First, SEM has several names:

  • Search marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Search engine advertising
  • Paid search
  • Pay-per-click (aka, PPC)

SEM practitioners use each interchangeably, but they all represent the same thing—paid search listings found mainline or along the right rail of search results:

Bing search results

Second, SEM and organic search marketing (SEO) are two different things:

  1. SEM clicks cost money—organic clicks do not.
  2. SEM listings are completely customizable—organic listings, although mostly manageable via the page title and meta description, are often altered based on user query.

All of that said, I hope the reason you're here is not only to understand what SEM is but also to understand how to use it. You might be a business owner considering starting an SEM campaign, or perhaps you're a marketing student looking for an SEM definition, or maybe, just maybe, you're a search marketer yourself, looking for a fellow search marketer's perspective as it relates to paid media.

Whoever you are, I'm glad you've stopped by. My goal with the remainder of this file is to familiarize you with strategy—to introduce you to the types of paid search campaigns that produce successful online and offline results. Online and offline you say? Yes! Let's discuss.

Alone, paid search is an incredibly powerful tool that can lift KPI's. It is a conversion-seeking missile that delivers a relevant ad to a relevant audience at a relevant time and location. But wait, it gets better!

When blended with one or more marketing channels, paid search becomes even more effective. Check out the following example to see how Coke blended online and offline advertising to create a unique and wonderful experience:

  • Coca Cola "Hilltop": In this example Google collaborates with Harvey Gabor to recreate his iconic "Hilltop" Coke ad. The result blends display advertising on GDN (online) and Coke machines (offline). The unique pairing allows users to send a Coke to a stranger on the other side of the world via a paid advertisement. Quantifying the exact value of this effort is difficult, but I can tell you this—the recognition and buzz this campaign generated for all participants most assuredly outweighed the investment. Click the link and watch the video to see just how amazing the whole thing is.

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