What is Search Engine Marketing, or SEM? 

Search Engine Marketing in the broad sense refers to the combination of SEO and search engine advertising, commonly referred to as pay-per-click advertising. SEM in its more narrow sense only refers to pay-per-click advertising. That said, here’s our definition of Search Engine Marketing.

Definition ofSearch Engine Marketing: Advertising that is based on the idea that an internet user can be qualified as a potential buyer by their behaviour online. It is a form of contextual advertising where the context is determined by keywords. Online behaviour: The behaviour in question is searching and surfing the web. For example, if someone searches for “diamond rings” on Yahoo, this shows that they want information on diamond rings. Potentially, this could mean that the searcher is interested in buying a diamond ring.

You may have noticed that I said “behaviour,” instead of search. That’s because since it was created, SEM has been extended to people reading about a topic. For example, if someone is reading about diamond rings, SEM ads targeted to that context (the targeting is based on keywords) will be displayed. Advertisers infer that their reading behaviour shows they’re interested in buying diamond rings.

By placing an advertisement next to the search results that offers diamond rings for sale, an advertiser can get the searcher to visit his site and buy a diamond ring. Advertisers therefore pay for each searcher that comes to their website, since their search qualifies them as a lead. Hence the other name for search engine marketing: pay-per-click advertising, or pay-per-click for short.

Where: Search engine marketing takes place on search engines like Google or Yahoo, where ads are displayed according to the keywords used in the search, and on their  “contextual network,” where ads are displayed according to the keywords on a page.

When: The ads can be run year-round, but like other forms of marketing, advertisers can use seasonal specials. An option also exists to run the ads between certain hours, while another choice allows ads to display until the daily budget runs out.

How it works: At its most basic, SEM is very simple. Advertisers write ads about the length of a newspaper classified. Then they pick a page on their site that the ad will bring visitors to, when they click on it.

Next, advertisers set a maximum price per click they’re willing to pay. When search engine users search for the keywords selected by the advertiser (toy cars, for example) the ad they wrote is displayed near the search results. If the searcher clicks, they then go to the page the advertiser designated (commonly referred to as a “landing page”). Finally, the search engine user takes the action desired by the advertiser (buy, request a quote, subscribe to a newsletter etc.) or leaves the website.

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