“Search engine marketing’s greatest strength is that it offers advertisers the opportunity to put their ads in front of motivated customers who are ready to buy at the precise moment they’re ready to make a purchase.” – Wordstream
How would you like to harness that great strength for your business? Search engine marketing (SEM) can boost your visibility to paid traffic and even provide you with more organic traffic in the long-term.
Here’s what you should know about SEM:
What is search engine marketing?
If you’ve been working in the online world for any length of time, you’ve probably already heard of the term search engine optimisation (SEO), which is all about optimising your website content to provide a better chance of being found in search results.
Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of buying traffic through paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs).
SEM is the process of bidding on keywords in exchange for advertisements on search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo. Of these platforms, Google is the biggest and companies spend in excess of $100 million per day on the Adwords platform alone. This platform is a lucrative spot that is ripe for advertising because there are more than 6 billion searches made every day.
It might be hard, but it’s worth it…
Like many things in the business world it’s no easy task to get results from SEM. You can’t just throw a bunch of cash at it and see instant results.
Online advertising requires vast knowledge of copywriting, keywords, audiences, segmentation, how ad networks work, bidding strategies and more. There are entire courses out there for developing the knowledge required to make PPC advertising a success – it’s not something you can simply hand off to a team member with no prior knowledge.
There are many horror stories of companies who put a lot of money into PPC, but see little in return. It can also be expensive in crowded markets where the PPC cost on popular keywords is high. The thing is, PPC works, but you must have a good strategy.
Once you’ve figured out those key components such as the right copy, keywords and audience segments, it’s really a case of “you get back what you put in.” There is a strong correlation between activity and success, so if you’re always staying on top of it, researching keywords, tweaking copy and reviewing your bidding strategy, you can see some great results.
Advantages of SEM
One of the best advantages of SEM is that it narrows down your scope to searchers who show a buying intent, particularly if you’re using the right sets of “buyer” keywords.
To clarify this, let’s look at an example. If I were experiencing knee pain, I might Google “knee pain” to find out more information. This search is not showing any buying intent. If I already knew what my problem was, I might be searching for a surgeon to fix it. A search showing buying intent might be “best knee surgeon in London.”
You could think of search advertising like the Yellow Pages. It is intent-based, which is why bidding on the right set of keywords is so important. Successful keyword targeting and clear calls to action can help you acquire customers who need more information or who are looking to make a purchase.
As for the bottom-line of your business, SEM, when done well, undoubtedly provides you with a faster ROI than relying on other acquisition channels, such as SEO. With PPC, you will only pay when you actually receive a click, so if you’ve done your research well with targeting, you have a good chance of making a reasonable return for clicks.
What is Ad Rank?
Ad Rank is the scoring system Google uses that determines the order in which ads appear. Google wants to drive its search engine users to quality, relevant websites so it has factored in landing page content quality to its ‘cost per click’ formula. For PPC managers, this means driving visitors to targeted landing pages that match the original search query.
In other words, the AdWords system is setup to identify and reward quality ads. High-quality ads can give you a higher Ad Rank and lead to other potential benefits, including:
- Lower costs per click
- Better ad positions
- Eligibility for ad extensions and other formats
It all goes back to how well you’ve done your research and put in the time to create a good ad experience. Google’s interest is creating a quality experience for its users, otherwise they may go elsewhere.
Here’s Google’s Chief Economist on how their AdWords bidding works:
A key takeaway from this is that your ad position is NOT solely determined by how much money you pay. Your Ad Rank scores will determine your placement on the page, which are based on quality. The quality of your ad also determines how much you will pay.
It’s pay to play, but not “pay your way up the ranks.”
This begs the question, what factors determine ad quality?
Ad quality factors
1. Expected click-through rate (CTR)
Expected CTR is Google’s estimation of the rate at which ad viewers will click through from your ads to your landing page. In calculating expected CTR, Google considers how well your keyword has performed historically, based on the position of your ad.
Your CTR is the biggest influence on your quality score, and in turn your Ad Rank. If you want to keep yourself in the best possible position, you should:
- Pause poor-performing ads.
- Be very specific about keyword targeting to help you achieve more relevancy. This means avoiding one-word keywords.
- Use negative keywords so that your ad won’t be shown where it’s not relevant.
- Try using dynamic keyword insertion in your ad text. This is a feature where your ad text dynamically updates to include one of your keywords that matches a customer’s search terms.
Check out Google’s information on expected CTR here.
2. Landing page experience
An ad is only useful to people if the landing page is relevant. It should be high-quality, original content and it should meet their expectations from what your ad leads them to believe.
3. Ad relevance
This is determined by analysing the language in your ad to decide how well it relates to the search query. You need to ensure that only useful ads are shown. The more relevant your ads and landing pages are to the user, the more likely it is that you’ll see higher Quality scores.
Relevance to users’ searches and intentions is at the heart of ad quality. This means that ads and sites that help users to gather relevant information, complete a sale or other task, and navigate with ease are more likely to result in high ad quality. This is why we suggest you focus on delivering relevant ads to answer queries rather than trying to optimise to manipulate your score.
Remember, Google’s thoughts on this are that if ads aren’t relevant, its customers will disappear, which is why it is strict on the relevancy criteria.
4. Ad formats / Ad extensions
These are enhancements made to search ads, such as phone numbers or site links. These are formats designed to give searchers more information. By improving your quality and adding ad formats you can improve ad position AND end up paying a lower cost-per-click.
There are many types of ad extensions that can make your advert stand out from the crowd. Using the full range of extensions increases the size of your ads and makes them appear more relevant, which you’ve guessed it, improves the click through rate. Check out Google’s guidelines for more on ad extensions and formats.
Why you need to test
Testing is perhaps the most important part of your SEM process. You should run small, low cost tests before spending any money on a larger strategic initiative or campaign.
As mentioned earlier, your ad CTR directly affects your quality score, which in turn, determines how much you pay per click. To optimise your CTR, test different ads to see which version gets the most clicks.
If you’re new to AdWords, you need to know that it can take Google a little time to start ranking you on that all-important CTR metric. If Google can’t grade your campaign fully, then it’s dangerous for them to allow you to be shown equally with other AdWords advertisers that have proven track records (aka high Quality scores). Google has recognised this danger and implements a filter on new AdWords campaigns until it can start measuring the click-through rate of the campaign.
If you’ve done everything right, then Google will boost your ad and you’ll meet your expectations after some time. Just keep tracking your ads cautiously and keep them optimised.
As far as how to test a new SEM campaign, starting with as little as £20 a day for 3 to 4 weeks is ideal. It takes at least a few weeks to get enough data. Use different keyword combinations and ads to see which audience clicks and converts the most before increasing ad spend.
In the early days of a new adwords campaign, someone should be looking at your adwords account on a daily basis.
“One of the most important things to get right in your search ad is the creative, or messaging, you put into it. Better creatives improve ad relevance and drive more qualified clicks.” – Google
Despite the character restrictions of Google ads there are a number of best practises in order to ensure your ad stands out from the crowd.
View our checklist on creating effective online ads now.
Get the latest articles
Content from industry experts, delivered straight to your inbox - as soon as they're released.