Search engines are a valuable platform on which business owners can promote their products, services and respective brand. Google alone receives a whopping 100 billion searches per month — a number that grows larger with each passing year. As a business owner, you should incorporate search engine marketing (SEM) into your overall marketing strategy. Before doing so, however, there are a few things to consider.

Target Keywords

One of the first steps in launching a SEM campaign is to identify your target keywords. These are the keywords for which you want your site’s listing to show. If you run a local tire shop in Denver, for instance, perhaps your target keywords would be “Denver tires,” “tire shop Denver,” “buy tires Denver,” etc. These are all highly relevant and will likely yield a high conversion rate.

Competition

Small business owners should also consider the amount of competition for their target keywords. Focusing strictly on high-traffic keywords with lots of monthly searches isn’t going to work. Unless you have an established, authoritative presence for those keywords, you’ll have a difficult time rising to the top. Use Google’s Adwords Keyword Planner Tool to find low-hanging fruit with minimal competition.

Search Engines

Which search engines do you plan on using to promote your products or services? Conventional wisdom should lead you to believe that Google offers the most traffic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should focus all of your resources on the Big G. Yahoo and Bing also deliver a substantial amount of traffic, although still less than Google. If you are targeting users in China, however, you should focus on the Baidu search engine. According to Wikipedia, Baidu is the largest search engine in China, with a market share of 64.5% as of 2013, followed by Qihoo 360 in second place.

Free or Paid

SEM can be performed using either free or paid techniques. Both Google and Bing, for instance, have their own pay-per-click (PPC) marketing platforms that allow business owners to pay for ad space. The great thing about PPC advertising is that you only pay when someone clicks your ad. Furthermore, you can choose your target keywords, ensuring that only users who search for a keyword related to your business will see your ad. PPC marketing is among the most cost-effective ways to promote a product or service online.

But there’s no rule stating that you must pay for search engine traffic. On the contrary, many business owners and seasoned marketers prefer the free route of search engine optimization (SEO). As the name suggests, SEO involves optimizing a website so it ranks higher in the search engines for one or more target keywords. While some SEO tactics may involve paid services, you can fully optimize your site without ever spending a dime.