SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM (Search Engine Marketing)


Traditional advertising broadcasts a message to the world at large. But search engine marketing targets a very specific group of people – those actively looking for your products and services.

The links you see in the main part of the page are called “organic” results. It costs nothing to appear here. This is where search engines show sites they think have the most relevant content. The other are “inorganic” results or advertisements which are relevant to your search.


(1) PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Advertising

The results at the right column and across the top of the page – these listings are paid advertisements. SEM lets you use this space to advertise to potential customers when they search for certain words and phrases relevant to your business. These are known as keywords. Another really unique thing to know about SEM is that the advertiser only pays when someone clicks on their ad. So if your ad appears, but no one clicks on it, you won’t be charged. That’s why it’s called “pay-per-click” PPC advertising. That’s the big difference when comparing SEM to traditional forms of advertising, like ads in newspapers and magazines, or billboard posters. If you advertise fresh fruits using those, the ad is shown to a bunch of people… whether or not they want fresh fruits. And you pay no matter what. 

(2) PPC vs CPC 

PPC and CPC are often used interchangeably within the advertising community, however generally speaking PPC is used to describe the type of advertising program you are running. CPC, which stands for cost-per-click, is usually used in communicating what you are actually paying per click within your advertising program. To use appropriately in discussion you may say, “We want to run a PPC Advertising Campaign with Google and we want to average our CPC at £.50.” The CPC cost is set by a Bidding process 

These ads, often known by the term pay-per-click ads, come in a variety of formats. Some are small, text-based ads, whereas others, such as product listing ads (PLAs, also known as Shopping ads) are more visual, product-based advertisements that allow consumers to see important information at-a-glance, such as price and reviews. 

With SEM, it’s very likely that people who clicked your ad are interested in what you have to offer, because they told you so. Or rather, they told the search engine when they searched for fresh fruits Washington DC, saw your ad and clicked on it. Unlike traditional marketing, SEM targets people actively looking for products and services. This is different from broadcasting a message to people that they may—or may not—have any interest in. 

(3) SEM Auction 

When advertisers compete to show ads on the same search results page, search engines use an auction to determine which ads appear and in what order. 

Search engine marketing is based on an auction system. Let’s start with a search for a common product—say, fresh fruits. Take a look at the results page. In the centre you’ll see organic listings – listings that weren’t paid for. And at the top and down the right column you’ll see the paid ads. 

Search engines limit the number of slots adverts can appear in on an individual page. Advertisers then compete in an auction for those slots. So, after you search for fresh fruits, you see the outcome of the auction. The adverts that “win” appear in more desirable slots on the results page – usually that means near the top. The “runners-up” appear in lower slots. 

(a) Ad’s Bid 

Alright, you’re probably wondering: how does the auction work? Well, like most auctions, you place a bid, which influences your performance in the auction. But it’s not all about your bid. In this auction, the relevance of your adverts is crucial as well. So, success in the auction means having a competitive bid, as well as strong relevance. Getting both of these right is the recipe for success in SEM.

Let’s look at both of these factors, starting with the bids in the auction. Say you’re willing to pay up to £1 when people click on your ad after searching for fresh fruits. This price is often called your maximum cost per click, or Max CPC. If your competitor’s only got a Max CPC of, let’s say, £.50, you’ll have a higher bid, meaning you’ll be “ahead” in the auction. Keep in mind: businesses can change their Max CPCs at any time, so you’ll need to keep an eye on your bids regularly to ensure you’re getting the performance you want. 

(b) Ad’s Quality Score 

The other big factor is relevance. This is a measure—normally rated from 1 to 10—of how closely your ad relates to what a person searched for. Search engines such as Google and Bing refer to this as your Quality Score. 

For example, if someone searches for Fresh Fruits, and your ad’s headline is Fresh Fruits in Washington DC, the search engine probably considers your ad highly relevant. That means you’d likely get a high Quality Score. But what if your advert’s headline is Fruit Farming Washington DC? Both adverts refer to fruits, but this one is less relevant, because it’s talking about Fruit Farming instead of Fresh Fruits. In this case, your relevance wouldn’t be as good, so you’d probably have a lower Quality Score. 

When two competing businesses have equal bid prices, the business with a higher Quality Score will appear higher on the search results page. The price you’re willing to pay for a click — the max CPC — and your Quality Score are the main things that determine your performance the auction. 

Say two different businesses compete on the same keyword: fresh fruits. Richard bids £4, but his advert is deemed not very relevant, a 3 out of 10. Claire bids £3, and her relevance is a full 10. If we look closely, we can take all this info and figure out what will happen in the auction. Multiplied out, Richard’s auction score – called ad rank – is 12. Claire scores an impressive 30, even with a lower Max CPC. So what does that mean? Although her bid was a pound less than Richard’s, Claire’s advert wins the auction, and she gets a higher position on the page than Richard.

(4) What makes a good keyword

When you’re starting a new search engine marketing (SEM) campaign, it’s important to understand what makes a keyword “good”. The three important factors to consider when choosing keywords are Relevance, Traffic/Frequency and Competition. In search engine marketing (SEM), you pay every time someone clicks on your ad. So naturally you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Let’s go back to our Fresh Fruits in Washington DC, and we’re going to imagine you’re the business owner. You’ve just updated your website, and now you want to attract new visitors.

You find that on average, the keyword Fresh Fruits Washington DC costs you about £2 per click. By the way, a “keyword” doesn’t have to be just one word – it can be a phrase as well. Now, without knowing more about what these clicks are worth to your business, you can’t really know whether this is a good keyword or not. For example, if you discover that the average value of these clicks to your business is £40, it’s safe to say that this is a good keyword. On the other hand, if the average value is £1, then you might want to make some adjustments. 

Measuring the value of your ad clicks will help you know if keywords are “good” or not. But before you start a campaign, you won’t be able to measure the value your keywords are generating. So how can you research keywords before adding them to your campaign? Well, you have a few different options here. 

(a) Relevance 

The first thing to ask yourself is: is this keyword relevant? Or in other words, does this keyword closely describe your products or services? Keywords that indicate a person looking to buy Fresh Fruits in Washington DC are clearly relevant. However, keywords that suggest a person looking to do their own Fresh Fruits farming, or that suggest packed fruits when you only sell fresh fruits, are far less relevant. Hence focus solely on keywords that are relevant to your business. 

(b) Traffic 

Another factor to consider is how much traffic a given keyword is likely to get. In other words, you might compile a list of highly relevant keywords… but what if nobody searches for them? In this case, we have to go back to the drawing board. 

Take, for example, the keyword: Fresh Fruits shop in Washington DC specialising in fresh produce. While this might describe your business exactly… but with so much specific detail it’s unlikely that many people will search for it. Bidding on this keyword probably won’t result in many people finding your business. 

On the other hand, the shorter keyword: Washington DC Fresh Fruits is still relevant to your business, and may result in more exposure. Keyword research tools can provide traffic estimates to help you get a handle on this. But in reality, you’ll probably have to use a bit of trial and error to figure out which keywords are relevant and get sufficient traffic. 

(c) Competition 

Let’s move on to one more important factor to consider when determining if your keywords are good. Quite simply, you’re going to want to consider what your competition are up to. Think about it: if a keyword is relevant, and gets quite a bit of traffic, your competitors are more likely to be using it too. For instance, when it comes to the keyword Washington DC Fresh Fruits, there’s a good chance that every Fresh Fruit shop in Washington DC is bidding on that keyword. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include it. But you should look for keywords where the relevance and traffic is high, and competition relatively low. Perhaps a keyword like Washington DC Fruits farm fresh would be less competitive, because it’s more unique to your business.

(5) Make your ads stand out

Take a look at any search engine results page. It’s full of text! How do you make your business’s adverts jump out in this jumble of words? The key is to catch the searcher’s eye by writing eyecatching ads with compelling headlines and clear calls to action. So how can you take your ad to the next level, and make it “jump off the page?”

Using a few simple guidelines can help your adverts stand out from the competition. First, you want to customise your advert headline to the search. Then include a special or timely offer. And finally, give a compelling call to action. 

(a) Relevant Headline 

Let’s start with relevance. Relevance is the name of the game in search engine marketing. Try and write your advert’s headline to match the searcher’s words as closely as possible. Remember our example search for fresh fruits? If you want to be sure to show up in search results for that search, just use it for the ad’s headline: Buy Fresh Fruits Now, when someone searches for this keyword, your advert will perfectly match what they’re searching for. 

(b) Timely Promotion 

So what other ways can you make your advert stand out from the crowd? How about some kind of unique, timely offer or promotion? Let’s take your first description line, which said Buy Fresh Fruits in Washington DC, and update it with a special offer. How about this: Get 25% Off Your Second Purchase. Similarly, you could try something like: Free Shipping on Purchases over £10. 

(c) Call to Action 

The last thing you want is a strong, clear “call to action” in your advert. In other words, tell visitors what you want them to do when they get to your site. You could say “Browse Our Portfolio!” or “Buy!” or “Make a Reservation!” Research shows that people respond when you direct them to do something specific. It’s a good idea to include this as the second line of your advert, so the searcher knows exactly what to do after they click on your ad. 

(6) Improve your SEM Campaigns 

To succeed as an advertiser, you need to create adverts that help searchers find what they’re looking for – and when you do, search engines may reward you.

(a) Relevance of Ad and Landing Page 

‘Relevance’ sounds like a tricksy sort of word, but it’s easy to understand if you think about it as someone who uses search engines. For example, let’s do a search for wedding photographer, and take a look at some of the adverts that appear.

Here we have three.

The first headline says Wedding Photographer, followed by information about pricing and selection. This ad is extremely relevant, because the headline matches our search, plus it has plenty of useful information.

The second headline says Candid Wedding Photoshoot. It includes some information about the types of wedding photo packages this business offers. This ad is fairly relevant, but less than the first because the headline doesn’t precisely reflect the search. As a whole, search engines might consider this advert less relevant.

The third headline says Wedding Photograph, but appears to be an ad for a site that sells posters. That’s not relevant to what we were searching for. 

When it comes to relevance, search engines also consider the first web page people see after they click on an ad. This is called the landing page. So what does this mean for you? Well, just as your advert should be relevant to the words a person just searched for, your landing page should be relevant to the advert a person clicks on. 

Relevance is important to search engines – After all, it’s their job to find relevant results for searches, and this includes finding relevant adverts. Relevance is also really important to businesses who advertise on search engines. 

Search engines reward relevant adverts with higher positions on the search results page. What’s more, if your adverts are more relevant than your competitors’, you might be able to get the same amount of traffic for a lower price. 

(b) Structure of SEM Campaign 

Now let’s look at ways you can structure your SEM campaigns to achieve greater relevance. Think of your SEM plan as an upside-down tree. At the top is your account, which you create with Google AdWords, Bing Ads, or another search engine.

Within the account are campaigns. Each campaign controls important decisions, like the daily budget, the areas or countries where ads can appear, and the advertising networks you want to use.

Within each campaign, you can create multiple ad groups. These are collections of keywords and the ads that go with them.

Structuring your account in this organised way helps ensure you show the most relevant ads. Let’s go through another example with the photographer to bring this to life. Imagine you’re the photographer, and you specialise in various types of photography. Let’s say weddings, baby photos and family portraits. Each of these specialities contain different products, so you decide to split them into separate campaigns.

Within each campaign, your next move is to create ad groups for each type of product. For example, within your wedding photographer campaign, you might create ad groups for engagement photos, bridal portraits, candid wedding photos, and more. Within your baby photos ad group, you add keywords that someone would search for. For example, keywords like baby photography or newborn photos. Now you can write an ad that corresponds to the keywords, like: Baby Photography, We Take Beautiful Newborn Photos & Affordable Rates, Book Now!

If someone searched for your keyword baby photography, this would be a relevant ad! To sum up: No matter what type of business you have, your SEM campaigns should have a solid, well-thought-out structure. By dividing your products or services into separate campaigns and ad groups, you can show ads that help customers find exactly what they’re searching for— which is win-win for everyone.

(7) Keywords: The Foundation of Search Engine Marketing

Keywords are the foundation of search engine marketing. As users enter keywords (as part of search queries) into search engines to find what they’re looking for, it should come as little surprise that keywords form the basis of search engine marketing as an advertising strategy.

(a) Identify Relevant Keywords

Before you can choose which keywords to use in your search engine marketing campaigns, you need to conduct comprehensive research as part of your keyword management strategy. First, you need to identify keywords that are relevant to your business and that prospective customers are likely to use when searching for your products and services.

(b) Tools for Keyword Research

Search engines, like Google and Bing, offer tools that take the guesswork out of choosing the right keywords, and can help potential customers find you online. 

Let’s say you want to build a new SEM campaign advertising your pet portraits. A tool like Google’s Keyword Planner or Bing’s Keyword Research Tool can help you find out which keywords are most relevant and will work best for your new campaign. 

For example, if you type in “pet portraits,” the tool will show you other related searches. Let’s look at which of these keywords might also be a good fit for your new campaign. We can see that people search for terms like [pictures of dogs], [animal artists], and [dog portraits]. The results also show how many searches each term tends to get. And other useful information, like suggested “bid prices” and “competition levels.”

Knowing this, you can create several “groups,” called ad groups. One for terms related to pet portraits, one for [pictures of dogs], one for [dog portraits] and one for [animal artists]. By organising these terms into ad groups, you can write relevant ads for each group of keywords. 

That takes care of the relevant keywords, but what about the ones that didn’t seem so relevant? 

(c) Identify Negative Keywords 

In addition to helping you find keywords you should be bidding on, thorough keyword research can also help you identify negative keywords – search terms that you should exclude from your campaigns. Negative keywords aren’t terms with negative connotations, but rather irrelevant terms that are highly unlikely to result in conversions. For example, if you sell ice cream, you might want to exclude the keyword “ice cream recipes”, as users searching for ice cream recipes are unlikely to be in the market for your product. 

So, keyword research tools can help you find keywords that attract customers… but they also help you discover keywords to avoid. It’s also a good idea to try and revisit these tools regularly. People’s search behaviour tends to change over time, and if you let your campaigns sit untouched for too long, their performance could start to dip.

(8) Fine-tune with Keyword Match Types

Search engine marketing (SEM) is great for letting you choose specific searches to trigger your ads. But search engines often show your ads for keywords that are slightly different from the ones you’re targeting. The solution: a feature called keyword match types.

(a) Broad Match

Keywords are broad match by default. Search engines might also show your ads when people search for other terms—terms you didn’t specifically choose, that’s because search engines can show your ads when people search for variations of your keywords. This is called broad matching. Most of the time, broad match is useful. It means that you don’t have to add every variation of the keyword you’d like to target, like singulars, plurals and misspellings. But this flexibility also means that sometimes, search engines show your ads for keywords that aren’t relevant to your business. Using keyword match types can help.

Let’s say you’re a portrait photographer. As you brainstorm keywords for your ad campaign, you might consider London photographer. If you include this keyword, a search for “London photographer” could trigger one of your ads even though the person making the search might not be looking for exactly what you’re offering. What if they’re actually looking to buy prints of photographs of the city of London? Or someone to photograph an event in London? Or do a commercial magazine shoot? Any of these searches could potentially trigger your ad, but the searchers are not likely customers.

One way to prevent ads from appearing on these searches is to choose more specific keywords, since your target customer is probably searching for things like “London portrait photographer” or “London family portraits.” 

(b) Phrase Match 

Aside from broad match, the other primary match types are phrase match and exact match. To change broad match to phrase, simply place quotations around the keyword. So, the keyword London portrait photographer becomes “London portrait photographer.” Phrase match tells Google AdWords or Bing Ads that adverts can’t be displayed unless the search includes the entire phrase. So if someone searches for “London portrait photographer” that’s great—your ads can show up! Minor variations, like plurals, are included. This means that a search for “London portrait photographers” can also trigger your ad. But, if someone searches for the more generic London photographer, your ad won’t show up, because the word portrait is missing.

With phrase match, the searcher can include words before and after the phrase, so “East London portrait photographer” could also trigger an ad. 

(c) Exact Match 

To get even more specific, exact match keywords are distinguished by enclosing the word or phrase in square brackets. So, the keyword London portrait photographer becomes [London portrait photographer]. Now, if someone searches for portrait photographer, your ad can’t appear—because it doesn’t match the keyword exactly. Along the same lines, a search for London photographer also won’t trigger your ad. Unlike phrase match, the ad can’t display if the searcher includes additional words. But minor variations, like plurals, can still trigger the ad. 

As you change keywords from broad match, to phrase, to exact, it restricts the opportunities for ads to display. Your best bet is to try to find a match type balance, allowing ads to show to likely prospects, but blocking ads when you think success is unlikely. As you add restrictive match types for keywords, you’ll probably notice that your traffic quantity goes down… but traffic quality should improve. And that’s what matters here.

(9) How to know what’s working and what isn’t

One of the best ways to measure how well your search engine marketing is working is by tracking conversions, or actions you’d like website visitors to take. One of the best things about SEM is that you can measure the value you’re getting from your campaigns. To do this, you track conversions – the key actions you want website visitors to take—using tools that search engines like Google or Bing provide.

Let’s start with how you choose which conversions to track. Say you’re a nature photographer who sells prints online.

What kinds of actions might count as “conversions” on your website? Obviously, placing an order is an important one. But what else might you want people to do? Well, your website should have a Contact form so potential customers can ask you questions like what other prints you have for sale, or if you’re available to photograph special events. When someone submits an inquiry through this form, that’s a conversion, too. What if you don’t sell prints online? Instead, you’re a wedding photographer and the bulk of your site is a portfolio of your work. You might have references in downloadable PDF form, so when people download it you can track that as a conversion. You could also have a link people can click to receive your rates via email. That’s another way potential customers can become paying customers, so you should track that as a conversion as well. In these two examples, we’ve mentioned a handful of different conversions: successful transactions, contact form submissions, and downloads. And there are plenty of other possibilities.

So how can you actually track these conversions? Well, you can use tools provided by search engines. These allow you, or whoever is managing your website for you, to place a small piece of code on certain pages of your website.

Let’s go back to the nature photography business. You want to track a completed order, so you need to figure out the proper place for the conversion tracking code. You wouldn’t want to put the code on your homepage—if you do that, you’ll be counting conversions every time someone visits your site. Instead, you would install the conversion tracking code on the order confirmation page. That’s the page customers see after they complete an order. That way, you know a conversion happened.

Next, you decide to track online inquiries. Just like the previous example, you need to install the conversion tracking code on a page the visitor sees only after they submit an inquiry. For example, on the page that thanks the customer after they’ve placed an order. In order to properly track conversions, you need to attach the code to pages someone will only see after they’ve taken the action you want.

Once you install the code, you’ll start getting reports that tell you how many conversions you got. That’s valuable information in figuring out if your online ad campaigns are working.


Enhancing Brand

6. Display Advertising