You can find many comprehensive guides and definitions of search engine marketing (SEM).

As the founder of a Boutique Marketing Agency that works with small and medium-sized businesses...I know that most folks prefer simplicity.

Here is what I'll cover in this relatively short article:

  • What Does Search Engine Marketing Mean
  • What Are the Types of SEM (with Examples)
  • The Pros & Cons of Search Engine Marketing

By the end, you'll have a basic understanding of how this online advertising method works. Then, you can decide whether to learn more and implement SEM in your business's digital marketing strategy.


The Search Engine Marketing Definition

Search engine marketing (SEM) is an effective online advertising method for achieving quick results. Its main objective is to provide immediate website visibility in search engine result pages.

Search engine marketing is also known as paid search marketing. Thus, you shouldn't confuse it with search engine optimization (SEO).

» Search engine marketing aims to generate website traffic by getting users to click paid ads.

» The goal of SEO is for website content to appear organically in search engine results pages.

The founder of Search Engine Land coined the term SEM in 2001. I respect him for his great work over the years, but I disagree with some of his more recent statements.


"These days, I still push that SEM = SEO + PPC. But to some, that’s been bastardized into SEM = PPC"


Search engine results pages often contain informational content with no marketing intentions. Thus, SEO isn't part of SEM.

PPC advertising is also available on platforms like Facebook, which aren't search engines. For me, SEM and PPC are different.

In Simple Words, Search Engine Marketing is:

A tool that will help your business reach people on the spot when they search for products or services you offer. If someone types a query into search engines like Google, your targeted ads show up alongside organic search results.

In fact, paid search results are always above organic search results. Your ads can appear below only if you don't meet the ad rank threshold. That's why Google Ads work great for SMBs that don't have the time and resources needed to achieve the long-term benefits of SEO.


How Does Search Engine Marketing Work?

a visualization of how SEM works in simple steps

The search engine marketing process starts with keyword research to find search queries (specific keywords) related to your business. Next, you create ads for your SEM campaign targeting those keywords. Then, you compete with other advertisers by placing bids.

To run a successful SEM campaign, you need to:

  • Find relevant keywords that resonate with your target audience
  • Create appealing ad copies and landing pages that convert
  • Have an optimal bidding strategy that keeps your budget in check
  • Measure SEM performance and optimize regularly for good ROI

Now, let's look at the paid search advertising options.


The Main Types of Search Engine Marketing

Google Ads is by far the most popular platform for SEM ad campaigns.

I have a more detailed article explaining the 4 best ways to promote your business on Google. Here, you'll see a brief description and visual example of each ad type you can use in your SEM strategy.

That said, search engine marketing includes:

Search Ads

Your message appears above organic results when users search for keywords relevant to your offerings. A persuasive paid search ad copy and attractive image (optional) speak directly to your target audience and encourage them to take action.

example of paid search ads

Shopping Ads

These are perfect for e-commerce businesses. They display your products with an image, price, brand, and brief description right in the search results. The visually appealing Shopping ads capture the attention of those ready to buy, driving quality traffic to your online store.

example of google shopping ads

Ads on Google Maps

With Google Maps Ads, you can put your local business in front of nearby customers searching for what you have. They display your business information, making it simple for customers to find and visit your physical location. These ads appear above organic Google business listings.

example of advertising on google maps

Local Service Ads

Tailored for service-based businesses, Google's LSAs connect you with people searching for the solutions you provide. Apart from your business info, these ads show additional verifications to help you establish trust and credibility. You don't pay per click but for valid leads.

local services ads example

I'm sure you realize the importance of Google's paid advertising for your biz...but throwing some numbers never hurts.

According to Statista:


In Q1 of 2024, Google accounted for over 95% of the mobile search market in the US. With about 59% reach among mobile audiences, Google Search is also one of the most used mobile apps.


Search Engine Marketing Pros and Cons

If you want to learn more about all the benefits of search engine marketing for your business, check out this article. For the sake of this post, I'll show you a list of the Pros and Cons.

Benefits of SEM

  • Quick visibility and website traffic
  • Competitiveness in local markets
  • Reaching the most relevant audience
  • Analyzing data to measure results
  • Full control over advertising costs
  • Brand recognition and credibility

Drawbacks of SEM

  • Ongoing investment to maintain search visibility
  • High search volume keywords are expensive
  • Effective SEM campaigns are time-consuming

My Last Thoughts

I've been doing this for about two decades, but in the 2020s...digital marketing is undoubtedly the most effective option for scaling a business.

Yes, it comes with certain challenges, but as the saying goes...

We don't grow when things are easy!

If you have any questions or need advice...I'm happy to help.

work with a boutique digital marketing agency to grow your business

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