Many people often ask us what SEM is and what are the differences between SEM and SEO. Both disciplines of online marketing allow us to get visits to our website through search engines such as Google, Bing or Yandex. But its functionality is very different.
In this article we are going to delve into the definition of SEM, what differences it presents compared to SEO, and all the elements that will help us better understand this concept.
Definition of SEM
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. The main objective of SEM is to obtain visits to websites through PPC or Pay-Per-Click, that is, payment per click.
Typically, SEM is associated with all ads that can be displayed on a search engine. Such results are often labelled as “Ad” to differentiate them from organic or SEO results.
What is SEO then? SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or organic positioning is the discipline aimed at improving the positions in the search results of a website or other type of content.
SEO and SEM: are they the same?
SEM and SEO are not the same. The main difference between the two is the fact that to appear in paid results (SEM) we must pay for each click obtained. If we stop paying for our advertising, we will stop appearing.
On the contrary, SEO strategies do not require direct payment to Google or other search engines for each click obtained. Of course, we will have to comply with the standards set by search engines and compete with other businesses for a spot among the first results.
In this sense, SEM and SEO are also usually differentiated by the time that passes between when we start working and obtaining results. SEM allows short-term results: once we create our campaigns and ads in a matter of hours we can get the first clicks. In the case of SEO, the actions we take to improve our positioning can take weeks or months to be effective.
It should be noted that, if we get strict, the definition of SEM is not entirely correct. Since SEM refers to Search Engine Marketing, it is a general concept. That is, within SEM we could include SEO and other marketing actions. In this case, search engine advertising should be called SEA (Search Engine Advertising). The reality is different: the acronym SEM has come to be associated with search engine advertising actions.
What is SEM used for?
Traffic acquisition is something completely necessary in most web projects. If we want our website to be a source of income or new business opportunities, we must first get users to visit us.
SEM allows us to respond to this need to attract visits. In addition, it does so by providing qualified traffic. Thanks to the segmentation options of SEM campaigns, we will be able to attract users who are specifically looking for our services or products and who fit our target (for example, according to their geographical location, age, gender, interests, etc.).
On the other hand, the different advertising formats of SEM platforms also allow us to make ourselves known among users who did not know us and reinforce our brand image.
It will also allow us to minimize the effects of negative situations such as, for example, the deindexation of our website and the consequent loss of SEO traffic. SEM can provide visits when we have not yet been able to position ourselves naturally. Or if we want a plus of users on certain dates.
Advantages of SEM
Throughout the article we have been revealing some of the advantages of working with SEM advertising. As a summary, we will list the most relevant:
- Immediacy: if we make a change to our ads or any other element, it will be applied in a matter of minutes. This also applies to launching a brand new campaign, not just ones we already have running. This allows you to quickly react to changes in demand or modify ads that are not performing well.
- Segmentation: the main SEM advertising platforms allow us to target our ads to impact only the target audience that interests us. The keywords will be the central axis of this segmentation, which we can complement with the user's location, their gender and age, their interests, or the websites they usually visit, among others.
- Budget control: from the moment we create our SEM advertising campaign, we can define what budget we want to allocate daily or monthly. We will not spend more than what is established, nor will there be surprise fees or charges.
- Analysis: SEM ad tools allow us to analyse in detail the performance of said ads. We will be able to see metrics related to the campaigns themselves (for example, how many users have seen our ads and how many have clicked on them), and also how many sales or contacts have been generated thanks to certain campaigns, ads or keywords.
- Results-oriented: in recent years, SEM tools have focused on providing tangible results (sales, contact forms, calls...), instead of focusing solely on clicks. This means that we will be able to target our advertising campaigns to those users who are most likely to convert.
- Competitiveness: in most sectors we will see that, in addition to SEO results, the presence of SEM ads will be common for the most interesting keywords. We will also see that both large corporations and local businesses compete to capture the attention of users with their ads. SEM advertising will allow us to appear in all those interesting searches for our business, under equal conditions.
How does SEM work?
While each SEM platform has its own features, major ones like Google Ads work in a similar way, using an auction-based model. Broadly speaking, this functionality works as follows:
- Each advertiser creates and segments their ads in a certain way
- When a user performs a search, the search engine decides whether to show ads for this query or not. This is influenced by factors such as the type of search term entered or its orientation.
- If the search engine decides to show ads, it will select from among all the campaigns that are active those that match the search carried out (keyword) and its context (location, gender, age, time...).
- The next step will be to determine in what order the ads are displayed and discard those that do not fit in the SERP, since there is a limited number of ad slots for each query. To do this, the CPC is used (Cost Per Click, the cost that an advertiser is willing to pay for a keyword) and the quality level of each ad (which is influenced by aspects such as the quality of the ads themselves or of our website). With these two metrics, an indicator is obtained that is used to order the ads
For each query a user makes, this process is performed over and over again.
How to start working with SEM?
If you have decided to create your first SEM advertising campaign, you must first choose which platform you want to work with. In Spain, the most common is to work with Google Ads, since Google brings together a large part of the market share.
What is Google Ads? It is the Google platform for PPC or Pay Per Click. Since Google Ads is the most popular platform, people often confuse SEM with the sole management of ads, forgetting that Bing, for example, also offers this service.
For the case at hand, let's say you've decided to work with Google Ads. You must enter https://ads.google.com/ and create a new account. During this initial process, you will be asked for all your company data, as well as payment information (there are methods to skip this step, but rest assured that if you do not activate any campaign, you will not be charged anything).
You will also be prompted to create a first campaign. We don't recommend creating it this way, as Google Ads takes a lot of liberties when it comes to recommending targeting and ad options, so you'll likely end up with a campaign that doesn't meet your goals.
Once the account is created, you will be able to create your first ads. At a general level, advertising in Google Ads is divided into campaigns, ad groups, and ads and keywords:
- In the campaign you will be able to define aspects such as your budget, segmentation by location, language and devices, schedule of ads or type of bid strategy. At a conceptual level, each campaign should be oriented to a type of service or product that you offer.
- In each campaign you will have different ad groups, in which you can specify some of the aspects defined at the campaign level, as well as define specific ads and keywords. For ad groups, each ad group should represent a different way to purchase your products or services. For example, if you have a car rental company, you could define ad groups for each type (cars, motorcycles, vans, etc.).
- In each ad group you will create your own ads and define the keywords for which you want to appear.
When you create your first campaign, make sure to choose the Search type, which is the one that allows you to show ads on search results pages.
With all this ready, you will only need to activate your campaign and wait a few hours for it to start producing results.
The next step would be to analyse our campaign and apply modifications to improve its performance. This must be done periodically, since changes will arise that will force us to react: new competitors, increases in CPC, fluctuation in demand...
Main SEM concepts
We have been mentioning some terms related to SEM such as CPC, keyword or segmentation. To understand them a little better, we are going to provide our definition of the most relevant ones:
- Keyword: when a user makes a query in a search engine, he enters a text string with one or more words. This text is called the search term. SEM platforms and other third-party tools allow us to identify the most common search engine queries. Each of these queries, which are associated with a monthly search volume and a specific CPC, are called keywords. When we create an SEM campaign, we use keywords to define which queries we want to appear on. For example, if we offer SEO services, we will be interested in appearing for keywords such as “SEO agency” or “SEO consulting”.
- Segmentation: in addition to keywords, we have other mechanisms to define which users we want to impact with our ads. For example, the user's physical location, age and gender, or the websites he/she has previously visited. We call the set of these rules with which we limit our target segmentation.
- CPC: the cost for each click a user makes on an ad. Depending on the volume of clicks received and the cost of each one, we will be charged a certain amount. As advertisers, we can define a CPC that we are willing to pay for a certain keyword or a set of keywords.
- Clicks, impressions and CTR: when a user views our ad, an impression is counted. If the user decides to enter our website, a click will be recorded. To know the effectiveness of our ad, we will use the CTR (Click Through Rate) metric, which indicates the relationship between clicks and impressions expressed as a percentage. For example, a CTR of 5% will indicate that, out of 100 users, 5 have clicked on our ad.
- Conversions: Since our business is not fuelled by clicks, but needs contacts or sales to thrive, it doesn't make sense to analyse the performance of our campaigns solely with clicks metrics. Conversions represent actions that the user performs on our website and that add value to us. For example, sending contact forms or sales in an ecommerce. With conversions we can validate if our campaigns are meeting our business objectives, beyond getting clicks and impressions.
Other advertising formats
Advertising tools like Google Ads don't just allow us to create text ads to appear on search results pages. They offer other advertising alternatives that may be useful (or not) depending on our type of business. The most common are:
- Shopping: advertisements of products available in our online store. For each product its title, image and price are shown.
- Local: ads aimed at a public close to our business, using our profile on Google Maps.
- Display: advertising banners that are shown on websites and videos that users browse.
- Remarketing: ads aimed at those users who have already visited our website.
Do I need SEM on my website?
Although the possibility of generating traffic quickly through an SEM campaign may seem attractive, it is not always the best option. When considering whether to use a channel such as SEM to attract visits to your website, keep the following in mind:
- Do you offer a known product / service? SEM campaigns focus on keywords that users use in a search engine. If you offer a new product or service, for which there are no prior inquiries, you will not attract traffic.
- Are there ads for the keywords you have chosen? Search engines can choose not to show ads for certain searches. If this is your case, it will be difficult for your campaign to be visible.
- What competitors are there in your sector? A large number of advertisers for a keyword usually indicates that the captured searches are of quality. But it is also common for the CPC to be higher. Will you be able to compete with your budget if the CPCs are very high?
- What kind of keywords do you want to promote? When determining which concepts to advertise with, we must not fall into the trap of choosing keywords for the mere fact of having a high volume of monthly searches. Instead, choose those that specifically represent your business.
Start working with an SEM Agency
Seeing all the elements to take into account to work with SEM, it is possible that you will be overwhelmed and you will not be able to create your campaigns or make them perform correctly. In these cases, it is interesting to have an SEM agency or Google Ads agency to help you define your SEM strategy and carry out the implementation of the campaigns. If you need help in this regard, at La Teva Web we will be happy to help you.