SEM 101: The Complete Guide to Search Engine Marketing

SEM written out in scrabble letters on a dark brown table
  • James Notaris

    CPA, ESQ, Legal Editor

  • Steve Longo

    Digital Marketer

    In Brief:

  • Search engine marketing (SEM) is a key component of digital marketing.

  • It can be used to grow brand awareness, boost website traffic, and generate leads quickly. 

  • Our SEM 101 guide explores this digital marketing discipline in detail here! 

Search engine marketing, commonly known as SEM or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, is a great way for businesses to grow their brand awareness, generate traffic, and grow their leads and conversions cost-effectively. But just what exactly is SEM? How does it work? Is it similar to SEO?

Like much digital marketing jargon, SEM is something that takes time to learn. This SEM 101 guide takes a detailed look at what it is, how it works, and its similarities and differences compared to SEO. Let’s take a closer look here!

What is SEM?

SEM is a digital marketing strategy in which businesses use paid advertisements for their brand that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). This technique, used by companies of all sizes and sectors, is done to do everything from grow to brand awareness to increase traffic to boost leads. 

How Does SEM Work?

With SEM, advertisers bid on keywords that users on search engines like Google and Bing use to search for products and services. The advertiser then gets the opportunity to get valuable advertising space on SERPs relevant to those keywords, placing their brand prominently in front of their target audience. 

These ads are typically text-based and include headlines and ad copy, though product listing ads (PLAs) include images. 

The main advantage of SEM is that it gives brands prime advertising space in front of relevant target audiences, giving them an immediate boost to their brand reach, traffic, and leads.

Pay Per Click written out in Scrabble letters on a white desk near a smartphone and computer keyword

How to Improve Your SEM

Looking to improve your SEM? Check out some tips here!

  • Do keyword research thoroughly. Remember to take search intent into account and target long-tail keywords too.
  • See what your competitors’ ad copy is like and strive to make your own even better. Include strong calls-to-action (CTAs) and ensure the ad copy is clear, concise, and prompts users to click on it. 
  • Keep close tabs on your competition and see what they’re doing for keyword targeting and ad copy. 
  • Ensure that your ads work well on both desktop and mobile. 
  • Always keep A/B testing and optimizing your ad copy. 


SEM and search engine optimization (SEO) are similar in some ways and both widely used digital marketing techniques, but are quite different at their core. 

The main difference is that SEM is paid advertising while SEO is unpaid, or organic in digital marketing terms. Rather than pay for valuable ad space on relevant SERPs, SEO is used by digital marketers to boost their websites in the SERPs naturally. 

Although this typically takes longer than SEM, it’s much more affordable in the long run. SEO is multifaceted and includes onpage SEO – which focuses on optimizing content, metatags, and URLs – offpage SEO – which mainly deals with link building, social media, and other forms of website promotion – and technical SEO – which aims to make websites faster, more mobile-friendly, and ultimately better optimized from a technical perspective. 

Both SEM and SEO are widely used by brands to grow their online presence, attract new visitors, and boost sales. 

Learn more about SEO by reading our comprehensive guide here

Boost Your Website with SEM Today!

By understanding SEM 101, your brand can leverage paid digital media to grow efficiently and cost-effectively. Give it a try and see what it can do for your website today! 


Work with Us

Contact Us