Heard of SEO – but what about SEM?

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These days, anyone with even a passing familiarity with web marketing knows that SEO stands for search engine optimisation. This is the process through which companies can boost the popularity of their website by including keywords in their content and targeting certain phrases and terminology. But what about SEM? This is a lesser-known term, which stands for search engine marketing.

Initially, SEM was an umbrella term that incorporated most aspects of internet marketing. One of these areas was SEO, with the other main aspect of SEM being paid search activities. Over time, SEO grew in importance and overtook SEM in terms of popularity. But paid search activities continued to play a role and SEM has once again became an important part of marketing strategy.

What you need to know about SEM

If you’re not familiar with SEM, then there are a few things that you really need to know. First, SEM is a really effective way for small businesses to reach new customers. It can help you to increase revenues and reduce the cost of acquisition.

As mentioned, the term SEM has come to stand for a specific type of marketing using search engines. This is the area of paid searches. If you’re familiar with paid searches, then you’ll know the most popular platform is Google AdWords, although both Bing and Yahoo! also use paid search options to help you boost the popularity of your site.

SEM incorporates all elements of paid searches, including paid search ads, paid advertising and pay per click (known as PPC). However, the other major paid for searches are on social media platforms, such as Facebook, which does not fall under the umbrella of SEM directly.

The benefits of SEM for small businesses

SEM can provide an instant boost for your brand awareness. Even if you’re a new business or have no current visibility, being on page one of a search results page gives you instant brand attention.

SEM can help to generate revenues quickly, without much lead in time, as can be the case for other forms of web marketing. SEM is also a tool that can grow with your business. As you get larger, you can step up your SEM campaign to target more keywords and bigger audiences. This is flexibility that is very appealing for small businesses.

Lastly, SEM is able to reach people at exactly the right time. Rather than working hard to get attention, SEM puts you front and centre exactly at the right moment.

Do keywords still matter for SEM?

Just as they are for SEO, keywords are very important for SEM purposes. When you devise an SEM strategy or campaign, you need to identify keywords that will feature on searches. So, just like for SEO, you will need to carry out some in-depth keyword research. This is the key to running a successful SEM campaign.

Think about your target market and try and establish what kind of key terminology and words they will be searching for. This will help you to streamline your SEM strategy and gain maximum return on your paid for advertising spend. Ideally, you need to be thinking about high volume keywords that have low competition. This will help to bring down your cost per click (or CPC). There are several keyword search tools that you can use to help you identify the best search terms for the job.

Once you have identified the right keywords, then you need to think about how much you are prepared to bid for them. SEM platforms work on a bidding system, with advertisers able to place bids on the terms they want to pay to target. As you might expect from a market such as this, the more in demand a keyword is, the more you will be expected to pay for it.

Whoever is willing to pay the most, ranks the highest. But there are ways of making your bidding and keyword strategy more effective. And you should remember that you only need to pay enough to outbid the next highest bidder. So, if you bid £100 for a keyword and the next highest bidder is just £9.99, then you will only pay £10 for the keyword.

It also means that you should try and target keywords that are effective but aren’t in demand. This is a good way for small businesses to make their budget go further.

SEM with SEO and social media

As we have outlined above, SEM is different from both SEO and social media advertising but it can be used to work with both of these as part of a wider marketing strategy. SEO is a more organic way of using your content and website to become more visible to search engines. SEM is a way of paying to target the same audience. Similarly, the more people see your adverts on social media, the more likely they are to click through. So, it’s worth using these two marketing tools as part of one strategy.


SEM puts you in front of the very people you are trying to target and those searching for the terms you are focusing on. That makes SEM a very effective tool for your business. Of course, using SEM does cost money and you do have to pay for every click, but if you are targeting your keywords in the right area, these will be very effective in terms of CPC.

That’s why SEM forms an important part of any web marketing strategy and why it’s becoming as, if not more, important than SEO. If you would like more information about how best to use SEM to your advantage, then get in touch with a member of our team. SEM can be a great asset for your business, but it can also be one that costs money and has little effect if it’s not planned and executed well. That’s why you need the help of professional web marketers to help you get the most from your SEM strategy.

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