What is SEM Anyway?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing, or SEM for short, has a lot of meanings across the digital world. In our eyes, SEM encompasses anything relating to paid traffic. Most of the time, we’re focusing on the Google search results, but other times we could be chatting about paid local listings, Facebook, or programmatic display. If it deals with paid traffic, then consider it SEM.

In this article, we’re going to break down the most common platforms on AdWords specifically in hopes of straightening a few things out.

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(1) Display Advertising

Display ads are those lovely little banners that pop up when you’re on a website. Typically, these can be ran through the Google Display Network (GDN), DoubleClick, or one of the hundreds of other networks online. These banners can be a little annoying though, right? The best way to compare these banners to something most people can relate to is to consider these the online billboards of the internet. They’re usually targeted via keywords, topics, or demographics in hopes of hitting the target audience.

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(2) Retargeting Banners

Retargeting banners take display banners to a new level. Have you ever been shopping on Target and found a sick pair of shoes you wanted to buy? For whatever reason though, you decided not to go through with the purchase. Maybe you realize they don’t have the size you want or you realize your bank account is hurting and can’t really afford those $99 pair of shoes. Whatever the reason, you leave the site and peruse the internet as you were.

But wait. There’s a Target banner that immediately popped up on the next site you visit. Pretty creepy, huh? These banners actually follow you around the internet for a specified amount of time (30 days, 10 days, 90 days… you name it) in hopes of bringing you back to the intended website to complete a desired action. It’s all based on cookies. And not to be cliche, I’m not talking about those amazingly delicious Oreo cookies. Cookies in the internet world is a little piece of data that gets collected on every website you visit online. This cookie tells websites that you’ve previously been to a site before and can reengage you across the internet.

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(3) Paid Search

Paid Search, pay-per-click, or PPC simply are those text ads you see on the Google search engine results page (SERP). These are the ads at the top of the page and the bottom of the page with a little “Ad” symbol next to the text. They’re becoming increasingly harder to differentiate between the paid ads and the organic ads however. I’ll save that for another day!

Paid search ads only popup when you’re actively searching for something online – typically through Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, or some other network. In the SEM world, these are the best converting types of campaigns due to the behavior of the user. The best foundation any account can form is a strong paid search account. Google makes it easy for anyone to run their own account, but they don’t make it easy for everyone to be good at it.

Is One Better Than the Other?

The short answer is that they work very well together and should very rarely be used apart from each other.

Each one of these mediums perform differently, and that’s the beauty! Display banners are excellent for brand awareness and to drive user interest where retargeting banners are great at reengaging a user to come back to your website. With those two drivers driving relevant traffic at a large volume, paid search is the closer and can take those users from the SERPs to your website to convert in groves.

If you’re looking to maximize your account with a strong SEM strategy, make sure you have a budget allocated to each of these mediums and understand the value of each. The most successful accounts use each of these three in tandem.

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