TechDogs-"Search Engine Marketing 101"

Digital Marketing

Search Engine Marketing 101

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You want your pizza within 30 minutes, your noodles in 2 minutes and your Google search results in less than 0.00000000006 seconds. We get it; we are all living in a world of instant gratification.

So, when it comes to making your way to the top ranks on Google search, you want results and you want them fast. For anyone remotely aware of how search engines work, they probably know that optimizing your websites and online content to rank on top using Search Engine Optimization could take a while. In the meantime, your best ally is paid search; bidding on keywords so that search engines put you in the top positions.

Together SEO and paid search make what is popularly known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM). In this article, we cover the second leg of SEM – paid search. Read on to find all about the past, present and the future of Search Engine Marketing. (Hint: it's very bright!)
TechDogs-Explore The Universe Of Search Engine Marketing (SEM)-"Search Engine Marketing 101"
Calling all Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk fans out there, if you love Star Trek as much as we do (and even if you don’t), you’re probably familiar with computer searches. It’s rare that an entire episode goes by without a character turning to the computer and asking it for some piece of information.

Computer, can you locate Commander Data?

Computer, what song was that?

Computer, where is the nearest M class planet?

The above quotes are examples of voice searches — the kind you might ask Siri or Google when you’re on your phone.

Did you know, Google processes hundreds and millions of searches every hour and its reach covers over 90% of the global search market share? From the name of the actor who played Data (Brent Spiner) to the director of Star Trek (only to realize it is J.J Abrams, not George Lucas - unlike what Leonard from Accounting swore), we Google everything.

Searches are the currency of Google and we mean that quite literally. In 2018, Google reported revenues of over $136 billion. That’s a lot of billions. So how does Google do it? Two words: paid search, a tactic that’s one-half of a two-piece puzzle called Search Engine Marketing. For those still looking for the first piece of the puzzle, read our article on Search Engine Optimization.

Before we get into the nuance of paid search, let’s introduce you to our old friend Search Engine Marketing first.

What Is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a blanket term that refers to the process of getting a website listed in search engines using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or paid search strategies.

SEO versus Paid Search:
  • SEO involves optimizing your website code, content and incoming links with the goal of ranking organically on Google and other search engines for a desired keyword or keywords.

  • Paid Search/pay-per-click (PPC) is a digital advertising strategy that involves bidding on keywords so that your ad appears in the search results of a search engine based on a user query.

Search ads are primarily text-based ads that show up when you do a search for a product. The following image illustrates a typical Search Engine Results Page (SERP) on Google. These are results for the key phrase, “how to control mice.”

TechDogs-"What Is Search Engine Marketing?"-A Screenshot Showing The SERP For Search Query "How To Control Mice"
The above SERP includes paid and organic search listings, as follows:
  • Paid text ads (they are differentiated from organic listings with the label “ad”)

  • Paid shopping ads (we’ll get into what these are in a minute)

  • Organic search listing — in this case, the listing is a “Featured Snippet” which includes some content scraped from a pest control company’s blog and a link to the website.

Imagine if the Star Trek computer ran ads when a Starfleet officer conducted a search. Say, for example, the query “Where is the next M class planet” triggered an ad that popped up on the computer’s screen that read:
Visit, Earth - The Alpha Quadrant’s most prestigious M class planet!

If the ad appeared before listing all M class planets in the vicinity, it would give Earth an edge over the others. Now imagine thousands of Starfleet officers asking a similar question on starships across the galaxy. Those clicks add up to big money. That’s Paid Search. It’s how Google became the behemoth it is today.

A Brief History Of Search Engine Marketing And Paid Search

Paid search dominates US online media spend, with Google alone accounting for nearly 40% of total digital ad spending in 2019.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Google spurned the idea of charging advertisers to get listed in their search engine for fear of polluting the search results with irrelevant listings. Then a company called came along.
A (very) brief timeline of paid search
  • In 1998, the first company to rise above the skepticism surrounding the monetization of search was, a search engine that allowed advertisers to bid on keywords using a straightforward bidding system. GoTo was eventually acquired by Yahoo! in 2003.

  • The top search engine in 1998 was Yahoo! but due to a number of missteps, their search market share eroded in favor of Google’s.

  • Google launched their own brand of paid ads, called AdWords, back in October 2000.

  • By 2004, Google’s paid listings had earned the company its first $1 billion in ad revenue and they continued to grow their ad revenue each year after that.

One question still prevails, how does it all work?

How Does Paid Search Work? 

Paid search runs on a self-serve auction-based system. You as an advertiser create an account with the search engine, come up with a list of keywords, upload your ads, set a budget and switch the ads on. From that point on, it’s Happy Hunger Games and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Once an advertiser’s campaign is live, you begin competing with other advertisers bidding on the same keywords. If you win the auction, your ad is displayed but you don’t pay a dime until someone clicks on the ad. That’s where we get the term “pay-per-click” or PPC.

Seems simple, right? The highest bidder wins the auction and their ad appears in the search results! Well, no.

That used to be the case until Google realized that advertisers were trying to game the system by bidding on keywords that weren’t relevant to their website. A company trying to sell life insurance might bid on the term “wedding planning” just to get traffic from the more popular keyword. To combat this kind of misleading advertising, Google introduced something called “quality score.” Quality score is how Google ensures that the term you’re bidding on is relevant to what you’re selling.

Why Is Paid Search Important?

There’s a reason that paid search continues to take up such a large chunk of the digital media revenue pie, even after two decades: namely, relevance.

Search dominates what we do online, with one study noting that 81% of people search online for products and services. The ubiquity of mobile devices is also a contributing factor of search’s continued dominance, with mobile searches accounting for nearly 51% of all searches as of June 2019.

From a web traffic perspective, search engines are the biggest contributing source, with paid and organic search traffic comprising nearly 70% of all trackable website traffic as of June 2019. Finally, voice search is on the rise. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was way ahead of his time here. His characters were talking to computers nearly three years before we managed to send the first rocket to the moon.

These days, voice search is part of our daily routines. More than 3.25 billion people use voice-activated search and search assistants such as Siri. Voice-based search usage is projected to continue to grow, with integration into more and more devices.  While voice search ads aren’t currently part of Google’s ad offerings, it is reasonable to assume that Google will figure out a way to integrate it into the voice search experience at some point.

Talking about the future of possibilities, let’s talk about what’s next for SEM.

The Future Of SEM

Remember, Search Engine Marketing is a blanket term that, from a tactical standpoint, includes both paid and organic SEO.

Both types of searches have a promising future. Thanks to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technology, search engines are becoming increasingly adept at giving us the answers we want when we want them. Google’s always tweaking its search algorithm, making it even better and more relevant for users (they made over 3000 algorithm updates in 2018 alone)

This isn’t only happening with Google. Vertical search engines like Amazon, that excel in shopping-based search, are delivering relevant product results to consumers, with 60% of consumers starting Ecommerce searches on Amazon. Voice search is a real game-changer. It’s predicted that in the coming years, more than 20% of all searches will be voice searches. This is particularly true of younger generations, with over 50% of teens using voice search daily. #AlexaPlayDespacito

It’s clear that Search Engine Marketing is as relevant today as it was twenty years ago. That’s true for both paid search and SEO, which have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Keep in mind that SEO requires a somewhat different approach. We’ve covered that separately.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and how does it differ from Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) encompasses strategies aimed at getting a website listed in search engines through either Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or paid search methods. SEO involves optimizing website content, code, and incoming links to improve organic rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords. On the other hand, paid search, also known as pay-per-click (PPC), involves bidding on keywords to display ads in search results based on user queries. While SEO focuses on organic visibility, paid search relies on paid advertising to attract traffic to a website.

How does Paid Search work and why is it important?

Paid search operates on an auction-based system where advertisers bid on keywords relevant to their products or services. Advertisers create campaigns, set budgets, and upload ads, competing with other advertisers for ad placement. The ads are displayed in search results, and advertisers only pay when users click on their ads, hence the term "pay-per-click" (PPC). Paid search is crucial because it ensures relevance by targeting users actively searching for specific products or services. It allows advertisers to reach a highly targeted audience, driving qualified traffic to their websites and maximizing their return on investment (ROI).

What is the future of Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

The future of SEM looks promising with advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technology. Search engines are becoming more adept at providing relevant and personalized search results to users. Google continues to refine its search algorithm, making it more relevant and user-friendly. Additionally, vertical search engines like Amazon are excelling in delivering relevant product results to consumers. The rise of voice search is also expected to reshape the landscape of SEM, with an increasing number of users relying on voice-activated assistants for search queries. As technology continues to evolve, SEM strategies will adapt to meet the changing needs and preferences of consumers, ensuring that businesses remain visible and competitive in the digital marketplace.

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