Last Updated: November 27, 2020

When a brand name becomes synonymous with the product category, it’s hit the big time. Consider “Kleenex,” meaning all facial tissue, “Band-aid” for any generic sticky bandage, or “Google,” now used as a verb meaning “look it up.”

Google is now a familiar term for everyone from kindergarteners to octogenarians. As the number of websites increased exponentially throughout the mid-1990s, search engine platforms like Google were developed to help people find the information they were looking for quickly. Over time, they developed highly complex algorithms, determining which websites should be given the most weight (and the highest results) for each search term typed in.

Today, a business’s reputation is often dependent on the quality of its website. Savvy Internet users don’t trust websites that look outdated and amateur, and they don’t trust businesses that can’t be bothered to keep a modern, usable website (See also Content Marketing). This means that businesses from around the globe put time, money, and effort into making sure their websites are sleek and usable. But an impressive website is worthless if Internet users can’t find it – and that’s where Search Marketing techniques come into play.

Unlike traditional forms of marketing, where customers can point to an ad campaign or brand and identify it as belonging to a particular company, search marketing is not eye-catching, differential, or creative in the usual sense. This doesn’t mean that search marketing requires any less research, time, or attention than other marketing campaigns. Without a strategic search marketing plan, a website will likely be lost amid the thousands of others offering similar products for similar prices.

What is search marketing?

Search marketing, also known as search engine marketing or SEM, is a type of online marketing strategy that promotes websites by increasing their rankings and visibility on search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Search marketing employs both paid and unpaid (organic) tactics to help Internet users find the right website among millions.

Paid search marketing tactics include PPC (pay-per-click) listings, contextual advertisements, and paid inclusions. Pay-per-click advertising operates similarly to SEO because it’s based on keywords. While search engine optimization works organically (meaning that a marketing firm doesn’t have to pay for it), PPC results show up in advertisement boxes on Google. Companies pay to be represented by specific keywords, and owe money each time a user clicks on one of these ‘sponsored’ links. (See also Pay-per-Click Marketing)

How Much Does Search Marketing Matter?

  • 99% of Internet users utilize search engines
  • 1.4 million searches are performed every minute world-wide
  • Over 50% of Internet searchers click on the first paid ad position
  • SEM expenditures are expected to increase from $13.5 billion in 2008 to $26.1 billion in 2013

Sources: Marketing Sherpa, comScore,

Search engine optimization, better known as SEO, is one of the most critical parts of search marketing, encompassing keyword adjustments, content optimization, and linkbaiting.. It is based on special algorithms that analyze the instances of specific keywords on a website. An effective SEO campaign can position an e-commerce site to rise to the top of the Google rankings.

For example, Googling “American goat cheese” leads the searcher straight to the Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Colorado. Does Haystack Mountain have better goat cheese than anyone else in America? Not necessarily. What it does have is excellent SEO – because it shows up so quickly in the search results, it likely experiences much more traffic than its competitors.

Who implements search marketing?

All websites are “crawled” by search engines in an effort to determine a particular site’s page rankings. Those that employ dedicated teams to actively manipulate those rankings through search marketing are much more likely to end up at the top of the results. This means that all websites looking to draw traffic (whether for e-commerce, information, or another service) should employ search marketing.

Attention to relevant keywords is invaluable for all websites, no matter what product or service they offer. Every website can benefit from analyzing each page of its site to make sure that some combination of relevant keywords shows up in the content.

For example, a Google search of the phrase “custom cookies” first returns the website Because they bought that URL, they show up first. In second, third, and fourth positions, however, are Veronica’s Treats, Memaw’s Cookies, and Rolling Pin Productions – all modestly-sized cookie manufacturers who do a good job implementing search marketing strategies. Because they made sure that the phrase ‘custom cookies’ was prominent in their web content, they have made themselves easy to find.

The 10 Most Popular Search Engines in 2020

The drop-off between use of Google, the next three search engines, and the remainder of the top 10 is astronomical. Google averages 900,000,000 unique monthly visitors., Yahoo! and Bing average between 125,000,000 and 165,000,000, and AOL Search averages only 33,000,000.

  1. Google
  2. Bing
  3. Yahoo!
  5. AOL Search
  6. MyWebSearch
  7. Blekko
  8. Lycos
  9. Dogpile
  10. WebCrawler

*Source: Alexa Global Traffic Rank

What kinds of people are effectively marketed to with search marketing?

Young, Internet-savvy users are especially critical of how a website looks and functions, and they will click through all of the top results on a search page to find what they’re looking for. Those who type in simple terms rely on search marketing teams to make sure that the correct website for their needs appears in an easy-to-find place.

Search Marketing Teams Fear the Panda

In 2011, Google released a website ranking algorithm, known as Google Panda. This launch was smarter, more discerning, and more critical than any of Google’s previous algorithms. Initially, Panda threw the search marketing world into a tailspin, because many of the reputations painstakingly built by search marketing teams were suddenly void under the new ranking system. Many sites that had enjoyed steady traffic suddenly experienced epic falls thanks to changes implemented by Panda. In the year and a half since the release, search teams have adapted and rebounded – learning the important lesson that nothing in search marketing is secure.

How is a search marketing plan developed?

In both organic SEO and PPC campaigns, the three most important methods of search marketing are keyword analysis, website popularity, and back end tools. Used together and monitored meticulously, these methods make up the majority of a search marketing team’s responsibilities.

Before a team develops an active search marketing campaign, they should make sure that their websites are up to par. It is imperative for visitors to like what they find once they reach the desired website. This means that all links should be working, all content should be informative and easy to read, and the look and feel of the site should fit the brand or company’s message.

Then, the search marketing team can begin working on keyword research and analysis. Research determines the most relevant and searched keywords on the site, and uses these findings in a way that generates traffic and makes sense to users.

For example, when a search marketing team working for an electronics website determines that the most popular search terms driving traffic to the site are “best digital camera,” “refurbished hard drive,” and “top ten smartphones,” they can’t just list those terms over and over again at the top of a webpage or worse – hide them in a background-matching text.

These practices, known as “black hat” SEO, are extremely frowned-upon in the search marketing world. While they may help a website jump to the top of search results temporarily, Google’s intelligent analysis will not only remove these high rankings, but ban the website from being indexed correctly in the near future. Moreover, Internet users dislike and mistrust these practices. (See also Black Hat Marketing)

To use keywords correctly, they should be integrated into the content, headlines, meta tags and search descriptions in a way that feels natural to the reader, not forced. Additionally, search marketing teams should analyze lesser-used search terms that they may be able to monopolize. For example, while a local electronics store website may not be able to compete with online giants Amazon and Best Buy for search terms like “best digital camera,” they could corner the market on a search term like “refurbished Canon Elph, Springfield MO.” Used correctly, this keyword might be sprinkled into a paragraph that reads: “Are you looking for a refurbished Canon Elph? Springfield MO electronics shop Electric Shop carries all models, and guarantees their refurbished products for 24 months.”

Next, the search team can begin analyzing their website’s saturation and link popularity. These determine how much presence a site has on search engines, and can be analyzed through page counts, indexed pages, and backlinks from other places. If all the website’s pages contain keywords and “crawlable” content (searchable text, not photos with words written in them, Flash or videos), it should lead people to the site and rank well in the search engines. To help them measure saturation and popularity, a search team can use tools like Google Analysis, Marketleap’s Link Popularity, and Search Engine Saturation.

Back end tools like Google Analytics and HTML validators measure the success of a website by providing data on visitors. More than just counting traffic, these sophisticated back end tools can reveal important information about specific web pages and how they’re being used. Once a search team knows where they’re gaining and losing website visitors, they can target their keywords to fill those holes.

What types of careers work with search marketing strategies?

Because search marketing is a digital marketing field, a career in search marketing requires marketers to not only have a marketing background, but also a firm understanding of the ever-changing world of social media, search engine analytics, and broad-based online marketing. An effective search marketing team will be made up of individuals who are extremely comfortable with technology trends and have the creativity to help a website stand out from the crowd.

Marketing Managers

What do they do?

Salaries of Search Marketers

  • Marketing Manager
    Entry level: $60,230
    Experienced: $155,050
  • SEO Specialist
    Entry level: $27,989
    Experienced: $60,247
  • Webmaster
    Entry level: $29,701
    Experienced: $73,873

*Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

A successful search marketing campaign should be led by a marketing manager with the knowledge and training necessary to manage and effectively strategize campaign activity. Typically, marketing managers oversee all activities within a company’s marketing, advertising, and promotional department. They establish brand guidelines and growth strategies, evaluate customer needs, and tweak marketing plans dependent on success.

Education and Skills

Most marketing managers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing or a related major like communication, advertising, or business. Marketing managers generally begin in entry-level marketing positions and work their way up the career ladder.

SEO Specialist

What do they do?

SEO Specialists take care of the bulk of search marketing behind-the-scenes work. They ensure that their websites are optimized to attract and engage the largest amount of applicable visitors who will eventually convert into customers. They do so by making sure that the website’s branded content across all platforms leads Internet users to their offerings by building search engine rank, reputation, and traffic.

Education and Skills

A bachelor’s degree in marketing is the best path to a career in SEO, and a background in programming can also be extremely useful. Beyond formal education though, individuals who want to pursue an SEO career should continue their training individually by staying up-to-date on the ever-changing world of SEO.


What do they do?

A webmaster collaborates with the search marketing team to develop and maintain the look and feel of a website. He or she is responsible for the usability and functionality of a site day-to-day, and ensures that it is performing at the best possible level. By monitoring traffic and customer experience, the webmaster can help the search marketing team adjust expectations and improve performance.

Education and Skills

Beginning a career as a webmaster generally requires a bachelor’s degree in business or computer programming, as well as a working knowledge of programming language like HTML. Usually, a webmaster will have a few years of experience in the programming industry before becoming responsible for his or her own site.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Although much of search marketing takes place behind the scenes, the aspects that are visible to Internet users must be smooth, integrated, and readable. The communication and marketing skills acquired in a specialized marketing program will help a search marketing professional build the knowledge needed to excel in this field.

The best way to pursue a career in search marketing is to earn a marketing degree. The industry also involves a level of comfort with technology, but a deep knowledge of the principles of marketing is the primary skill required. Most organizations that hire a search marketing team require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in marketing, along with website experience. It is important to earn a degree from a marketing school to ensure you have the proper background knowledge on which to build your career.

To learn more about how a marketing degree can help you build a successful search marketing career, request information from schools offering marketing degrees today.