The Differences Between Online Media Buying & SEM

media buying | 20 March 2018 Reading Time: 2 minutes

Media buying and SEM can never be used interchangeably though they both are related to placing paid advertisements in the digital space.

Media buying
In media buying, you look for a place in the digital space to advertise your business and try to procure it for your promotion. Here you need to pay for ad impressions.


In Search Engine Marketing, you only advertise on a “search engine”. Your ad fights competition to become the topmost ad result among other results appearing in the search engine results page. Here you need to pay only when the ad is clicked.

Advertising your products and services is important to register an online presence. For a successful digital marketing strategy, both media buying and SEM advertising should be used cautiously as they both have their own relevance. SEM focuses on generating leads, sales and increasing web traffic, whereas media buying focuses on creating awareness, brand building and promoting offers.

Below we have rolled out some aspects that differentiate online media buying and SEM, have a look:


1. You pay for ad views or impressions and not clicks. You pay even if your ads do not perform well and generate traffic.
2. You usually use it for generating brand awareness and increasing reach. Revenue generation from such ads is secondary, registering online presence is primary.
3. Your targeting strategy is rather simple and not based on too many factors, thus the audience is more general and less filtered.
4. The campaign success is measured on the base of audience reach, bounce rate, clicks, and engagement.
5. You do not monitor it 24×7, you may even set it and then forget it until its time for you to run another ad campaign.
6. What bothers you the most is delivered impressions, ad fraud, and advertisement viewability.
7. Your optimization mainly revolves around budget allocation and not on the advertisement.
8. Not getting enough response does not mean that the campaign has failed.


1. You have the option to pay only when someone clicks your ad and engages with it.
2. You usually focus on conversion rate and traffic metrics to measure ad’s response.
3. Your targeting strategy is very complex. You target based on keywords, geography, user interest, user behavior, affinity interest, age, gender, marital status, time of the day, day of the week, etc.
4. The campaign’s success is measured in terms of leads generated, sales, and conversion rate.
5. The campaign requires regular monitoring to maximize return on investment and to make necessary changes whenever and wherever required. You can adjust ad copy, title and bids to make the most of every aspect.
6. What bothers the most is the campaign’s conversion rate and its inability to drive web traffic.
7. Your optimization revolves around advertisement content, keyword use, ad budget, and targeting strategy.
8. You put all your energy in trying to make this very campaign the best ever campaign with record conversions.

We hope that the above article has simplified online media buying and SEM for you. Now that you have learned about both you can confidently use the right term in the right context.

ValueHits is a full-service digital marketing agency offering online media buying and Search Engine Marketing services to its clients. Get in touch with us if you want to make the best use of the two powerful digital marketing services.

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