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Search Engine Marketing

A) Overview

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of paid advertising placement on search engine result pages. The primary goal of SEM is to increase your website’s visibility and attract more visitors.
This should not be confused with search engine optimization (SEO), which is the process of optimizing content on your website to increase its ranking in search engine results. SEM-generated ads are displayed in a separate “Sponsored Links” area of the search engine results page.

Contrary to traditional ad placements, SEM ads can be highly contextual. The buyer can control where and when the ads will be displayed based on certain keywords, geographic regions, or time of day.

B) How SEM Works

Most SEM services work based on a pay per click (PPC) bidding system. For the advertiser, this is more cost-effective because you’re only required to pay when a user clicks on your ad. This means that you’re only paying for measurable clickthroughs to your website as opposed to ad impressions that don’t guarantee results.

Before purchasing the ads, you must first research and choose the keywords that determine when your ad appears. You can then geo-target the placement to only display ads to users in a specific geographic area.

PPC systems are based on auction principles, such that each advertiser is bidding for the best placements on search result pages. After you have selected the keywords that you want to bid on, you are then in competition with other advertisers who have also bid on these keywords. Each advertiser sets the maximum price they would like to pay for a clickthrough on your ad.

This auction happens automatically, behind the scenes, each time a search result page with your keyword is displayed. The advertiser who has offered to pay the highest price will get the most frequent and highest placements on the results page. Higher placements generally result in higher clickthrough rates.

C) Analytics and Measurement

Most PPC services offer a number of tools that allow you to research, measure, and evaluate your SEM campaigns. These tools can help you research keywords to bid on, based on the popularity of those search terms. This allows you to estimate the potential ad cost and the demand for those keywords by other advertisers. In order to help you set your bid value, most PPC systems will recommend a daily budget based on the keywords you have selected.

Generic keywords will typically be in much higher demand. Therefore, it can be more effective to bid on specific niche keywords. You should also consider researching keywords that aren’t directly related to your site, but are indirectly related. These can help draw a different audience to your site.

Once you have launched an ad campaign, it’s important to continually monitor its success and refine the campaign as necessary. PPC systems track information about the success of your keyword bids and the percentage of users who are clicking on your ads. Based on this information, you may want to increase the price of your bids, tweak your ad copy to make it more compelling, or change the keywords.

You can also leverage website analytics in addition to your ad campaign analytics in order to get a full picture of your campaign’s success. For example, if you find that your ads are driving a lot of people to your website but the users are quickly leaving, your ads may not be clear enough about the type of information the user will find on your website.

D) Services

The most popular SEM platforms are from the “big three” search engines providers:
•    Google AdWords
•    Microsoft adCenter
•    Yahoo! Search Marketing

Each of these platforms offers its own set of features and functionality, but they are all based on the PPC model. It makes sense to look at these networks as a starting point for your first campaign because of the size and importance of these networks.

In addition to ads on search engine result pages, these services also give you the option to place your ads on a network of third-party websites that are not search engines. These sites choose to display contextual ads in return for a portion of the advertising fees. These placements are generally less desirable to advertisers because of lower web traffic. The cost per click for ads on these sites is therefore lower.

If you are looking for more eye-catching ads, these services also offer image banner ads on some sites in their advertising network. These are sold on the cost per impression (CPM) model, which charges advertisers based on the number of times an ad was viewed, as opposed to the cost per click (CPC) model.