Search Engine Marketing

What Is SEM?

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.

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
  • Facebook 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.

campaign optimization


Optimization is the process of increasing the impact of an ad. Simply put, it's using past performance and future forecasting to determine how much to spend for future goals, and to amend campaigns in-flight. Optimizing campaigns involves cutting losses for under-performing segments, and scaling up high-performing segments.


The optimization process begins with creative, moves on to placements and individual publishers, and to a campaign-wide level.

Optimization can be done pre-flight, during a campaign, or after a campaign’s completion.

Optimization begins at the most granular level so that easy corrections are taken into account before making sweeping campaign management changes. Start by re-evaluating your creatives.

There are some cases for making more drastic changes to your campaigns, however:

• Poor overall CTR (click-through rate) on all creatives and placements (with significant sample size)

• Poor overall CVR (conversion rate) on the clicks coming from a site (e.g., lots of clicks, but no conversions).

• Prohibitive costs (high eCPMs) resulting in higher costs per click and action. Poor ROI.


Creative Level: The most important element in your media buying campaigns is your creative. Optimizing your creative units can help you determine if the problem is your inventory or creative unit.

Placement Level: Finding the right placement that is driving performance for your campaign – homepage, leaderboard, run of site, you name it.

Supplier level: You can optimize at the publisher level, which evaluates the publisher’s overall performance including all of their placements within a campaign.

Campaign Level: Finally, after a campaign has been optimized from a creative, placement, and site level, there are a few considerations you may want to make at the campaign level, such as day-parting, geo-targeting, browser, demographics, etc. Campaign level optimization is completed last, as you need to gather enough data to make informed decisions. For example, you could view an hourly breakdown of your campaign statistics to determine if campaign level day-parting should be included in your optimization efforts.


There are plenty of third-party platforms that help brands and agencies optimize their media buying, often referred to as Optimization Engines.

An Optimization Engine ensures an ad is delivered where it should be according to consumers, advertisers, and available websites.

An optimization engine considers several factors before placing your ad:

Marketing goals: This could be increased site traffic, ad impressions, or a certain type of website for your ads.

Consumer response: This will try to replicate situations when users clicked your ad.

History: Previous patterns of how campaigns have performed, and use it to your advantage.

Bid amount: A higher bid will give you access to more inventory, and a lower bid may limit your options for available placements.

Target: The audience you are trying to reach.


Just like agencies and advertisers, publishers have optimization goals as well – to sell out their inventory, at the best possible prices.

What is yield optimization?

At its core, a publisher's goal is to find the brand willing to pay the highest amount for one impression. Like most of digital advertising, the original players, like the publisher, managed their yield optimization in-house. Today, most large and mid-sized publishers source third parties to facilitate their yield optimization, namely SSPs (Supply Side Platforms).

Publishers selling directly to agencies and advertisers have the yield and performance of ad trafficking measured by the ad server. When inventory is sold to an exchange or network, there are a number of other factors involved in the price and impressions served, as the final buyer (the agency or advertisers) may be found through various intermediary platforms.


Supply Side Platforms also known as SSP's act as the intermediary between publishers and their audience for maximizing the selling of inventory, and also act as the gatekeeper for publishers. SSPs can act as the enforcer for a publisher's brand safety, so that unfavorable brands are not allowed to purchase their inventory.

Though Supply Side Platforms originally gained ground as a way for publishers to sell off their remnant inventory, today many SSPs offer additional services, such as acting as the actual interface between a publisher and their exchange.





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