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A brief introduction to SEM

CCE workshop trainer Tarek Riman breaks down Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and explains its role in any successful digital marketing strategy
February 25, 2022
By Tarek Riman

digital marketing graphic

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a technique that helps companies improve their ranking on the first page of Google. This process involves paying for ads so that they rank higher in searches. It is a technique that has been proven effective by many organizations around the world. In 2021, Coca-Cola increased sales conversions by 4 per cent after implementing SEM across all its brands.

The similarities between SEM and SEO

There are many similarities between SEM and SEO:

  • Both SEO and SEM help you create the awareness you need by landing you on Search Engine Ranking Pages (SERP).
  • They are both great inbound and push approaches to driving traffic to your site.
  • Each strategy requires you to fully comprehend your analytics and your audience.
  • You must also understand the personas that you are targeting, although SEM and SEO each help you address those personas at distinct phases of their journey.

The differences between SEM and SEO

There are also many differences between SEM and SEO. One significant difference is that SEM is paid advertising and you can get the results you want almost immediately. SEO, on the other hand, is considered “free” but it requires a time investment rather than a financial one because it can take months to start showing real results.

Another difference is how SEM and SEO results appear to users on SERP. SEM ads appear at the top of search results pages with an “Ad” icon next to them. While you can guarantee a spot near the top of the SERP by using this advertising strategy, users will be able to easily discern your result from organic ones. Organic search results are the product of successfully optimizing your site through SEO practices. SEM ads receive less than 30 per cent of the clicks coming from search engines. Organic results represent the remaining 70 per cent.

The most common responses I get from students when I ask them why they would click on ads compared to organic results are as follows:

  • I did not know they were ads.
  • I do not care; I click the first thing I see.
  • I mistook them for organic results.

About 95 per cent of my students also express that they trust organic results the most.

Nevertheless, SEM remains an essential aspect of digital marketing that has its own advantages. However, as I say for all marketing channels, do not let it be the channel that drains your resources. It is about fighting every fight everywhere.

So when should you choose SEM over SEO? The truth is, we don’t have to choose one over the other. The ideal approach is to use them both effectively in an overall holistic marketing approach.

How to combine your SEO and SEM strategies

How do you navigate a combined approach involving SEO and SEM? SEO and SEM are part of a buildup strategy that begins with analytics. Each phase or element of the buildup strategy feeds into the subsequent phase or element. The most successful marketers start with analytics, which then feeds into SEO, which finally feeds into SEM.

The reason why this structure works is because there is no real marketing without analytics. If you don’t base your strategy on data, you will misfire. Analytics serve as your roadmap to navigate strategically through the entire process. They are where you get to know your user and should serve as your foundation from which everything else is built. As I always say to my students, how can you plan where you are going if you do not know where you are?

By starting with analytics, you can align your marketing channels to best meet the needs of users. Next come your SEO efforts, which can include landing page optimization, unique and engaging content and optimization of user flow. Finally, you can design your SEM strategies. For the greatest possible results, your SEM strategies should funnel users through highly optimized experiences.

Optimization tips

Here are some practical tips for using analytics to optimize both SEO and SEM with the user in mind:

  • Ensure that you are creating good, original, engaging content that delivers real value and keeps visitors on your site longer.
  • Do not rely solely on SEO to bring traffic; integrate all relevant channels.
  • Create a diversity of content that will keep users engaged.
  • Make your content more readable, watchable or consumable.
  • Understand the user flow on your site and optimize for it.
  • Ensure your ads are always original.
  • Ensure your landing pages are always original.
  • Ensure your keywords are highly tailored.


SEO and SEM are a team, but each starts with analytics. By starting with analytics, you can optimize with the user in mind. Search engines will always prioritize user intent before anything else. Mirroring this method will help you achieve a higher rank and, in turn, boost your performance in SEO and SEM alike.


To learn more about SEM, register for Tarek Riman’s upcoming workshop, “Introduction to SEM 2022.”

Want to learn more about Tarek Riman? You can find his bio here.

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