April 12, 2011

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Back to Basics: What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing, also known as “SEM”, is the use of advertising on search engines to drive traffic to your website.

All major search engines allow anyone to buy advertising in the form of short text advertisements. The beauty of these ads is that the user doesn’t pay unless someone clicks on the ad to go to the advertiser’s site. This is known as “pay-per-click” advertising.

In the screen grab from Google below, you can see that the text ads that appear at the top and right side of the window are called “sponsored links”. The links that appear in the middle left are called “natural search results.”

The way SEM works is that the advertiser chooses the keywords or phrases they want their ads to be displayed with. These ads are then displayed in the sponsored links section.

In the example above, we did a search for “homes for sale in Sydney”. The three ads displayed at the top left and all those on the right side are paid for. The rest appear for free as the result of the search that the user requested.

SEM advertisers place bids to get their ads displayed. The search engine then takes all the requests for ads with a certain keyword or phrase and displays the highest bids at the top. This means it is possible to bid for keywords, be outbid by another advertiser, and not appear in the sponsored links section. Search engines do use other criteria, but price is the key driver in determining position in the search results.

Smart SEM operators don’t go for obvious keywords or phrases, as these will be expensive to secure. Instead, they find keywords and phrases that are not commonly typed in and secure these for cheap cost-per-click rates. This is known as “chasing the long tail.”

Setting up an SEM campaign is relatively easy. Each search engine has a self serve section (e.g.  ) where you can select the keywords you want and the amount you want to pay. Of course, if you don’t want to do this yourself, there are providers out there who can manage your SEM campaign for a fee.


Related posts:

  1. Back to Basics: What is SEO?
  2. Back to Basics: SEO Terms Explained
  3. Back to Basics: SEM Terms Explained
  4. Four Common SEM Mistakes
  5. Back to Basics: How Will Blogging Help You?

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