What is Search Engine Marketing?
SEM, or search engine marketing, is the act of using paid strategies to increase search visibility. In the past, search engine marketing was a term used to describe both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search. But now, it almost always refers only to paid search marketing.
With SEM, brands pay for ads to appear as search results on search engine results pages (SERPs). They target select keywords so that when a user searches for those terms, they see an ad from the brand. The brand is charged only if a user clicks on the ad.
Paid search ads can be found on almost any search results page. These paid placements are typically located at the top and bottom of the page. They include an “Ad” designation to let users know that it is a paid placement.
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketing
While trying to answer the question, “what is SEM?” another term you will encounter is pay-per-click marketing or PPC.
PPC is a paid marketing strategy where a brand creates a digital ad and is charged each time a user clicks on it. When PPC ads are shown in search results, this is considered SEM. But PPC isn’t always related to SEM.
When PPC strategies are used on channels other than search, this is not considered SEM. For example, PPC can be used on sites that support digital ads like Promoted Tweets or Facebook Ads. PPC also includes Google display ads, where brands are charged when a user clicks on a banner ad on a website.
So while PPC is an SEM tactic, it can also refer to a type of social or display ad marketing.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization, or SEO, uses tactics that improve organic visibility in search. Unlike SEM tactics that pay for placement on SERPs, best practices for SEO aim to attract search engines and earn prominent organic search placements. Organic search results don’t have an “Ad” designation on their results. They are not paid for; they are earned.