Search Marketing, Part 1: What is SEM?

Search marketing is the process of gaining online traffic and visibility from search engines through both paid and unpaid efforts.* It encompasses two parts:

  1. Search Engine Optimization: Utilizing unpaid or free listings to earn traffic (remember all those online profiles you claimed?)
  2. Search Engine Marketing: Utilizing paid search listings and ads to buy traffic

Read more about SEO in our Beginner’s Guide to SEO post.

What is SEM?

SEM involves purchasing ads on search engines to gain online traffic. In order to understand SEM, there are a few key terms you should know:

  • Algorithm—set of rules a search engine uses to rank listings in response to a query; unique formulas used to determine relevancy.
  • Click Through—when a user clicks on a hypertext link and is taken to the intended destination.
  • CPC—Cost Per Click, or the amount search engines charge advertisers for every click sent to the website; total cost for each click received.
  • Keyword / Keyword Phrase—a specific word or combination of words that a user might use as a search query to find information around a certain topic. Includes generic keywords, category keywords, industry-specific terms, product brands, common misspellings, expanded variations, or a string of multiple words.
  • KPI (Key Performance Indicator)—is a measureable value that a company uses to gauge or compare performance in terms of meeting their goals.
  • Organic Search Results—listings search engines do not sell (unlike paid listings). Instead, sites appear in search results solely because the search engine has deemed them editorially important to be included, regardless of payment.
  • Paid Search Results—paying for ads to have a position, or appear, on a search results page. This position is relative to other paid ads and organic search results. Some ads appear at the top of the page, and some appear in the right column of the page. Factors in the search engines position placement include bid price, the ad’s CTR, relevancy of the ad to search queries, relevance of the click-through landing page to search queries and quality measures based on user experience.
  • Pay Per Call—similar to Pay Per Click, advertisers pay for every phone call received from a paid search ad.
  • PPC—Pay Per Click, or paying only for each click on an ad that directs users to the intended landing page. Even though PPC ads may get thousands of impressions, or views, with the PPC model, advertisers only pay when the ad is clicked.

SEM can be a very powerful marketing tool because it gives you the ability to initially reach patients who are already in the buying cycle. Whether the user is in need of information or ready to make an appointment, they are actively seeking out services you provide.



*Search Engine Land
SEMPO Glossary

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