Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages 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.

There are four categories of methods and metrics used to optimize websites through search engine marketing.

  1. Keyword research and analysis involves three "steps:" ensuring the site can be indexed in the search engines, finding the most relevant and popular keywords for the site and its products, and using those keywords on the site in a way that will generate and convert traffic.
  2. Website saturation and popularity, how much presence a website has on search engines, can be analyzed through the number of pages of the site that are indexed on search engines and how many backlinks the site has (popularity).  It requires your pages containing those keywords people are looking for and ensure that they rank high enough in search engine rankings.  Most search engines include some form of link popularity in their ranking algorithms.
  3. Back end tools, including Web analytic tools and HTML validators, provide data on a website and its visitors and allow the success of a website to be measured.  They range from simple traffic counters to tools that work with log files and to more sophisticated tools that are based on page tagging (putting JavaScript or an image on a page to track actions).  These tools can deliver conversion-related information.
    There are three major tools used: (a) log file analyzing tool: ; (b) tag-based analytic programs ; (c) transaction-based tool:
    Validators check the invisible parts of websites, highlighting potential problems and many usability issues ensure your website meets W3C code standards.  We use more than one HTML validator or spider simulator because each tests, highlights, and reports on slightly different aspects of your website.
  4. Whois tools reveal the owners of various websites, and can provide valuable information relating to copyright and trademark issues.

The fee structure is both a filter against superfluous submissions and a revenue generator.  Typically, the fee covers an annual subscription for one web page, which will automatically be cataloged on a regular basis. However, some companies are experimenting with non-subscription based fee structures where purchased listings are displayed permanently.  A per-click fee may also apply.  Each search engine is different.  Some sites allow only paid inclusion, although these have had little success.  More frequently, many search engines mix paid inclusion (per-page and per-click fee) with results from web crawling.

Some detractors of paid inclusion allege that it causes searches to return results based more on the economic standing of the interests of a web site, and less on the relevancy of that site to end-users.

Often the line between pay per click advertising and paid inclusion is debatable.  Some have lobbied for any paid listings to be labeled as an advertisement, while defenders insist they are not actually ads since the webmasters do not control the content of the listing, its ranking, or even whether it is shown to any users.  Another advantage of paid inclusion is that it allows site owners to specify particular schedules for crawling pages.  In the general case, one has no control as to when their page will be crawled or added to a search engine index.  Paid inclusion proves to be particularly useful for cases where pages are dynamically generated and frequently modified.

Paid inclusion is a search engine marketing method in itself, but also a tool of search engine optimization, since experts and firms can test out different approaches to improving ranking, and see the results often within a couple of days, instead of waiting weeks or months.  Knowledge gained this way can be used to optimize other web pages, without paying the search engine company.

Comparison with SEO
SEM is the wider discipline that incorporates SEO.  SEM includes both paid search results (Adwords) and organic search results (SEO).  SEM uses AdWords, pay per click (particularly beneficial for local providers as it enables potential consumers to contact a company directly with one click), article submissions, advertising and making sure SEO has been done.  A keyword analysis is performed for both SEO and SEM, but not necessarily at the same time.  SEM and SEO both need to be monitored and updated frequently to reflect evolving best practices.

In some contexts, the term SEM is used exclusively to mean pay per click advertising, particularly in the commercial advertising and marketing communities which have a vested interest in this narrow definition.  Such usage excludes the wider search marketing community that is engaged in other forms of SEM such as search engine optimization and search retargeting.

Another part of SEM is social media marketing (SMM).  SMM is a type of marketing that involves exploiting social media to influence consumers that one company’s products and/or services are valuable.  Some of the latest theoretical advances include search engine marketing management (SEMM).  SEMM relates to activities including SEO but focuses on return on investment (ROI) management instead of relevant traffic building (as is the case of mainstream SEO).  SEMM also integrates organic SEO, trying to achieve top ranking without using paid means of achieving top in search engines, and pay per click SEO.  For example some of the attention is placed on the web page layout design and how content and information is displayed to the website visitor.

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