Put simply, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is using search engines like Google, Yahoo, and others to get the word out about your business to potential customers.
There are usually two main methods for doing this:
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
2. Pay Per Click (PPC)
1. SEO – is making sure that your website gets found by Google, basically.
More accurately, SEO means making sure your website is set up in such a way that it gets found by the search engines and appears high up on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
An important part of this includes making sure your website features content (text, video, audio, etc.) that is relevant to certain search engine queries. For example if you sell Environmental Consulting then you’d want to make sure your website has lots of articles about that subject on it. (Yes, more is usually more in this case.)
These SERP listing are essentially free, although many businesses need to hire somebody to either create website content or to “optimize” their website properly (or both).
If you don’t do proper SEO it is VERY easy for your website to disappear into the millions of web pages that exist, which will make it useless to your business.
However, SEO takes longer and despite the promise of “free traffic” tends to be more expensive in the short term.
What I’m saying is that if you need more targeted traffic now, then SEO isn’t the magic bullet you’re looking for – PPC is the magic bullet…
2. PPC – is advertising inexpensively to only those people who want what your business does or sells.
You may have noticed that on Google results pages there are ads down the right hand side of the pages.
These are called Pay Per Clicks ads and are highly effective both for internet users searching for specific goods and services, and for the business who purchase this advertising space.
Yahoo and other search engines also have PPC ads.
The reason these ads are so successful is because they are “contextual”.
This means that ads are set up only to appear when certain search keywords are entered into the search form.
For example if you were to type in “pet supplies” into Google, you would get a bunch of ads from sellers of pet supplies.
It works well for searchers (consumers) because they only see ads relevant to what they are looking for, and it works well for advertisers because businesses only pay when their ads are clicked on, so it can be a lot cheaper than traditional advertising (magazines, newspapers, TV etc) and a lot more effective too.
But having said that, the way Google have set up their PPC system, Adwords (by far the most successful and useful PPC system), is, while very effective, complicated to manage.
If you don’t know what you are doing (which many self-taught PPC advertisers do not) you can wind up paying way too much money – lots more than you need to be.
Consequently clever business managers hire PPC managers to make sure they do not spend too much to get poor results from their PPC advertising.