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Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through optimization and advertising. SEM may use search engine optimization (SEO), which adjusts or rewrites website content to achieve a higher ranking in search engine results pages, or use pay per click listings.
In 2012, North American advertisers spent US$19.51 billion on search engine marketing. The largest search engine marketing (SEM) vendors were Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Baidu. As of 2006, SEM was growing much faster than traditional advertising and even other channels of online marketing. Managing search campaigns is either done directly with the SEM vendor or through an SEM tool provider. It may also be self-serve or through an advertising agency.
As the number of sites on the Web increased in the mid-to-late 1990s, search engines started appearing to help people find information quickly. Search engines developed business models to finance their services, such as pay per click programs offered by Open Text in 1996 and then Goto.com in 1998. Goto.com later changed its name to Overture in 2001, was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003, and now offers paid search opportunities for advertisers through Yahoo! Search Marketing. Google also began to offer advertisements on search results pages in 2000 through the Google AdWords program. By 2007, pay-per-click programs proved to be primary moneymakers for search engines. In a market dominated by Google, in 2009 Yahoo! and Microsoft announced the intention to forge an alliance. The Yahoo! & Microsoft Search Alliance eventually received approval from regulators in the US and Europe in February 2010.
Search engine optimization consultants expanded their offerings to help businesses learn about and use the advertising opportunities offered by search engines, and new agencies focusing primarily upon marketing and advertising through search engines emerged. The term "Search Engine Marketing" was proposed by Danny Sullivan in 2001 to cover the spectrum of activities involved in performing SEO, managing paid listings at the search engines, submitting sites to directories, and developing online marketing strategies for businesses, organizations, and individuals.
There are four categories of methods and metrics used to optimize websites through search engine marketing.
Paid inclusion involves a search engine company charging fees for the inclusion of a website in their results pages. Also known as sponsored listings, paid inclusion products are provided by most search engine companies either in the main results area, or as a separately identified advertising area.
The fee structure is both a filter against superfluous submissions and a revenue generator. Typically, the fee covers an annual subscription for one webpage, which will automatically be catalogued on a regular basis. However, some companies are experimenting with non-subscription based fee structures where purchased listings are displayed permanently. A per-click fee may also apply. Each search engine is different. Some sites allow only paid inclusion, although these have had little success. More frequently, many search engines, like Yahoo!, mix paid inclusion (per-page and per-click fee) with results from web crawling. Others, like Google (and as of 2006, Ask.com), do not let webmasters pay to be in their search engine listing (advertisements are shown separately and labeled as such).
Some detractors of paid inclusion allege that it causes searches to return results based more on the economic standing of the interests of a web site, and less on the relevancy of that site to end-users.
Often the line between pay per click advertising and paid inclusion is debatable. Some have lobbied for any paid listings to be labeled as an advertisement, while defenders insist they are not actually ads since the webmasters do not control the content of the listing, its ranking, or even whether it is shown to any users. Another advantage of paid inclusion is that it allows site owners to specify particular schedules for crawling pages. In the general case, one has no control as to when their page will be crawled or added to a search engine index. Paid inclusion proves to be particularly useful for cases where pages are dynamically generated and frequently modified.
Paid inclusion is a search engine marketing method in itself, but also a tool of search engine optimization, since experts and firms can test out different approaches to improving ranking and see the results often within a couple of days, instead of waiting weeks or months. Knowledge gained this way can be used to optimize other web pages, without paying the search engine company.
SEM is the wider discipline that incorporates SEO. SEM includes both paid search results (using tools like Google Adwords or Bing Ads, formerly known as Microsoft adCenter) and organic search results (SEO). SEM uses paid advertising with AdWords or Bing Ads, pay per click (particularly beneficial for local providers as it enables potential consumers to contact a company directly with one click), article submissions, advertising and making sure SEO has been done. A keyword analysis is performed for both SEO and SEM, but not necessarily at the same time. SEM and SEO both need to be monitored and updated frequently to reflect evolving best practices.
In some contexts, the term SEM is used exclusively to mean pay per click advertising, particularly in the commercial advertising and marketing communities which have a vested interest in this narrow definition. Such usage excludes the wider search marketing community that is engaged in other forms of SEM such as search engine optimization and search retargeting.
Another part of SEM is social media marketing (SMM). SMM is a type of marketing that involves exploiting social media to influence consumers that one company’s products and/or services are valuable. Some of the latest theoretical advances include search engine marketing management (SEMM). SEMM relates to activities including SEO but focuses on return on investment (ROI) management instead of relevant traffic building (as is the case of mainstream SEO). SEMM also integrates organic SEO, trying to achieve top ranking without using paid means to achieve it, and pay per click SEO. For example, some of the attention is placed on the web page layout design and how content and information is displayed to the website visitor. SEO & SEM are two pillars of one marketing job and they both run side by side to produce much better results than focusing on only one pillar.
Paid search advertising has not been without controversy, and the issue of how search engines present advertising on their search result pages has been the target of a series of studies and reports by Consumer Reports WebWatch. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also issued a letter in 2002 about the importance of disclosure of paid advertising on search engines, in response to a complaint from Commercial Alert, a consumer advocacy group with ties to Ralph Nader.
Another ethical controversy associated with search marketing has been the issue of trademark infringement. The debate as to whether third parties should have the right to bid on their competitors' brand names has been underway for years. In 2009 Google changed their policy, which formerly prohibited these tactics, allowing 3rd parties to bid on branded terms as long as their landing page in fact provides information on the trademarked term. Though the policy has been changed this continues to be a source of heated debate.
On April 24, 2012 many started to see that Google has started to penalize companies that are buying links for the purpose of passing off the rank. The Google Update was called Penguin. Since then, there has been several different Penguin / Panda updates rolled out by Google. SEM has, however, nothing to do with link buying and focuses on organic SEO and PPC management.
AdWords is recognised as a web-based advertising utensil since it adopts keywords which can deliver adverts explicitly to web users looking for information in respect to a certain product or service. This project is highly practical for advertisers as the project hinges on cost per click (CPC) pricing, thus the payment of the service only applies if their advert has been clicked on. SEM companies have embarked on AdWords projects as a way to publicize their SEM and SEO services. This promotion has helped their business elaborate, offering added value to consumers who endeavor to employ AdWords for promoting their products and services. One of the most successful approaches to the strategy of this project was to focus on making sure that PPC advertising funds were prudently invested. Moreover, SEM companies have described AdWords as a fine practical tool for increasing a consumer’s investment earnings on Internet advertising. The use of conversion tracking and Google Analytics tools was deemed to be practical for presenting to clients the performance of their canvas from click to conversion. AdWords project has enabled SEM companies to train their clients on the utensil and delivers better performance to the canvass. The assistance of AdWord canvass could contribute to the huge success in the growth of web traffic for a number of its consumer’s websites, by as much as 250% in only nine months.
Another way search engine marketing is managed is by contextual advertising. Here marketers place ads on other sites or portals that carry information relevant to their products so that the ads jump into the circle of vision of browsers who are seeking information from those sites. A successful SEM plan is the approach to capture the relationships amongst information searchers, businesses, and search engines. Search engines were not important to some industries in the past, but over the past years the use of search engines for accessing information has become vital to increase business opportunities. The use of SEM strategic tools for businesses such as tourism can attract potential consumers to view their products, but it could also pose various challenges. These challenges could be the competition that companies face amongst their industry and other sources of information that could draw the attention of online consumers. To assist the combat of challenges, the main objective for businesses applying SEM is to improve and maintain their ranking as high as possible on SERPs so that they can gain visibility. Therefore search engines are adjusting and developing algorithms and the shifting criteria by which web pages are ranked sequentially to combat against search engine misuse and spamming, and to supply the most relevant information to searchers. This could enhance the relationship amongst information searchers, businesses, and search engines by understanding the strategies of marketing to attract business.