Guide: How to grow your business using SEM

Want to increase brand awareness, reach out to potential customers and drive more traffic to your website? Then SEM could be the marketing method for you. SEM helps you become visible to your target audience with tailored messages and clear CTAs. In this guide, we'll look at the difference between SEM and SEO, how SEM works in practice and how you can set realistic goals for your campaigns.

What is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a strategy to increase the number of visitors to your website. Through paid ads, you drive traffic from the search engines to your platform, without having to rank high organically.
When you create ads in Google Ads, for example, you have the opportunity to be visible at the top of the search results, when users type in keywords related to your business and content.

SEM and SEO can be combined for increased visibility, as you have the opportunity to reach out both organically and through paid marketing. SEO helps you build long-term trust with the search engines, while SEM helps you gain traffic directly. Think of it as a long-term and a short-term strategy.

While SEM makes an immediate impact in search results, SEO can take longer to build but creates long-term value. That's why many start-ups choose to focus on SEM first, while building up their site with SEO optimisation afterwards.

The one and only, Google Ads

The most common tool when it comes to search engine marketing is Google Ads, which is Google's advertising platform. Google Ads allows you to buy advertising space on several different channels, including Google search results, but also, for example, on YouTube, Gmail or other websites participating in the Google AdSense advertising programme.

You, as the marketer, can choose whether to pay for clicks or views, depending on the purpose and objective of the ad. When you buy ad space in Google search results, you will be competing with other operators who are willing to pay for visibility through similar keywords that you use. Therefore, in some industries or niches, there may be a lot of competition for ad space, while for other industries there may be very few players advertising.

Compared to SEO, where the goal is to rank in the top five search results, you are competing against all the websites on the internet. Here too, of course, the level of competition will vary. For some industries, the competition is very high, while in smaller, niche areas, it may be easier to reach the front page.

Now that we've been through the difference between SEM and SEO, let's move on to how SEM works in practice.

How much does SEM cost?

The advantage of applying SEM in your marketing strategy, is that you can get visibility in search results right away. On the other hand, you need to pay for each visitor you generate through the ads. It is not possible to say an exact price as it is dynamic pricing, but you pay for each click.

A click through Google Ads can cost anything from 50 cents to hundreds of dollars, depending on how many competing operators are bidding on the same keyword. Of course, you decide what budget you want to spend on each individual ad. In other words, you never have to worry about the money ticking away uncontrollably.

Depending on what you are willing to pay per ad, there will in most cases be a bidding process for the visibility of each relevant recipient. This happens automatically, and is ongoing for the duration of your ad's activity. So it's not something you have to sit and actively control yourself. However, it is important that you monitor how well your ads are performing over time, so that you can make improvements.

If your ads are not getting any visibility or clicks, it could be due to several factors. We recommend A/B testing headlines to find out which message has the best impact. A/B testing involves creating two different versions of ads, or using the same ad against different audiences, then analysing which one performed best and continuing on that track. You can also do this with keywords, images and CTAs (call to action). Dare to test. In many cases, small adjustments can have a big impact on results. The important thing is that you get a good ROI (Return On Investment). Of course, you want your investment in both time and money to generate results.

How can I calculate the ROI of SEM?

ROI refers to the amount of money you generate in profit, from the investments you put into marketing activities, in this case SEM. ROI represents the profit you generated. We provide an example of how you can calculate your ROI here:

If you pay 10,000 for an ad campaign and generate 30,000 in sales, then you calculate ROI like this: 30,000 (gross profit) - 10,000 (cost) = 20,000. Then you take the net result/cost=ROI in %. In this case it is: 20.000/10.000=200%
ROI is used to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing activities in the long term, but also gives you an indication of how well your ads are performing. Use ROI to monitor performance and continuously optimise your ads as needed. The ultimate goal is to make a profit.

To set a target for how high ROI you want to achieve, you can start from the customer journey. Answer the following questions:

  • What is the average profit per lead?
  • How do you create interest at an early stage of the customer journey, with a potential customer?
  • When does the user who clicked on the ad become a potential lead for the sales team?

Determining the ROI of your activities can be a challenge, but it is necessary to get a clearer picture of how your activities are performing. We recommend tracking the customer journey, and seeing what percentage has moved from one step to another. This will give you insight into how well your ads are performing and whether you are reaching a relevant audience.

How do I get started with SEM?

There are a variety of tools you can use to develop, analyse and optimise your SEM. We list the most common tools available:

Google Ads

The Google Marketing Platform is a comprehensive tool for analysing and optimising advertising and web traffic. To reach the search engine, you create ads in Google Ads, with the aim of targeting traffic to your website or a specific product/service. Google Marketing Platform offers you several different tools and solutions for SEM.

Whether you run a start-up or own an established business, the tool can help your business grow through targeted advertising. In the platform you will find for example:

  • Analytics - Analytics is an advanced analytics program for your website, providing valuable insight into both traffic and behavior.
  • Data studio - Data Studio is a tool that helps you organize and analyze data.
  • Optimize 360 - Optimize 360 is a tool that allows you to test and evaluate different versions of campaigns on your website.
  • Search Ads 360 - Search Ads 360 is a tool that helps you analyse and improve search campaigns.

Bing Ads

Bing Ads is Microsoft's equivalent to Google Ads. Although Google is the most well-established and largest search engine, there are several other options that have many users, such as Bing. The Bing Ads advertising service works in much the same way as Google Ads. The main difference is the users you reach through the different search engines. Thus, when choosing a tool, the target audience should play a major role. Read more about Bing Ads here.

Adobe Advertising Cloud

Adobe offers a multi-tool platform, designed to provide visibility and to optimise digital marketing activities. In the platform you will find tools such as:

  • Demand-side Platform
  • Advertising Cloud Search
  • Advertising Cloud TV
  • Advertising Cloud Creative

When working with SEM, Cloud Search is the most relevant tool, as it uses artificial intelligence to optimise advertising campaigns based on the data collected. This can give you a better understanding of who and how to target your ads. Read more about Cloud Search here.


SEM is a method that increases the visibility of businesses in search engines, through paid campaigns and ads. The method can be costly, but it can also be extremely effective and profitable for businesses that want to achieve quick results. Therefore, it is important to always monitor, analyse and calculate the ROI of your ads. Dare to test, make small adjustments and A/B test to get one step closer to your business goals.

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