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What is Search Engine Marketing

Over the past few years, there has been some confusion on what exactly is included under the search engine marketing (SEM) umbrella in terms of marketing tactics. One marketer may say that SEM covers the act of marketing a website via any search marketing activities, while another may say it only refers to paid search marketing activities. This is obviously a huge contradiction and is not only confusing for green marketers, but for seasoned clients seeking to profit from marketing projects.

The only solution to understanding this confusing acronym is to break down the difference in paid versus organic search marketing activities and determine where the split occurred.

The term search engine marketing (SEM) became popular in 2001 as an umbrella term for paid and organic search activities. Today, many marketers define it as the discipline of promoting websites in search engine results pages (SERPs) and gaining website traffic though paid advertising. Obviously, this new definition excludes organic search marketing efforts or search engine optimisation (SEO): the discipline of increasing website traffic by improving a website’s organic ranking and visibility in SERPs.

With these two modern definitions clearly separating paid and organic search marketing, why is there still confusion about the divide between SEM and SEO? The names themselves don’t clearly emphasis paid vs organic, and that could be where the problem lies.

More About Search Engine Marketing

As stated above, SEM promotes website traffic through paid advertising or in other words, the process of purchasing ads on search engines to gain website traffic; also referred to as paid search. These ads live at the top and bottom of SERPs and can be identified by the “ad” bubble to the left of the website URL.

Google Ads is the most popular paid search platform by far, but other top contenders are Bing Ads and Yahoo Gemini, which make up a combined 10% of search market share in the United States.

  • Google: 88.6%
  • Bing: 6.01%
  • Yahoo: 4.09%

Every time a user clicks on your ad in the SERPs, the advertiser pays a small fee. Hence the popular term pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is often associated with SEM.

Ads show up in search results by bidding on certain keywords or keyword phases. The number of other advertisers bidding on the same keywords as you, where you ads actually show up in search results, and how relevant Google deems your content all determine the cost of consumer clicks. PPC ads can show up on other platforms besides Google, such as Amazon ads or Facebook ads.