An introduction to search engine marketing (SEM) for inbound marketers


Whether you focus on marketing in general or inbound marketing specifically, the topic of search engine optimization (SEO) is bound to come up. This is an important topic that cannot be ignored. However, SEO should only be one part of your larger search engine marketing (SEM) strategy.

SEM strategy

Search engine marketing is generally divided into search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search. Let’s start by discussing SEO.


SEO has two main components, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. On-page SEO, according to SEO authority Moz, can be defined as:

…the practice of optimizing individual web pages to rank higher and generate more relevant search engine traffic. On-page refers to both content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized…

Every page on your website can and should be optimized for on-page SEO. If you’re on HubSpot, you even have built-in SEO tools that will automatically help you optimize your page. On-page SEO should be a must for any modern website.

Off-page SEO focuses on external links entering your website and other search signals. Typically, one of the goals of off-page SEO is to help increase brand recall and build exposure. For example, if you’re an up-and-coming player in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, you’ll want to use off-page SEO to expose your brand to an audience of decision-makers looking for ERP software. Off-page SEO tactics can include interviews in online publications that link to your website, banners and display ads that identify your brand and value in the ERP space, or even content placed on websites industry leaders. Off-page SEO can also include connecting with influencers in your space who can then share the value of your service and drive traffic to your website.

Remember, we’re not trying to drive conversions with off-page SEO. Measuring off-page SEO success can be done through link analysis and tracking organic mentions and looking at search engine traffic. You might want to compare a quarter with no off-page SEO effort to a quarter with specifically targeted off-page SEO efforts (eg, influencer outreach, banner ads). Off-page SEO would also have a focus on keywords. You could identify 3-5 keywords that your off-page SEO would target.

Paid search

In your SEM strategy, paid search is usually about getting clicks and conversions on your landing pages. You’ll also want to make sure you’re targeting prospects as close to their buying decision as possible. They may have already converted on your website and are in the middle to bottom of your funnel, but they may still be looking for solutions online. With SEM-focused paid search, you would want about 3-4 ad groups with 3-5 keywords each.

The measure

You’ll want to define success in advance. Success can be increasing your organic rankings on a small set of keywords. Don’t try to take over the world right away. Focus on 10 keywords, not 100. Measure tactically. In other words, measure your advertising campaigns, measure your conversions, measure your visits. Also, don’t think you have to do everything at once. Start with on-page SEO and work from there.


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