Skip to content

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Written by

Last editedMay 20212 min read

If you’re running a small business in the 21st century then there’s no escaping the need to have a highly visible and effective e-commerce and online presence. Search engine marketing (SEM) describes one of the ways of making sure this happens. SEM refers to the practice of ensuring that your business sits at or near the top of search engine rankings such as those delivered by Google using paid advertising rather than organic search.

The advertising that drives SEM can be divided into three categories:

  • Pay Per Click (PPC)

  • Pay Per Impression (PPI)

  • Pay Per Sale/Action (PPS/PPA)

By far the most dominant of these techniques is PPC. When a business uses PPC as part of their SEM strategy it means that they pay a fee each time an ad they have placed is clicked on. Each of these clicks results in someone visiting the website or landing page of the business, and the fee charged per click varies, depending upon the cost of the keywords being used and, in simple terms, the amount the business is willing to pay to drive traffic to their website. 

One of the main plus points of PPC as an SEM strategy is that the business in question only has to pay if someone actually clicks on the advert, which means no fee will be charged if the advert proves to be relatively ineffective and few people actually click through to the site. The presence of a results-driven payment structure of this kind makes it very easy to budget for an overall SEM campaign as part of a wider mixed marketing effort, and to track the return on investment generated.   

What are SEM platforms?

As with many things connected with ecommerce, the phrase “SEM platform” is a slightly overcomplicated way of saying something very simple. An SEM platform is a search engine on which a business can place ads that are displayed when users search for specific keywords. Google Ads is by far the most popular and widely used SEM platform. It’s possible to track the number of Google searches being made per second at any given time, and an estimate from 2019 found that Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day, which gives some impression of the vast global audience that an effective SEM strategy can help your business to tap into.    

Choosing your SEM keywords

SEM keywords are the specific words and phrases targeted in an SEM campaign. When a user types these keywords into a search query, they will see your PPC ads at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Although choosing the right keywords to reach your target audience is a highly precise process, SEM keywords in general can be divided into three main categories:

  • Broad match – these SEM keywords include variations on a specific term. If you operate as a motor mechanic, for example, broad match keywords for garage might include car repairs, auto repairs, MOT services, vehicle servicing etc. 

  • Phrase match – these SEM keywords target the specific term describing the business when it is used with other words or phrases coming before or after. In the case of the motor mechanic, targeted phrases might include “best motor mechanic”, “professional motor mechanic”, “motor mechanic services”, “affordable motor mechanic”, etc.      

  • Exact match – these are SEM keywords that are extremely close to the targeted term, and might include single or plural forms, common misspellings, abbreviation, paraphrases and any other variations that still contain the same search intent as the target term itself. If the exact keyword is motor mechanic, for example, the SEM campaign might also target “motor mechanics”, “auto mechanics” and “motor repairs”.  

We can help

If an SEM campaign brings a large number of customers to your business then you’ll need the payment infrastructure to deal with them. That’s what you’ll have when you partner with GoCardless, enabling you to handle payments as efficiently as possible. This includes the more complex aspects such as dealing with ad hoc payments or recurring payments.

Over 85,000 businesses use GoCardless to get paid on time. Learn more about how you can improve payment processing at your business today.

Get StartedLearn More
Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help
Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

Interested in automating the way you get paid? GoCardless can help

Contact sales

Try a better way to collect payments, with GoCardless. It's free to get started.

Try a better way to collect payments

Learn moreSign up