What Is Search Engine Marketing And Its Basics?

What Is Search Engine Marketing And Its Basics_

Any marketing strategy that relies on your search engine visibility falls in the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) bracket. And there’s no denying that this is one of the most effective ways to target new customers and grow your business. Whether paid or organic, there’s no way you can survive the competitive world of business without taking advantage of the traffic search engines generate. You think about it, the buying journey of a modern customer begins with an online search or query.

They want to weigh their options and dig out for as much info as they can about a product or service before they can go ahead and shell out out their hard-earned cash for it. And that’s precisely where Search Marketing comes in. As a brand, your goal is to make sure that your site shows up whenever a potential customer queries a niche keyword into search engines.

Google is among the few first words that kids learn while growing up. It’s a familiar term among kindergarteners and octogenarians alike. Everybody knows about it and its role in the modern world of information and marketing.

So What Exactly is Search Marketing?

Not to be confused with Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Marketing is an all-encompassing term for any marketing tactic involving online traffic and search engine visibility, whether paid or free. So, in broader terms, there are two types of Search Marketing, and that is:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): With SEO, you only use content to gain online visibility and drive traffic without necessarily paying Google or any other search engine for that matter.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM): This is where you pay search engines to gain visibility and drive traffic. So, in other words, Search Marketing is an umbrella term for SEO and SEM. Things could get a little murkier though considering SEO still plays a central role in how SEM ads are ranked in the SERPs. Which is to say, the two are NOT completely independent as some people love to assume.

Who Should Employ Search Marketing?

Every single website in the hallowed walls of the internet has to be crawled by search engines in a bid to determine their page rankings. In which case, sites that are putting in an effort to populate their pages with content by strategically targeting niche keywords and those that are paying Google and other search engines to run a search ad of their web content end up featuring at the top of Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). And, other factors held constant, the higher your pages rank in the SERPs, the more traffic it gets, which always translate to more business on your end. So in other words, any website that’s concerned about web traffic should be at the forefront employing Search Marketing.

Niche keywords mean the whole world to a website, regardless of the type of product or service you’re offering. In any industry, there’s a list of keywords that are frequently used by customers whenever they’re online searching for your products or services, and these are the keywords you’d want your site to be ranked atop for.

So websites spend the bulk of their time paying attention to these keywords. They’ll be analysing each page on their site to find out how well their effort is paying off. They want to make sure that their website is showing up in the SERPs for a combination of relevant keywords.

By all definitions, what they’re doing is Search Marketing. They’re marketing their websites on search engines, whether it’s by paying them or by giving them what they want, which is high-quality content that their users would want to read.

So where you’re NOT paying search engines to rank, you’re providing them with content that their users love to read. And that’s precisely how information keeps on growing online.

Here’s a real-time example of how this works.

Head to Google and key in the phrase “web design in Singapore.” In the Google page that opens up, the first result that shows up is www.lithan.com. There’s a boxed ad symbol before the link that shows that the website bought that spot. Otherwise referred to as Google Ads, there are four paid ads in the results that show. And one of the reasons lithan is featured at the top and NOT any other site is because it outbid all the other sites. They simply set a higher CPC for the ads than any other site on the list.

Just below the four paid ads, comes the www.verzdesign.com website. This is the fifth site on the entire list and the first site on the list of sites that are ranked organically. Goes to show that this site has successfully managed to manipulate the Google’s search system with content and all that’s involved to claim that position.

We’re holding the 7th position on the list, which isn’t precisely bad considering we’re still on the first page.

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These results aren’t written in stone. The more we keep on working to improve our SEO score for that particular keyword, our ranking will keep on improving or even drop depending on the amount of effort our competitors are putting in for the same.


SEO is so overarching and broadly divided into two camps:
1. The Technical or Structural Side: This camp is only involved with the technical details of SEO, and NOT in any way concerned about the content on your site.
2. The Content Side: As the name suggests, all that this camp cares about is the quality of your web content. It’s all about ensuring that the content on your website or blog is well-optimized for a prime ranking. In addition to that, the people in this camp focus on building backlinks and boosting the number of social shares your post is getting.

Why Each Camp Matters

No camp is better than the other. To run an effective Search Marketing campaign, you have to find a way to strike a balance between the two camps.

Whether you’re working on creating link assets or attracting more backlinks, an SEO content specialist has to be there. But even with doing all this, if you’re NOT channelling the same amount of effort on the technical aspect of SEO, Google will still NOT rank you favourably.

It’s however, important to bear in mind that SEO isn’t just some one time task. You have to keep on working on it; keep track of your SEO score now and then; as you maintain a spying eye on how your competitors are doing.
In other words, SEO is a never-ending battle for attention from search engines. With thousands of sites fighting for the same spot in the SERPs for a list of target keywords, you have to come up with a strategy to always keep you ahead of the competition you have.

You may knock off one of your competitors, but another competitor is coming right behind you. They’re aiming for the same spot and wouldn’t mind knocking you off sooner than you’ve had the time to celebrate your little achievement.

Google does this deliberately because they want you to keep on working on your content, by continually updating it, finessing, and promoting it to raise the odds of it rising in the SERPs. That’s the price you pay to secure a prime spot in result pages organically.

SEO keeps you on your toes. It’s there to ensure that you don’t get too comfortable. Every feat is fleeting if you get relaxed.

Component of SEO

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As mentioned somewhere, SEO has two camps, each of which depends on the other to thrive. In addition to that, there are two crucial components of SEO, and they include:

On-Page SEO

With on-page SEO, your focus should shift from viewing your site as a whole but as a combination of different web pages. In which case, you have to focus on optimizing your web pages one by one to make them rank higher in the SERPs and drive even more relevant search traffic.

On-page SEO includes a series of activities such as:
i. Incorporating particular keywords into the content you create but in a more natural manner. The keywords also have to be incorporated into the title tags, heading tags, alt texts, meta descriptions, etc.
ii. Writing quality posts that are well optimized for search engines.
iii. Making sure you’re using clean and well-formatted page URLs.
iv. Optimized loading speed for the pages.
v. Incorporation of Google authorship.
vi. Integration of your page content with social shares.
vii. And so forth

Off Page SEO

Off-page SEO is the term for all the activities you do outside your site to improve its ranking in the SERPs.

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And it’s NOT just about links; the whole concept flows so much deeper than that. A good example is Brand Mentions. When your site is mentioned on another website, whether hyperlinked or NOT, that alone is enough to influence your ranks in the SERPs.

So while working on on-page SEO, don’t just stop there. Instead, take a step back and figure out how to also market your website from outside. And that’s where off-page SEO come in.

Here’s a list of activities that qualify as off-page SEO:

i. Creating a high-quality backlink profile. In other words, you should be focusing on creating an opportunity where other authoritative sites can naturally link back to your site.
ii. Social bookmarking, particularly on Reddit, Quora, and StumbleUpon.
iii. Social sharing
And the list Continues.

SEM or Paid Search

Search Engine Marketing or paid search is a paid form of advertising that works to ensure that your products and services are visible in the SERPs. Once a user keys in a query, SEM will ensure that your website link appears among the results shown, depending on your bid and other elements that Google considers while determining your ranking in paid searches.

Leveraging Social Media for Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Google ranks websites based on their bid. All the top slots are at all times under auction, and marketers have to bid among themselves to determine who appears on top of who.

How the Auction Works

Marketers looking to invest in SEM will be entered into an ad auction. This applies to all search engines, but for the sake of this post, we’d like to limit ourselves to Google Ads only.

To put it quite simply, any Google ad you’ve ever seen in the SERPs was auctioned. For one to be entered into the auction, they first have to figure out the keywords they’re interested to bid on. After that, they’ll be asked to specify the amount they’re willing to spend on every click they get for each of the keywords.

Google will then go ahead and determine if the keywords you selected are relevant to a user’s search query. Once confirmed, the marketer is then entered into an ad auction.

Keep in mind that not all searches feature an ad. People only set ads for keywords that have commercial intent. Meaning, unless there’s a possibility of a user making a purchase, no marketer will see any value in paying for that particular keyword.

So don’t expect to see an ad when you type “what’s SEM” into the search engine bar. This keyword has a near-zero commercial intent, so you can be sure that no marketer will be inconsiderate enough to invest their marketing money on it.

Quality Score

Even if the keyword you chose is good enough for an ad, you still have a long way to go to win the bidding. To determine your position in the SERPs, the ad auction has to consider two crucial elements — and that is, your maximum bid on the ad and the Quality Score of your ad.

To define quality score, this is a not-so-common criteria that Google uses to determine the quality of your ad, the landing page, and the keywords you’re using. In which case, the ad you make will be ranked for Quality Score on a scale of 1 to 10.

The more relevant the ad is to a targeted user; and the likelihood of the user clicking through the ad; coupled with the possibility of them enjoying what’s on the landing page, all come together to determine your quality score.

Components of SEM

SEM operates a lot like SEO, save for the part where marketers have to pay for the prime spots in the SERPs. So besides serving on an almost similar scale as SEO, there are other tactics of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) that together help to define it.

First, among these tactics or components is paid search, which includes the PPC listings and the ads.

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More often, a Search Engine Marketing campaign will be including PPC and a series of similar activities, but there’s another aspect of it where you have to figure out how to weave SEO into the SEM campaign you’re running for a higher Quality Score.

The Difference Between SEO and SEM?

SEO and SEM are all components of Search marketing. One is the twin of the other; and though different in so many ways, are still similar at the core.
From a different angle, SEO can also be looked at as a component of SEM, considering it still plays a central role in determining the Quality Score of a Google Ad.

It’s to be however noted that the two should never be used interchangeably. You use SEO when you’re talking about ranking in the SERPs organically, and SEM when you’re talking about paying for a prime spot in the SERPs.

The Takeaway

Search Marketing (SM) is a broad field that has tremendously grown in the past few years. It’s one of the most targeted ways to reach new customers when they’re most interested. And that’s, when they’re out searching for a solution to an issue you can help them solve.

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To learn more about Search Marketing and how to use it to build a successful digital marketing strategy, particularly here in Singapore, feel free to reach out to MediaOne Marketing today, and request for more information.

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About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Social Media


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