What Does a SEM Specialist Do? | Digital Marketing Institute (2023)

Are you ready to take your digital marketing skills in a new and exciting direction? Do you have the knowledge of search engine results pages (SERP) to bring a company’s web page to the top of search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing? Perhaps a career in search engine marketing is right for you.

There has never been a better time to make the transition—as more businesses than ever are coming to the realization that in order to stay competitive they have to manage their online presence and not only optimize their search engine rankings, but use them to market their business.

In today's world people are seeking out information, and if you know how to get what they need in front of them when they are looking for it, that is a very special and potentially lucrative skill.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to the practice of using search engines (like Google, Yahoo, or Bing) for marketing and advertising a business using the business's website. This is done both by organic traffic (SEO) and paid traffic results (PPC).

What is Search Engine Ranking?

What Does a SEM Specialist Do? | Digital Marketing Institute (1)

Search engine ranking refers to the order each site appears in the results of a search made on a search engine like Google. Each page of results usually displays about 10 websites, the closer to the top number one position, the better—as people tend to gravitate toward the top of the rankings.

There is a multitude of factors that feed into the algorithms that determine these rankings, some within an SEM specialists control and some not as much. The SEM specialist’s role is to know what they can control and use that knowledge to put their clients at the top.

What is an SEM Specialist?

An SEM specialist is a person with the understanding of search engine rankings required to devise a strategy that will bring a website to the top of both organic and paid search engine rankings. In doing so, they promote the company by attracting new visitors to the website, encouraging repeat business, and building brand identity.

Ultimately, they optimize these processes by managing and testing different marketing campaigns, using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and doing keyword research—the SEM specialist will help a company increase overall revenue and increase the company’s ROI (return on investment) of paid advertising.

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Educational Requirements

Since this is a relatively new field altogether, the educational requirements may vary. It is common that a company will require at least a bachelor' s degree, and one to two years of relevant experience.

The Digital Marketing Institute offers a specialist diploma in search marketing—a great way to freshen up and learn new skills.

Salary Expectations and Job Outlook

The average expected salary for an SEM specialist is $46,253, with $34,000 falling at the lower end, $46,000 at the median, and $66,000 at the top. It's also important to note that as SEM specialists become SEM Managers, their expected median salary jumps considerably to $61,000.

The demand for SEM specialists is growing faster than the market is producing them. With 23% growth expected for market research analysts in the coming eight years, you can bet the demand for their online marketing equivalent to grow as quickly, if not more so.

Required Skills to Become an SEM Specialist

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Organizational Skills

You will have to handle multiple projects and deadlines concurrently. Strong organizational skills are key to keeping track of all of your campaigns. An ability to multitask and prioritize as new projects come in is essential.

Tech Savvy

Having an understanding of how to write HTML, work with CSS, and do basic web design is key for your role as an SEM. Understanding how websites work is crucial to understanding how search engine rankings work.

(Video) SEM Specialist


A huge part of SEM is search engine optimization (SEO). You can’t have SEM without SEO, so understanding how search engine optimization works in relation to website rankings is a must. An SEM specialist must have an in-depth understanding of search engine optimization. They must stay current on how search engines rank pages. They must know how the quality of the content and the number of keywords work together to improve rankings and use that information to improve organic rankings.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

PPC is the paid counterpart to SEO’s organic tactics. Understanding how to use PPC advertising in conjunction with SEO is the key to being a successful SEM specialist.

Writing Skills

You may not be directly responsible for creating content, but having a way with words and an ability to create content is more than beneficial for a career in SEM. You may be required to write ad copy, create content, or write white papers in your role.

Strong Communication Skills

As an SEM specialist, you are going to be a part of a team consisting of many players. Web designers, writers, content managers and possibly clients. You must have the ability to communicate effectively both verbally and via email or messenger apps.

Stats, Data & Analysis

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An analytical mind is an absolute must as an SEM specialist will study website traffic patterns and use analytical software to determine what is effective at driving traffic and what isn’t.

Day-to-Day Responsibilities of an SEM Specialist

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An SEM specialist is one that wears many hats. We will take a look at how the skills listed above translate into the day-to-day responsibilities of an SEM specialist:

Communicate via Email

Much of the communicating that you do in a day will be via email. You will have to respond to clients and team members’ questions in a timely and professional manner.


You will spend a lot of time researching. You will research trends and keywords to figure out what's hot right now. You will research the competition to see how their campaigns are doing compared to yours. You will research algorithms to make sure you are still targeting the right keywords. There will be a never-ending supply of things for you to look into and stay current on.

Content Creation

While it is entirely possible that you will have freelancers, or content writers dedicated exclusively to creating content, it still may fall under your purview. If not to create it then certainly to help come up with ideas based on recent trends.

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A large part of your day will be spent on search engine optimization: researching keywords, tweaking texts, adding content, analyzing feedback, and adjusting as necessary.


Setting up and managing ad campaigns, researching keywords, analyzing trends, adjusting targets, and assessing feedback. You’ll then look at the big picture and make suitable changes.

Stats, Data & Analysis

You will study website traffic patterns and use analytical software to determine what is effective at driving traffic and what isn’t. You will analyze competitor campaigns for the same thing and use that information to drive better and more successful campaigns. You will provide data-driven feedback to clients showing how your campaigns are meeting their sales goals, and if not, you act quickly and adjust accordingly.

Is an SEM Career for You?

A career as an SEM specialist is never boring. From responding to emails, researching trends and maintaining communication with your team, your days will certainly be full. You will have the opportunity to work within a team, but there will be times when you work alone and do most of your communication via email.

The expected salary starting off is fairly good with the potential to be great down the line if you put in the work to move up the chain. If you have strong communication skills, great organizational skills, are tech savvy with a mind for research, then a new career as an SEM specialist may just be for you.

Take your digital marketing skills in a new and exciting direction with a Professional Diploma in Search Marketing. Download a brochure today!

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