Search engine marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the act of using paid strategies to increase search visibility. With SEM, brands pay for ads to appear as search results on search engine results pages (SERPs). They target select keywords so that when users search for those terms, they see an ad from the brand. The brand is charged only if a user clicks on the ad.

Paid search ads can be found on almost any search results page. These paid placements are typically located at the top and bottom of the page and include an “Ad” designation to let users know that it is a paid placement.

SEM Platforms

An SEM platform is a search engine where a brand can place search ads displayed when users perform a search. The most common platforms are Google and Bing, and Google Ads is the most widely used SEM platform. Bing Ads claims to connect with 3 million searchers that Google can’t reach. By serving ads on partner sites such as Yahoo and MSN, Bing Ads helps you connect with searchers who aren’t exclusively using Google for search.

SEM Keywords

SEM keywords are the terms and phrases you target in your search engine marketing campaigns. When users search for those keywords, they see your ads. For example, if your campaign targets the term “virtual assistant,” your ad may show when a user searches for that phrase.

Choose the keywords you want to target and/or avoid when creating a campaign. There are four types of keywords you can use in your SEM campaigns.

Broad match keywords target variations of a term. This includes similar phrases, singular or plural forms, misspellings, or synonyms of the target term.

Phrase match keywords target the exact phrase, plus any phrases that have words that come before or after the target keyword.

Exact match keywords target words that are very closely related to the target term. This includes misspellings, singular or plural forms, abbreviations, reordered words, paraphrases, or closely related words with the same search intent of the exact match term.

Negative keywords exclude terms that you don’t want to target. Negative keywords are variations of broad match, phrase match, and exact match keywords that you don’t want to use in your campaign SEM Account Structure.

Account Structure

Campaigns: As the highest level within an account, each campaign has its unique goal, budget, bid strategy, and targeting settings. Campaigns often organize accounts into larger themes related to specific products, services, target audience types, or promotions.

For example, a platform that matches virtual assistants with clients might have two campaigns, one to target people looking for virtual assistants and one to target people who are virtual assistants.

Ad Groups: Within a campaign, ad groups break the campaign into even more specific themes. Most campaigns have a few different ad groups, and it is recommended not to exceed seven to 10 ad groups per campaign. 

For example, the campaign targeting virtual assistants might have two ad groups: one targeting part-time virtual assistants and one targeting full-time virtual assistants.

Keywords and Ads: Each ad group has its own target keywords and ads. The keywords and ad copy target the ad group’s unique audience and theme. It is recommended to have two to three ads and no more than 20 keywords per ad group. For example, the ad group targeting full-time virtual assistants might create ads and use keywords that speak directly to virtual assistants looking for full-time work. In contrast, the ad group for part-time virtual assistants would target keywords and language about a part-time job.

How to improve your quality score

A high Quality Score helps your ads show more often and at a lower cost. Work to improve your Quality Score by incorporating target keywords in your ad copy and the landing page it leads to. This lets SEM platforms know that the ad and destination URL align with the searcher’s intent, which leads to a higher Quality Score.


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