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Search Engine Marketing 101: SEM, SEO, and PPC

Even for those without a wealth of marketing experience, it should come as no real surprise that in today’s digitally driven business world, online visibility and exposure are considered critical to most modern brands’ sustained success. And fortunately for companies seeking to leverage the internet to reach new consumers and convert them into paying customers — as well as for those looking to increase brand loyalty and advocacy among customers who already know and use their products and/or services — a range of readily available tools and tactics can help them get their brand messaging in front of online consumers, then lead them through the various stages of the marketing funnel.

Among these tools for boosting online visibility and exposure, three of the most potent are most commonly referred to by their acronyms: SEO, PPC and SEM. And while most business professionals have likely heard all of these terms before, even those who are familiar with them may not have a firm grasp of what exactly each is, nor what sets them apart from one another.

To help our readers better understand just what each of these powerful tactics is and how they can move the needle for a brand, we at The Brandon Agency have put together this quick rundown on SEO, PPC and SEM:


Short for “search engine optimization,” SEO aims to make websites and web pages easier for search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! to find, especially when consumers perform searches using terms related to the site’s/page’s content or to a business’s specific offerings. Among the factors that are key to successful SEO efforts are effective keyword research/placement and high levels of content quality, each of which search engines look for when deciding how to rank pages in their search results. Other considerations include fast website load speeds and easy site crawlability for the bots that search engines routinely send from website to website to determine what kinds of information they offer.

A well-implemented SEO strategy can make a brand’s website and web pages land high in the rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). That often makes SEO an especially strong investment for brands because it tends to attract interested consumers who are already actively seeking out what a brand has to offer. Further, SEO achieves all of this organically, meaning that brands don’t have to pay for the traffic that the tactic attracts. And when well implemented, SEO can increase the quality and quantity of a website’s traffic — and as a result, boost a brand’s bottom line by delivering more consumer interest and, ultimately, added conversions.

Looking to dig deeper into SEO?

Check out these TBA web pages and blog articles on the topic:


PPC stands for “pay-per-click,” a type of internet-based marketing that allows brands to pay ad hosts such as Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads and LinkedIn Ads a fee every time one of their ad placements gets clicked on and subsequently sends a visitor to their website. In essence, this type of advertising enables brands to buy website traffic via a model in which they pay only for results/actual website visitors — as opposed to PPI (pay per impression), in which advertisers are charged every time their ad appears on an advertising platform.

One of the leading forms of PPC, search engine advertising, allows brands to place bids that, when they beat out those of competitors for chosen keywords, put their ad messaging in the sponsored links section at the top of a search engine results page. Much like SEO, this can help brands get the attention of consumers who are actively searching for what they offer — only with PPC, the brands can effectively pay for a shortcut to prominent, high-on-the-page SERP placement.

Another popular form of PPC, social network advertising, allows brands to pay for advertising that lands in the news feeds of social media users. This type of advertising can also be extremely effective thanks to the high levels of targeting that can be employed when placing the ads. The wide-ranging consumer characteristics that advertisers can choose to target with this type of ad include age, gender, location, interests, level of education, relationship status and more — all of which, especially when combined, can help advertisers reach exactly the type of consumer who is most likely to be interested in their offerings. And by reaching consumers who are more likely to convert, of course, brands can boost the ROI of their advertisements.

Looking to dig deeper into PPC?

Check out these TBA blog articles related to the topic:


An acronym that stands for “search engine marketing,” SEM is considered by most to involve the use of paid advertising to increase a brand’s search visibility. Google Ads is by far the most widely used SEM platform, with other noteworthy options including Bing Ads and Yahoo! Gemini.
There is some overlap between SEM and PPC advertising — for example, the PPC advertising noted above as “search engine advertising” also falls into the SEM category. And even though it doesn’t encompass paid advertising, many also consider SEO to fall under the SEM umbrella.

Regardless, SEM is a broad term, and in addition to the SEO efforts that some consider to be SEM and the pay-per-click advertising that lands on search engine results pages, SEM can also include other forms of advertising on SERPs, such as:

  • pay per impression (PPI) advertising. To the consumer, these ads look the same as PPC ads. But rather than paying for each click, the advertiser pays for their placement based on the number of times they appear (the number of “impressions”) rather than the number of times they are clicked by consumers.
  • pay per sale/action (PPS/PPA) advertising. These ads are even more results-oriented than PPC ads, as the advertiser only pays for them when certain actions are taken by the consumer, such as requesting a quote for services or making a purchase.
  • display advertising. These ads include imagery and are placed on SERPs based on the keywords a consumer uses in his or her internet search.

Could your brand use the help of a team of seasoned marketing professionals to boost the impact of its SEO, PPC and SEM efforts? At The Brandon Agency, our team of certified brand strategists and data-driven marketing experts has a wealth of experience using all of these tactics to increase online visibility for clients in a range of industries — and we’ve got the experience needed to know whether search engine optimization, paid traffic tactics, search engine marketing or a combination of these three will be most effective. Further, TBA’s fully integrated marketing firm can cover the full spectrum of your brand’s marketing needs, including SEO, PPC, SEM, analytics, email marketing, social media, brand strategy, web design, creative, media, e-commerce and conversion rate optimization. To get started with help ranging from a simple website analysis to a comprehensive strategy tailored to boost the performance of all of your marketing campaigns, contact us today.

Ed Lammon

Ed Lammon

Managing Editor of Agency Content

Ed Lammon is the Editorial Director of Blog and Long-Form Content for Brandon. A native of Enterprise, AL (home of the world’s only monument to an insect), Ed is a 1998 Journalism graduate of Auburn University (War Eagle!). When not working, he enjoys travel, hiking, telling dad jokes, and hanging out with friends and family (particularly around campfires, at concerts and at tailgates).

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