In our last post, we discussed website analytics, specifically how Google Analytics can measure your website’s performance. This week, we’re going to delve into the world of search engine marketing, often referred to simply as search marketing or SEM. Search engine marketing is not synonymous with search engine optimization, although you might sometimes hear the two used interchangeably. Search engine optimization falls under the umbrella of SEM and focuses more on gaining organic traffic by making your site’s content search-friendly and building backlinks.
SEM, on the other hand, promotes your website by increasing its visibility in search engine results through paid options such as pay-per-click advertising. SEM is not limited to traditional search engines – thousands of searches are performed every day on sites like Facebook and YouTube. In fact, YouTube is considered by many to be the second largest search engine on the web.
The cornerstone of SEM is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Google, Bing, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many more outlets all have some form of PPC advertising that anybody can use. They way in which different PPC options function varies considerably (especially between social networks and traditional search engines), but they generally involve bidding on keywords or phrases that people search for – often in an auction format.
For example, if you ran a dog grooming business in Atlanta, you could bid on keywords such as “dog grooming services,” “pet care,” and “dog grooming Atlanta.” You would then set your bid for each phrase. Whenever a user performs a search for one of these phrases, an automatic auction process occurs. If your ads, budget, keywords, bids and landing pages are all correctly set up, your ad will not only be displayed to the user, but often times in a higher position and at a cheaper rate than your competitors might pay per click.
As the name “pay-per-click” would indicate, you’ll pay your bid price anytime a user proceeds to click on your ad and visit your site. However, it’s important to remember that you pay your bid price for a click whether it results in a conversion or not. Many who are new to SEM exclusively go after the “money” or big, expensive keywords. But this strategy can end up being very costly, and it doesn’t always pay off – or result in conversions.
As with any online marketing effort, the main goal of PPC is conversions. You want people to click on your ad, visit your website, and convert that visit into a sale, download, completed contact form or whatever you define as your conversion.
Google’s PPC advertising program is called Google Adwords. It’s used by businesses that want to display their ads on Google’s advertising network, which means that their ads could show up at the top of search engine results or on websites that host Google Ads. Like any basic PPC option, you choose your keywords and set your bids. However, you don’t necessarily have to spend a lot on an AdWords campaign to see some results. In fact, many keyword bids can be successful for less than a dollar. Even if you do choose more expensive keywords with higher competition, you can still set a maximum daily budget. Take a look at the AdWords suggested bids for the dog grooming business:
Of course, it’s important to make sure that your money is not wasted and that the right web users are clicking on your ads. This is done by choosing the right keywords to bid on, setting a manual or automatic bidding amount, and presenting engaging copy in your ads.
When it comes to ad creation specifically, some suggest following the AIDAS principle of advertising:
- Attract: Attract the attention of your audience
- Interest: Raise your customers’ Interest
- Desire: Convince your customers that they Desire what you offer
- Action: Include your call-to-Action
- Satisfaction: Make sure your customers are Satisfied
You can set each ad to take a user to a specific landing page on your site, so you need to be sure that your ad honestly reflects the page a user will visit if they click on it. Of course, you must do all this a relatively small space. Check out Google’s example ads for a company called Betty’s Beach Bikes:
Additional AdWords Tools
Google AdWords also offers tons of helpful options to tweak your ad campaigns. Three types of keyword targeting – broad match, phrase match and exact match – allow you to make sure you’re getting exactly the right kind of traffic to your site. You can ensure that your ads are also available to mobile users, including using mobile-specific calls-to-action. AdWords also offers powerful remarketing tools that display your ads to customers who’ve already visited your site.
In addition, you can set up negative keywords, which ensure you’re getting the right kind of traffic to your site. For example, many people perform Google searches looking for employment. If your business isn’t currently hiring, however, you might end up wasting money on clicks that came from searches such as “dog grooming jobs” or “pet care jobs.” Instead, you can establish the words “jobs” or “employment” as negative keywords, which tells Google not to display your ads when queries include those words. This ensures that the money you’re spending on clicks is helping you get visitors who are actually interested in purchasing your product or service. Other popular negative keywords include “free” and “cheap.”
With so many different factors at play, it’s important to continuously test the effectiveness of your AdWords campaigns. SEM is an evolving process and one that cannot simply be started and forgotten. For the best conversion results, your ad campaigns will need to be reviewed about once a week, and the data analyzed so you know what changes to make. One of the most useful data analysis options in Google Adwords is benchmarking, which allows you to see how your company’s ads perform against others in your industry. This will give you context and insight into how users interact with your ads versus ads from similar companies. Benchmarking metrics that you can compare include:
- Sessions (i.e. number of sessions)
- % New Sessions
- New Sessions (i.e. number of sessions from new users)
- Pages / Session
- Avg. Session Duration
- Bounce Rate
Search Engine Marketing is an Art
There are many, many steps involved in successful SEM. Choosing the right keywords to target, deciding how much to bid on each, writing excellent ad copy, converting customers with great landing pages, and continuously testing and improving your strategies is very time-consuming and requires plenty of planning and forethought. Learning all the basic and advanced features of Google AdWords, Facebook Ads or any PPC service can also take a serious amount of time and dedication. However, these services nearly guarantee an increase in traffic – it’s your keyword strategies, ad copy and landing pages that determine if the traffic will convert. As our own search engine marketing specialist puts it:
“On it’s face, Adwords seems relatively easy. Pick some keywords, write a couple of ads and turn it on. Wait for the clicks and – boom, you’re set. In reality, however, it’s much more complicated than that. In the 9 years that I’ve been an Adwords certified professional, I’ve seen countless very smart, tech savvy people waste thousands upon thousands of dollars (in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars) on Adwords campaigns that were either set up incorrectly, or not monitored properly. So it’s important that you have someone handle your campaign who is Google certified and up to date on all of the latest Adwords information.”
–Steve Isaacs, Google Adwords Expert