What Is an SEM Campaign?
SEM stands for search engine marketing.
If you’re looking for information on how to create a successful SEM campaign, then you might be intimidated by how many things there are to learn.
It’s true that there are many definitions and acronyms to learn, but we can cover all the essential ones in this single post, so that’s the good news!
Even more good news: it’s not as complicated as you were likely lead to believe.
A Common Misconception
You might have read some (possibly dated) web pages where people defined SEM as encompassing search engine optimization + paid advertising.
If that was the definition of search engine marketing today, then starting a new SEM campaign would indeed have a huge learning curve for newbies!
Why? Because SEO has become a huge discipline all by itself. It can arguably stand alone next to social media marketing and other digital marketing methods.
Yes SEO can influence SEM, but they’re in two totally different ballparks.
Thankfully, the industry has largely moved on from the old all-encompassing definition of search engine marketing.
So What Is Search Engine Marketing Exactly?
Prominent marketing news website SearchEngineLand defines SEM as:
“The process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.”
This definition more or less sums it up. Search engine marketing in 2018 focuses almost entirely on paid search methods.
Why The Change In Definition?
Digital marketing is always changing. Change is the only constant – and a lot has changed with SEO and paid search in recent years.
Again, you don’t need to learn the ins and outs of SEO to run a successful SEM campaign.
If you’re curious about the difference between an SEO campaign vs an SEM campaign, check out our breakdown article here.
Paid Search Methods
First of all, let’s define paid search. Paid search involves either
- Advertising on partnered websites.
- advertising on search engines
Advertising on partnered websites means advertising on Google’s Display Network of websites.
Display Network advertising is great for building brand awareness. But it usually isn’t as useful for driving sales and conversions.
On the other hand, placing your ads directly in the search results is a great way to drive more sales and conversions. This usually comes in the form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.
What Is PPC?
With PPC, you pay a small amount of money every time someone clicks onto your ad. Then they will be directed to the webpage of your choice.
Your ad will only show up for people who search for the terms that you choose. And that’s the beauty of the whole thing.
These terms are called keywords. We’ll talk about keywords more later.
PPC encompasses search platforms and social media platforms. The biggest search platforms are Bing Ads, Yahoo Ads and Google AdWords.
By far the biggest (and most effective) PPC platform is Google AdWords, which is currently undergoing a brand transformation to just “Google Ads.”
Why Is PPC Great For Driving Sales?
- Find Motivated Buyers Easily
As we said earlier, your ad will only show up for someone when they search for the keywords that you choose.
What does this mean in simple terms?
It means that, if you choose the right keywords, you can place your ad right in front of motivated customers who are ready to buy now!
Think about it – when someone uses certain words in their search, words like…
- Free shipping
…then they are very likely ready to buy at that exact moment!
The above words are just a few examples of high commercial intent words. We’ll talk more about search intent later.
- No Need To Wait For SEO To Kick In
And finally, the other main benefit of PPC is that you can bring in new visitors and customers fast. It’s virtually instantaneous.
SEO, on the other hand, works slower and is a longer term strategy. It can take months before your new page reaches page 1 on Google. And page 1 is the only page that matters to most users.
Site authority also factors into organic (non-paid) search rankings, which can take a great deal of time to build up.
It can take months or even years before Google recognizes your website as a high authority website. But with PPC, you have the capability to just buy your way to the top. Of course, the trick to this is doing it in a cost effective way. And that’s what this post is all about.
Beware anyone who claims that SEO is faster than paid advertising; they’re probably a snake oil salesman.
But with that said, faster doesn’t necessarily mean better. You should ask yourself some key questions to determine if SEM is right for your business.
Is SEM Right For You?
A business owner can absolutely incorporate both SEO and SEM into their online strategy. But when first starting out, you should decide where to focus most of your energy – on SEO or SEM.
A few questions to ask are:
- Are you in a hurry for some short term success and sales? Or can you afford to be more patient with an SEO strategy?
- What kind of industry/niche are you operating in? Is the SEO space competitive in your niche? PPC ads can work better in this case.
- Do you want to use an SEM campaign to test the waters for a new product or service? For example, you can use a PPC ad to direct people to survey and product test pages. This way you can gather valuable data from your target market.
SEM Terms To Know
If you’ve decided to start an SEM campaign, there are some new terms and acronyms that you should know about. We’ll be covering all of these below in the most logical order possible, from the most basic to the most advanced subjects.
So without any further ado, let’s get into it!
- Quality Score (QS)
This score is the most important factor in lowering the costs of PPC.
Google can’t reveal all of the little factors that are involved in QS – otherwise everyone would abuse the algorithm. But we do know the most important factors, which we’ll discuss below.
- Click through Rate (CTR)
The first term you should know in search engine marketing is CTR. Improving your CTR is the best way to improve your ad’s Quality Score.
The click through rate is the number of clicks that advertisers receive on their ads compared to the number of impressions (views).
The formula for CTR is simple: Total Ad Clicks / Total Impressions = CTR
You can view your CTR in the dashboard of your PPC account.
This is a tricky term, because a bounce isn’t always a bad thing. But with that said, it’s still a term that will potentially factor into your ad’s Quality Score.
In simple terms, a bounce is when somebody “bounces” or leaves a page. But every analytics system defines a bounce differently.
In Google Analytics, a bounce is defined as a single page, single session visit on your website. A session is measured as the time between arriving on the page, and making an engagement with the website (such as clicking a video). If there’s no engagement made by the visitor before he leaves the page, then the session duration will be 0 seconds, resulting in a bounce.
- Bounce Rate
The bounce rate definition is more straightforward. It’s simply the percentage of bounces. For example, if 15 people out of 100 bounce from your website, then your bounce rate is 15%.
Q: So when is bounce rate important for your QS?
A: Your bounce rate may or may not be a good indicator of the quality of your landing page. Thankfully, Google is smart enough to know when to factor bounce rate into the QS equation.
Q: When does bounce rate not matter?
A: Picture a business that converts customers over the phone. The ad might take them to a webpage with a displayed phone number to call. The customer orders the product or service over the phone, without needing to click anything on the page.
So, they close the page without engaging with it. This would be counted as a bounce in Google Analytics. But in this case, the ad and the landing page were still relevant to the searcher, so the QS will either be positively affected or unaffected. This same reason is also why Google offers call tracking through their ads, so you can still improve your QS even if you do business through phone calls.
Q: When does bounce rate actually matter?
Now picture a business model where the customer needs to go through multiple website pages to become a customer. If the customer bounces from the first page without going through the sales funnel, then that’s not a good sign.
Again, you have to consider how your website makes money. Some websites monetize their websites by showing ads, so page views are their bread and butter. For these kinds of websites, a high bounce rate is bad for business.
- Ad Landing Page
Now, your bounce rate will have a lot to do with your ad landing page. The landing page is the web page that people will land on after clicking your ad.
If you don’t want your visitors to bounce from your landing page, then it needs to be well-made and relevant to your ad. A relevant landing page will also greatly improve your QS because it will provide a better user experience for searchers.
Make sure that your landing page loads quickly and is optimized for mobile. These things factor into the user experience as well, and thus have an impact on your QS.
And don’t make the mistake of sending ad traffic to your homepage – this is an elementary mistake. Instead you want to send the traffic to a page that’s specifically designed to convert.
Besides your landing page, what else needs to be relevant to your ad to improve your QS?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is your keywords.
Choosing the right keywords for your target market is crucial. Choosing the wrong keywords to target for your ads could mean spending a lot of money and getting little to no conversions.
In Google Analytics, keywords with a higher competition tend to be more competitive, buyer-centric keywords, and as a result they tend to be more expensive.
Another thing you can do to avoid overspending with your keywords is to figure out your…
- Maximum Cost Per Click
Figuring out your maximum CPC isn’t so straightforward. However, you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time. But you do need to estimate it.
In order to calculate it, you need to know your conversion rate, your profit per conversion, and your estimated profit margins from advertising. Then you just plug these numbers into this formula:
Max CPC = (profit per conversion) x (1 – profit margin) x (conversion rate)
You will need to choose a maximum bid (aka your max CPC) for your ad. If you go above your max CPC, then your advertising efforts will likely not be profitable. If you want to raise your max CPC, then you need to increase your profit margins or conversion rate.
- Negative Keywords
In addition to choosing the right keywords and setting your maximum CPC, you should also try and filter out the wrong keywords. These are called negative keywords.
These aren’t words with negative connotations, but rather are variations of your business’s main keyword that aren’t good to target for advertising purposes.
For example, if your business sells cakes, then targeting the keyword “cake recipes” wouldn’t be a good idea since somebody searching that term probably isn’t a good candidate for your business.
Luckily Google gives you the ability to flag negative keywords that you want to exclude from your ads.
Researching negative keywords is a continuous process – it’s a good way to invest your time in Google Ads.
- Search Intent
Identifying the right keywords and filtering out negative keywords is all about identifying search intent.
There are two types of search intent – informational and transactional. Knowing the distinction between these two types of keywords is not only important for getting conversions, but also for reducing your CPC. Because if your paid search ad and landing page aren’t relevant to the keyword, then people will end up bouncing and wasting your ad spend.
For example, if your ad is targeting an informational keyword, but you’re looking to sell something. The people searching that informational keyword are likely in the researching mindset, not the buying mindset, so they’ll just bounce off the page without converting.
Using the right keywords with the right search intent will also improve your QS, which in turn will improve your…
- Ad Ranking
In addition to determining whether or not your SEM campaign ad will show up at all, your QS will also determine your ad’s ranking relative to the other ads on the page.
Another way to improve your SEM campaign ad’s quality score is to achieve a high CTR relative to your ad’s position on the page.
But when does Google actually determine your ad’s quality score? This happens during a short event known as…
- The Ad Auction
The ad auction is easy to understand. Basically, every time someone searches for a term that will yield ads in the SERPs, a little mini auction takes place. These auctions are comprised of advertisers who are trying to get their ad placed on the 1st page of Google for their search terms.
So how are the auction “winners” determined?
Winners are chosen based on set maximum CPC and the quality score of the ads. There are other hidden factors as well, but these are the two factors that Google has told us for sure.
The good news is that QS is weighted more heavily than maximum CPC in the formula – this is seen in ads with higher quality scores but lower CPCs than their competitors.
A term related to CPC that you should know is…
- Cost Per Acquisition
A conversion or acquisition happens when someone takes an action you want them to take.
This is different than CPC because not every person who clicks on your ad will convert. Therefore, cost per acquisition (CPA) is generally higher than cost per click.
So, a better QS will not only lower your CPC, but it will also lower your CPA!
- Ad Creatives
This term refers to a set of different variations of an ad for an SEM campaign.
Nowadays, you can give Google freedom of choice to use whatever ads will best satisfy the user’s experience. So at the bare minimum you should provide at least 3 ad variations per keyword – ideally several.
This is easier said than done, but here are a few tips:
- Look at your existing ads and modify them. Experiment with your unique selling point (USP) and try testing new ones.
- Try changing the verbs in your ad’s call to action. Try different representations of numbers. Even try including/excluding your brand name in the ad.
- Look at your competitors ads so you know what you’re up against
When coming up with SEM Ad Creatives, we suggest…
- Ad Extensions
These nifty features don’t increase the cost of your ad. They just extend it further (for free) and make it grab more attention. And they often do increase the quality score! The more real estate your ad takes up on the page, the less chance your competitors have to succeed with their SEM campaign.
What You Need To Know About Ad Extensions
- The types of ad extensions that will benefit you the most are sitelinks, callouts, and structured snippets.
- Up to 3 ad extensions can be displayed at once. If you add more than that, Google will decide which 3 to choose when displaying your ad.
- Ad extensions are available for Google Ads and Bing Ads.
Now, to figure out which ad creatives and ad extensions work best, you’ll need to do something called…
- A/B Testing
Aka split testing. This means testing 2 different versions of an element to see which one performs better. Different elements to A/B test include:
- color of the call to action button
- ad copy
- your display URL
If you don’t do testing, then over time your SEM budget will feel the pinch. Your aim with paid search should always be to optimize your ROI.
One clever tactic is to keep tabs on your competitors to observe the different A/B tests they do. This goes far outside the scope of this article, but it can be done if you’re determined enough.
So that about wraps up all the vocab that you need to know before starting your first SEM campaign. But we’re not yet done! Hang on a bit longer as we lay out the 5 steps you should take in a successful SEM campaign.
How To Run A Successful SEM Campaign
- Know Your Target Audience
In a survey by CMO Council, 43% of marketers said that personalization increased conversions, which goes with Autopilot’s findings that consumers are 4x more likely to respond to personalized offers.
Data that will help you better personalize your offers includes:
- geographic location
- devices they use
- day of week they’re active
- time of day they’re active
- what they want, what they’re looking for, and how they’re searching for it
- detailed buyer personas
2. Find The Right Keywords
To find the right keywords for your business, first create a list of keywords. Think of every search term that a customer would use to try and find your product. This would also include branded keywords, which also have higher conversion rates.
Then you’ll want to use Google Keyword Planner tool to validate your keywords. Take a look at the search volumes, suggested bids, and competition level. It will also show you keyword suggestions.
3. Organize Your Account Structure
Google and Bing use account structure and organization as a metric in determining the relevancy of your SEM campaign. This is very important for your QS and generally businesses don’t spend enough time on it.
Without a well organized and structured account, you’ll see reduced results for your investment. Make sure it’s setup correctly from the get-go because it’s harder to organize later on.
4. Understand Keyword Grouping
All successful SEM campaigns have these 5 elements:
- ad groups
- landing pages
SEM Campaigns are at the top with ad groups below.
Keywords should be specific to the ad group it belongs to, even if the two campaigns are about similar products or services for your business. Ad text should also contain the keywords that are relevant to the ad group.
This might take more effort to setup initially, but in the long run it’s worth being organized because it will improve your QS and ROI.
5. Work On Your Ad Copy
Unlike with SEO content, you want your SEM ad copy to be persuasive and promotional in nature.
Yes, you can put anything you want for your ad, but the more closely it resembles your target audience the better.
For example, SEMRush increased their CTR by 30% just by changing 1 letter in all their UK SEM campaigns. They paid respect to UK spelling traditions by replacing the American “Z” with the British “S” in verbs like “analyze” and “optimize.”
In addition to personalization, you’ll want to always try and include your USP in your ad copy. It will attract relevant visitors (making you money) and repel the irrelevant ones (saving you money).
How will your USP help attract relevant visitors? One way is that it will halt bargain hunters by giving them a compelling reason to stop comparing your offer to other offers so that they will finally take action and click your ad.
Also make sure that you elaborate in your ad copy on what the user will get after clicking on your ad. Make this offer clear and irresistible.
And finally, consider adding an image containing a human on your landing page – Highrise ran an A/B split and found that visitors responded better to these types of landing pages.
Even without including SEO in running an SEM campaign, there’s still a lot to learn. This article should give you all the basics and advanced knowledge that you need to help you get started in running a successful SEM campaign.
But if you’re feeling completely overwhelmed after reading all of this, we don’t blame you. Many businesses just don’t have the time or resources to put into learning SEM and PPC. Which is why we offer all encompassing pay-per-click services that support your SEM campaign. Our services include all steps mentioned in this article as well as detailed reports about the progress of your SEM campaign.
If you’re ready to start making money with Google Ads, then give us a shoutout. We’re here to help.