CommonLounge Archive

Search Engine Marketing (SEM): basics, strategies and case studies

December 23, 2017

Search engine marketing (SEM) refers to placing ads on search engines (also called “paid search”).

SEM works well for companies looking to sell directly to their target customers.

You’ll need to understand three key terms:

  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of ad views (called “impressions”) that result in a click to your site
  • Cost per click (CPC): The amount it costs to get one click (the maximum you’re willing to pay)
  • Cost per acquisition (CPA): The amount it costs to acquire one customer (CPA = CPC / conversion percentage)

Case Study: Inflection

Inflection, which created, found SEM to be a great way to test their messaging and features and get quick customer feedback.

They used Google AdWords to drive traffic to landing pages—before any product had been made!

They monitored the performance of each ad to determine what type of products their audience was interested in. Once they learned what people really wanted, they began building the product.

How to get started

You can purchase SEM ads through Google AdWords and Bing Ads.

Find promising keywords with Google’s Keyword Planner, which tells you how many people search for and how many other ads are targeting the term. Other tools for keyword search include KeywordSpy, SEMrush, and SpyFu.

It’s easiest to test “long-tail” keywords, which are longer, more specific search terms. These terms have less competition and less search volume.

More competitive terms will be more expensive.

Creating ads

You’ll want to create an ad campaign, or collection of ads with one main goal (for example: selling sporting goods).

Create an ad group for each product category, and select the keywords you want your ads to appear for.

Next, create your ads with attractive titles and descriptions, and add a call to action at the end of each, like “Check out our holiday deals!”

Finally, use Google Analytics URL Builder to create unique URLs that point to landing pages. This will help you to track who’s clicking and which ads are most effective.

Beginners are advised to start with 4 ads and tweak them with A/B testing to optimize their performance.

Optimizing ads

You should conduct A/B tests on all aspects of your ads. You can use tools like Optimizely or Google Analytics for this.

Each ad is awarded a quality score based on its performance. Higher-quality ads are rewarded with better placement and price, so you want to improve the performance of your ads as much as you can.

The CTR is the main factor that determines the quality score. Since the average CTR for SEM ads is 2%, anything below 2% will get a low quality score.

If you have any ads performing below 2%, optimize them quickly or remove them.

Advanced SEM marketing

Once you’ve mastered the basics of SEM marketing, you can move on to more advanced techniques.

One of these tools is Google’s content network, which places ads on non-Google sites.

You can also set up retargeting ads through Google AdWords, AdRoll, or Perfect Audience. After users visit your site, they’ll see your ads in other places on the internet.

Keep in mind that retargeting may feel a little bit creepy to the user. They may feel like they’re being followed around the web.

Use Google’s Conversion Optimizer to automatically adjust your ads to improve performance.

Add negative keywords to your ad campaign to make sure your ads don’t appear for certain keywords. For example, you wouldn’t want your eyeglasses brand to show up for searches for “wine glasses.”

If you can write code, you can also use scripts to duplicate or change ads automatically.

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