Search Engine Marketing: The Basics and More

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a term that is bounced around a lot in the corporate office, but what exactly is it? SEM is a useful marketing tactic that companies use to enhance their website or product visibility on search engine result pages (SERPs) in the form of ads. SEM is a type of paid advertising. It’s different from search engine optimization (SEO), but we’ll get to that later.

Here’s How it Works

Let’s say a company wants more form inquiries, phone calls, or sales on its website (who doesn’t?). SEM is a great tool to achieve this goal! The company will use an SEM platform (Google Ads for example), choose the goal of the ad (awareness, leads, sales, etc.), select its demographics and audiences, and then build the ads. When completed, the paid advertisement will show up when the same keywords as chosen by the company are searched for.

It’s important to note that these results are conducted based on keywords. 


Search engine marketing is different from search engine optimization (SEO). One of the main differences between the two is that people perform SEO with organic traffic in mind (organic = free). SEO is useful because you can get referral traffic (backlinks) through creating blogs. You can utilize on-page meta tags so that search engines can see what that page is about. Optimizing your content on social media is also important! SEM is solely the paid placement of ads. When using SEM, you are paying for the traffic.

SEM Websites and Examples

Google Ads is the most popular platform for companies to buy search ads because Google handles about 90% of the world’s searches. Below is an example of some Google Ads for the search query “plumbers pittsburgh.” These are called search ads because they require you to search for something on a search engine. The ad relates to your search. You can tell by the “Ads” icon on the top left of the photos that they are all advertisements.

You can also use Bing Ads to capture individuals who don’t use Google. Below is an example of product shopping ads that pop up when searching for “candles” on Bing.

Display ads are often used to engage with the viewer. Of course all advertisements are meant to attract the eye of the consumer, but display ads do so in a way that makes the consumer want to engage with it. Below is an example of a Delta Airlines display ad featured on USA Today’s website. 

There is an enticing offer displayed on the ad (earn 1.5x Miles on eligible purchases after spending $105k with the SkyMiles Reserve Business Card) that makes the viewer already attracted to the ad.

In order to watch a video on YouTube, there are one or two ads that are featured before it starts. These are called video ads, and they are important for brands who have video advertisements (commercials, campaign videos, etc.) that they want to share. Below is an example of a video ad from a YouTube video. This is a video ad for fiverr. It’s a brand that helps freelancers place jobs and helps ordinary people find help for various things through freelancers.

We hope this short explanation of SEM helps you understand the basics and more. Hopefully it has encouraged you to use these ad platforms to gain more traffic on your website.

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Marina Misitano
Marina Misitano is a content creator/blogger for HBT Digital. She is a recent graduate of Saint Francis University, located in Loretto, PA. She holds a Bachelor's degree in digital media and strategic communications.