Blog Post

Programmatic Media Buying 101: Combining SEM and SEO Strategies with Programmatic Marketing

08/28/2017 - Karen Moked

Search engines meet an age old need for people who want to seek and find. Rather than look up businesses in a phone directory or go to the library, people use search engines — for research, shopping, and even just for entertainment.

Google alone processes 40,000 searches per second, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. With additional search engines and searches that are a part of platforms like Facebook and YouTube, people are seeking and finding information and products more than ever before.

What is SEM and Why is it Beneficial?

Search engine marketing — or SEM —  is a key part of marketing plans, estimated to have made up over 30% of digital marketing budgets in 2016.

Usually when marketers use the term SEM they are referring to Paid Search. Paid Search allows marketers to align brands and their products with relevant keywords through the purchase of impressions served for that keyword search. Typically, advertisers pay either on a CPM — or cost per thousand impressions — or a CPC or PPC — or cost per click or pay per click — model just as they would for a programmatic buy.

Companies looking to increase traffic and purchases on their websites will add SEM campaigns as part of their marketing strategy, so that their ads appear on searches indicating keywords related to their product. Typically, advertisers choose between 5-15 closely related keywords for one campaign or set of ads

While the chosen keywords would also appear on the search results page — or SERP — organically, without a keyword campaign, there is no guarantee that they’d appear on the first SERP or even the second or third.  Which is why most marketers pair their programmatic campaigns with search to get optimal results.

Why do Links Appear in a Certain Order or Rank on SERPs?

Additionally, SEO, or search engine optimization comes into play. SEO is a key marketing strategy on marketing plans, it’s the strategy that is used to increase the likelihood that a website or page link to increase its ranking on SERPs. As of 2016, it comes in at nearly 20% of digital ad spend.

But search engines don’t rank pages solely on keyword use and content analysis alone. Other factors include: user data, links, domain authority or credibility, social media signals, brand signals and associations, freshness, diversity, loading speed, and geography.

Transforming SEM with Programmatic Buying

SEM can be even more effective when paired with the basic types of targeting — geo location, time of day/day of week, device type, and other behavioral targeting. Search Engine Marketing and Programmatic are both effective advertising buying strategies, but they are not the same. Each method reaches the consumer at a different level of purchase intent, and advertisers need to consider both when planning their budgets. It is the combination of both that will provide the full funnel strategy a brand needs to thrive.

Search Remarketing has become a valuable programmatic tactic to increase customer acquisition. Search remarketing allows advertisers to target the competition’s keywords without actually buying those keywords. It’s different from display remarketing, where site visitors see ads for the site they visited when they go elsewhere online – and they may not be looking for anything remotely related to the advertiser.

  • With search remarketing, advertisers can target users who use specific keywords on search engines.
  • The first thing an advertiser does is build a list of keywords as they would for a regular SEM campaign.
  • Segment target audiences by keyword categories, then optimize based on performance.

To compliment SEM and Search Remarketing strategies Digilant has developed Search Engine +, a contextual targeting solution that uses an advertiser’s paid keywords to build a whitelist of URLs composed of Google’s top organic search results.

Benefits Include:

  • The ability to compliment current SEO and SEM initiatives
  • Target pages that users are already engaged with
  • Use strategically valuable search terms to advertise on sites users are likely to visit after searching

Digilant’s Search Engine + enhances the performance of programmatic campaigns by unlocking quality URL’s that rank highest in Google search and uncovering relevant ad placements that competitors are not reaching.


SEM is a highly effective way for advertisers to be found by interested users and is an important part of any marketing or programmatic buying plan.

  • 2016 digital ad spend for SEM and SEO is around 30% and 18%, respectively.
  • Paid Search puts advertisers in front of users at the exact moment they’re looking for them.
  • SEO can boost rankings on SERPs.
  • SEM and Programmatic both have a place on marketing plans and accomplish different objectives.
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