What Is SEM? PPC & Paid Search Marketing Explained

 Search engine marketing often abbreviated SEM is a valuable dimension of marketing on the Internet that relies on the widespread use of search engines.

Google alone generates millions of searches every single minute of the day by people all over the globe. Some of these people are searching for businesses like yours.

Successful SEM ensures that these individuals are connected to information about your company, products and brand — and not your competitors.

Why Is SEM Important?

Because search engines are the go-to information channel in the Digital Age, visibility on search results pages is an absolute must.

Neglecting to market your business effectively on search engines is the digital equivalent of not listing your company in the yellow pages or forgetting to put a sign on the front of your store.

It’s bad business.

And, it isn’t just about attracting new customers, but also re-engaging past clients and encouraging them to return.

SEM achieves both of these goals.

Types Of SEM

There are two primary avenues that businesses can take to achieve search engine marketing: paid search marketing or organic search marketing. This article will primarily focus on the former, but we’ll briefly touch on and explain organic search.

It’s important to note that it is not a one-or-the-other scenario. Most businesses deploy both paid and organic search marketing tactics.

Organic Search Marketing

This side of SEM deals with building your site’s authority and reputation through search engine optimization strategies.

Search engines optimization, like Google or Bing, only want to send users to sites that they know are safe and authoritative, particularly on the subjects related to a user’s query.

Improving your authority allows your website and its pages to rank higher on search results. The higher your rank, the more visibility you have through search engines.

Paid Search Marketing

The other SEM road to take is the paid search marketing route. Instead of achieving organic search results, this strategy allows businesses to pay a little money to place ads at the top of the results pages.

When we talk about visibility on search engines, paying for a top spot on the page is really powerful. Consumers want quick answers to their searches and they often won’t mind, or even notice, if the result is a paid ad.

When done right, paid search marketing is a small investment for a lot of potential rewards.

The Differences Between Organic And Paid Search Marketing

The most immediate difference is obvious. SEO and organic search marketing are “free.” While it may cost money to hire a specialist or content creator, SEO strategies don’t cost anything but time. Paid advertising has a cost.

Beyond that, there are other, less-obvious differences between organic and paid SEM.


Organic SEM through SEO can take months, or even years, to really pay off. It is very hard to climb the search rankings for certain keywords or topics that have a a lot of competition.

With paid SEM, your results are much more immediate. There’s no waiting for strategies to mature. If you have a live paid search campaign running, you have opportunities to place ads above the organic results for your targeted keyword searches.

Traffic Intent

No matter what SEM road you take, the goal is to drive traffic to your website. However, ad traffic has different qualities from organic traffic.

Ad traffic typically has higher buying intent. The people that choose to click an ad over an organic result are motivated to buy and want to make a purchase quickly.

Organic traffic, on the other hand, is individuals that may still be in the discovery phase of buying. They may not be ready to buy right away.


It can be hard for marketers to really know what sort of returns are created by organic search marketing? It is hard to understand how much was spent and what level of results that investment has generated.

This is not so with paid search marketing. There are a direct cost element and an in-depth dashboard of metrics that show exactly how users are responding to your search ad content.

Calculating your ROI is incredibly straightforward.

Understanding PPC And Paid Search Marketing

With the benefits of paid search marketing explained, it is obvious why many companies choose this route. Sure, it costs a little more, but the ability to get fast, measurable results from customers that are ready to buy is critical. For a more deep analysis of PPC marketing is to be a better understanding of Paid search marketing.

What Does ‘PPC’ Mean?

Paid search marketing uses the PPC model of Internet advertising. PPC stands for pay-per-click, which means companies pay for their search ads when a user clicks the content.

If the ad is placed on a search results page, but a user clicks a different paid or the organic result instead, then the business/advertiser doesn’t pay anything.

This keeps costs relatively low. Plus, because the user still sees the ad, there is some brand awareness gained, even if they don’t click.

How Much Does PPC Cost?

So, what happens when someone does click an ad? How much does this cost a business?

When a business created a paid search for the marketing campaign, they decide how much they will bid for each keyword or potential ad placement.

This the bid is essentially how much you’re willing to spend on a single click. If you bid $0.50, then you’ll pay 50 cents for each click for that keyword.

How Are Ad Placements Decided?

You are bidding against the other marketers that want the same ad placements. The winner of the auction determines which ads are displayed and in what position.

Remember, the top results have the best visibility.

That said, it isn’t just your bid amount that matters. PPC platforms don’t want to create an environment where only the biggest wallets prosper because this would hurt the integrity of their search engine.

Thus, they also factor in things like the quality of the ads, how relevant they are to the intended keywords and more.

In Google Ads, these qualities culminate in your “Quality Score.” Google uses this, along with your bid amount, to determine your ad rank and ad position.

The better your Quality Score, the less you pay!


The best search engine marketing strategy is to use both paid and organic tactics together. Paid search marketing through PPC ads can be a great way to gain visibility on those search results pages where you can’t seem to rank organically.

The better you are at interweaving these two types of SEM, the better your overall a digital marketing strategy will be.

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