Basics of Search Engine Marketing

Basics of Search Engine Marketing

Sharing is caring!

A simple guide to the fundamentals of paid advertising


In an era where information and media is so easily accessible, the power of Search Engine Marketing is becoming more and more apparent. Companies which want to harness the power of the vast information network and stay relevant in the competitive online landscape should definitely consider Search Engine Marketing.

What is Search Engine Marketing?


Search Engine Marketing, or SEM for short is the process of using paid advertising on the internet to display a website on an SERP(search engine results page).



As can be seen in the example above, SEM ads appear at the top of the page and contain the word “ad” next to the url to distinguish them from organic search results. The ads are also targeted, meaning they only appear to users who search for certain terms.

According to Business 2 Community, 75% of people say that paid ads made it easier to find what they were searching for on websites, and businesses make $3 on average for each $1.60 spent on SEM.

Based on those numbers, it is simple to see why SEM is important if businesses want to increase their returns.

But how does it actually work? Let us delve in and find out.


Components of SEM


SEM is a multi-faceted approach which is more than just throwing a bunch of ads at prospective customers. Here is the breakdown of those components.


Keyword Research


Keywords form the backbone of SEM, as users search for keywords when looking for products or services online. Keyword Research can be split into the following steps:


Identifying Keywords



The first step to creating an SEM campaign is identifying the targeted keywords. Finding keywords that are related to your business is essential, as they are the gateway to users seeing your ads.

For example, if you are selling shoes, select keywords related to footwear, apparel and fashion, as the item you are selling is a subset of that category.

Having keywords that are too short like “shoes” will not work as that is too generic, hence specifying long-tailed keywords such as “best shoes for running” will narrow the field and improve results.

Targeting field-specific keywords such as “boot polish” or “leather loafers” are also useful, especially if your niche is not too broad.

Using tools such as Wordstream or Google Adword Planner is a viable option, as it allows one to analyse the competitiveness of keywords and how frequently users search for them online.

Negative keywords should also be filtered out. For instance, someone searching for “shoe repair” would not be looking to buy a new pair of shoes, so as a shoe retailer that is an example of a negative keyword.


Analysing Factors


Analysis of keywords involves comparing frequency of searches within a given time frame, cost per click(CPC) and competitiveness, factors which are essential to successfully converting potential customers.

A higher frequency of searches could be related to a high demand or elevated user interest, while competitiveness refers to how difficult it is to rank on SERPs. Evaluation of these factors allows one to close in on the keywords that have potential to get conversions.


Ad Campaign Structure


Source: Sam Albury on Unsplash


Organising your ad campaign by using well thought out grouping can help you achieve a much higher click through rate.

The hierarchy and process of ad campaign structuring is as follows:

  • Ad Campaign
  • Ad Group
  • Keyword (research)
  • Ad Text
  • Landing Page


The overall Ad Campaign should ideally be focused around similar services or products. You can also structure it in a one ad campaign per client system.

Ad Groups


Ad Groups are subcategories which contain specific groups of services or products sold. For instance, if one has an ad campaign for a company that sells game consoles, the ad groups could be classified into subgroups such as Nintendo consoles, Sony consoles and so on.

Organising the ad campaign into groups helps increase click through rates at a lower cost, as the ads are more directed and targeted. Additionally, the neater organisation allows one to have more structure and easier analysis between ad groups.


Landing Pages


Landing pages are the bread and butter of every SEM campaign. These are the pages which are the final barrier between the customer and conversion.


Source: Codecademy


Ideally, you’ ll want to keep them short and simple, with the goal being to convert the user with a call to action (CTA). This is done via a button, or text which inspires the customer to take action. This example by Codecademy gets straight to the point, allowing for fast conversions.


CPC Bidding


Cost per click (CPC) bidding, also known as the ad auction, is a process where ads compete against each other to be shown on search queries.

The process involves advertisers selecting keywords to bid on, and then selecting how much they are willing to pay per click (hence the term cost per click) to be shown to prospective users.

The ad that gets displayed is determined via google’s criteria, which includes the maximum bid and the quality score of the advertisements.


Quality Score vs Max CPC


Source: Markus Spiske on Unsplash


One might think that quality is subjective, but google has a formula which calculates an ad’s quality known as the Quality Score. It is a metric which bases its assessment on a couple of factors and objectively assigns your ad a rating, known as ad rank.

Mathematically speaking:

Ad Rank = Max CPC x Quality Score

If you have been following closely, you will notice that while it appears that Max CPC and Quality Score take up an equal amount of the share of ad rank, that is not the case.

An asymmetrical relationship exists here, as it is easier and more cost effective to improve ad quality, versus pumping in more money into the maximum bid. This is especially true for smaller marketing companies which may not have massive budgets allocated into SEM.

It is undoubtedly better to focus on making the best ad possible.




Search Engine Marketing has a “twin brother” known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). It is not an evil twin by any means, and in fact, both can work hand in hand.

SEO is basically the process of optimising a website such that it organically ranks on the SERPs. It is a more natural process which involves tweaking website content, either on-page or off-page, and using backlinks to gain domain authority.

Generally speaking, the main difference between SEM and SEO is that you don’t have to pay for SEO, and there is no need for direct advertising. However, this does not mean that SEO is the only thing that is needed – SEO takes patience and deep analysis over time, as it is an organic way of climbing Google’s algorithm. With SEM, you get faster conversions due to the direct nature of the medium.


Best SEM Tools


Source: Semrush


A great painter requires good brushes, so here are the best SEM tools to get acquainted with.

  • SEMRush
  • Google Adwords
  • WordStream
  • Spyfu
  • SERPStat

With that, you are now equipped with the basics of SEM. Enjoy your days of CPC bidding and ranking on SERPs!