What Is SEM?

Wikipedia defines Search engine marketing (SEM) as a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through optimization (both on-page and off-page) as well as through advertising (paid placements, contextual advertising, and paid inclusions). Depending on the context, SEM can be an umbrella term for various means of marketing a website including search engine optimization (SEO), which adjusts or rewrites website content to achieve a higher ranking in search engine results pages, or it may contrast with SEO, focusing on only paid components.

SEM stands for “search engine marketing.” It is the process of gaining traffic or visibility on search engines. The phrase is also sometimes shortened to “search marketing.”

SEM is an umbrella term that covers two broad areas:

  • Gaining traffic through free SEO efforts
  • Gaining traffic through paid search advertising

So, search engine marketing (SEM) is the overall process of combining the two processes of search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC).

What The Experts Say

We asked some of our favorite Twitter friends what SEM means to them and here is what they had to say:
@Matt_Siltala Anything and everything related to on & off-page SEO as well as PPC pretty much sums it up.
@toddmintz SEM = PPC + SEO
@AndyBeal SEM is any strategy or tactic that involves the optimization of paid or organic search listings.
@sdentrepreneur SEM Placing your website on top off Organic Search Engines using Content, Articles, Videos, Blogs, Social Media and Backlinks
@Mike_Arnesen SEM is the art of dominating the search engine result pages seen by your target audience via multiple strategies.
@kentlewis The art & science of connecting companies with constituents through organic & paid keyword targeting & supporting efforts
@JennyLynnSEM Online marketing to promote websites by increasing visibility in SERPS. Using SEO, PPC, Site optimization, Social Media, etc.
@donniebryant SEM is strategically leveraging the research tool your audience ALREADY USES & TRUSTS to maximize visibility and credibility

SEM San Diego

The concept behind Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is quite simple: when a consumer or business person searches the Web through either a text box or by clicking through a directory hierarchy, they are in “hunt mode.” This mode is unique because it indicates that the person is looking for information, usually of a direct or indirect commercial nature. Marketers understand that this “hunt mode” means that the searcher may very well be somewhere in the buying cycle, researching a product or service to try and satisfy an immediate need or future need. That makes search engine results some of the best sources of targeted traffic, whether that traffic originates from “organic” unpaid search listings or paid advertising listings.

SEO has strengths where PPC does not, and vice versa. Combining the strengths of each is why the two processes are so powerful when used together. In a perfect world, your new or existing web site would immediately get a lot of free/cheap, relevant search engine traffic.

For the SEM San Diego Meetup our definition and discussions will include Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques and more general issues related to Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and social media as well as techniques for branding, web design (including landing pages).

Search Marketing Resources

There are a number of blogs and forums that focus heavily on search marketing topics, including: aimClear, Bruce Clay Blog, David Naylor, Marketing Pilgrim, Michael Gray, Nine By Blue, Outspoken Media, Search Cowboys, Search Insider, Search Engine Guide, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, Search Engine People, Search Engine Watch, Search Marketing Gurus, SEM Club House, SEOmoz, SEO Book, TopRank, WebProNews, WebmasterWorld and TopRank’s “Big List”.

Search Engine Land suggests those seeking easy-to-scan compilations of search marketing news from across the web should check out Alltop, SEOmash and Search Brains. For compilations of the best articles in search marketing in a given year, visit The Semmys. Over at Search Engine Roundtable, you’ll find a regular compilation of important discussions happening on a variety of search marketing forums.