Search engine marketing can be lucrative

Basic course search engine marketing »SEM, SEO, SEA: differences, connections & practical tips


Table of Contents


In the area Search engine marketing (S.earch E.ngine M.arketing = SEM) there are some abbreviations that often cause confusion, as they are defined differently by online marketing providers. This can lead to misunderstandings, which we would like to clear away with the following article.

On our website and in the online marketing blog, we use the following definition:


Search engine marketing (SEM) = SEO + SEA


Search engine marketing (SEM) as one of the most important sub-areas in internet marketing is used to draw the attention of interested parties to your own website via search engines, thereby gaining more website visitors and new customers. This is divided into search engine advertising (SEA = Search Engine Advertising) and search engine optimization (SEO = Search Engine Optimization).


The following figures are intended to clarify the difference between SEA and SEO in Google search results:


SEO vs. SEA Marketing - Difference in Google / Search Engine Marketing


When searching for products, the Google product ads are also shown on the right-hand side.


SEA (text + product ads) vs. SEO - difference in Google


In German blogs, search engine marketing (SEM) is often equated with paid advertising (SEA) in search engines. However, since the term marketing encompasses more than just advertising for market communication, the SEM as a generic term for SEO and SEA is more appropriate, which is also confirmed by the Wikipedia entry on search engine marketing:



SEO vs. SEA Marketing

While advertisers pay costs per click (CPC) with search engine advertising (SEA), entries in organic search are “free” thanks to search engine optimization (SEO). A position in the top places is usually associated with a lot of effort, depending on the industry and the selected keywords, since the ranking of a website for certain search terms depends on a variety of factors. According to Google, for example, it takes over 200 factors into account for its ranking calculations.

Since the paid text and product ads are getting more and more space in the search results and the majority of search engine users are not aware of this difference and usually only click on the first search hits, in the future search engine advertising (SEA) will be with Google AdWords (since 2018 Google Ads) and Google Shopping for that Search engine marketing continues to gain in importance. The increasing spread of mobile search and the fact that the first hits in mobile search are paid ads make search engine advertising an indispensable part of online marketing.


Goals in search engine marketing (SEM)

  • Increasing the visibility of your own brand and the company in search engines,
  • Increase website traffic,
  • win more new customers,
  • Increase sales & profits,
  • Achieve higher advertising revenue with advertising banners
  • Influence corporate image positively


Search engine advertising (SEA) with Google

Text advertisements or banners that are booked via Google AdWords are marked with "Werbung", "Advertisement", "Ad". Currently in yellow or green.


Search engine advertising with Google AdWords

Google AdWords enables the following forms of advertising

  • Text ads: Advertisers choose keywords for which the classic text ads are displayed above and below the organic results. Usually between 1-4 text ads are displayed above and below the organic hits.
  • Google Shopping Ads: (Product Listing Ads = PLA): The control of the product ads takes place via information in the data feed. As an alternative to Google Shopping ads, Amazon product ads can be placed.
  • Display ads (also known as display advertising): This is where text or image ads are placed on websites or platforms that belong to the Google advertising network.


Search engine advertising with Google AdWords offers the possibility of to combine different shapes with each other. Product listing ads, text and display ads can be combined with one another. The AdWords platform is currently one of the most widely used SEA tools worldwide.


SEA Marketing with Bing / Yahoo Ads

Together with Yahoo, Bing offers its own SEA platform that works in a similar way to Google AdWords. A comprehensive search engine marketing strategy should also include opportunities to advertise on Yahoo and Bing. There the Google AdWords campaigns can be imported relatively easily, so that the entry hurdle is relatively small and requires little effort.

Since 2016, Bing has been offering an additional channel - Bing Shopping. The following figure is intended to clarify the difference between SEA and SEO in the Bing search results:


Search engine marketing (SEA + SEO) with Bing Ads


A particular difference to Google is the paid text ads, which are still displayed on the right-hand side of the search results.


Other platforms for search engine marketing and advertising

Almost all search engines offer their own advertising options and programs. Depending on the target group, it can be advantageous to also operate SEA via special search engines.

If a website wants to gain more visibility in the CIS countries and especially in Russia, SEA for Yandex should also be considered. If a travel provider wants to advertise precisely to the target group, advertisements on travel comparison portals and travel directories are ideal.


SEA booking models

SEA ads are booked through different models.

The most common are

  • CPC (cost per click): here advertisers indicate how much they want to invest for a click.
  • CPA (cost per acquisition) or CPO (cost per order): Here advertisers indicate how much they are willing to invest for a conversion / order achieved through the advertising measures
  • CPM (Cost per Mille): Cost per 1,000 impressions


Bid management in search engine marketing

SEM campaigns usually generate enormous amounts of data, which in turn are used to organize appropriate measures and to better control a possible success. The so-called bid management is helpful because it allows the data streams to be controlled and structured in a much more targeted manner. In the context of performance marketing, those responsible for a SEM campaign are all the more dependent on appropriate software systems that are able to to learn automatically and to take possible seasonal effects (e.g. in the fashion industry) into account.

These bid management systems come under the Search engine marketing (SEM) used to automatically manage the incoming bids for certain search terms (keywords), which run through various paid search providers. The respective bids for each keyword are automatically recalculated and optimized. These optimizations or bid changes are then in turn transmitted to the paid search accounts. The bid management tools use more or less complicated algorithms. The automation of this process results in a corresponding time saving for the user and an increase in the performance of the SEM campaign. The connection to such paid search accounts takes place via programming interfaces (the so-called APIs), which forward the respective accounts of these providers to the bid management software. In general, the bid management tools run via a web interface, which makes a separate installation superfluous.


Functions of bid management tools in SEA marketing

Most bid management tools offer additional features to make managing SEM campaigns easier. These deal, among other things, with the areas for keyword expansion, search query analysis or the monitoring of certain landing pages as well as brand protection. In combination with tools that can be used for campaign management, the customer receives an even faster and more intensive analysis of the effectiveness of his search engine marketing campaign. The resulting decisions can be transmitted to the respective search networks directly and without loss of time.

A distinction is made between the following bid management systems:

  • Rule-based bid management systems
  • Evolutionary bid management systems
  • Portfolio-based bid management systems

Some of the most popular bid management systems also offer additional tools for tracking traffic. Here, not only are the clicks measured directly before a conversion, but also those of the web process (funnel) before it. Since the channels can influence each other with regard to the performance of a campaign, the bid management system provides a better overview of the evaluation of such a campaign for the different advertising channels.

However, the success of an advertising campaign depends primarily on the price a customer has to or wants to pay the keyword marketer. This billing model is based on the respective clicks on an advertisement (pay-per-click). As a rule, however, such a use is only worthwhile from a certain size (e.g. from 5,000 to 10,000 euros per month click costs). In addition, a sufficiently large amount of data is required for successful use, which provides the software with a meaningful calculation basis for bid optimization. Depending on requirements and the size of the SEA campaign, individual offers are also possible.


When does bid management make sense?

Given the great complexity of the subject of “bid management”, the question of the real benefit of such an automated process is often asked. Because a large number of factors are jointly responsible for a successful advertising strategy, which can influence both the bids and their optimization.

Such bid management systems appear particularly interesting for particularly large and extensive SEA marketing campaigns that can come up with an extremely high budget and a large volume of data. For those campaigns that cannot meet these two important factors, such an automated process is not exactly worthwhile. An automated system cannot completely replace the work of a campaign manager, it can only make it easier. Because even in the future, manual work in the field of keyword research, SEA campaign monitoring and testing of display texts cannot be completely dispensed with. Here one remains dependent on common sense and the necessary human experience.


Examples of bid management tools


Holistic search engine marketing (SEM) with SEO and SEA

Search engine advertising (SEA) with, for example, Google AdWords should not be separated, but much more than Supplement to search engine optimization as it can have a positive influence on an SEO campaign through synergy effects. In particular, AdWords campaigns can make a contribution to keyword planning and the performance of landing pages. For example, keywords that are frequently searched for and sell well can also be optimized for organic searches through targeted LandingPage optimization in order to reduce campaign costs. Furthermore, search engine advertising can cover many more relevant keywords in a short time, for which search engine optimization would take several months.


Google AdWords KeyWord Planner


Google Adwords Keyword Planner


To carefully plan a Google AdWords campaign, the Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool has been available since 2013. This tool can be used to generate ideas for keywords and display groups, and to check the expected performance of certain keywords. Furthermore, the average cost per click (CPC) and the average search queries per month can be determined.

A fine-grained campaign structure with carefully selected keyword & keyword options, paired with tempting ad texts and suitable ad extensions (sitelinks, address, telephone number, ad extensions, Google+ profile) as well as a landing page tailored to each search query are crucial for the success of AdWords campaigns.

In order to increase sales from Google AdWords and reduce campaign costs, a campaign must be regularly monitored and optimized.


This includes the following optimization goals:

  • Ad position improvement
  • Minimization of wastage through exclusion keywords
  • Increase in click rates (CTR) through better ad texts
  • Improvement of keyword quality factors
  • Minimization of CPC costs (Cost-Per-Click) through bid management
  • Optimization of ad texts
  • Custom ad scheduling through the ad scheduler


Click rates (CTR) are the focus of both SEOs and SEAs

Hardly anyone opens Google and spontaneously enters a search term only to see what results flicker across the screen. Every search query has a reason and a certain expectation. The search is for hits that provide information or help solve the problem. The closer the search result picks up on the desired question, the greater the chance that the hit will be clicked on. This ultimately results in the click rate (search queries / clicks = CTR in%). The existing results provide interesting insights into what can work well in the snippets. Questions that arise here include:

  • Which headings or phrases in the text are more likely to tempt the user to click?
  • Can you say something about how well a call-to-action is done in the snippets and how well it works?
  • Can a connection be established between price information and click behavior?

The results obtained from these questions provide initial clues for the formulation of advertising texts. Incidentally, findings can also be obtained in the opposite direction.
In the area of ​​search engine marketing, the CTR is decisive for sales. Signals sent out by users are a major factor in ad rank. A good click rate says something about the quality of the ad and is therefore also responsible for the quality factor of keywords and thus for the click price and the ad position.


Does good SEO even need SEA?

In most cases, SEA is worthwhile despite good SEO. Because AdWords and Bing Ads provide additional advertising space. The operator of a website can thus reach significantly more users than just through search engine optimization alone. In view of the increasing competition in organic search, SEA helps to generate traffic even for highly competitive keywords, but the mix between SEO and SEA must be well balanced. Optimal results can only be achieved through optimal interlinking of the two disciplines, which in turn leads to increased profitability of the website. In the area of ​​e-commerce, AdWords and Bing Ads online shops offer significantly larger advertising space and thus sales opportunities.



Teamwork in search engine marketing Photo: Eric Bailey, license CC0


Search engine marketing as teamwork

Discussions about content, for example about landing pages, should not be restricted to one's own discipline. Because the common starting points for SEO and SEA are enormous between the disciplines. Anyone who wants to advertise in a search engine like Google or Bing is well advised to maintain an exchange with their SEO colleagues for the landing pages. This saves time and resources, because your colleague may have already dealt with the problem. In any case, it is better to tackle larger projects in search engine marketing in a joint team. Google provides the SEA colleagues with valuable information and services. In practice, however, the developer usually turns to the SEO department for technical changes on the website. Here it is important to cooperate closely with one another and to bundle energy and information.


How can SEA influence SEO and thus optimize the entire search engine marketing?

Search advertising can be frequent indirectly have a positive impact on the ranking of a website in organic search. Thus, SEA is a kind of indirect SEO measure and contributes to successful search engine marketing.

When a website operator starts a large-scale SEA campaign and increases its visibility and reach in search engines, search queries for the “brand keyword” also increase in the long term. This is rewarded by Google and other search engine operators, because in this case they discover that this is a brand that users often search for. Thus the website also receives more "trust", which contributes to better positions in the SERPs in the long term.

The Google Trends Tool can be used to find out how the search queries for certain keywords develop over the course of time.

Furthermore, search engines receive new data (click rates, bounce rates, length of stay, etc.) about the accesses and the relevance of websites for certain keywords via SEA Marketing.

Direct access to a domain can also be significantly increased through search engine advertising.


Measure organic rankings and paid search results

With the “Paid and Organic Search” report available in the Google AdWords account, advertisers can see how often pages on their website were displayed in Google's “free” organic search results and which keywords resulted in the listing. Advertisers can learn from this information how they can use the interplay of organic search results and AdWords ads to achieve more users and traffic and raise their search engine marketing to a new level.

It can also be used to determine how organic search results can be used to identify new and possibly particularly lucrative keywords.

A Search Console account linked to the Google AdWords account is required to use the Paid & Organic Search report. Search Console is a free tool from Google that provides data and tips for optimizing organic search results.

Application example

The Search Console determines keywords that have relatively high click rates and bring relevant users to the website. In order to reach more users, these keywords can now also be booked in AdWords ads. The higher presence also increases brand awareness for the advertised product group.


Extract from the Google Search Console


With the report "Paid and organic search" Advertisers get a holistic view of their statistics for text ads and organic entries at search query level and can thus analyze strengths and weaknesses in their own search engine presence.

In addition, it can be determined how users of Google search become aware of the website through the paid AdWords ads and organic search entries.

Advantages for search engine marketing

  • Keyword set can be easily expanded
  • Optimization of the presence for profitable search queries
  • Comprehensive analysis of changes to landing pages, bids and keywords

In summary, it can be said that the interaction of both disciplines (SEO + SEA) makes sense in the vast majority of cases and leads to significantly more success.


Universal Search

For some years now, Google has been using the following data from its vertical search engines to enrich search results:

  • Google News
  • Google shopping
  • Google image search
  • Google Plus
  • YouTube videos
  • Google weather
  • local search hits from Google Maps
  • popular travel destinations
  • Results from the Knowledge Graph, shown in the fact box


Effects on SEA & SEO Marketing

The expansion of the search has a strong influence on search engine marketing and, above all, on search engine optimization. Since the SERPs are enriched with further information, it can happen that SEO search hits, especially on the first page, get less attention because they are further set back. So it can happen that a website is very well listed for a certain keyword, but the link to the website is only visible after scrolling, because results of the Universal Search such as images, videos, travel destinations, shopping and the organic search hits are available. It is therefore becoming increasingly important for search engine marketers to optimize holistically so that images or videos from a website can also be placed prominently in the search results.


Where can I learn / study search engine marketing?

The online industry is growing up! In recent years, more and more opportunities have opened up to learn marketing in search engines at professional educational institutions.

Here is a small but fine selection of educational institutions that focus specifically on SEO & SEA topics:


As in many other areas, such courses and study programs are no guarantee for good search engine marketers. Theory is important, but practice is even more important in this area. It is therefore advisable to rely much more on “learning by doing” and start practicing as early as possible and simply try out methods. Personally, I recommend starting with Google AdWords and / or Bing Ads, as you can achieve results much faster in search engine advertising and the feedback also increases the learning curve faster. SEO has meanwhile become significantly "slower" and, depending on the industry and competition, needs a lot of patience and perseverance in order to deliver reasonable results.



How AI affects search engine marketing

Search engines, voice assistance systems and chatbots have a lot in common. Google Now, Siri and Co. also need an index to answer search queries. Due to the intensive spread of mobile devices, the number of search queries using voice is growing rapidly - and with it the number of voice outputs.

This also changes the requirements for search engine marketing. SEO & SEA marketers should take a closer look at the following trends:

  • More voice input by eliminating keyboards
  • Less precise search queries from the situational context
  • More voice output by eliminating screens (e.g. Apple EyesFree)
  • Individual search engines / databases in the background become less important for users as long as they receive a satisfactory answer

This means that in the future digital content will have to contain not only transactional, navigational and informational elements but also dialogue-oriented components in order to meet the increased requirements.

More on this in the following article by Karl Kratz at

Classic search engine optimization will be particularly influenced by Artificial Intelligence (AI). Google is already using the “RankBrain” to optimize the search algorithm and, above all, to better understand new and particularly rare search queries. Using machine learning, "RankBrain" tries to "guess" the intention of search queries that have never been asked and saves the results in order to ensure better user satisfaction. In addition to backlinks and content, "RankBrain" is now the third most important factor in the ranking algorithm, according to Google.

"RankBrain" is currently located in the area of ​​speech recognition, among other things. It is obvious that natural language processing can also be used to make statements about the quality of websites and whether certain questions can be dealt with and answered on a certain website.


How sustainable is search engine marketing?


Is SEM Sustainable?

Compared to other online marketing channels, search engine marketing is much more sustainable, especially through search engine optimization. With a proper on-page and off-page SEO optimization, relevant visitor flows and sales can usually be achieved for months to years. Search engine advertising via Google Ads, Bing Ads and display advertising only bring traffic as long as advertisements are placed and paid for. Nevertheless, more and more relevant traffic can often also be achieved via SEA through continuous campaign optimization with the same budget.


Conclusion and summary

According to Statista, in addition to search engine optimization (SEO), search engine advertising (SEA) with AdWords is the second most important discipline in online marketing.



SEO, SEA, SEM in the online marketing mix


Search engine marketing essentially comprises the following sub-disciplines

  • Paid text and product ads
  • Display and banner advertising via the Google Display Network
  • OnPage SEO
  • Content marketing
  • OffPage link building
  • Optimization for the image search
  • Universal search optimization


In the Combination of these SEM measures In my experience, the best results are achieved and synergy effects can be created. For example, profitable keywords from search engine advertising can be taken into account for search engine optimization, because on the one hand this results in cost savings and on the other hand greater visibility in search engines can be achieved. The fact that SEO and SEA form an optimal combination is proven by the large online shops such as Amazon, Zalando and Otto, which can be found in all three result lists for various search queries.

Since both SEM disciplines are based on comparable principles, they are very similar for the user in some aspects. Because, above all, the elements on which success depends are almost identical in both disciplines. If one of the two already exists, then the direction is clear. However, if SEO and SEA are started at the same time, good coordination of the elements is essential in order to use synergy effects, as otherwise there may be overlaps and wasted resources.


The most important advantages & disadvantages of SEO & SEA marketing at a glance


SEO Marketing


  • Free clicks
  • Results appear editorially recommended
  • Sustainable optimization and traffic
  • Regional orientation possible
  • Pull marketing


  • Needs longer lead time
  • Search engine algorithms change frequently
  • More difficult calculation of the ROI
  • Danger of negative SEO
  • Is getting more and more complex


SEA Marketing


  • Regional orientation possible
  • Fairly accurate targeting
  • Immediately relevant visitors to the website
  • Test keywords for success in advance
  • No technical changes to the website necessary
  • Precise controlling and success measurement possible
  • Simple ROI calculation
  • Automated campaign optimization possible
  • Pull marketing


  • Sometimes very expensive keywords
  • Risk of click fraud
  • Cutthroat competition from larger companies
  • Clicks only while payment is in progress


Video material to introduce both topics


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Recommended reading

Here I have summarized some of the best books on marketing in search engines and I can only warmly recommend them to you:

  • Search engine optimization: »The SEO standard work« (t3n) by Sebastian Erlhofer. Over 1,000 pages of practical knowledge and professional tips
  • SEO with Google Search Console: Optimizing websites with free tools by Stephan Czysch
  • SEO Practice Book 2017: Top Rankings in Google & Co. through Search Engine Optimization by Dr. Thorsten Schneider
  • Technical SEO by Stephan Czysch and Benedikt Illner
  • Dirk Lewandowski: Understanding search engines. Springer, Heidelberg 2015,
  • Google AdWords: The Comprehensive Guide. Successful planning and implementation of AdWords campaigns by Guido Pelzer and Dagmar Gerigk
  • Google AdWords: The SEA Practice Book 2018 by Christiane Ortlepp
  • Google AdWords for Beginners: How to Build Your Campaign, Set Up Your Account, and Measure Success. by Guido Sander
  • Google AdWords: The ultimate step by step guide for beginners by Wilhelm Klaus
  • Yvonne von Bischopinck, Michael Ceyp: Search engine marketing. Springer, 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-76513-4.
  • Marco Roggatz: Decision factors for the application of search engine marketing: components - cost-benefit analysis - make-or-buy question. SVH-Verlag, Saarbrücken 2009, ISBN 3-8381-0375-0.
  • Marc Wintgens: Development of a competitive strategy for search engine marketing. Diploma thesis, 2009.
  • Beat D. Wyser: Practical Guide to Search Engine Marketing. WEKA-Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-297-44700-1.
  • Martin Gonev: Conception and implementation of strategic and operational Internet marketing measures for the online shop, focus on search engine marketing (SEM), master's thesis


Would you like to learn more about the world of search engine marketing? You are welcome to contact me with your questions and concerns in the comment field below and let me advise you without obligation.


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I wish you success!