What Is SEM?

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Search Engine Marketing

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.

Related SEM Synonyms & Acronyms
“Search Engine Marketing” was once was used as an umbrella term to encompass both SEO (search engine optimization) and paid search activities. Over time, the industry has adopted the SEM acronym to refer solely to paid search.

At Search Engine Land, we generally use SEM and/or “Paid Search” to refer to paid listings, with the longer term of search marketing used to encompass both SEO and SEM. Below are some of the most common terms also used to refer to SEM activities:

Paid search ads
Paid search advertising
PPC (pay-per-click) *
PPC (pay-per-call) – some ads, particularly those served to mobile search users, may be charged by the number of clicks that resulted in a direct call from a smartphone.
CPC (cost-per-click) *
CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions) *
Most search ads are sold on a CPC / PPC basis, but some advertising options may also be sold on a CPM basis.
SEM For Beginners
Google AdWords is by many measures the most popular paid search platform used by search marketers, followed by Bing Ads, which also serves a significant portion of ads on Yahoo.

Beyond that, there are a number of “2nd tier PPC platforms” as well as PPC advertising options on the major social networks.

In addition to covering general paid search trends, you can find the most recent news about SEM and helpful tips to get started with PPC ads on the major search marketing platforms below:

Google: AdWords
Bing Ads
Yahoo: Search Ads
Each platform offers its own getting started guides and helpful tutorials. Another beginner resource is Google’s Insider’s Guide To AdWords (PDF). Since the guide was last updated in 2008, the Google AdWords UI (user interface) has changed, along with several features, but the guide may still offer a useful introduction.

In 2014, Google AdWords released a new video about how AdWords PPC auctions work:

Pay Per Click Advertising Tips & Tactics
On Search Engine Land, we provide paid search advertising information and news in a variety of ways:

All PPC News & Articles includes verified product features and announcements from the major search advertising platforms covered by our editorial staff, plus expert analysis and real-world advice from our contributor network.
How To: Paid Search is our section that is devoted to practical tips and tactics about paid search ads.
Search Ads Archives: This area of Search Engine Land provides a collection of all stories we’ve written on the topic of paid search. There, you’ll find additional sub-categories for special topics in paid search marketing including:

Search Ads: Behavioral Targeting
Search Ads: Contextual
Search Ads: Domaining
Search Ads: General
Search Ads: Mobile Search
Search Ads: Pay Per Call
Search Ads: Video