What is SEM? How Search Engine Marketing Works

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What is SEM? SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, or it can also be called search engine marketing .

Normally the SEM is used to designate paid search engine advertising campaigns, although the truth is that its definition could encompass all those marketing actions that take place within a search engine, whether or not they are paid.

SEM: What is search engine marketing

The SEM or search engine marketing generates problems in defining what exactly, since there are differences between the “real” meaning of the term and the way most people use.

In general, we call SEM the set of tools, techniques and strategies that help us optimize the visibility of sites and web pages through search engines . In short, what we are looking for is to appear more and better positioned among the search results of Google and other similar sites when a user searches for keywords related to our brand.

Generally, the search pages of Google and other sites show two types of results:

  • Organic or natural results (usually displayed in the center of the page). To find out which ones to show, the search engine uses an algorithm that tells it which websites can best respond to a given query. For example, Google’s algorithm is primarily based on relevance (web content) and authority (links from other pages). The set of techniques and tools used to position organically in the listings is known as SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
  • Payment results. They are usually displayed at the top and in a column to the right. Unlike organic listings, here the advertiser must pay an amount for each click they get. To get traffic by buying search engine ads, you will have to turn to search engine advertising solutions , such as Google Ads. This system is also called PPC (pay per click) or CPC (cost per click).

Search Engine Marketing encompasses both SEO techniques and search engine advertising. However, in practice, most marketers use SEM to refer exclusively to search engine advertising, that is, paid results. To avoid confusion, in this case we will use SEM as a synonym for “search engine advertising”.

How can we help you with your EMS?

Today SEM is necessary for companies. However, it is much more powerful when used in combination with other tools such as SEO.

Of course: the study of keywords will be the fundamental pillars for our actions in search engines to be successful. The study of our Buyer Persona will also be essential to understand the intentionality of our audience when searching for certain keywords and, therefore, will allow us a more accurate segmentation.

These are the concepts that you should not lose sight of:

  • SEM and SEO . A combined strategy will help you achieve your goals. With the SEM in the short term and with the SEO in the medium-long term. In addition, with an intelligent study of keywords, you can impact the 2 strategies at the same time.
  • SEM positioning . When you launch your campaigns in Google Ads or in other search engines, you must bear in mind that your ads compete in a constant bid to appear. You must constantly optimize your campaigns and advertisements, to be able to appear in Google’s advertising spaces.
  • SEM campaign . Optimize your campaigns constantly, because many times it is not about who offers the most money in the bid, but who knows how to create the campaign that most interests the audience. With a good SEM campaign you can achieve your goals in a short time and reach new audiences.
  • Search Engine Marketing . The full name of the SEM abbreviation. It is all that marketing applied and focused on search engines. Learn how to run the best campaigns on Google and others like Bing. If not, put yourself in the hands of people who can advise you.
  • SEM Marketing . Learn the best way to apply search engine marketing and expert tricks that will help your SEM campaigns.
  • SEM on Google . What are the best techniques today to mount campaigns on the Google advertising platform, called Google Ads.

At Cyberclick we consider that a good SEM strategy starts from an in-depth analysis of the user’s needs, a good study of keywords and the creation of smart campaigns, grouping keywords by families and associated with short but hooked ads.

What can you get with SEM

There are many reasons to incorporate SEM into your internet marketing strategies . These are just some of the benefits that Search Engine Marketing can bring to your brand:

  • Get highly qualified traffic to your page . One of the bases of any digital marketing strategy is to attract the right users to your landing pages. Search engine marketing is very effective in attracting the attention of users and generating clicks and, by allowing users to filter based on the words they are looking for, it ensures that this traffic will be made up of people potentially interested in your brand.
  • Make your brand or company known around the world . Getting to the top of Google is a great way to gain visibility for your brand. Even if the user does not click the first time, seeing your page in the first place will gradually associate it with the need they are looking to solve.
  • Generate conversions . Google Ads offers all kinds of facilities to measure conversions and thus ensure that your ads are really effective.
  • Going far on a budget. Search engine advertising solutions combine a great potential reach with the possibility of adjusting the budget to your needs at all times. You don’t need a large initial investment, making it suitable for small and medium-sized businesses. And if your brand is growing, the sky is the limit!
  • Finally, with Search Engine Marketing solutions such as Google Ads, you can not only place advertising in the search engine itself, but also take advantage of the data and parameters available to you to place contextual advertising on other websites. The customization possibilities are very high: users who have already visited your website, interested in X types of products, from a specific city, etc. Combined with your search engine advertising campaigns, they can be a very powerful tool to grow your brand.

Advantages (and disadvantages) of SEM

Without a doubt, search engine marketing is a powerful and suitable tool for almost all types of brands. So that you can better assess when and how to include it, I will tell you its main advantages and disadvantages.


  1. Highly measurable . Tools such as Google Ads provide you with highly detailed reports on the evolution of your campaign, so that you can always know what is happening with your ads. In addition, you can take advantage of the integration with Analytics to have everything perfectly controlled.
  2. Real time monitoring. The analytics interface allows you to see what is happening at all times and correct the course at the moment if you do not get the results you are looking for.
  3. Pay per click . In this way, you will only pay if you get results. You can control at any time the maximum daily budget that you are willing to invest, as well as the maximum cost per click that you can pay. In this way, you ensure that the campaign is profitable in all cases.
  4. Quickly . Compared to other techniques such as SEO or content marketing, search engine advertising allows for relatively fast and large-scale results to be achieved.
  5. Within everyone’s reach. Since the budget investment is scalable, this solution works for both large companies and SMEs. All of them compete on equal terms in the “fight” to reach the top positions for keywords.
  6. Segmentation . Finally, another strong point of this tool is its great segmentation possibilities. By targeting keywords, we will reach audiences that are actively interested in us. And also, we can filter it by other factors such as location, language, or behavior.


  1. Higher long-term cost. Speaking clearly: SEM only works while you pay. Although over time you can optimize your campaigns and reduce costs per click, you will have to continue paying for each of the visits you get.
  2. High level of competition . Search Engine Marketing has become popular and many companies compete to position themselves for the same keywords. This competition makes costs go up and it can sometimes be difficult to get a good ROI.
  3. It is interruptive. Unlike other solutions such as native advertising, SEM involves “invading” the user’s space with content that the user has not previously requested. In fact, if the user you are targeting uses an ad blocker, they may not see your ads.

Basic concepts to create your SEM strategy

Now, we are going to go over the basics you need to navigate the world of search engine advertising. Given that in our country Google concentrates the vast majority of searches, we are going to base ourselves on the terms used in Google Ads.

  • Keyword or keyword: keywords are “the mother of the lamb”, the basis on which all search engine marketing is based. Simply put, they are the words, groups of words or phrases that will make your ad appear to users.
  • Text ad: The standard type of ad that is displayed in search engines. They generally have a title, two lines of text, and a customizable link.
  • Ad group: Ad groups are sets of ads and keywords. In turn, these are grouped into campaigns, in which you can define the daily budget and the countries or territories where the ads will appear.
  • Search network: the part of the search engine where your ads can appear. The easiest thing is to work with text ads at the top and right of the results page, but you can also show ads on other sites such as Google Shopping or Google Maps.
  • Impressions: number of times an ad has been shown.
  • Clicks: number of times an ad has been clicked.
  • CTR: percentage of impressions that generate a click.
  • CPC: average cost per click. We can define a maximum CPC to ensure that we do not go over budget.
  • Quality Score : score (determined by Google) of a keyword and an ad to determine its CPC. In theory, the higher the quality of an ad, the less you will pay for each click.

Start with your SEM campaigns and launch yourself to test the good results it can give you. If you are looking to get new clients for your products or services, we have a lot to offer you and we want to be part of your team. The expert partner that will help you attract potential clients, optimize your campaigns to the maximum and obtain the best ROI.

How to do a keyword study in SEM

When we plan an SEM campaign, the study of keywords should always be one of the first steps. We can say that keywords are like the “bricks” from which the entire SEM account, the ads and even the landing pages are structured.

To conduct a keyword study for SEM campaigns, take note of the following steps.

Analysis of the product or service (and in case it is already created, the landing page)

Keywords must always be relevant to the product or service that we are offering. So the first step is to make a list of two to ten top ideas that summarize the services or products we offer . In addition to studying our own offer, we can also take a look at the pages of the competition.

Using keyword tools

There are many keyword planning platforms on the market, such as SemRush or Google’s keyword tool. If we introduce the basic ideas that we have defined in the previous section, the tool will provide us with a list of related keywords . To filter the results, you can segment by location and by language.

The great thing about these tools is that they work as a true “brainstorming” and can give you a lot of suggestions that you would never have thought of. Of course, they often offer suggestions that are not very related to the original search. And this brings us to the next step …

Filtering and selection

Using as a base the list of keywords provided by the tool, we will have to carry out a manual filter to discard the little relevant words, group the related keywords and select those that have the highest number of searches and less competition (that is, that not many advertisers bidding on the same word).

And ready! You already have the definitive list of keywords to optimize your SEM campaign . To get the best results, these keywords should be present both on your landing pages and in your ads.

How to develop a SEM campaign step by step

Strategy and planning are essential to guarantee the result of your SEM campaign . We are going to see the key steps to launch a successful campaign.

Keyword research

Keywords are the basic foundation on which the entire SEM account is built. To carry out a complete study, we must pay attention to aspects such as:

  • The products and services we offer.
  • Analysis of our positioning and that of the competition.
  • Definition of the buyer person.
  • Search for generic and “long tail” keywords using specialized tools.
  • Cleaning and ranking of the keyword list.

Campaign creation

The time has come to define the different aspects of our SEM account and put everything in motion. These are some of the key aspects that we will have to define to launch a campaign in Google Ads or other similar solutions:

  • Budget and maximum bids.
  • Ad groups. Unless we sell a single, very specific product or service, we will have different sets of related keywords. The idea is to structure the keywords through highly targeted ad groups, to achieve maximum relevance.
  • Design, writing and optimization of landing pages. Ideally, we should have a landing for each product or service and for each target.
  • Ad creation. When setting up the campaign, it’s a good idea to launch different creatives so that you can compare the results with each other.

Measurement and optimization

The work does not end after launching the campaign, since SEM is based on continuous optimization . Therefore, we must regularly monitor the results of the account so that we can vary the keywords, creatives and other aspects of the campaigns in order to improve performance.

So that nothing escapes you, you can configure alerts for critical aspects of the account and set a schedule for periodic reviews.

Extra bonus: take advantage of SEM to do SEO

SEM and SEO are two closely related disciplines, since both seek to position in Google. Therefore, you can take advantage of the effort invested in SEM to improve your organic positioning .

Keyword research will have helped you detect keywords that can help you position your page organically, although they may not offer fast conversion results: it is a good opportunity to create related content. And in the same way, the first results of your SEM will help you to know which topics are most interesting for users and therefore can help you get more traffic and visits.

Most popular search engines where to do SEM

When we think of search engines, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Google. But the truth is that there are other SEM platforms that can also give us good results. These are the top three solutions for search engine advertising.

Google Ads

Google Ads is the main SEM platform , since this search engine covers most of the searches. These are some basic concepts to use this tool correctly:

  • Keywords : a keyword or keyword is a set of terms entered by a user in a search engine. It can be a single word, several words, or even a whole phrase, for example “buy dumbbells for sports at home.” Keywords allow Google to know which ads are relevant to a specific user at a specific time.
  • Match types: match types determine to what extent the term entered by the user in the search engine must match our keyword. In Google Ads, from broad to stricter, we have broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, and exact match. We can also establish negative matches (searches for which we do NOT want our ads to show).
  • Ads : the advertising that is shown in the Google search engine is mainly based on text ads consisting of title, display URL, description and extensions.
  • CPC (cost per click) : the price we pay for each click on our ads, which in turn depends on the quality score and the bids we set.


Bing Ads is a very solid alternative to Google Ads, as it reaches a relevant potential audience (almost 10% of the market share) and has very good targeting and configuration options .

In general, it is a tool very similar to Google Ads, but there are some differences that you should know:

  • Negative keyword matching is stricter (we can only put negative keywords with phrase match).
  • Bing sets a minimum amount for maximum bids.
  • Bing’s location options allow you to specify a radius within a city or zip code.
  • You can schedule your ads to show in 15-minute increments throughout the day, or to appear only when the store is open.
  • Bing has specific image and action extensions.
  • You can configure different time zones within the same campaign.
  • It allows you to filter the reports based on the search partner and discard those that do not interest you.


Yahoo Advertising or Yahoo Ads is Yahoo’s advertising solution , which allows you to reach users who use this search engine through different formats:

  • Search Ads. The most classic SEM format, which shows ads in the search engine when users enter a specific keyword.
  • Display Ads. These ads are placed at the top, bottom or side of a website or in the middle of content and can be used for remarketing.
  • Sponsored Ads in different formats: image, carousel and native video ads.
  • Email ads (Mail Ads), both integrated into the inbox and through banners.

Local SEM campaigns

The local SEM campaigns allow advertisers who have physical stores reach users who are in a location near them.

In Google Ads, the first step to be able to do local SEM is to configure the business listing in Google My Business .

To sign up for Google My Business, you just have to register using a Gmail email and create the listing from scratch (or claim an existing listing as your own). Google will ask you to verify ownership of the business via post, phone, email, or Google Search Console.

Once your company is registered in Google My Business, you can create local ads in Google Ads . These ads show your business to people who are close to it or who have shown interest in the area. Its objective is to increase visits to physical stores and achieve offline conversions.

Google local ads can show in different locations:

  • In Google search results: when users make a search related to the business and its location.
  • On Google Maps: through sponsored pins.
  • On YouTube: Local ads will show on YouTube when users are most likely to click on them.
  • On third-party sites (through display campaigns).

In addition to creating a local campaign from start to finish, having a business registered with Google My Business also makes it possible to add location extensions to standard Google Ads ads.

PPC for beginners

The SEM generally uses the advertising modality of pay per click or PPC , which consists of the user paying an amount (fixed or determined by auction) each time the user clicks on one of its ads to visit its web page.

For advertisers, this model has many advantages , since it allows you to pay only for the visits received, provides a lot of information about the performance of the ad, allows you to control the budget and offers good optimization possibilities.

Here are some PPC basics for beginners:

  • Impression : We call each of the views an ad receives an impression, whether you click on it or not. Typically, there are some requirements for an impression to be valid, for example, the percentage of the ad displayed or the number of seconds it remains visible.
  • CTR : the CTR or click-through rate is the percentage of clicks an ad receives compared to the number of impressions.
  • CPC : CPC or cost per click is the price paid by the advertiser for each click on the ad, that is, for each visit to its website.
  • Landing page or landing page : we call a landing page or landing page to the page within the advertiser’s website that the user reaches after clicking on an ad. For best results, this page should be optimized for conversions.

SEM most important metrics

As with any other discipline of digital marketing, in SEM we can only optimize what we measure . Therefore, before launching our strategy, we have to know what are the KPIs that we are going to follow to evaluate the performance of the campaigns.

Here are four key metrics to measure the success of your SEM campaigns.

Quality Score

The quality score measures the user experience with the ads , that is, the higher the quality score, the better the user experience. This metric is essential because Google Ads uses it to determine the cost and placement of the ads: the higher the quality score, the easier it is for you.

The level of quality depends on three factors:

  • The quality of the landing page.
  • The quality of the ad.
  • The expected clickthrough rate.

Impression share

Impression share helps us know if users are seeing our ads. It is calculated based on the impressions obtained by an ad compared to the total number they could get.

A low impression share indicates that we are not getting the most out of the ad. To remedy this, we have to raise the budget and the bids, improve the quality score, or both.

Click-through rate (CTR)

Click-through rate indicates how often users who see an ad end up clicking on it. To calculate it, we divide the number of clicks by the number of impressions. For example, if you have 5 clicks and 100 impressions, the CTR would be 5%.

We can check this metric for the different ads and keywords in our account. A low CTR indicates that the ad is not attractive enough to the user or is not really relevant to their search.


The number of conversions and the average value of each conversion allow us to measure the performance of our ads , since it indicates how many sales we have achieved thanks to them. In this way, we can correctly attribute the ROI of our SEM campaigns and measure their profitability.

SEM Agency

SEM tools, like Google Ads, are very complex. It is necessary to manage a lot of variables and be aware of the results in real time to be able to optimize the account on a continuous basis. This is why it is often worth delegating this work to an SEM agency , which can carry out tasks such as:

  • SEM campaign design : definition of objectives and budget and creation of the structure of campaigns, keywords and ad groups.
  • Keyword planning and optimization – Selecting the right keywords and precise match levels is critical to SEM results. The agency will be responsible for both initial keyword research and ongoing monitoring of the results.
  • Ad creation : With SEM ads we have very little space to attract a potential customer, so it is essential to get the most out of your creativity to get the most out of your resources.
  • Campaign monitoring : the agency will carry out a continuous analysis of the data to be able to make decisions in real time and thus achieve the best results.
  • Optimization of the quality level : this parameter is one of the most important of the SEM, since it allows to maximize results and minimize costs at the same time.
  • Bid and CPC management : through a continuous analysis of the CPCs and the position of the ads, we seek to optimize the bids to the maximum to achieve the highest number of quality clicks at the best cost.
  • Conversion rate optimization : by analyzing and adjusting different aspects of the account, from keywords to landing design, the ultimate goal is to achieve more conversions and increase the profitability of the account.

To get the best results from this collaboration, we recommend that you look for an agency with the Google Partner certificate. 

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