Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of internet marketing that works to promote websites by driving them higher in search results. The methods used to do this include search engine optimization, paid placement, contextual advertising and paid inclusion.

  • Paid Inclusion: the practice of paying a search engine or a directory to add a site to its database immediately instead of waiting for search engine spiders to come and index the site.
  • Paid Placement: An advertising program in which a website is listed with a guarantee that when a user searches for a certain term the website will appear. In this type of advertising it is common for a website to rank higher if they pay more for the placement.
  • Contextual Advertising: Contextual advertising is a form of targeted advertising for advertisements appearing on websites or other media, such as content displayed in mobile browsers. The advertisements themselves are selected and served by automated systems based on the content displayed to the user.

Advertisers are spending more and more on SEM, and it is growing faster than the use of traditional advertising and other forms of online advertising. The largest vendors in the field are Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter. Due to demand, a whole search marketing agency market has emerged; many advertisers rely on these third party services to handle their SEM.

In the 1990s, the internet was growing quickly. In order to help users navigate through all the available information, search engines appeared. These engines developed business plans to finance themselves and their services like Pay Per Click programs. Pay Per Click (or PPC) is an internet advertising model used on websites wherein advertisers pay their host only when the ad is clicked. With search engines, advertisers bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market.

Search engine optimization consultants help businesses learn about and use the advertising opportunities offered by search engines. Search Engine Marketing Management (SEMM) relates to activities including SEO but focuses on ROI ( return on investment) management instead of relevant traffic building (which is the focus of mainstream SEO). SEMM does include organic SEO, which refers to the non-paid methods of driving traffic to websites.

Paid search advertising has caused some controversies over the years: Consumer Reports WebWatch has investigated how search engines present ads on their results pages.

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