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Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) covers a broad range of digital marketing techniques that are coordinated in an effort to impact the cost and distribution of paid placements on search engine results pages (aka SERPs).

If you’ve ever entered a query into a search engine by typing or speaking into your phone, perhaps something along the lines of ‘restaurant near me,’ then you’ve already set the wheels of SEM into motion.

search engine paid ad example
Generally denoted by a small ‘ad‘ tag positioned to the left of the ad copy, paid search results can blend in with the organic search (non-paid) listings.

Last year, advertisers in the USA spent over $78 billion on SEM.

These highly targeted approaches to paid search have proven extremely lucrative endeavors for both businesses advertising and search engine companies alike. In 2021, in the USA alone, Search engine marketing (SEM) accounted for over $78 billion in ad spending, which is almost half of all U.S. digital advertising revenue ($189b) according to the IAB.


As noted prior, search engine marketing (SEM) refers to the digital marketing efforts that are focused on impacting the paid placements within the SERPs. These SEM efforts can include various distribution methods, including Pay-Per-Click (PPC), Display Ads (image-based ads), Video advertisements, and more.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), on the other hand, encapsulates the marketing, design, and development efforts that impact the organic search (non-paid) listings in the SERPs.

It’s interesting to point out that development efforts that improve SEM also tend to improve SEO, and vice-versa.

We dive into SEO more thoroughly in our Search Engine Optimization Services and Learn sections, so we won’t go overboard here. But if you didn’t know already, we’re the expert team behind SEOdeepdive as well, which is to say we share the same levels of expertise and passion in the field of SEO that we do in SEM.

The first page is where the action is, but space is extremely limited.

The majority of search engine queries that result in engagements (such as a click into a website, a click-to-call, or contact form submission), are most likely to occur on the first page of search results. This holds true for both paid search and organic search listings.

Websites that appear deeper in the SERPs (on pages two, three, four, etc.) tend to see a steady and significant drop-off in user engagements. This being the case, these first-page results are the most sought-after for both organic and paid search efforts.

There is limited space on the first page of the results with even less area of the SERP visible above the fold on all devices during the initial page loads. This means not all websites within competitive markets can rank organically on the first page or reach the top results sections. Some markets are so competitive that websites have to vie for position deep within the organic results.

Paid search is one tool within the SEM toolbox that can help level the playing field for new businesses trying to break into a saturated market, as well as, veteran businesses looking to expand their reach.

Paid search is an auction, so bid wisely.

Search engine companies have created auction platforms that allow advertisers to bid against one another for the top, side, and other designated areas within a SERP.
pay per click company example

Paid search, in particular, affords advertisers the opportunity to ensure that whenever targeted search terms are queried by a qualified searcher, the resulting display features both the ad copy and website links on the first page of results.

This can be a powerful tool.

For example, a brand-new shoe company with solid SEM fundamentals can advertise sneakers on the first page of results right next to the biggest clothing companies in the World.

Don’t waste money, like traditional auctions, you can overpay.

How much an advertiser spends on specific keyword bidding is dependent on a myriad of internal and external factors.

Many of these cost-influencing factors surrounding paid search can be directly impacted by the actions or inactions of those responsible for managing a business’s website content creation and advertisement processes.

Search engines grade both the ads and the landing pages they point to.

Ad rank (aka ad score) is a consensus of measurements commonly performed by search engine algorithms as they continually scan ads and websites. These scans happen in the background nearly continuously across the Internet.

These scanning algorithms have become quite advanced in recent years and are capable of analyzing large segments from both potential and real-time analytical data sources, and in a short amount of time.

Hiring a digital marketing agency that has both experience + proven success in Advertising & Web Design is crucial.

Metrics that directly impact ad rank (and thus, costs & ROI) include the clarity & relevance of ad copy, the Click-Through-Rate (CTR) (both historic & estimated), and the landing page qualities (aka quality score) throughout an advertiser’s website.

Do you know you could be paying more than your competitor for the same keyword bids?

What Advertiser A pays to a search engine for a PPC keyword bid VS what Advertiser B pays to the same search engine for the same keyword, can be a vastly higher or lower sum.

This disparity in the keyword bid costs comes as a surprise to many advertisers, so we’ll take a moment to expound on this topic with an example detailing how ad rank directly impacts advertising costs and ROI.

Imagine two pet stores both want ad copy and website listings to appear on the first page of a SERP for keyword searches relating to ‘buy cat toys‘.

Advertiser A has a great website.

It’s easy to navigate, fully responsive, resides on a clean CMS, pages load like a breeze, features landing pages & conversion funnels centered on cat toys, and offers free shipping. Advertiser A also set up website & conversion tracking installations on his site. Nice. This is starting to sound like a SEMDEEPDIVE project..

Advertiser A‘s awesome website is complemented by a series of paid search advertisements where the ad copy clearly conveys the selling points while utilizing several different types of paid ad formats. This sounds a lot like a project the SEMDEEPDIVE team would complete for a client! (wink, wink)

Advertiser B has a website that needs some serious love.

Spoiler alert: An advertiser’s quality scores and ad ranks will directly impact the Return-On-Investment (ROI).

Advertiser B‘s website looks broken on mobile devices. The website copy is unrelated to the ad copy and is both difficult to see and read.

Advertiser B‘s online store features difficult-to-navigate conversion funnels, lacks clear pricing, features blurry images, contains broken links, and has long page load times. This, unfortunately, is not uncommon.

search engine marketing

To make matters worse, Advertiser B rushed on the ad copy and created only a few ads, all lacking enticing, engaging, or relevant information.

QUESTION: Who pays more?

Advertiser A or Advertiser B?

ANSWER: You guessed it.

Advertiser B, in all likelihood, will pay a significantly higher Cost-Per-Click (CPC) than what Advertiser A pays to the same search engine for the same keyword bid.

This is a prime example of why hiring an experienced SEM is important. Businesses that pay a high Cost-Per-Click (CPC) tend to do so in bulk.

If your website and quality scores resemble Advertiser B, don’t fret, you’ve come to the right place!

Send us a message and schedule a free online consultation to get started on your custom SEM deep dive.

Cost-Per-Click is a make-it or break-it metric.

When businesses pay a higher Cost-Per-Click (CPC) due to poor website and ad optimizations, they are also getting less.

Less of what? Fewer clicks, fewer impressions, and fewer desirable placements for the same amount of money that a competitor with solid optimizations will pay.

Let’s imagine two advertisers both have the same $10,000 monthly budget. Advertiser A averages a Cost-Per-Click (CPC) of $1.

Our Advertiser B from above with his poor ad ranks and low-quality scores sees a whopping $5 Cost-Per-Click (CPC) average for the same search terms. OUCH! That hurts.

This means Advertiser A receives 10,000 clicks to Advertiser B’s 2,000 clicks over the course of the month for the SAME COST!

Great if you’re Advertiser A, but leaves something to be desired if you’re Advertiser B.

A disparity experienced in cost-per-click (CPC) between two or more competing advertisers may very well be THE determining factor between a successful growth campaign vs a campaign that never sees a positive ROI.

This is a prime example of why hiring an experienced SEM is important. Businesses that pay a high Cost-Per-Click (CPC) tend to do so in bulk.

If your website and quality scores resemble Advertiser B, don’t fret, you’ve come to the right place!

Send us a message and schedule a free online consultation to get started on your custom SEM deep dive.

Not all paid search is paid.

That’s right. This happens to be one of the many perks when utilizing targeted search & PPC models. Unlike impression-based advertising, if a searcher doesn’t end up clicking on a paid ad after seeing it on the SERP in a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model, the impression (displaying ad copy and website links) will still contribute to an advertiser’s branding efforts and ROI. Given this dynamic, we will often leverage a certain amount of this ‘free branding’ as part of a more robust paid search endeavor for our clients.

We specialize in High-Spend SEM & Corporate Accounts.

High-Spend aka Corporate SEM is a designation given to accounts with a monthly spend that generally begins around $30K and can reach well into the millions.

Our owner and CEO, Joshua Cohen, spent over 14 years directing SEM & SEO divisions on a national-level, with business hubs across the USA, including Philadelphia and San Franciso. During this time period, from 2009 through mid-2022, Cohen achieved exceptional ROIs across a multitude of web properties spanning several different industries.

Cohen has delivered (a tracked) positive ROI (3x to 9x) for multiple High-Spend & Corporate SEM accounts with monthly PPC budgets in excess of $200K, and yearly budgets reaching over $3M, for over a decade.

With a vast range of industry experiences under his belt, Cohen has overseen Corporate & High-Spend SEM accounts for several nationally recognized and multi-million dollar businesses. Having found success within several different industries and business models, ranging from the procurement & selling of expensive rare coins to operations focused on Communications Services & SaaS, Cohen brings his expertise to the table with every SEMDEEPDIVE project.

While the SEMDEEPDIVE team is happy to work with businesses of all sizes, when it comes to High-Spend SEM planning and management, we are a class above.

Cohen and team developed novel & proprietary approaches to the planning, deployment, and management of High-Spend & Corporate-level SEM accounts. This level of expertise separates SEMDEEPDIVE from the bulk of SEM agencies & Marketing Companies you’ll find.

From high-spend account research & preparation through the subsequent ROI celebrations, Cohen and the team have taken several businesses through the full deep dive of success and back again.

Choose an SEM agency with experience and a Do-It-Right philosophy.

Even if it’s not us, having an experienced, proven, SEM-focused digital marketing team as part of any serious marketing venture is a must.

SEM experience is often vital to achieving sustained, positive growth in competitive markets. SEMDEEPDIVE is happy to provide a free consult or audit to discuss your business.

We plan & deliver the ads and web content that drives optimal quality scores & ad ranks, achieving the lowest possible Cost-Per-Click (CPC) for our clients.

In fact, we almost always beat the industry-leading SaaS CPC prediction models in even the most competitive markets.


We plan, build, deploy and manage all areas of clients’ growth marketing efforts.

Some businesses have us hone in on one or two aspects, while others have us steer the entire ship.

Our SEM business services include:

  • Conversion Funnel creation, expansion & overhauls
    Display Ads (aka image ads)
  • Lead Generation
  • High-Spend & Corporate SEM Accounts (mo budgets of $30K+)
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
  • Remarketing
  • SEM Account Setups, Overhauls, Management
  • SEM Audits & Consulting
  • SEM-primed Web Development & Content Creation
  • SEM Tracking, Analytics & Data Attribution
  • Video Ads

Looking for something specific you don’t see listed here? Drop us a line or schedule a free online consultation.