What On Earth is Search Engine Marketing?

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / Marketing Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

What is search engine marketing and how do businesses successfully utilize SEM to grow sales? Read on for a quick and easy explanation.

The present and future of marketing is based on "search engine marketing." As the name suggests, "search engine marketing" or "paid search" or "pay per click" marketing is done online, and allows companies to post their ads on search engines like Google, Yahoo!, or Bing.

Search engine marketing also allows ads to appear on a network of websites, aside from search engines. Through Google partnerships with various sites, marketers can post their ads to sites based on content, topics, or other factors having to do with the sites, and the products or services they offer.

Paid Search is quickly replacing more traditional methods of marketing, because of its ability to target a wide audience at a potentially cheaper cost. Television, print, and radio ads can be expensive; however, paid search ads allow even the smallest businesses to reach a fairly wide audience to sell their products or services.

How Can Search Engine Marketing Benefit Businesses?

Aside from being a potential, cheaper source of marketing and reaching a wider audience, paid search has a number of other benefits for businesses. Search engine marketing allows businesses to go after people who are interested in potentially buying their products or services. By targeting what people are searching for -- or "search queries" -- companies can advertise to potential buyers. Rather than renting a store, putting up a sign, and waiting for customers to come by -- search engine marketing allows companies to go after potential customers who have shown an interest in a type of product or service they sell. In essence, it is more targeted advertising.

Related:3 Reasons Adwords Campaigns Fail...and Solutions

Search engine marketing also allows companies to better control their spend, and monitor the performance and effectiveness of marketing. Each search engine that provides paid search marketing has a user interface that shows performance in real time. Marketers can monitor how ads are performing, costs, and even revenue brought in through search engine marketing campaigns.

Search engine marketing is based on an "ad auction." Marketers "bid" on keywords that match "queries" or what people are searching for. "Bids" are essentially the maximum amount a marketer is willing to pay, for each click on an ad, resulting from a search based on a particular query. So, for example, if a marketer wants to bid on "baby shirts" and "baby apparel," both at a bid of $2, then he is willing to pay a maximum of $2 for every click on his ad, from people searching for "baby shirts" or "baby apparel."

Bids are not representative of how much a marketer will pay for each click. A bid is simply a maximum amount. The average cost per click will be lower, and should decrease over time through efficient campaign management. Through bidding, marketers who are willing to pay higher for click can expect their ads to usually be show more frequently and in better position, than those who are not willing to pay as much.

How Are Campaigns Structured?

Aside from creating an account with Google or Bing, search engine marketing has a structured process. It requires setting up campaigns around certain products or services you wish to sell. Within these campaigns, you can separate your product line even further, and identify "ad groups." For example, if you sell infant apparel, you may identify your campaign as "infant apparel," and have ad groups for "infant shirts," "infant jackets," or "infant sweaters." You can have as many campaigns and ad groups as you wish in your account.

Related: Your Audience: Why Rent When You Can Own?

In each ad group, you have the opportunity to input both "keywords" and "ads." The keywords you choose and the ad copy, should align with the theme of the ad group. So, if the ad group is about "infant jackets," then keywords having to do with infant or baby jackets should be in that particular group. The ads should also send the message to people searching, that the company specifically sells infant jackets. Just like campaigns and ad groups, you can input as many keywords or ads as you wish in an ad group.

As mentioned, keywords are based on "search queries" or what terms people are actually searching for on Google. Google AdWords provides a number of tools, primarily the Keyword Planner tool, that allows marketers to see which "search queries" or terms people are searching for, are most popular. Marketers can then add these keywords directly to their ad group. So, if the keyword tool shows that "baby winter jackets" or "baby rain jackets" are popular search queries, marketers can add these specific keywords to the "infant jackets" ad group.

Does Everyone See My Ads?

You can choose to target an audience based on a number of filters. These include: geographic filters, or "location targeting"; targeting by language, or by targeting through keyword selection.

Location targeting allows marketers to only target people in a specific geographic area. This can be one, or a set of countries, cities, and DMAs ("designated market areas," which are often larger than cities). It can also target a radius around a point and specific zip codes.

Language targeting allows marketers to serve ads on websites in a particular language. For example, by selecting "Spanish," ads will only appear on Spanish language sites, including the Google Spanish language site.

Related: 5 Little Known Ways to Generate B2B Sales Leads

Targeting through keyword selection, is simply adding the name of the geographic area as a term in the keyword. So, if a marketer wishes to sell infant apparel only to people in Los Angeles, he or she would select keywords such as "Los Angeles infant apparel" or "LA infant shirts." Using the location names as terms in the keywords will increase the chance that ads appear for people who want infant apparel in the Los Angeles area.

What Types of Ads Can I Have?

Search engine marketing allows marketers to produce both text and image ads. The text ads are served on Google and its partner sites, including websites that are part of its "display" or "content" network. Image ads are only eligible to be shown on the content network of sites. Various individual and company sites work with Google, as part of its content network, to provide space to others for image ads.

So How Do I Get Started?

The best way to get started and to learn more about search engine marketing is to -- search Google for articles and other content about paid search. You can also setup an account with Google AdWords -- the network for running search engine ads -- and begin creating your first search engine marketing. The homepage for Google AdWords is: http://adwords.google.com

Experimenting with AdWords will allow you to discover some of the features discussed in the article. To create more efficient and structured campaigns, stay tuned for even more content from Business.com about search engine marketing. In future posts, I will cover topics such as keyword research, writing effective ad copy, and adding tracking pixels, that can boost performance.

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