaign.

Consider Hiring a Professional

As a small business owner, you’re busy enough as it is. If you don’t have experience running an SEM campaign, it may be a better use of your time to work with a professional marketing company to handle your SEM. This will free up your own time and efforts to focus on other important aspects of running your business; meanwhile, you can enjoy the peace of mind in knowing that your search engine marketing is being taken care of.

Think About Your Goals

Even when working with a marketing expert, it’s important to ask yourself “what do we want to get out of this campaign?” In fact, this is likely one of the first things your marketing professional will ask you. For an SEM campaign, your goal might be to increase your web traffic by a certain percentage. Or, if you’ve geo-targeted your ads, you might want to see an increase in traffic from a specific geographical region. Whatever your goals may be, make sure to communicate them clearly.

Understand Keyword Planning

One of the most important aspects of your search engine marketing campaign will be your targeted keywords. It’s important to remember that you want to be focusing on the keywords that your target audience is most likely to be searching for.

Again, this is where working with a professional can make your life a lot easier. Keyword research is time-intensive and often requires the use of keyword-planning tools. An experienced marketing professional will be able to use specialized tools to perform keyword research and determine which keywords are best-suited for your paid ads based on factors like:

Understand How Quality Score Works

Remember, simply placing the highest “bid” for your ad doesn’t guarantee placement. Your ad’s quality score also plays a major role. Quality scores on Google Ads range from 1-10—and you’ll want to aim for a 10. The higher your score, the better the chances of success. Factors that go into your quality score include click-through rates, keyword relevance, and your landing page experience. These are all aspects that your marketing professional can optimize so you don’t have to lift a finger.

Measure Your Results

The only way to improve your SEM strategy is to measure your results and make changes as needed. There are plenty of tools out there that can help marketers gain a better understanding of how your ad campaigns are performing, and the professional you’re working with will be able to use these tools to inform your SEM campaigns. He or she will also be able to explain these metrics and your ads’ performance in an accessible way.

Some of the most important metrics your PPC management expert will look at when assessing the success of your SEM campaigns include:

As with any type of marketing, SEM will require a bit of trial and error. However, with careful goal-setting, analytics, and help from a marketing pro, you can carry out a successful SEM campaign that drives traffic to your business website.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to marketing strategies with very little risk and the potential for big results, search engine marketing is an excellent use of marketing dollars for businesses of all sizes. Now that you have a better understanding of how search engine ads work, are you ready to start taking advantage of all the benefits search engine marketing can yield for your growing business?

Mighty Good Marketing is a digital marketing agency located in Flowery Branch, GA and serving the metro-Atlanta area. Need help developing and implementing a successful SEM strategy for your business? Contact us today at 1-866-MIGHTY8 or fill out our form to schedule a free consultation.

Why Choose Mighty Good Marketing?

Your business is unique; your marketing should promote the advantages of choosing your brand over others. We spend the time to learn what your company delivers and what makes your brand unique. Many other marketing companies deliver a one-size-fits-all marketing solution to a specific industry. They use the same messages for all their customers – customers that may, in fact, be your direct competitors. We deliver custom solutions for your business.