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SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.

“Search Engine Marketing” was once was used as an umbrella term to encompass both SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search activities. Over time, the industry has adopted the SEM acronym to refer solely to paid search.

At Search Engine Land, we generally use SEM and/or “Paid Search” to refer to paid listings, with the longer term of search marketing used to encompass both SEO and SEM. Below are some of the most common terms also used to refer to SEM activities:

  • Paid search ads
  • Paid search advertising
  • PPC (pay-per-click) *
    • PPC (pay-per-call) – some ads, particularly those served to mobile search users, may be charged by the number of clicks that resulted in a direct call from a smartphone.
  • CPC (cost-per-click) *
  • CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions) *
  • Most search ads are sold on a CPC / PPC basis, but some advertising options may also be sold on a CPM basis.

SEM is a broader term than SEO. Where SEO aims to provide better organic search results, SEM helps you successfully target users of search engines via advertising (paid) links in search results in addition to organic search to send targeted traffic to your website.

SEO and SEM are not competing services. SEO is considered a subset of SEM services. Today, if you want to conduct business on the Internet you need to be visible in both organic and advertised links, which means you need both SEO and SEM.

There are four categories of methods and metrics used to optimize websites through search engine marketing.

  • Keyword research and analysis involves three "steps": ensuring the site can be indexed in the search engines, finding the most relevant and popular keywords for the site and its products, and using those keywords on the site in a way that will generate and convert traffic. A follow-on effect of keyword analysis and research is the search perception impact.
  • Website saturation and popularity, or how much presence a website has on search engines, can be analyzed through the number of pages of the site that are indexed on search engines (saturation) and how many backlinks the site has (popularity). It requires pages to contain keywords people are looking for and ensure that they rank high enough in search engine rankings. Most search engines include some form of link popularity in their ranking algorithms.
  • Back end tools, including Web analytic tools and HTML validators, provide data on a website and its visitors and allow the success of a website to be measured. They range from simple traffic counters to tools that work with log files and to more sophisticated tools that are based on page tagging (putting JavaScript or an image on a page to track actions).
  • Google Mobile Friendly Website Checker This test will analyze a URL and report if the page has a mobile-friendly design.

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