What is SEM

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. In this blog post, we will go through what this really means for digital marketing and how you can use SEM to successfully achieve your marketing goals. ¨

SEM - Search Engine Marketing

When talking about SEM today, most people refer to Google Ads. Google Ads is Google's advertising platform where you can pay to advertise in Google's search results, but SEM can just as easily be about advertising in any search engine, such as Bing or Duckduckgo. 

Below are examples of search engine marketing in blue for both Bing and Google. 

SEM Bing
SEM Google

As a Google user, it's clear from the search results what is an ad and what is organic. The ads are always marked as "Ad" as you can see highlighted in green in the image above. 

The differences between SEM and SEO

It is important to distinguish between SEM and SEO. SEO is about optimising your website to appear organically in search results on a search engine. To appear organically in Google search results, you pay nothing. When you appear organically in Google's search engine, it means that Google has ranked your content as a good match to show up on a specific query. 

Examples of organic results in the Bing and Google search engines are shown in the images earlier in this post and are highlighted in red. 


Apart from the big difference that you pay to be seen and get clicks when it comes to SEM and that you don't pay anything to be seen organically in search engines, the big difference is control. 

Advertising in a search engine (SEM) means that you can control where your ads appear. You can control that your SEM ad will only appear in the search "what does marketing cost" and that it will not appear in any other search. 

You can't control it this way when working with SEO. Even if you optimize your content and website to appear only on a particular search, the search engine may rank you on a completely different keyword that you don't want to appear on. 

It is also possible to control how much traffic you want to drive through SEM and even turn off an ad at any time and therefore stop getting traffic from an SEM campaign altogether. This can be useful if, for example, you are working on a campaign for a certain product that then sells out. Then you don't want more visitors to visit your website and not be able to order the product they are looking for. 

A common question when it comes to SEM and SEO is what to spend your resources and time on. We have a blog post that only touches on that question here: SEO or SEM where should you spend your budget?

How does SEM work in practice?

The basics of SEM are simple. You, the advertiser, decide how your ad will look and what text it will contain. Then you choose which keywords you want the ad to appear on. There is a plethora of different strategies and features where you can use exact match, broad match, etc. Then you set a budget for how much a click can cost and how much you want to spend within a certain time interval e.g. weekly budget or monthly budget. 

SEM is relatively complex and there are many different ways to set up campaigns and ads. There are also many different types of bidding strategies, ad format strategies, etc. 

It is important to note that the cost per click is not fixed, but is determined by automatic bidding at any given moment by the search engine. Therefore, you may not appear at all if you have too low a budget set per click. 

Quality score (Google Ads)

It's not just price per click that affects whether your ad will be shown. Each ad has a quality score between 1 and 10 which is multiplied by your click budget to give your weighted bid in any given auction. What affects the quality score is, expected click-through-rate, landing page experience and relevance of the ad. 

Google Ads Quality Score

Read more about how to be more successful with Google Ads in this blog post:
Three quick tips for those just getting started with Google Ads

When should you work with SEM?

Working with SEM is perfect for those who want to get traffic to their website quickly and don't have a history of traffic. One of the absolute main advantages of SEM is that you could set up a campaign today and start getting traffic right away. 

There are certain keywords that have really high competition when it comes to SEO and if you know that such a keyword or phrase is important for you to get leads or business, SEM is the only option to appear there in the reasonable future. In that case, SEM is great until you manage to work up your own SEO and appear organically on that keyword. 

Cases where SEM is not allowed to work with

SEM is almost always a good activity as there are likely to be keywords that you are currently not covering with your own SEO work that you can cover through SEM. The downside of SEM is that it is relatively expensive in the long run if you compare it to SEO. The reason for this is that SEM costs per click and SEO instead is more of an investment in content which over time causes the cost per click to drop. This is well illustrated by the image below.



SEM - Search Engine Marketing is paid advertising in search engines. When you do a search in a search engine, you can quickly see what is SEM as it says "ad" next to the result if it is paid. 

Where it does not say "ad" in a search engine are organic results and are about SEO. 

There are almost always reasons to work with SEM, but it can be costly and stops working when you stop paying. 

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