Search Engine Marketing: A Comprehensive Guide to Growing Your Business Online

Search Engine Marketing: A Comprehensive Guide to Growing Your Business Online

September 3, 2021
(Reading time: 10 - 20 minutes)

In today’s highly competitive environment between brands and companies, that common ‘lowest offer bait may not be enough to convince people to buy your products or services. Market places are now dominated by content creation that aids businesses to gain traffics for their websites. Therefore, growing a business in a content-dominated space without content marketing is like writing without a pen—you’re merely exerting efforts but achieve no result. Digital problems require digital solutions and one way of solving online marketing problems is by moving closer to what people really need, like what search engine marketing strategy does.

This article is a comprehensive guide about search engine marketing and how it works.

Fundamentals: SEM Definition, Structure, Concept, And Process

SEM Meaning

Search engine marketing or SEM is a digital marketing strategy used by companies in order to increase their visibility on search engine results page (SERP) through paid advertisements. It helps websites appear on top of the list whenever one of the typed-in keywords is linked to these sites.

SEM begins when people browse the internet with the intention of buying a product or service. They enter words to look for relevant results, and when a keyword matches their search, an ad appears on the landing page of search results.

The Power of Keywords

Keywords are the main player of search engine marketing. As people browse for products or services, they are likely to enter words related to them. Good and effective keywords put the product or service in front of potential clients. That is why a keen and careful selection of keywords to utilize should be done before the actual advertisement.

In doing so, here’s a quick guide on how to select the right keywords for your business:


Create a list of possible words you might use. Sit down and talk about ideas that are relevant to your potential buyers. What are their needs, and how will they phrase them? Will they directly type for a single word, or will they use a more detailed phrase? For this matter, it is advisable to include both short-tail keywords (using one or two words) and long-tail keywords (using three or more words).

Pros and cons

Long-tail keywords usually have a lower volume but give a more definite result. On the other hand, short-tail keywords tend to gain a higher search volume but with the indefinite result.

Create a comprehensive list

To create a comprehensive list, consider all types of keyword terms:

Generic terms

These are the actual description of a particular product that buyers might enter in a search engine. It has a broad scope that caters to clients' vague ideas and shows possible services or products that might meet his or her needs. For example, when you enter the word ‘education,’ a large number of results will appear from the simple definition, terminologies, and related libraries to a more insightful page such as educational sites, blog posts, and content articles.

Related terms

These are words that do not directly refer to the product or service that buyers might be searching for but is relevant to the searched word. Terms can be related either by semantic category (or variation of the meaning) or through primary keyword. For example, using the term ‘education,’ some related terms that might be displayed are teaching, schooling, lesson, tutoring, curriculum, and the likes.

Brand terms

These are the keywords that contain the business or brand’s names. It may also include product names, product details, or descriptive phrases. For example, a user might enter ‘Sony noise-canceling headphones’ as he/she searches for this particular item.

Competitor terms

These are the terms that include the business or brand’s name of possible competitors. It is beneficial in a way that a company might attract similar audiences or clients using the same terms. For Sony, a competitor term can be Plantronics-noise reduction headphones.


The second step is to narrow down your list and omit redundant words. One way of trimming your list down is to determine whether a term is relevant to your buyer’s needs or not. In doing so, you must understand that intent affects keyword analysis.

Keywords should, at the utmost part, address the concern of a searcher and not just carry the word at the search bar. Another thing, keywords can mean differently from your client’s perspective. For instance, a user searches for the “how to start a blog” keyword phrase for an article he wants to write. In this matter, a blog can mean two things: the actual blog to be posted and the website where it will be posted.

The question here is whether the user wants to learn how to start a blog or how to launch a website for a blog post? One effective way to have a more personal touch of the user’s intent is to type in the keyword yourself and see the result. (Source: Research for SEO: A Beginner’s Guide)


Now that you have a specified list of keywords to include in your ads, it's time to refine those terms using research keyword tools. All research tools work the same; once you enter keywords in these tools, it will automatically generate a wide range of keyword ideas.

A well-analyzed keyword can:

Gain traffic and attract potential clients

Selecting keywords that are relevant to your client’s needs will likely put your website at the top of the search engine result page (SERP).

Increase in conversion

Keywords that match the user’s intent will not only gain attention from visitors but also attract traffic. Meaning, content should address people’s concerns or solve their problems. Otherwise, they’ll be just an additional searcher of your site.

Bring a deeper understanding of marketing trends

Analyzing words to include in your advertisements will give you a closer look at your target market’s behavior, current trends, and preferences.

Types of SEM Keywords

SEM keywords are the actual terms or phrases that businesses include in their search engine campaigns. As users enter those keywords, their advertisements land on the result page. For example, if a company uses the term ‘marketing agency’ in its target, their ads may show when people match this praise.

That is why knowledge in the basic types of SEM keywords is important to choose the right keyword and avoid terms that will not gain any traffics.

Broad match keywords.

As the name suggests, these terms give a wide range of reach on the clients’ end. Broad match keywords have the highest reach among the four types. This may cover almost everything in the search bar, including synonymous words of the target term, similar phrases, stemming, singular or plural forms of the searched term, and even misspelled words.

Phrase match keywords

These show the exact phrase result, including phrases with words before and after the target search.

Exact match keywords

These have the lowest reach but show high-accuracy result ads for closely related target keywords.

Negative match keywords 

These are the strategic way of intentionally excluding search campaigns in google ads. It is named negative keywords for the reason that they are not directly related to the ad copy.

Keywords and Account Structure

Another essential aspect of a search engine marketing campaign is the account structure. It is the way in which SEM campaigns are set up. Google Ads help desk created a chart that shows how account structure works.


Placed at the highest level, campaigns are used to achieve a specific goal, like organizing accounts into a larger cluster related to specific target audiences, promotions, products, and services. For example, a platform for a ‘marketing agency’ might have two campaigns, one is to target people looking for digital marketing, and one is to target digital marketers.

Ad Groups

Campaigns are divided into smaller units called Ad Groups. This smaller division under the umbrella of a campaign breaks the ad into narrower themes. For example, an ad campaign that targets digital marketing might have two ad groups: one targets website designing, and one targets social media management.

Keywords and Ads

Each ad groups contain its own designated target keywords addressing the ad group’s particular audience or theme. For example, the ad group for website designing might use keywords related to web-output design and development.

Search Engine Marketing Glossary

  • Keywords are the terms and phrases that clients enter in a search engine like Google, which generates a particular result.
  • Concordance is the process of defining the degree of correspondence between people’s terms to use when looking for a product or search engine and the keywords a company selected for the advertisement.
  • Text Ads are the featured text and text links that marketers and advertisers use in promoting a product or service.
  • The landing page is the designated web page where users are redirected as they click an advertisement.
  • Search networks are places where advertisements appear.
  • Impressions pertain to how frequently advertisements were shown.
  • Clicks are the counts an advertisement was clicked on.
  • Click-Through Rate or CTR refers to the percentage of people who clicked a certain advertisement.
  • Cost Per Click or CPC is the actual cost a marketer pays for each click on a digital ad.
  • Quality Score refers to the rating that Google gives for the overall experience that an ad and the landing pages provided to its users after matching the keywords search.

Process of Search Engine Marketing Ad Auction

Since talking about search engine marketing involves paid advertisements, many can easily misunderstand its natural process that whoever pays the most wins the top spot. Although having a larger budget can be a leading factor, but it isn’t the only requirement in winning search marketing. It is because all ads undergo a selection process called an auction whether it will appear in SERP or not. To explain furthermore, take into account the ad auction in Google AdWords.

How does the auction work?

  1. The process begins when a user searches for a product or service. The Google Ads system then finds all ads that match the keyword entered.
  2. When ads are shown that are not eligible, for example, the ads have a different target country, the system will ignore those.
  3. From the remaining ads, the Google Ads system will show those that have sufficient high Ad Rank. Ad Rank includes the bid, ad quality, the condition of the user’s search, and other ad formats.

Another way to win the auction, even if other businesses offer a higher bid, is to have highly relevant content keywords in the ads.

History of Search Engine Marketing

The arrival of search engine marketing (SEM) has improved business transactions in both brand and client’s end. Search engines have made the marketing process more convenient as it draws the market closer to potential buyers. Now their desired product or service is just a fingertip away from them.

This practice of advertising online, known today as search engine marketing (SEM), dates back to 1991 when Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, publicized the first-ever invented browser, the ‘World Wide Web. Initially, it is designed to share automated information between universities around the globe but was later used by several sectors as a medium of data transfer. So, to establish a standard communication between clients and servers, Tim and his colleagues created the HyperText Transfer Protocol or HTTP.

The following year, Gopher, a retrieval information network, releases ‘Veronica’ that is able to retrieve titles and file names stored in its index system.

The following year, 1993, Matthew Gray made the debut of the first web search engine, ‘World Wide Web Wanderer’ invented specifically to count networks during those times. Three more ‘bot-fed’ search engines exist in the same year—Jump Station, World Wide Web Worm, and RBSE Spider.

In 1994, a significant change came into place as Eric Ward realizes the need to provide people a specific URL that gives way to link building. This update allows web browsers to link URLs in the browsing results making the process more convenient and accessible for users. This year, several big companies also launched web browsers, including Netscape, Alta Vista, and Yahoo search engines.

Coming in 1995 is another significant update as Microsoft enter the browsing field introducing the Internet Explorer. It has a graphic user interface (GUI) which allowed the user to incorporate both graphics and text on a single page. LookSmart joins the competition of search engines, and Alta Vista provides more advanced searching techniques, unlimited bandwidth, and the first web browser to allow natural language queries.

Google, a leading search engine today, entered the field of browsing in 1996 with the name BackRub. It ranked pages and utilized backlinks during that time. In the same year, search engine companies find a way to monetize their service, which fueled the idea of pay-per-click ads. The resulting page was then named as ‘preferred listings. Two years later, in 1998, it marks the big year for search engines as Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google.

A TED presentation was conducted to discuss the first recorded auction-based pay-per-click program in which whoever pays the most will rank the highest on the result page while lower bidders will be placed further on the following pages.

Today, Google tops the global market share of search engines with 92.47% as of June 2021. The majority of Google revenues came from advertising. (Source: Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to June 2021)


Most of the time, business industries tend to use Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) interchangeably. Although both are used to increase traffic and market a product or service, there’s still a fine line that separates the two.

On a general note, search engine marketing pertains to a paid search marketing where companies pay search engines like Google and Bing to show their advertisements in the SERP. While search engine optimization (SEO) is a freeway of ranking up in traffics.

Regardless, both SEM and SEO are essential in online marketing. SEO is a powerful tool in driving your business at the top of search engines, while paid advertisements or SEM are highly effective in converting potential clients into sales.

Advantage of SEM

A recent study shows that 81% of people search online for a product or service, 90% visited online sites or stores, and 74% purchased a product online. What’s more surprising is that 40% of these figures are made by search engine marketing or SEM. (Source: Search Engine Marketing Statistics 2020)

This just proves that SEM is a cost-efficient paid search engine marketing strategy that converts target clients into an actual sale.

If you are still not confident about using search engine advertising, here are some reasons why search engine marketing fits your business.

SEM draws the attention of the right buyers. 

Most of the time, people are already decided on what they will look for before browsing the internet. Otherwise, they will not be able to hit that keyword you placed in search engines. Meaning, your keywords should serve their purpose of giving them what they need, unless you will lose those highly engaged and ready-to-buy clients in an instant.

SEM increases brand awareness

Aside from bringing your page on the top funnel once users match your keyword, these paid ads allow your brand name to be displayed anywhere in the display URL, description, or headlines. 

SEM increases the traffic of your website

Since paid advertisements are placed on top pages above the organic results, your website is likely to be visited first. Simply put, as soon as users search on the internet, your ads are placed right before them, which makes it an effective short-term strategy with a long-term effect.

SEM helps you to narrow down your target audience

By understanding the client’s intent, you can easily make your ads appear to users who are searching for your product or service. It saves both your time and effort in bringing content to people who can’t give your conversion. Another useful factor of using SEM is its ability to set up advertisements for its target market within the vicinity of your business. This is helpful in filtering out searchers whose location is too far to make an actual deal.

SEM allows you to pay only per action

On the surface, your ads are visible to the users for free unless clients takes action and clicks your ads. Without them clicking the ads, businesses still benefit from it. It gives them unrestricted exposure to the public searching for keywords that match their service of the product and increases the visibility of the website.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

No matter how big or small your business is, without knowledge and familiarity in different advertising models will drag you down. Alongside search engine marketing and search engine optimization, PPC or pay-per-click advertisement is a widely-used model that dominates the market online.

In its simplest definition, PPC is a marketing strategy in which advertisers are charged a fee each time people click their ads. The concept focuses more on buying potential buyers’ attention than waiting for them to visit your page.

Basic Concepts of PPC

Cost-per-click or CPC

CPC refers to the actual amount charged to the advertisers for each click in their ads. CPC serves as your offer in a search engine auction which determines your placement in SERP. Basically, the higher the amount, the better the rank you will get.

Ad Rank 

Ad Rank is a value used to know whether an ad placement and whether it will be shown a search engine result page (SERP) or to a page relative to another ad. Google Ad system calculates ad rank primarily using the bid amount, the quality of the bid, and the competitiveness of the actual content taking into account the searcher’s demographic background such as location, nature of the terms (intent), and other relative attributes on the user’s end.

Quality Score

This refers to the score that search engines give to an ad based on CTR (clickthrough relevance).

Maximum Bid

This is the amount marketers are willing to pay for a PPC ad.

The campaign refers to the overall theme a company wants to feature in its advertisements.

Ad Group

Ad Group pertains to the series of smaller ads under the umbrella of a campaign targeting a specific community or group of people.


Keywords are the detailed terms or phrases that a company includes in each ad, so once a user search for these keywords, their ad will appear on the search engine result page.

Ad Text

This refers to the actual content of an advertisement. Advertisers promote products and services using this marketing communication.

Landing Page

A landing page is a web page used in a marketing campaign where visitors ‘land’ once they click a link or ad redirecting to a business website.

Optimizing Pay-Per-Click Campaigns

Reaching the top of the result page can be achieved by allocating a large amount for bidding and creating highly relevant keywords. However, maintaining that rank is another topic. An efficient campaign should continuously provide both information and solution to a searcher’s need.

Here are some adjustments you can make to further improve the performance of your ads:

Improve your Landing Pages 

Modify and update the content of your ads. Boost your ranking by making call-to-action features to your landing page.

Divide your Ad Groups accordingly

Pay more attention and address your target market on time by splitting your ad groups into smaller ones. Doing this will send traffics into a more definite page that particularly handles a specific concern of your clients.

Refine and update your PPC keywords

Don’t just randomly include keywords that will not actually help to increase your conversion. Instead, edit and modify the current ones based on the trends in the marketplace. This can be done by regularly monitoring your ads and continuously researching more about your product or service.

By continuously managing and analyzing your ads, you’ll be able to create more traffic and convert those into sales.

Developing your PPC Strategy

Often disregarded, but marketing strategy is one of the determiners of a successful business. Companies should focus more on online advertisements now that almost everything is found online—personal items, apparel, kitchen items, and many more.

Recent statistics show that 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing such as search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). (Source: The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2021). Given these figures, having a strategic way of executing the PPC method is critical to ensuring your business's success.

Brand awareness, product and brand consideration, leads, sales, and repeat sales are the most common goals of PPC, and a logical way of maximizing your PPC is to target these goals.

Brand Awareness

At this stage, you may want to maximize your visibility in the market and expose your product to relevant audiences regardless for the purpose of letting them know about what you offer. This can be done by using general terms to have a wider reach of potential buyers. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are a good medium for spreading awareness of your brand as the general public is likely to use it daily.

Product and Brand Consideration

At this phase, users are now considering to have a purchase of a product or service. Therefore, it is advisable to reintroduce your product or service with a detailed description. This is the best time to include persuasive languages and call-to-action content.


When generic terms don’t move the client to purchase, the next step is to initiate and collect contact with your ‘prospect’ clients known as leads. Follow up with your potential client and engage them in a conversation by offering free trial courses, suggest a demonstration, and other call-to-action tactics.


Most consumers who are ready to pay for a product or service will use higher intent keywords in search of their desired items. These queries might include information like specific model descriptions, shipping information, coupons, and some other pertinent information in regards to purchasing a product.

Repeat Sales

Businesses should not end after a person avail of service or buy a product. When not handled properly, set aside clients after conversion can make a backslash on your profit in the long run. They have tried using your product or have experienced your service personally. That is why retargeting them must be part of the overall plan. After their actual transaction with your company, they become an asset of marketing in the sense that they have significant testimonials. In return, you can grow your business without increasing your budget in marketing.

Final Thoughts

In this guide, we have covered how to win the competition of online advertisements and grow your business. We have discussed search engine marketing and search engine optimization. We also explained the fundamentals of SEM, SEO, how keywords function and keyword terminologies, ads account structure and pay-per-click advertising. Hopefully, you have learned more about marketing your business online, and you are better equipped with the tips and strategies. However, if you would like some help with your search engine marketing or would like to have a conversation to see if it is a good fit for you and your business, then contact us for a free consultation.

Adam Bennett

Written by:  |  September 3, 2021

Adam is the president and founder of Cube Creative Design and specializes in private school marketing. Since starting the business in 2005, he has created individual relationships with clients in Western North Carolina and across the United States. He places great value on the needs, expectations, and goals of the client.

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