Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is an important part of digital marketing, where our primary goal is to increase a website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through both paid and organic strategies. SEM includes a range of activities including paid search advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, all aimed at amplifying a brand's presence in search results.

To return profits, SEM leverages the power of search engines like Google and Bing, allowing marketers to place their ads in front of motivated customers who are ready to buy at the right time to make conversions happen. This makes SEM a highly targeted, effective, and measurable form of marketing.

Importance of Search Engine Marketing

SEM bridges the gap between businesses and their potential customers. With millions of people turning to search engines like Google, Youtube, and Microsoft Bing every day to find answers, products, and services, SEM places your brand directly in their line of sight. It’s all about targeted visibility, reaching individuals who have already expressed an interest in what you offer.

SEM offers a level playing field for businesses of all sizes. Whether you're a startup or a Fortune 500 company, SEM allows you to compete for the same space in SERPs, based on the relevance and quality of your content and ads (not just on the size of your budget). 

This aspect offers a unique opportunity for growth and expansion.

Lastly, SEM is measurable, generating results in concrete, quantifiable data. This data enables businesses to understand their audience, refine their strategies, and continually improve their marketing efforts for better ROI.

Benefits and Advantages of SEM

Like most marketing strategies, SEM offers a mix of immediate results and long-term gains. Here are a few specific advantages you can expect in your SEM efforts when performed correctly.

  • Increased Visibility and Brand Awareness: SEM boosts your brand's presence in search engine results, giving your business a higher chance to stand out with a large audience. This gives you a chance to establish your digital presence.
  • Targeted Advertising: SEM helps marketers target consumers based on their search queries. To do this, SEM aligns ads with the specific needs and intentions of users to reach the most relevant audiences.
  • Measurable Results and Analytics: SEM campaigns are especially trackable, and provide valuable insights into customer actions. With tools like Google Analytics, you can measure everything from click-through rates to conversion rates, giving you tangible data to inform strategy and decision-making. Updates have recently been made, allowing you to connect directly to your CRM to track actual revenue. 
  • Quick Entry and Immediate Results: Unlike SEO, which can sometimes take months to yield results, SEM offers the advantage of immediate visibility. Paid search ads can catapult your brand to the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), offering a quick entry into the market and immediate results. These ads have the potential to boost your SEO efforts by providing insights into what your customers are searching for and when they are converting.
  • Flexibility and Control: SEM campaigns offer a high degree of flexibility and control. You can start, pause, adjust, or stop your campaigns at any time based on performance or budget considerations. This level of control allows for agile marketing strategies that can adapt to market trends and business needs.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: With SEM, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad (pay-per-click), making it a cost-effective way to drive traffic to your website. This model ensures that your marketing budget is being used efficiently to reach people who are genuinely interested in your products or services.


While both Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) aim to increase a website's visibility in search engine results, their approaches and outcomes differ.

SEM: Paid Search Strategies

  • SEM involves purchasing ads that appear on search engine results pages. These are typically Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads, where you pay each time someone clicks on your ad.
  • SEM results are immediate. Once your campaign starts, your ads appear in the SERPs, offering instant visibility and traffic.
  • The visibility from SEM is temporary. Your ads remain visible as long as you're paying for them. Once the campaign ends, your visibility in those paid spots disappears.
  • SEM allows for precise targeting, including demographics, geography, time of day, and more, providing highly tailored marketing efforts.

SEO: Organic Search Strategies

  • SEO focuses on optimizing your website to rank higher in the organic search results. This involves improving website content, enhancing site structure, and building quality backlinks.
  • SEO is a long-term strategy. Unlike SEM, the results from SEO efforts generally take time, often several months, to become evident.
  • The benefits of SEO are enduring. Once your website ranks higher in organic search results, it can maintain this position over time with continued effort.
  • SEO is less controllable than SEM in the short term. Search engine algorithms determine organic rankings, and these algorithms are continually evolving.

SEM is like renting out the top spots in the SERPS, offering immediate but temporary visibility. SEO could be compared to building equity in a property by improving its value over time, leading to lasting visibility. Both strategies are complementary and, when used together, can enhance the overall online presence and effectiveness of a marketing campaign.

How Does SEM Work?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) operates on a blend of technology, strategy, and creativity. It involves multiple steps and components working together to increase a website's visibility in search engine results. Here are five recommended steps to take as you begin your SEM efforts.

  • Keyword Research and Selection: First, research and select keywords that will fit your objectives. This involves identifying the terms and phrases potential customers use to search for products or services related to your business. Effective keyword selection targets your ads to the right audience. Match your keyword intent to your intended action. Remember, you’re paying for each keyword, so you want high-intent keywords only.
  • Ad Creation and Optimization: Once you’ve selected your keywords, the next step is to create compelling ads. These ads should include the keywords, engage your audience, and encourage clicks. Ad optimization also involves crafting relevant and appealing ad copy and optimizing landing pages to ensure a smooth user experience.
  • Bid Management and Pay-Per-Click (PPC): SEM typically involves a bidding system where you bid with other brands on keywords to have your ads appear in the search results. PPC models mean you pay only when someone clicks on your ad. Effective bid management requires balancing competitiveness with budget constraints to maximize ROI.
  • Performance Tracking and Analytics: Continuous monitoring of SEM campaign performance includes tracking metrics like click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, and cost per acquisition (CPA). Analytics give you an idea of how effective your campaign is and inform necessary adjustments for optimization.
  • Refinement and Adjustment: Finally, SEM is not a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. It requires ongoing refinement and adjustment based on performance data. This may involve tweaking ad copy, adjusting bids, adding negative keywords, and revising keyword strategies to improve results.

Case Study – Real Life Example

How 97th Floor Increased JK Moving’s Leads by 108%

JK Moving is the largest independent mover in North America, having made over half a million moves. Their residential services include local, long-distance, and international moves. They offer commercial services including office and facility relocation, biotech and lab services, and warehousing and archival services.


JK Moving came to 97th Floor after a previous agency failed to deliver cost-effective leads through JK Moving’s search advertisements. 

JK Moving needed a strong partner to take control of disorderly ad accounts and execute a strategy that would consistently deliver leads at a low cost.

97th Floor immediately took a deep dive into the client’s ad accounts, reviewing the entirety of the account history to own a complete understanding of previous and current campaign results. 

The Strategy

Based on this audit, 97th Floor’s goal for the account was to maintain and increase JK Moving’s ad’s high conversion rate while decreasing costs and using budget more efficiently to ultimately increase the return on investment.


97th Floor’s meticulous fine-tuning produced a 190% increase in new users to the site, and a 108% increase in leads overall, while lowering JK Moving’s cost per lead by 50%.

Want the details? Read more to get the full picture.

SEM Methods and Metrics

In Search Engine Marketing (SEM), success hinges on understanding and utilizing various methods and metrics. Here’s a quick overview of the ones we’ve found most effective.

SEM Methods:

  • Keyword Targeting: This involves selecting keywords relevant to your products or services. The goal is to bid on keywords that potential customers are most likely to use when searching for what you offer.
  • Ad Creation and Customization: Develop ads relevant to the keywords and compelling enough to encourage clicks. This involves creative use of language, leveraging ad extensions, and tailoring messages to specific audiences.
  • Landing Page Optimization: The user's experience after clicking on your ad can make or break a conversion. Landing pages should be relevant to the ad, easy to navigate, and designed to convert visitors into customers.
  • Bid Management: Manage your bids by setting and adjusting bids for keywords based on their performance, competition, and the value they bring to your business.

SEM Metrics:

  • Click-Through Rate (CTR): This measures the percentage of people who click on your ad after seeing it. A high CTR indicates that your ad is relevant and appealing to your target audience.
  • Quality Score: This is a metric used by search engines to determine the relevance and quality of your ads, landing page, and keywords. A higher Quality Score can lead to lower costs and better ad positioning.
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): CPC measures how much you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. Keeping track of CPC helps in budget management and assessing the cost-effectiveness of your keywords.
  • Conversion Rate: This measures the percentage of clicks that result in a desired action, such as a purchase or a sign-up. A high conversion rate implies that your ads and landing pages can persuade users to take action.

Understanding and leveraging these methods and metrics will lead to targeted SEM campaigns, boosting your ROI in digital marketing.

The Ad Auction Process

How the Ad Auction Works:

  • Bidding on Keywords: Advertisers select keywords relevant to their business and bid on them. The bid is the maximum amount they are willing to pay for a click on their ad.This can be manually or automatically set. 
  • Ad Auction Initiation: Each time a user performs a search, the search engine initiates an auction. Only ads with keywords matching the user's search query enter the auction.
  • Determining Ad Rank: The position of an ad on the search results page is not solely based on the bid amount. Search engines use a formula that considers the bid amount, the ad's Quality Score (a measure of the relevance and quality of the ad and the landing page), and other relevance factors.
  • Cost Calculation: The actual amount paid by an advertiser per click is determined by the ad rank of the nearest competitor divided by the Quality Score, plus one cent. This means you often pay less than your maximum bid.

Strategies for Successful Ad Auctions:

  • Optimize Quality Score: Improving your Quality Score can lead to better ad positions and lower costs. This involves creating relevant, high-quality ads and landing pages.
  • Smart Bidding: Smart bidding is automated by Google based on their algorithm based on past performance, and rank. This allows Google to try to get you the best and most consistent results to reach your goals. Rather than bidding the maximum amount, use strategic bidding based on ad performance, competitor actions, and your advertising goals.
  • Keyword Relevance: Choose keywords that are highly relevant to your ad and landing page. This increases the likelihood of a higher Quality Score and better ad placement.
  • Regular Review and Adjustment: Continuously monitor and adjust your bids and ads based on their performance and changing market conditions.

Developing an Effective SEM Strategy

A well-developed SEM strategy ensures your brand keeps pace with and stands out from competitors. Key Elements of an Effective SEM Strategy include: 

  • Clear Objectives: Begin by defining clear, measurable goals. Are you aiming for brand awareness, lead generation, or e-commerce sales? Setting specific objectives guides your SEM tactics and helps in measuring success.
  • Comprehensive Keyword Research: Identifying the right keywords is the foundation of your SEM strategy. This involves understanding the search terms your target audience uses and the intent behind these searches. Tools like Google's Keyword Planner can aid in this process.
  • Targeted Campaigns: Develop campaigns that resonate with your target audience. This includes creating compelling ad copy, using relevant keywords, and designing landing pages that convert. Tailoring your message to the specific needs and interests of your audience increases engagement and conversion rates.
  • Budget Allocation and Bid Management: Allocate your budget wisely across campaigns, keywords, and ad groups. Effective bid management ensures that you get the best return on investment, maximizing your visibility while controlling costs.
  • Continuous Optimization: SEM is not a one-time effort but a continuous process. Regularly analyze the performance of your campaigns, test different ad copy and landing pages, and make adjustments based on data-driven insights.
  • Integration with Other Marketing Efforts: SEM should not operate in isolation. Integrating it with other marketing efforts, like SEO, content marketing, and social media, creates a more robust and cohesive digital marketing strategy.
  • Staying up-to-date with Trends and Changes: The digital marketing world is fluid, with frequent changes in search engine algorithms and consumer behaviors. Staying informed and adaptable is crucial for the ongoing effectiveness of your SEM strategy.

By focusing on these key elements, you can develop an SEM strategy that reaches your target audience and drives meaningful results, contributing to the overall success of your digital marketing efforts.

Account and Campaign Structure Best Practices

In Search Engine Marketing (SEM), the way you structure your account and campaigns matters. A well-organized account is easier to manage, optimize, and scale. It also provides clearer insights into performance, allowing for more strategic decision-making. 

Best Practices for SEM Account and Campaign Structure

  • Logical Account Structure: Organize your account into campaigns and ad groups that reflect your business structure or product categories. This organization should mirror the layout of your website for consistency and ease of navigation.
  • Segmented Campaigns: Create separate campaigns for different parts of your business, product lines, or target markets. This segmentation allows for more tailored targeting and budget allocation. Campaign is where you allocate budgeting which may affect how you split your campaigns.
  • Focused Ad Groups: Within each campaign, create ad groups centered around specific themes or products. Each ad group should contain a tightly related set of keywords and corresponding ads that are highly relevant to those keywords. It is recommended to keep them at or around 10 keywords per ad group
  • Relevant and Specific Keywords: Use keywords that are directly relevant to the ads in your ad groups. This increases the chances of your ads being shown to the right audience and improves your Quality Score. Use high-intent keywords based on the action you want users to take.
  • Compelling Ad Copy: Write clear, concise, and engaging ad copy that resonates with your target audience. Include a strong call-to-action (CTA) and ensure your ad copy aligns with the landing page content.
  • Effective Use of Negative Keywords: Regularly update your negative keyword list to exclude irrelevant search terms. This helps to prevent your ads from appearing for searches not related to your business, thus saving your budget and improving campaign relevance.
  • Continuous Optimization: Regularly review and adjust your campaign structure based on performance data. This includes refining keywords, updating ad copy, and adjusting bids.
  • Use of Ad Extensions: Leverage ad extensions to provide additional information and improve the visibility of your ads. Extensions like site links, callouts, and structured snippets can enhance your ad’s performance.

A strategic account and campaign structure not only improve the performance of your SEM efforts but also provide a strong foundation for scaling your campaigns as your business grows.

Targeting Strategies in SEM

The right targeting strategies can significantly improve campaign performance, increase conversions, and enhance ROI. These strategies involve selecting specific parameters to provide Google with signals to optimize for the highest visibility by your target audience. Here are a few of what we’ve found to be the most effective. 

  • Geographic Targeting: Tailor your ads to users based on their location. This is particularly important for local businesses or companies with a geographical focus in their offerings.
  • Demographic Targeting: Refine your audience based on age, gender, income, education, and other demographic factors. This helps in reaching a segment of the population that is more likely to resonate with your brand.
  • Device Targeting: Exclude low performing devices from your ad campaigns and save yourself time and budget. For example, on some accounts, you see high CTR on mobile but no conversions while on desktop, you see all of your conversions. This would be a time to do a bid adjustment through device targeting move your focus away from smart phones.
  • Time of Day/Day of Week Targeting: Adjust your ad visibility based on the time of day or day of the week, focusing on periods when your target audience is most likely to be online and searching for your products or services.
  • Keyword Match Types: Use different keyword match types (broad, phrase, exact, and negative match) to control who sees your ads based on the exactness of the search query to your keywords.
  • Audience Targeting (Remarketing): Target users who have previously interacted with your website or shown interest in your products. Remarketing can be a powerful way to re-engage potential customers and encourage conversions.
  • Interest and Behavior Targeting: Leverage user data to target ads based on interests, behaviors, and past online activities. This approach can help in reaching users with specific interests aligned with your offerings.
  • Contextual targeting: This is not a setting users can change, but rather a feature already built-in with your keywords. It ensures that your ads are relevant to viewers. 

Recommended SEM Tools and Resources

The following tools offer a wealth of data and insights, helping you make informed decisions, track performance, and stay ahead in the competitive digital marketing landscape. Be sure to research which tools will best fit the needs of your campaign.

  • Google Ads: As the most widely used SEM platform, Google Ads offers a comprehensive suite of tools for creating and managing your SEM campaigns. It provides detailed analytics, keyword research tools, and targeting options. 
  • Google Ads Library: This resource allows you to explore the wide range of ads running on Google platforms. It's a great tool for competitor analysis, enabling you to see what types of ads are being used by other businesses in your industry to spark ideas for your next campaign.
    Microsoft Ads (formerly Bing Ads): While Google dominates the search engine market, Microsoft presents an alternative platform with a significant audience. It's especially useful for reaching certain demographics not as prevalent on Google.
  • Google Analytics: An indispensable tool for tracking website traffic, user behavior, and campaign performance. Integrating Google Analytics with your SEM campaigns offers deeper insights into the effectiveness of your ads.
  • SEMrush: This all-in-one marketing toolkit provides extensive features for keyword research, competitive analysis, and more. It’s valuable for understanding your market position and optimizing your SEM strategies.
  • Ahrefs: Known for its powerful backlink analysis capabilities, Ahrefs also offers keyword research, content analysis, and ranking tracking tools, making it a versatile resource for SEM.
  • Moz Pro: This tool offers a range of features including site audits, keyword research, and link-building strategies. Moz Pro is particularly renowned for its user-friendly interface and educational resources.
  • SpyFu: Excellent for competitive intelligence, SpyFu allows you to track your competitors' search marketing efforts, including their most profitable keywords and ad copies.
  • Keyword Planner: A feature within Google Ads, Keyword Planner helps you discover new keywords and get search volume data.

Each of these tools offers unique functionalities that can enhance different aspects of your SEM campaigns, from keyword research to performance tracking.


What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

SEM is a digital marketing strategy aimed at increasing a website's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through paid advertising and sometimes combined with organic search tactics like SEO.

How does SEM differ from SEO?

SEM primarily involves paid advertising (like PPC ads), offering immediate visibility in SERPs, whereas SEO focuses on optimizing a website to rank higher in organic search results over time.

What are the key components of an SEM campaign?

The key components include keyword research and selection, ad creation and optimization, bid management, targeting strategies, and performance monitoring and analysis.

Why is keyword research important in SEM?

Keyword research is crucial as it helps identify the terms and phrases your target audience is searching for, allowing you to tailor your ads to match their search intent.

What is a Quality Score in SEM, and why is it important?

Quality Score is a metric used by search engines to assess the relevance and quality of your ads and keywords. A higher Quality Score can lead to better ad positions and lower costs.

How does the ad auction process work in SEM?

The ad auction process determines the placement of ads in SERPs. It considers the advertiser's bid amount and the ad's Quality Score. Ads are ranked and placed accordingly.

What are some effective targeting strategies in SEM?

Effective strategies include geographic targeting, demographic targeting, device targeting, time-based targeting, and audience targeting (like remarketing).

Can SEM help with brand awareness?

Yes, SEM can significantly enhance brand awareness by placing your brand at the top of SERPs, thus increasing visibility to a relevant audience.

How do you measure the success of an SEM campaign?

Success is measured using metrics like click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, return on ad spend (ROAS), and overall traffic and engagement levels on the website.

Is SEM suitable for all types of businesses?

SEM can be beneficial for most businesses, especially those seeking immediate visibility and targeted reach. However, the approach should be tailored to fit the business size, industry, and specific marketing goals.