If you’re a savvy marketer trying to get a handle on all things digital marketing, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “sometimes you gotta pay to play.” Meaning—sometimes you’ll have to pay to reach your target audience and get the results you want. Those efforts, those “pay-to-play” initiatives, are what we call SEM, or search engine marketing.

Don’t confuse SEM with SEO (search engine optimization). SEO is a collection of free marketing tools that you can use to optimize your website and web content through metadata, keywords, local listings, etc. SEM, on the other hand, is a powerful tool that helps you get your brand, content, and information in front of people by purchasing ads in search engines. With SEM, when someone searches a keyword associated with your ad, you’ll show up at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) versus further down the page where organic results from SEO efforts show up. You can differentiate ad results from organic results by the little green “Ad” box that is shown directly underneath an ad results’ title. Although it can be expensive, SEM can be particularly helpful if you are selling products and need to drive traffic to your website in order to meet your sales goals. Even if it’s brand awareness that you’re after, SEM can help you get in front of your target audience.


When approaching SEM for the first time, most people default to Google Adwords. And while Google does offer huge awareness and conversion opportunities, it’s not the only place where you can utilize SEM to drive results. Social advertising platforms such as Facebook Ads and LinkedIn Ads also present an opportunity for you to connect with your audience. It might not be able to promise as wide an exposure as Google, but it offers the incentive of lower prices and a little less competition. If your budget allows, invest in two or three platforms to create multiple touch points with your audience.


Once you’ve chosen your platforms, figure out how much you’re willing to spend on this new effort. If this is your first time utilizing SEM, we recommend starting with a flexible budget of $500-700 a month.

If you’re unsure of how much to spend on each ad, defer to the platform’s suggestion. As you set up ads within your account, the platform often provides a recommended budget or bid for you based on the competitiveness of the keyword for which you are trying to rank. The recommended cost will fluctuate based on the popularity and demand of the keywords or keyword phrases you’re using. You can use SEM ads for many different purposes, including:

  • To grow brand awareness
  • To highlight and increase readership for new content pieces, including blog posts, downloadable offers, videos, etc
  • To drive conversions for your offers, products, and/or solutions
Once you have your ads up and running, you could begin to see increased traffic as soon as the same day. Of course, the level and timeline of fluctuation depend on the target market size, but even if you’re targeting a very specific, smaller group of individuals, you’ll see results much faster than you will from SEO efforts. Plus, the increase of traffic to your website can also impact your organic rankings in Google, increasing the effectiveness of your ongoing SEO efforts.
That’s why it’s so important to pair SEO and SEM strategy. When these two work together, they give you the ability to build an unstoppable digital presence. Want to unlock the power of SEM for your company? Whether you’re after a one-time ad to try out SEM for the first time or a complete campaign to drive high ROI for your business, our SEM specialists can help create an ad portfolio that connects, engages, and drives conversions. 

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The Definitive Guide to Digital Marketing

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