If you’ve got a brand-new website about to launch, you need a fast and effective way to start generating traffic. 

While organic SEO (search engine optimization) is a fantastic way to expand your online visibility, it’s difficult for newer domains to overcome ‘new website obscurity,’ which takes a lot of time and effort (trust us, we do it all the time). 

If you don’t have 3 to 6 months to spend working on an SEO strategy and all that comes with it (creating content, link-building, on-page, and technical optimizations) – search engine marketing (SEM) is the way to go. 

What’s that?

SEM is where you use paid search ads to market your business. 

These sponsored ads appear at the very top of the SERPs (search engine results pages), saving you the trouble of having to work your ass off to reach the top of the organic results. 

An SEM campaign is the best way to start generating traffic, leads, and sales from day one, which is why they’re so popular for newer sites. 

Established businesses and websites also use SEM and pay-per-click (PPC) ads, as they can provide a fantastic ROI when done correctly. 

SEM campaigns run through Google Ads also enable you to reach 90% of internet users, which is kind of a big deal.  

Yet, the search engine marketing landscape is rapidly changing. The advent of AI, voice search, and inflating CPCs (cost-per-click) are all causes for concern

Read on to learn how to launch a successful search engine marketing campaign for any business. 

What’s Search Engine Marketing, Anyway?

Unless your living conditions rival Patrick Star (i.e., under a rock), you’ve likely heard the classic and endlessly repeated statistic that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. 

A meme of Patrick Star confessing that he doesn’t know what search engines are

It’s a drum that search engine marketers will continue to beat, mainly because it’s still true. 

Whether users want to research products, answer a question, find a local business, or educate themselves on a new topic – search engines like Google and Bing are their first stop, even in the age of AI

As such, search engines are extremely effective marketing channels for businesses of all shapes and sizes, hence the term search engine marketing. 

In recent years, marketers have begun to use the acronyms SEO and SEM interchangeably, although there are key differences between the two (more on this in a bit). 

Particularly, search engine marketing involves the use of paid advertising to promote products and services. 

Marketers use platforms like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising to run their SEM campaigns. Not only do these platforms make paid ad campaigns on Google and Bing possible, but they also provide crucial metrics for tweaking, optimizing, and perfecting ad strategies. 

SEM campaigns involve several components, including:

  • Targeted keyword research 
  • Developing buyer personas
  • Writing optimized ad copy 
  • Bidding and bid auctions 

Before we dive deeper into search engine marketing, let’s learn the key differences between SEM and SEO. 

Know Your Acronym: SEO vs. SEM 

Featured image for the SEO vs SEM post

It’s crucial to know that SEO and SEM are not the same thing. 

The primary difference?

SEM involves paid search strategies, while SEO is all about organic search

Paid ads appear at the very top of the SERPs, and different businesses bid on ad placements for specific keywords related to their industry. They’re also marked with a sponsored tag, letting searchers know that they are indeed paid advertisement spots. 

The organic search results appear below the paid ads, and they’re ranked according to their quality and relevance to the search query. 

This is where traditional SEO comes into play, which involves tweaking and modifying your content to appeal to your audience and Google’s algorithm. 

Organic SEO doesn’t involve paying any company for online visibility; instead, you earn it through high-quality content and proper optimizations. 

Whenever search engine bots crawl your web pages, they look for specific ‘ranking factors’ like keyword usage, content quality, and backlinks. 

SEO is all about including these ranking factors in your content for better SERP rankings. 

At the same time, it’s crucial not to forget about your target audience, as you should make content for humans first and search engines second. 

How is optimizing for SEM different from organic SEO?

SEM still involves things like keyword research and content creation, albeit in a slightly different form. Instead of checking for keyword search volume, you’ll be more interested in a keyword’s cost-per-click (CPC) – which is an indicator of how popular/effective it is. 

On the content creation side, you’ll primarily develop product and landing pages that are optimized for conversions. 

These are the web pages that your paid ads will direct to, which is why they should be your main focus. 

Thought leader blogs and fun content like infographics won’t matter as much as your goal is to target sales, leads, and conversions over building brand awareness. 

Why is that?

It’s because SEM ads cost money

What is ppc

Every time a user clicks on one of your search ads, you’ll be charged the CPC fee – regardless of whether they convert. 

Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to waste your precious marketing dollars on ads that direct to standard blog posts that don’t have strong CTAs (calls to action). 

To get the most bang for your buck, your SEM ads should focus on BOFU (bottom-of-the-funnel) keywords that have commercial and transactional intent. 

Combining SEO and SEM for maximum search engine effectiveness 

We don’t want to put the idea in your head that SEO and SEM are two competing philosophies. 

In fact, they work best as a professional wrestling-style tag team. 

For example, let’s say you’re launching a brand-new website. It’s completely obscure, as you’re genuinely starting from square one (no backlinks or on-page optimizations as of yet). 

In that case, organic SEO will take quite some time to start generating results, as you’ll have to do oodles of content creation, link-building, technical tweaks, and on-page optimizations to gain traction. 

During that time, you can run targeted SEM ads to appear at the top of the SERPs. 

Play your cards right, and these paid ads will start generating traffic, leads, and sales in a few weeks instead of months. 

That’ll hold you over until your organic strategy starts to bear fruit, at which point you’ll be firing on all cylinders. 

Your SEM ads will direct users to your strongest landing pages, and your organic SEO content will build brand awareness and establish you as a thought leader (while also directing traffic to your product and landing pages).

Top SEM Trends and Predictions for 2024 

The search engine landscape is set to undergo drastic changes in 2024, such as the introduction of Google’s AI-powered SGE (Search Generative Experience).

The organic SEO world has been freaking out about SGE for months now, but they’re not the only ones that’ll be affected by its rollout. 

SGE will also drastically change the way SEM/PPC strategies work, so it’s integral to get prepared now. 

Besides the rise of AI-powered search (Bing also uses generative AI now), other trends are set to alter the SEM landscape, such as the rising cost of CPC fees and the prevalence of voice search. 

Here are our top predictions for how SEM will change in 2024 and how to prepare. 

The rise of generative AI (GAI) in Google and Bing 

Google’s SGE is set to go live sometime in early 2024, and it brings AI-powered snapshots into the mix. 

These snapshots directly answer user’s questions and provide contextual results like carousels, images, and more. 

The primary cause of concern for SEOs was that the new Snapshot would push the organic results further down the page, appearing below both the AI Snapshot and any SERP features. 

This concern also applied to SEM campaigns, as, at first, it seemed that paid ads lost their prime real estate at the top of the page. 

As time went on, this proved not to be true, as sponsored ads still appear at the top of Google’s SERPs. Not only that, but some Snapshots actually include sponsored ads within them, which SEMs will undoubtedly target. 

As such, getting your paid ads featured in SGE’s Snapshots will become very important, so it’s crucial to optimize correctly. 

How do you do that?

Just as with organic SEO, your strategy needs to shift from targeting short-tail ‘industry’ keywords to longer queries that are more specific in their intent. 

Rising costs: CPC inflation 

Inflation is affecting a lot more than the prices at your local grocery store, as it’s caused prices to rise virtually everywhere. 

Unfortunately, paid ad auctions are no exception, as CPCs have been growing for a while now, and this trend will likely only continue in 2024. 

Does that mean it’s time to target the cheapest CPC keywords in existence?

Not at all, as that will only backfire. 

Moving forward, it will be less about finding dirt-cheap CPCs and more about getting maximum value out of the CPCs that matter most to your business. 

SEM ads in the voice search space 

Virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri have been extremely popular for years now, and homeowners use them for all sorts of things (controlling lights, playing games, looking up information online). 

However, paid voice search ads have yet to become mainstream. 

They’re certainly around, just not as prevalent as they should be – but that’s all set to change in 2024. 

Virtual assistants are changing the way users interact with search engines. Instead of typing a query into a search bar, they can simply ask a question out loud to Alexa or Siri. 

Tweaking your SEM campaign for voice search involves a lot of the same optimizations as SGE. 

You’ll want to focus on conversational keywords that answer common questions related to your niche to capitalize on voice searches. 

The Building Blocks of a Winning SEM Strategy 

Diagram of SEM building blogs

Now that you know how SEM is set to change, let’s learn how to build a stellar SEM strategy from the ground up. 

First, you’ll need to decide whether you want to target Google, Bing, or both. 

From there, it’s time to get set up on Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising to make your SEM strategy a reality. 

Both platforms are where you auction on keywords for your paid ads. They also provide helpful metrics for your campaign to ensure you’re on the right track. 

Keyword research 

Google Ads has a built-in keyword tool, but you can also use our keyword planner from The HOTH.

Screenshot of The HOTH's free Google keyword planner tool

Our keyword planner includes the CPC for each keyword, and you’ll get to view its monthly search volume and trend (represented by a line graph). 

Enter a few terms related to your business, and you’ll be off to the races. 

Industry keywords have the highest search volume, but you shouldn’t ignore keywords with low search volume (also called long-tail keywords) – as they’ll be integral for voice search and SGE. 

Ad copy: the lifeblood of paid ads 

Example of search engine marketing ads

Your SEM ads will live and die by the quality of your copy, so you should spend most of your time focusing on perfecting it.

After all, your ad copy is what will convince users to click on your result, which is why it’s so important. 

Here are a few guidelines for writing excellent ad copy:

  • Write up to 3 headlines (30 characters each) that grab the attention of readers by being bold, fun, and engaging. 
  • In 90 characters or less, write two description blocks that tell readers what your business brings to the table, why you’re their best option, and how your products will help them transform for the better. 

You can also use site extensions that list more than one landing page on your website, which will help you generate even more traffic from a single ad. 

Callout extensions are also useful, as they draw attention to special promotions and offers, such as ‘free shipping.’

The eBay of SEM: bid auctions for keywords 

Lastly, you’ll need to bid on the keywords that mean the most for your business. You won’t be the only one bidding, so you’ll have to beat the competition to secure a top spot on the SERPs. 

Here’s how Google decides to rank paid ads:

  • Max CPC bid. This is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click. 
  • Quality score. Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Google’s quality score represents how relevant your ad is to a particular keyword. Your click-through rates and dwell times are the main factors that affect your quality score, so be sure to write ad copy that’s relevant to each keyword. 
  • Ad rank. Google uses a combination of your max CPC bid and quality score to determine position rankings. If your max CPC is higher than others and you have a strong quality score, you’ll appear at the very top of the SERPs. 

To summarize, SEM involves researching keywords, bidding on them, and then writing relevant ad copy. 

Thriving with SEM in 2024 

Much like organic SEO, SEM is going through some drastic changes. The rollout of Google SGE, voice search, and inflating CPC costs will all affect SEM campaigns in a big way, so your best bet is to get prepared now.