"SEM could be the fastest way to get your business exposed to new customers online."

In retail stores, businesses vie to have their product shelved at eye level. On the streets, advertisers compete for the most prominent billboards for their campaigns. The internet is no exception.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a direct and efficient method of advertising on the Internet. So what is it?

The term SEM is closely associated with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). SEO is how to influence search engines, such as Google, so they find your site and rank it in SERPs (search engine results pages).

SEO is called organic search, and many businesses spend time and money strategising over how to appear higher up in SERPs.

As the algorithm that drives Google has developed and been refined, a number of key methods, such as the use of keywords and keyword analysis; traffic and conversion through linked sites, improving internal navigation – have emerged.

SEM – paid for search - is the offspring of SEO strategy. Rather than hoping to appear amongst the top-ranking organic search results, a business can have its website advertised either above SERPs or on the far right column of the results page.

With such benefits, there is a price to be paid but it depends on the policy of the hosting website and the mode of advertisement used.

Here are some of the terms you need to know:

1. Paid Placement

These are adverts that appear on search engine result pages (SERPS). Provided that your website address can appear organically (using keyword SEO techniques), it will be feature in the form of an advertisement ahead of other sites relying solely on SEO. The price you pay for such a service is determined by the amount of times that advertisement appears on a SERP.

2. Paid Inclusion

This is the fast track option; you simply pay for your advert to appear on a particular page. It is the SEM approach most removed from SEO techniques in that ranking isn’t necessarily determined by keyword relevancy but rather on the price paid for such a ranking.

A business will generally pay an annual subscription for their website to be included on a regular basis.

3. Pay per click

As the name suggests, the level of traffic directed to a website via its advert dictates how much the advertiser pays to the hosting site. Unlike traditional adverts there is immediate feedback about whether the ad is working. It is however, up to the advertiser to decide what key words are relevant to its target market. This takes time, effort and expense.

Employing an SEM strategy as opposed to just SEO can give businesses a kick-start online. Ranking and exposure through SEO is dependent on your website’s popularity, content and traffic. SEM is not.

It can level the playing field when it comes to online exposure. Of course, it comes at a price. It may well be worth paying to target customers, increase traffic and make sales.

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