What is Search Engine Marketing? Here is the Comprehensive Guide!

What is Search Engine Marketing? Here is the Comprehensive Guide!

Search Engine Marketing or SEM is a strategy that you should try to advertise your business. Because, SEM will quickly display your website on the first page of search results.

Unlike SEO strategies that take months to display your website, SEM may only require a few days or hours.

So, what is Search Engine Marketing? Why should you use SEM for advertising? In this article, we will discuss it thoroughly. Therefore, stay tuned until the end!

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

Search Engine Marketing is a paid marketing strategy aimed at increasing a website's visibility in search engine results.

So, how does SEM work? Advertisers set up SEM campaigns with relevant keywords related to their business or products.

When someone types in those keywords, the advertiser's website appears in Google's search results, allowing potential clients to see it (getting impressions).

At this stage, there is no cost incurred by the advertiser, as most search engines use the Pay Per Click (PPC) method. This means advertisers only pay the advertising cost when someone clicks on their website.

SEM can be found on almost all search engines, from Google to Bing. However, Google is the most commonly used one, as it dominates the search engine market with a share of 92.47%.

Usually, websites using SEM appear at the top or bottom of search engine result pages. These websites are also labeled with "Ads".

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

Not limited to text alone, Search Engine Marketing can also appear in the form of display products, as shown below.

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

At this point, you might become confused. So, what are the differences between SEO and SEM?

The purpose of SEM and SEO is indeed the same, which is to display your website on the search engine's page. However, these two strategies have some differences.

For example, the display that appears from SEM implementation will have a label "Ads." Usually, advertisements will be shown at the top position compared to non-advertised websites.

On the other hand, the search results from SEO do not have any advertising labels below them. Websites with SEO will be displayed below websites using SEM.

Read Also: Learning Digital Marketing.

What Are the Benefits of Search Engine Marketing?

After understanding the difference between SEO and SEM, you may wonder why you should use SEM. Well, here are some benefits of Search Engine Marketing that you can experience:

1. Potential Increase in Conversion Rate

Potential Increase in Conversion Rate

Search Engine Marketing is commonly used to improve the conversion rate on a website. This is achieved by targeting keywords with purchase intent.

For example, if you advertise a wholesale shoe business and run ads using the keyword "buy cheap shoes," when potential customers who want to purchase shoes type in that keyword, your website will appear on the first page as an advertisement.

Then, what are the benefits if an advertisement appears on the first page?

The position of the advertisement in search results will influence the Click Through Rate (CTR) or the number of people who click on the ad. So, the higher your ad's position in the search results, the higher its CTR rate.

In fact, ads in the first position of search results will receive an average of 7% clicks. Meanwhile, the second position gets 3% clicks, and the third position gets 2.5% clicks.

Potential Increase in Conversion Rate

When your website receives many clicks, there is a possibility that customers will directly search for what they want to buy on your landing page and make a purchase. Consequently, your conversion rate will increase.

Read Also: Effective Tips to Increase Sales Conversion with Retargeting.

2. Results are Relatively Faster Than SEO

The results from SEM (Search Engine Marketing) tend to be faster compared to SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This is because, once you release your paid ads, your website immediately appears on Google's search results page.

Not only that, you are free to extend the display of your ads on the first page. You also have the freedom to stop your paid ads at any time.

On the other hand, it's different when you use SEO. Your website's content cannot instantly appear on the first page of search results. It takes time for the SEO strategies you implement to succeed.

Read Also: 10+ Ways to Get Your Website to Appear on Google's First Page

3. Being Able to Determine Target Audience

You can determine your target audience specifically through SEM. The way to do this is by defining the target characteristics in Google Ads. You can set targets based on location, age, gender, and even schedule.

By targeting a specific audience, your ads will receive traffic from customers who align with your goals. As a result, your advertisements will be more effective in boosting sales.

This is not achievable when using SEO. Your website will only be clicked by the target audience when your content aligns with their search intent.

Also Read: Online Marketing

4. No Need for High Costs

One of the benefits of Search Engine Marketing is that you can determine your own budget. It can start from hundreds of thousands of rupiah, millions, and even tens of millions.

The cost of SEM campaigns is clearly more affordable compared to offline advertising methods. For example, like putting up billboards that can cost tens to hundreds of millions.

Moreover, SEM costs can still be minimized through several strategies. For instance, by targeting numerous relevant keywords, planning the SEM campaign budget carefully, and evaluating effective keywords.

Now that you know the benefits of Search Engine Marketing, you may understand why it is the right strategy to promote your business and website.

However, don't rush to place ads. You need to first study various components of Search Engine Marketing. Stay tuned for the next discussion!

Read also: 6+ Online Marketing Tips with a Limited Budget

Search Engine Marketing Components You Must Know

Here are various components you will encounter when practicing Search Engine Marketing:

1. Search Engine Marketing Platforms

Search Engine Marketing Platforms

When advertising using SEM, advertisers typically utilize two platforms, namely Google Adwords (Google Ads) and Bing Ads. Bing Ads is Microsoft's advertising platform.

Essentially, both platforms employ the Pay Per Click method. However, Google Adwords and Bing Ads have several differences. Here are the distinctions from various aspects:

Search Range

Google dominates the search engine market with a market share of nearly 92.47%, while Bing Ads only hold 5.56%.

It's no wonder that Google Adwords has more traffic compared to Bing Ads.

Google Adwords receives 100 billion monthly traffic, while Bing Ads only get 1 billion monthly traffic.


In terms of cost, using Google Adwords is indeed more expensive than Bing Ads, mainly because Google Adwords has a wider search range.

According to data from ReportGarden, the average Cost Per Click (CPC) for Google Adwords reaches 20 dollars, while Bing Ads is only 8 dollars.


The majority of Google users are a young audience. Evidence shows that only about 45% of users are aged above 45 years. However, the audience above 45 years of age may have higher incomes for making purchases.

It could be slightly challenging if you intentionally target an audience above 50 years old from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, or other Western countries. This is because your ad reach and conversions won't be maximized when using Google AdWords.

Older audiences that are less accessible through Google AdWords can be reached using Bing Ads. Bing Ads can reach 60 million older audiences with incomes above $100,000.

Well, that was the difference between Google AdWords and Bing Ads. To ensure a more confident choice of the right platform, please refer to the following table:

Parameter Google AdWords Bing Ads
Search Reach 100 billion monthly traffic1 billion monthly traffic
Cost Average of 20 dollars per clickAverage of 8 dollars per click
Demographics More younger age groupsMore older age groups with higher income

Read Also: Google Ads Advertisements You Should Know!

2. Types of SEM Keywords

Types of SEM Keywords

When designing a Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaign, the selection of keywords becomes the key to the campaign's success. There are four types of keywords in SEM:

Broad Match Keyword

A broad match keyword is a highly general keyword. This type of keyword allows you to capture diverse audiences with high traffic.

Broad match is also the default keyword setting in Google AdWords. If you target a broad match keyword, your ads will appear on various keywords. However, your ads may also appear in irrelevant contexts.

For example, if you target the keyword "party dress" for your SEM campaign, your ads may also appear when customers type keywords like "party outfit," "brocade dress," or "occasion dress."

Phrase Match Keyword

Phrase match keywords are keywords that are more specific than broad match keywords. However, with this keyword type, you can still target audiences according to your specifications.

By using phrase match keywords, you can reach audiences with moderate specificity and moderate traffic.

When using phrase match keywords, you can include other words before or after the keyword.

For example, if you were targeting the keyword "party dress," you could also use "affordable party dress," "best party dress," or "buy party dress."

Exact Match Keyword

An exact match keyword is the opposite of a broad match keyword, which means it is a highly specific and focused keyword.

By using exact match keywords, the key phrase must be written exactly to trigger your ad. This results in low generated traffic. However, the audience seeing your ad is highly specific.

Negative Keyword

A Negative keyword is a keyword that you should avoid. Because keywords falling under this category are not relevant to your business.

Let's say you are selling party dresses. You want your ads to appear in the search results of potential customers looking for ready-made party dresses. In that case, the negative keywords would be "sew party dress" or "used party dress."

To have a clearer distinction among the different types of keywords mentioned above, please refer to the table below:

Type of Keyword Description Example Performance
Broad Match Keyword A broad match keyword is a highly general keyword. For the keyword "party dresses," its broad matches include "party dresses," "brocade dresses," and "invitation dresses." It generates high traffic and targets a broad and diverse audience.
Phrase Match Keyword Keywords that are more focused yet still provide flexibility to target the audience. cheap party dress, sell party dress, buy party dress Moderate traffic, the audience is approaching specific.
Exact Match Keyword The opposite of board match keyword, it refers to highly specific and focused keywords. dresses for parties, party gowns, and gowns for parties Low traffic, very specific audience.
Negative Keyword Keywords that you should avoid. Because these keywords are not relevant to your business. sewing party dresses or second-hand party dresses Low traffic, irrelevant audience.

Read Also: 9 Accurate Ways to Research Keywords for Blogs and Websites

3. Audience Targeting

Audience Targeting

After determining the keywords, you need to perform targeting. Targeting Search Engine Marketing involves setting several parameters for displaying your ads. Here are the parameters:


You can determine the broad range of location targeting for your audience. For instance, if you have an online travel business, you can target audiences from Australia who are interested in traveling to Bali.

For example, the website below displays ads for cheap flight tickets to potential clients planning a trip to Yogyakarta.



Don't worry that your ads won't be seen because your target audience is busy during specific hours. You can schedule the airing of your ads.

For example, if your target audience consists of office workers who are likely busy from 9 AM to 5 PM, you can display your ads starting from 7 PM.

Target Audience Behavior

You can target your audience based on their behavior. For instance, display your ads to the audience who have previously visited your website. This is called remarketing.

Remarketing aims to re-engage with visitors who have interacted with your website but haven't made a purchase. This way, you increase the likelihood of turning visitors into your customers.

Not only that, you can also display your ads to potential customers who are currently customers of your competitors. The goal is to acquire their customers to become your customers.


You can also target your audience based on the device they use, for example, desktop or smartphone.

For instance, if you advertise your online store shopping app, your target audience will likely be smartphone users. You can display your ads specifically on smartphones.

You can even target your audience based on the type of Operating System (OS) they use, such as Android or iOS.

Age and gender

You can target your audience based on their age and gender. For example, if you have a product like breast milk booster, you will advertise it to female audiences within a certain age range who are likely breastfeeding.

4. Search Engine Marketing Account Structure

The SEM account structure groups the keywords you select for your SEM campaigns.

Now, why should they be grouped?

To manage campaign budgets.

You could use all the chosen keywords for one SEM campaign. However, your budget would increase significantly if some keywords have high volume and clicks.

Here's where you need the SEM account structure. By grouping keywords, you can allocate budgets for each chosen keyword. This way, you have clear budget limits for each keyword.

Saving campaign budget

You can easily monitor keyword performance. This way, you will identify keywords with high CTR and low Cost Per Click.

You can use those keywords for the next campaign. The goal is to optimize campaign performance with a budget-friendly approach.

Focusing on targeting the right audience

SEM account structure allows you to separate multiple campaigns based on product types, audience locations, or specific objectives like conversion improvement or brand awareness.

This grouping helps you target specific audiences, and it facilitates managing strategies for each campaign.

How to set up SEM account structure? Here is the hierarchy of the Search Engine Marketing structure that you need to arrange:

Focusing on targeting the right audience

1. Campaign

The top position in your Google Ads account is the Campaign. Campaigns are used to manage keywords based on common themes relevant to products.

Each Campaign has several groupings:

  • Budget Settings: the designated cost for each Campaign.
  • Goal: the objective of each Campaign.
  • Bid: the maximum Cost Per Click you are willing to pay.
  • Targeting: determining your ad audience.

For example, suppose you want to advertise a dormitory management service. You can group the campaigns into two: "Renting Dorms" and "Dorm Listings."

The "Renting Dorms" campaign targets dorm renters, such as out-of-town students aged 20-23. Meanwhile, the "Dorm Listings" campaign targets dorm owners who want to advertise their dorms.

Next, set the budget for each campaign, such as $300 per day for the "Renting Dorms" campaign and $500 per day for the "Dorm Listings" campaign.

For the "Renting Dorms" campaign, you set the bid at $0.05 per click, while for the "Dorm Listings" campaign, it is set at $0.10 per click.

2. Ad Groups

Each Campaign has Ad Groups. Ad Groups are used to categorize more specific keywords.

Usually, each Campaign has several Ad Groups. However, it is recommended not to create more than 10 Ad Groups in one Campaign.

For example, the Rent Boarding Campaign has 2 Ad Groups, namely "Near Boarding House" and "Cheap Boarding Rentals," while the Listing Boarding House Campaign has 1 Ad Group, "Boarding Application."

3. Ads Keywords

Each Ad Group has its own Ads Keywords. Typically, each Ad contains no more than 20 specific and long-tail keywords.

For instance, you had the Ad Group "Rent Nearby Boarding House." Now, you can include keywords like "rent cheap nearby boarding house," "rent nearby university boarding house," and "rent nearby school boarding house" in your Ads Keywords.

For more clarity, let's refer to the example in the table below:

Campaign Ad Group Keyword
Rent a Boarding House
Budget: $300 per day, Audience: students, Aged 20-23, Bid: $0.05 per click
Nearby Boarding House Rental, Affordable Boarding House Rental Rent boarding house near University, Rent boarding house near School, Affordable Boarding House Rental New York, Affordable Boarding House Rental University
Boarding House Listings
Budget: $500 per day, Audience: boarding house owners, Bid: $0.10 per click
Boarding House App Boarding House App Advertisement, Install Boarding House Advertisement App

5. SEM Ad Copywriting

Now that the keywords have been determined and structured for SEM, your ads will be displayed in the form of SEM ad copywriting. Copywriting is a way to attract the audience by crafting precise and compelling written content.

Below is a section of the Search Engine Marketing ad copywriting:

SEM Ad Copywriting
  • Headline: Website or Ad Title
  • Website URL: The advertised website address
  • Description: Ad or website description
  • Site Extension: Displays other websites related to the ad. For example, in the above example, Lazada also showcases web pages for bag and clothing collections.
  • Callout Extension: Link to show additional offers from the website. For example, free shipping, warranty, and a call to action to order immediately.
    Callout Extension
  • Location Extension: Displays Google Maps link of the office or business location.
    Location Extension
  • Call Extension: Displays business or office contact information.
    Call Extension

Read Also: Example of Headline Copywriting.

6. SEM Ad Bidding System

The Search Engine Marketing (SEM) bidding system is a mechanism used by Google Ads to determine the timing and position of ad placements in search results.

The position of your ad in search results depends on the competition with other brands using the same keywords as you. Specifically, this competition is determined by three factors:

  • MAX CPC Bid: The maximum amount you are willing to pay when someone clicks on your ad.
  • Quality Score: The rating given by the platform to your ad. This score depends on three factors: Click-Through Rate (CTR), relevant keywords in Ad Groups, landing page relevance to the keyword, and the ad's performance track record.
  • Ad Rank: The rating assigned by the platform to your ad. Its purpose is to determine your ad's position on the search results page. The higher the rating, the better the position of your ad.

How can you achieve a good Ad Rank? Here is the formula:

Ad Rank = Max CPC Bid × Quality Score

With a high Quality Score, you can outperform competitors who pay higher Max CPC Bids. In other words, a high Quality Score enables you to obtain a favorable position in search results with minimal costs.

Read Also: What Factors Influence Google Ranking?

How to Advertise on Google with Search Engine Marketing

After getting familiar with SEM earlier, you must now understand that placing online ads should not be done haphazardly. So, your task doesn't stop at creating the ads alone. You need to optimize your SEM campaigns to reach a wider audience, maximize your budget, and drive more conversions.

Here are the ways to make your SEM campaigns more optimal:

1. Conduct Keyword Research

In the previous discussion, you have already understood various types of keywords that can be used for your campaign. Now, to find the right keywords, you need to conduct keyword research.

Here are the things you need to consider for conducting keyword research:

Keyword research to find keywords used by your audience to search for your products.

To find the keywords used by your audience to search for your products, you need keyword tools for research. One that you can try is Google Keyword Planner.

After accessing Google Keyword Planner, enter keywords related to your website's topic. For example, we entered the keyword "cheap domain" for domain products. Then, click on Get Result.

Conduct Keyword Research

Here are the keywords used by the audience when searching for cheap domain products:

Conduct Keyword Research

In the keyword search results, Google Keyword Planner provides the following information:

  • Average Monthly Search: average monthly searches for the keyword
  • Competition: the level of difficulty to win that keyword
  • Top of page bid (low range): the lowest bid offered by advertisers
  • Top of page bid (high range): the highest bid offered by advertisers
  • Broaden your search: suggestions of related keywords to the one you entered earlier.

Tips: Choose keywords with a high Average Monthly Salary and moderate or low competition. This means that these keywords are frequently searched by the audience but are still not widely used by competitors.

Search for potential purchase-oriented keywords

You can also search for keywords that the audience uses when purchasing a product. How to find the most potential purchase-oriented keywords on Google Keyword Planner?

To do this, click on Add Filter > Keyword > Contain to include other words besides the main keywords.

Search for potential purchase-oriented keywords

In this tutorial, we are attempting to add filters for "how" and "buy" queries. Afterwards, potential high-converting keywords will emerge:

Search for potential purchase-oriented keywords

Next, select keywords with a high Average Monthly Salary and a moderate to low competition level.

Additionally, choose keywords with a Top of Page bid (low range) and a high bidding value. The higher the bid, the more potential for generating purchase traffic.

Select keywords with an effective Cost Per Click (CPC).

You have already chosen popular and potentially buyer keywords. Now, determine the Return on Investment (ROI) for each campaign. Then, select keywords with a CPC that will yield a positive ROI.

2. Write the Product Uniqueness in the SEM Ad Description

The right keywords would be useless if you don't create an engaging ad to be clicked on. Therefore, you need to write the product uniqueness in your SEM ad description.

For instance, if you have an online travel service that can be contacted 24/7, mention it in the copywriting of your SEM ad.

As an example, JetBlue airline's website writes about additional amenities onboard. Starting from Free WiFi, unlimited snacks, and received awards.

Write the Product Uniqueness in the SEM Ad Description

3. Write a Special Offer in your SEM Ad Description

Do you have any special discounts or offers like free shipping? Don't forget to include them in your SEM ad description.

For example, clothing brand website GAP mentions a 40% discount, free shipping, and free product returns in their Ad Copy. The offer is placed directly below the website link to make it more visible to potential customers.

Write a Special Offer in your SEM Ad Description

4. Insert Preferred Keywords in SEM Ad Description

Keywords are the key to your ad's performance on search engines. So, at least one of your preferred keywords should be included in the SEM ad copywriting description. The aim is to help customers quickly find your brand.

For example, if you are selling soccer shoes, simply insert that keyword in the SEM ad copywriting. When potential customers search for that keyword, it will appear in bold within the SEM ad.

Insert Preferred Keywords in SEM Ad Description

5. Adjust SEM Ad Copywriting with Landing Page

Ensure that the SEM ad copywriting aligns with the landing page. This will impact customers' trust in your product and brand.

If you offer a discount in the SEM ad description, make sure to display the same discount on your landing page. Likewise, vice versa.

For instance, Soccer.com showcases a $4.99 shipping promo for purchases over $99 in their ad. When potential customers click on their ad, they will see a landing page with the same promotional information.

Adjust SEM Ad Copywriting with Landing Page

6. Maximizing Campaign with Keyword Research

You can also maximize your existing SEM campaign. How to do it?

Firstly, you need to conduct keyword research again. The purpose is to identify relevant keywords that you haven't used yet. After that, add these keywords to your SEM campaign.

You also need to monitor the performance of your selected keywords. Identify keywords that bring in irrelevant audience traffic or result in low clicks. Then, include these keywords in the Negative Keyword category.

Next, remove less relevant keywords from your campaign. Then, use additional relevant keywords for your ongoing SEM campaign.

7. Using A/B Testing

One of the advantages of using Search Engine Marketing is the quick visibility of results. Therefore, utilize two different strategies, known as A/B Testing.

A/B testing can help determine which ad is most effective in reaching the advertising target.

Testing the ads can be done one by one, starting from different keyword combinations, SEM ad copywriting, bids, to landing page ads. Alternatively, it can also be conducted simultaneously, covering the entire advertisement.

For example, Hubspot's website created two designs for product demo registration forms. Version A was made without an image, while version B featured a smiling woman's picture.

Using A/B Testing

Those two versions were then tested. The result showed that version A had a registration increase of 24%. The reason was that the clean registration form without an image directed the audience's attention straight to the form.

Read also: 7+ Tips for Advertising on Google Ads (Google Adwords) [Complete]

Let's Use Search Engine Marketing for Your Campaign!

Now, you already understand what Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is. Search Engine Marketing is a paid marketing strategy aimed at increasing website visibility in search results.

Unlike free SEO strategies, SEM does require you to pay a certain cost. However, SEM results are visible faster, from visibility in search results to the potential increase in purchase conversions on your website.

For those of you who want to use SEM strategies, you need to learn the basics first. We have explained it in this article along with how to optimize your SEM campaign. Pretty easy, right?

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