SEM Explained: What is Paid Search Marketing?

SEM Explained: What is Paid Search Marketing?

Over the years, "Search Engine Marketing" has meant a couple different things. It was once the umbrella term for SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search activities. In recent years, it has become widely known to only refer to paid search strategies for generating website traffic.

Within Search Engine Marketing, the most commonly used terms for SEM include:

Google Ads (previously Google Adwords)

Paid Search Advertising

PPC (Pay-Per-Click)

CPC (Cost-Per-Click)

CPM (Cost-Per-Thousand)

Traditionally, most SEM campaigns are sold on a CPC / PPC format. CPM is typically reserved for display and social media marketing (SMM) campaigns, but CPM billing is available for some paid search auctions.

We will mostly be focusing on the Google Ads platform as it is the more popular and well known paid search platform currently. Bing, Yahoo, and others, do have their own paid search advertising platforms, but they are not nearly as widely accepted nor as effective as Google Ads campaigns.

Start With the Basics

Google’s Beginner's Guide to Google Ads describes that platform as a way to “reach new customers and grow your business”.

The basic marketing strategy implemented with a paid search campaign is to present to potential customers when they are actively searching for your product or service. Unlike SEO strategies, SEM allows you to boost your pages to the top of a SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). The added benefit of SEM is that it doesn’t nearly take the time of an SEO strategy.

Some argue that the days of a strict SEO strategy are gone and it’s only a pay-to-play world when it comes to Google. This is not entirely the case, but it should be mentioned that the only way to see immediate and definite changes in website traffic would be through an SEM campaign.

How to Target Customers With SEM

If you’re like every client Mean Joe works with, there is no victory in simply getting your name out there. You need results and a measurable increase in ROI to believe in the benefit of SEM.

Developing a search marketing strategy starts with understanding how customers are searching for what you offer. We like to begin this element of the keyword research phase by relying on the day to day sales and customer service people that are working with your existing customers.

How do they refer to your business?

What types of buzzwords surround your product?

How would you tell someone to learn more about what you do?

What do your other marketing efforts focus on?

With this information, you can use a tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or there are more comprehensive research tools like SEMRush or Word Stream. Each tool will not only give you ideas of other potential keywords, but it will, more importantly, allow you to project keyword difficulty (the competitiveness of a keyword) and CPC for your keyword strategy.

However, keyword strategy doesn’t stop there. There are negative keywords that help you better target your audience by eliminating searches with specific words or phrases. Typically, businesses want to avoid things like “cheap” or “worst” because that last thing you want to rank #1 for is “worst pizza experience in Cleveland”.

Once you kick off your campaign, it is important to actively manage your paid search strategy. As a part of your paid search management, you need to actively monitor your search terms. There are 3 basic forms of keywords you can bid on: broad match, “phrase match” and [exact match]. As their names suggest, they progressively get more targeted in the search queries they will appear for depending on the keyword type your bid on. Sometimes people search for things we wouldn’t even imagine using the broad or phrase match keywords you thought perfectly described your business; now that phrase needs to have a negative keyword attached to it to avoid those searches. Or maybe, there is a particular keyword or phrase that people who are converting at a higher percentage on your website are using. Then, it would be a great opportunity to identify potential new keywords and match types for your campaign.

How do I know my SEM campaign is working?

So you’ve kicked off your campaign and you’re getting some clicks. Everything’s working, right? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. PPC campaigns with a high click volume are great if you’re Google and you get to hear a magic cash register every time someone clicks on an ad.


The basic element of a Search Marketing Report that you should consider are:

  • Clicks
  • Impressions
  • Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
  • Cost-Per-Click (CPC)
  • Total Cost
  • Avg. Position
  • Conversions
  • Cost-Per-Conversion (CPA)
  • Conversion Rate
  • Search Impression Share


You can learn more about each of these metrics in our post that goes into detail about these metrics here.


When considering the impact of AdWords on your business, it’s a lot like how your accounting department would look at your finances. Your business may have done X but the rest of your industry did Y, where did you go wrong?


These data points are relational. When you have an ad that is not converting to industry standards, you could identify that the average position has decreased 2 spots from the previous month due to a decrease in CPC because of a change in your Max CPC.


Where should I get started?

The best place to turn when it comes to getting started with Google Ads is with … Google. Google Academy for Ads offers a number of introductory and advanced courses to get you up to speed with Paid Search Marketing.


If it all seems like a lot (which it is), there are a number of agencies and resources to help you along the way. Whether you need an audit of a single campaign or a complete account build and active management of your campaigns, get in touch with us and see what we can do for your business.