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Many people in the world of business are more familiar with the term SEO - Search Engine Optimisation - than Search Engine Marketing. To clarify the difference, Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is actually a broader concept than SEO, covering all forms of search engine-related marketing activity, including paid search.

If you want to read more about the differences between SEO and paid search, and the relative benefits of each, we’ve written this article about choosing between SEO and PPC.

In a nutshell, SEM covers all activities which involve making a website more visible in organic search (SEO) and campaigns aimed at generating traffic to a website with advertisements on search engines results pages (paid search). That makes SEM a very broad, very important topic in digital marketing, and one that is subject to continuous innovation and evolution as new strategies, new approaches and new technologies emerge.

Right now there are some important new trends emerging in SEM which have the potential to shake up digital marketing significantly in years to come. Here is a brief lowdown of two of the most significant.

Voice search

Voice search google trends

Led in no small part by Amazon Echo, 2018 has been a breakthrough year for the smart assistant. The smart speaker market alone is estimated to be growing at a CAGR of 20%, and then there are the smartphone and tablet-based voice assistants like Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant.

Smart assistants are shaking up how we interface with online resources by replacing typed commands with the spoken word. And that is disrupting how people use search. Voice search has major implications for SEO, as people use language differently when they speak compared to when they type. 

Throughout the history of search optimisation so far, marketers have been able to focus on relatively short keywords and key phrases, reflecting the way people use language when they type a query into a search box. But with voice search, people are much more likely to initiate queries with extended sentences, using the same kind of language they would use naturally when they speak. SEO is therefore increasingly having to focus on long-form natural language optimisation, not just keywords and phrases.

There are also implications for paid search. As people are much more likely to ask a question when using a voice assistant than when typing into a search engine, pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns need to be built around questions otherwise the ads won’t be relevant to voice search.

Personalised advertising

The other major trend influencing change in Search Engine Marketing is the growth of data and, just as importantly, the increasing sophistication of means to analyse and interpret that data. We are now getting to the stage where, based on cumulative search history, contextual data around the time and location of the search, even language analysis, we are able to make sophisticated predictions about a person’s intentions when they search, and use that to our advantage.

In the context of paid search, advanced user data and predictive analytics allows for much more careful targeting of ads. Not only does this mean that we can filter when ads appear so they are only seen by those most likely to click on them, it also means we can adjust the content of ads and the offers made based on what we know about each user. This might involve having a much wider range of ads with very specific goals targeted at different users, or personalised landing pages which can be used to maximise conversions.


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Written by Jon Walker September of 2018