Search engine marketing is becoming the most competitive area of digital advertising because it offers companies access to a much wider audience, an expert has claimed.

Econsultancy senior research analyst Jack Hird said that while email marketing or social media requires specific targeting of an audience, search-based internet marketing services are "open to anyone".

"It’s almost like fishing I suppose – search marketing is like fishing in the sea, whereas most other traditional channels are like fishing in a pond," he added.

Mr Hird’s comments come after research from the non-profit Search Engine Marketing Professional Organisation (Sempo) showed that the value of the North American search ads sector is set to rise from $14.6 billion (£9.4 billion) last year to $16.6 billion in 2010 – an increase of 14 per cent.

Some 97 per cent of the firms surveyed by Sempo said that they conduct their online campaigns through Google’s pay per click marketing service AdWords.

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