What is SEM?

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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 succeed in achieving your marketing goals. 

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

When it comes to 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, e.g. Bing or Duckduckgo.

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

SEM Bing

SEM Bing

SEM Google

SEM Google

As a user of Google, it is clear in the search results what is an ad and what are organic results. The ads are always marked as “Advertisement” which you can see marked in green in the image above.

The differences between SEM and SEO

It is important to distinguish between SEM and SEO. SEO is about optimizing your website to appear organically in search results on a search engine. To appear organic 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 on a specific question.

Examples of organic results in the search engines Bing and Google can be seen in the images earlier in this post and are marked in red.


In addition to the difference that you pay to be visible and get clicks when it comes to SEM and that you do not pay anything to be seen organically in search engines, the other difference is control.

Advertising in a search engine (SEM) means you can control where your ads appear. You can check that your SEM ad should only appear in the search “what does marketing cost” and that it should not be visible on any other search.

It is not possible to have that type of control when working with SEO. Even if you optimize your content and website to only be visible on a certain search, the search engine can rank you on a completely different keyword that you do not want to be seen on.

You can also control how much traffic you want to drive through SEM and also turn off an ad at any time and therefore completely stop getting traffic from an SEM campaign. This can be good if you e.g. works with a campaign for a specific product that then sells out. Then you do not 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 put resources and time into. 

How does SEM work?

The basics of SEM are simple. As an advertiser, you decide what your ad should look like and what text it should contain. Then choose which keywords you want your ad to appear on. Here are a number of different strategies and functions where you can use exact match, wide 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 lots of different types of bidding strategies, ad format strategies, etc.

It is important to keep in mind that the cost per click is not fixed but that it is done through automatic bidding at any given moment with 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 cost-per-clicks that affect whether your ad will appear. Each ad has a Quality Score between 1 and 10 that 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, experience on the landing page and relevance to the ad.

Quality Score Google Ads

Kvalitetsscore Google Ads

When should you work with SEM?

Working with SEM is perfect for those who want to get traffic to a website quickly and have not generated traffic before. One of the absolute main benefits of SEM is that you could set up a campaign today and start getting traffic right away.

There are some keywords that have lots of competition for search results. When it comes to SEO and if you know that such a keyword or phrase is important for you to get leads or business then SEM is the only option to be seen there in a reasonable future. In that case, SEM is excellent until you have managed to work up your own SEO and appear organic on that keyword.

When does SEM not work so well?

SEM is almost always a good activity as there are probably keywords that you do not cover today with the help of your own SEO work and which you can cover through SEM. The disadvantage of SEM is that in the long run it is relatively expensive if you compare with SEO. The reason for this is that SEM costs for every click. SEO is instead more of an investment in content that over time makes the cost per click lower. 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 that it is SEM as it says “advertisement” in the result.

Where there is no “ad” in a search engine, organic results 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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