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What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and How Can It Benefit My B2B Business?

4 Minute Read

What is SEM? Well, the answer’s simple. SEM is a subset of SM, and sibling to SEO. It’s a type of PPC, but not all PPC is SEM. Some PPC is social, but social is certainly not SEM or SM.

Got it?

Of course not. And that’s why marketing practices are often daunting to the uninitiated. They throw off a lot of acronyms, jargon, and marketing mysticism. But it’s not nearly as complicated as it seems, and once you understand what these terms mean and how they relate to your business, you appreciate why you need to be involved.

So let’s unpack our initial, totally accurate, but completely confusing explanation. By the end, you’ll find yourself initiated into the wizarding world of search engine marketing. Let’s begin!

Search Engine Marketing is Pay-Per-Click Marketing

If you’ve heard of PPC or pay-per-click marketing, you already know a lot about SEM because they’re the same. SEM is pay-per-click advertising run through search engines like Google and Bing. So what’s PPC?

With PPC, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad, hence “pay per click.” You can purchase PPC ads through search engines, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, Gmail, display ads on websites, and more. So search engine marketing is just one type of PPC.

With search engine marketing, you create ads and bid on keywords that you think are relevant to your brand. When someone searches for those keywords, your ad, and every other bidder, is fed through a search algorithm to determine which to display, and how much to charge if the searcher clicks on them.

As an advertiser, you control your max CPC bid (cost per click), which is how much you’re willing to spend per click, per keyword. This control is the first reason that SEM is beneficial for B2B businesses. You can optimize your campaigns to make the most of your marketing budget.

You can also narrow your audience and choose to only run your ad at specific times of the day, in certain geographic regions, to specific demographics, or particular types of devices.

So we know that SEM is a type of PPC. But how does SEM relate to SEO?

SEM is Paid Advertising. SEO is Earned.

SEO stands for search engine optimization. While SEM targets the paid ads at the top and bottom of Google’s search listings, SEO targets the free organic listings in the middle. It does this through an esoteric practice of tweaking a website’s content to make it attractive to search engines and maximally relevant to targetted searchers.

The specifics of SEO are too sweeping to discuss here. Google alone weighs over 200 different ranking factors in determining which sites get listed on the first page of its organic search results. If SEM people are wizards, SEO practitioners are demigods. If you do the work, you earn the spot.

The most significant difference with SEM and SEO, besides the fact that you don’t have to pay Google or Bing for organic ad listings, is that SEM placements are guaranteed to land on the first page of listings. Assuming, of course, that your ad is selected for display. That guarantee is what you’re paying for. And you only pay if the searcher clicks. So it’s a win, win!

It’s probably a win, win, win, but we can’t think of what that third win might apply to. Sounds good though, doesn’t it?

How SEM Benefits a B2B Business

For one, it’s the scale of the audience. Google hosts billions of searches every day. Each one is an opportunity to be seen by a relevant prospect. Bing hits another three million people that don’t use Google. Between the two, the world is your audience, and you can reach them without paying a dime unless they click your ad.

Search ads offer specificity, too. You determine the keywords you’ll bid on. You can specify whether you want to bid on exact matches, phrase matches, or broad matches. Negative keywords can eliminate unwanted associations to target your audience better.

Over time you can refine these, removing search phrases that don’t perform well. You can A/B test your ads, changing the copy, the call to action, and more to find the combination that works best.

You also have fine control over your budget. Not only do you set a max CPC bid per keyword, but you can also set daily spending limits. You’ll never find yourself bleeding cash because of a runaway campaign.

These limits allow you granular control over your ROI. If you quantify what a lead is worth to your business, and you learn the click-through rate (CTR) your ads manage, you’ll be able to set appropriate max bids and choose keywords you can afford, driving a positive return.

But Does This Apply to B2B?

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not advertising to consumers. I’m advertising to businesses. PPC may work great for individuals, but how does this apply B2B?”

Well, when was the last time a business performed a search? A local plumbing supply store can’t pull up Google. It doesn’t even have hands! Businesses are just groups of people, and those people use search engines. From that perspective, the same rules apply to businesses as they do consumers. When you’re trying to market to businesses, you’re really just marketing to people.

If you’re interested in talking more about B2B SEM, or any other three-letter acronyms, give us a call. We can give your PPC the TLC it deserves. We know how to design search engine marketing campaigns that get results. Poor marketing performance will be OPP. You’ll enjoy a positive ROI, an inflated MTV, a growing FBI, and a winning BRB. If that isn’t an RGD TGC MLG, we don’t know what is!

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