Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is a type of internet marketing that aims at increasing a website’s prominence in search engine result pages in order to gain increased traffic for the site. The gain in traffic is supposed to translate into additional sales.

Search engine marketing falls into two broad categories :

SEO or search engine optimization

Paid search advertising

It is not uncommon, however, to find people who use the term search engine marketing or SEM to refer solely to paid advertising efforts. They make a distinction between unpaid, organic listings obtained solely by search engine optimization (SEO) and listings that are attained by paying for them.

The methods of SEO are all natural. SEO practitioners wait for a website to be automatically crawled by a search engine’s spiders and to be added to the search engine index, making use of keywords, links, and other techniques in order for the website to rank high in search results. In SEM, the website owner pays the search engine or directory in order to be included into its database immediately.

In both search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), keyword analysis and selection play a crucial role. In SEM, however, once the right key phrases are identified, webmasters generally avail of paid advertising in the form of PPC. PPC, or Pay Per Click, are text-only ads based on the key phrases the webmaster wishes to appear in his ads. He writes the copy and determines how much he is willing to pay in order for his ad to appear. The ads appear on search engine result pages that are relevant to his target market or on websites with content relevant to his target market and who have agreed to display ads. This advertising model is termed Pay Per Click because the advertiser only pays whenever a searcher clicks on his ad and is directed to the his website. It is sometimes referred to also as CPC or Cost Per Click. There is another advertising model that is more akin to traditional advertising, in which the advertiser pays for the number of times an ad appears, regardless of whether the ad sends anyone to his website.

The advantage paid search engine marketing offers is that it gives the webmaster immediate visibility and, it is to be hoped, traffic. If one has a large budget, then this is a viable model. However, because paid advertising is expensive, it is essential to have a site that’s well prepared and delivers to the searcher what he is seeking for. It’s all money down the drain if the PPC ads deliver the searcher to one’s website but when the searcher gets there, he doesn’t find the answer he was seeking or the site fails to deliver on its promise somehow.

This is why even with a paid search engine marketing campaign, it’s important to optimize one’s website first. Paying for ads alone is not sufficient. It may draw traffic in, but whether the traffic converts to sales is another matter.

Some businesses that have limited budgets but who are in a hurry to get visibility apply both optimization and paid advertising at the onset. Paid advertising ensures traffic to their website as they prepare their websites to become more search-engine friendly and useful to their human readers. By the time their websites have been crawled by spiders and added to the indexes of search engines, the web owners are in a position where they can start to rely on their organic optimization efforts to rank high in search engine results, thus allowing them to stop paying for ads.


John Roberts is a freelance seo consultant, web designer and internet marketer from Sydney, Australia. John provides small business web marketing consulting, web design and a comprehensive seo training program. For more information visit