What in the SEM Are You Talking About? Search Engine Marketing Explained

April 27, 2015

When people meet me at parties and business networking events they often want to know about search engine optimization (SEO). They want to know what SEO is and why it’s important. SEO is a complex topic, it’s true.


While I’m passionate about SEO because I understand that it forms the foundation of healthy online marketing, SEO is actually only part of a bigger picture called search engine marketing (SEM).


What is SEM and Why Do You Care?

Once upon a time, copywriters wrote primarily for print and sent campaigns through the mail. Television, as we know, changed all of that. With the advent of the internet, copywriting was forced to change again.


Writing copy without a SEM strategy is kind of like writing a really great direct mail campaign and failing to send it. Critiques of the US Postal Service aside, you would have very few readers! Writing good copy only makes sense if people read it.


SEM incorporates SEO, a variety forms of paid search (sometimes referred to as pay per click or PPC), and social media marketing (SMM) — all of which influence the findability of your writing. As a copywriter, it’s tremendously important to understand how these technical aspects of marketing fit with your work as a creative — especially because, today, the creative and the technical are increasingly conflated.


Has Copywriting Changed?

Welllll, contrary to what I said, above, copywriting itself hasn’t much changed. What has changed are two things: technical requirements and, as well, how what is now called content (mostly words, images, and video) is distributed and consumed.


Technical requirements refer to the skills you need to build SEM programs that optimize your use of the internet and hardware related to the internet. Content distribution and consumption refer to factors you as a marketer do not control, such as the internet itself and devices such as cell phones.


Because the web and online marketing are the result of content coupled with advanced technology (such as software programs and platforms), SEM should be considered first — and not as an afterthought — every time you work on a copywriting project that involves a website (which, nowadays, is most of the time).


SEM Technical Requirements

In order to implement a strong SEM program, a copywriter will generally work with a team, including specialists in the areas of:



  • SEO — important because it generates organic search that will pay off more and more over time.
  • PPC — best for testing keywords and refining calls to action.
  • Programming — implementing the structural changes, such as increased site speed, that result in better SEO.
  • User experience (UX) — making websites friendly for people and designed to convert website visitors into paying customers.
  • SMM — important for brand awareness, engagement, and driving traffic over time.
  • Analytics — measuring the work you’ve done and allocating marketing dollars based on what works.

While today’s SEO copywriter doesn’t actually need to know how to do each of these things, he or she does need to know how to get them done. Also, as a central player on the SEM team, an SEO copywriter will be more effective and marketable to the extent he or she is knowledgeable and experienced in these areas.


As a copywriter, I love words, so I have made it my business to learn the ins and outs of keyword planning. Keyword planning is part art, part science. Keyword planning combined with PPC keyword testing forms a powerful foundation for SEM and the related discipline of content marketing.


Which brings us to how content is currently distributed and consumed.


Content Distribution & Consumption

It almost goes without saying that, today, content is increasingly distributed and consumed via the internet. While email marketing remains one of the most reliable forms of marketing, getting a quality subscriber list often depends on SEO, PPC, SMM, and SEM in general. Why do copywriters care?


Copywriters care about content distribution and consumption because (in addition to the fact that writers love to be read), our job is to ensure clients realize a return on their investment in quality copywriting.


The internet is, as I’ve said, all about content. Without a content marketing plan, the content a brand creates is accidental at best. You can, of course, have a content marketing plan without SEM, but, if you do, you’ll have less influence on the type and quantity of potential customers (traffic) who find your site.


Copywriters need to understand SEO because it will make their writing more findable. They also need to understand conversion (a subset of UX) because, once content is found, it needs to be compelling. It needs to guide people towards building relationships with product and service providers or making a purchase. SEO, PPC, and SMM all deal with the way content moves through the internet and UX helps turn the visitors who have found your site into paying customers.


Now, more than ever, content is being distributed via mobile devices such as telephones. If your website doesn’t work well and look good on a phone, you are leaving money on the table. Mobile optimization is a topic for another post, but it’s important, when thinking of online marketing, to consider the big picture — and prepare yourself for constant change.


A Final Point

Even if you don’t know how to create a Google Adwords campaign, you may be hired to write the ads. Wouldn’t it be easier to deliver a star product to your clients if you understood the basics of Google Adwords? Even if you’re not a designer, you still need to understand something about design because, now more than ever, your text forms part of a design.


As a copywriter, the question is: How can you afford to ignore SEM? If you are a consumer (someone who hires copywriters and marketers), not a copywriter, it must be fairly clear by now that you will leverage your dollar by hiring someone with SEM savvy.


Your Turn

What do you think? Is SEM important in today’s marketplace?


The original post can be read here

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