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SEM: What It Is & Why It Matters

SEM: What It Is & Why It Matters

Written by enCOMPASS Agency

It goes without saying that every business benefits from having a prominent, highly visible website. The easier it is for search engine users to discover your business website, the more likely it is for you to generate traffic, leads, conversions, and a robust reputation.

As business owners consider ways to optimize their online visibility, many focus on search engine optimization (SEO)... as well they should! But while SEO is invaluable, it’s only one piece in the broader puzzle. A strong, strategic focus on SEO is enhanced by a robust investment in search engine marketing, or SEM.

What do these two disciplines actually represent? What are the points of overlap between them? And for businesses that have already invested in SEO, what are the merits of expanding into SEM territory? Here’s our quick rundown.


SEM and SEO are two digital marketing disciplines that have similar goals. In both cases, the primary objective is to increase the visibility of a brand (or a website) on the Web, specifically on search engine results pages.

But if the goals are similar, the methodologies are different. SEO is focused entirely on organic reach; that is, gaining traction with the search engine algorithms by focusing on things like site performance, content, keyword use, meta data, backlinks, citation, on-page experience, and more.

SEM can encompass some of these organic elements, but it’s typically much more focused on paid ad activity. To put it another way, SEO focuses on “free” traffic, whereas SEM prioritizes traffic that you pay for via things like Google Ads.

As a rule of thumb, SEO is great for earning long-term traffic, while SEM can be more useful for accomplishing short-term goals, like boosting your visibility among people who are ready to purchase your product. Crucially, these two disciplines are not meant to be held in opposition: On the contrary, SEO and SEM tend to be most effective when they are used in an integrated, harmonious way.

How SEM Works: The Basics

Part of what makes SEM so useful is that it provides an opportunity to see your website rank above the organic results you’ll find on the search engine results page. If your website holds the top Google Ads spot, for instance, it will appear ahead of all the organic listings. And if you’ve also got a stranglehold on the top organic listing, you’ll effectively monopolize the SERP.

Of course, not everyone’s website is going to claim that prime real estate. You’ll need to take a strategic approach to SEM if you want to win out in ad auctions. You’ll need to start with two basic pieces of information:

  • A list of the keywords you’d like to bid on; here’s a great opportunity for synergy with your SEO efforts.
  • Your budget, or the amount that you’re willing to spend per click on each keyword.

Here it’s important to note that most Google Ads users opt for a pay-per-click (PPC) model, which means paying only when a user actually clicks through your ad. This can be a great way of ensuring robust ROI: You’re not paying just to have your ads displayed, you’re paying only when you achieve real results.

Where to Start with SEM

So, where’s the best place to begin with SEM? While there are plenty of ad platforms to consider, Google Ads is an accessible and effective entry point. Some initial steps you’ll want to take include:

  • Setting up a Google Ads account.
  • Learning more about the different campaign structures (for example, there’s your actual campaign, your ad groups, and your individual keywords). An experienced digital marketing agency can help you navigate some of these concepts.
  • Choosing the right keywords, which may mean using some of the keyword research from your SEO campaign. Be advised, however, that SEO and SEM tend to reach consumers at different stages of their buyer journey, so there may be some distinctions in the keywords you use for each.
  • Getting your creative right. The Google Ads platform determines which ads to show based on the quality of your content; in other words, your ads will have a greater chance of succeeding if you have compelling copy written for each one, along with stirring calls to action.

More broadly, it’s important to position your Google Ads and SEM work within the broader context of your digital marketing strategy. And that’s where having a visionary agency is invaluable.

Choose enCOMPASS as Your SEM Partner

At enCOMPASS Agency, our team has ample experience helping clients achieve high visibility among their target consumers, using comprehensive digital strategies that incorporate SEO, SEM, and more. Whether you are just getting started with search ads or wish to optimize an existing campaign, we’d love to help. Reach out to enCOMPASS whenever you’re ready to chat.