What is Search Engine Marketing? – SEM Basics

There is some confusion surrounding the term search engine marketing (SEM). The technical definition of search engine marketing encompasses any marketing strategy, paid or unpaid, that involves search engines. By this definition, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) both fall under search engine marketing. Over the last few years, though, search engine marketing has come to refer strictly to paid search.

First we’re going to explore the question “ what is search engine marketing,” and then we will discuss some search engine marketing techniques you can try yourself.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing revolves around paying for ad placement on the results pages (SERPs) of certain keywords. This marketing strategy is often referred to as cost-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-click (PPC) because search engines charge business by the number of clicks an ad gets. The more monthly search traffic a keyword has, the higher the cost-per-click advertisers must pay for placement on the first SERP. Search engine marketing companies understand how to target relevant keywords for your business without ballooning your marketing budget to unsustainable levels.

A common myth regarding search engine marketing is that since the CPC for high-competition keywords is too expensive, search engine marketing strategies are useless. The reality is your keyword selection strategy determines the value of your paid search efforts. As we’ll cover later, the success of your search engine marketing strategy is tied strongly to your search engine optimization strategy. Before we get there, you need to know how search engine marketing works.

How Does Search Engine Marketing Work?

Paid search functions like an auction. You create an ad, choose which keywords you want to target and enter a maximum amount for how much you’re willing to pay for each click. Google and Bing don’t automatically select the highest bid for each search. Each search engine has their formula for selecting which ads to show – Google uses a metric called quality score.

Quality Score

Think of quality score like your credit score. When you have a high credit score, you get lower interest rates on your loans. Likewise, when your ad has a high-quality score, you get a lower cost-per-click rate. No one knows exactly how Google calculates quality score, but the following factors are known to be important:

  • Click-through rate (CTR) – Google sees ads with high CTRs as the most relevant to searchers
  • Keyword relevance – Your ad has to be as relevant as possible to your targeted keywords. We’ll discuss keyword strategies in a bit.
  • Ad text – Strong ad text shows the features and benefits of your product or service.
  • Landing Page Quality – Your landing page for the ad needs to be optimized for the keywords you’re targeting. This is where search engine marketing and search engine optimization overlap.

Most business owners and entrepreneurs don’t have the time to invest in learning how to create paid search advertisements. A big benefit of investing in a search engine marketing company is they have experience creating ads with high-quality scores. They do the hard work of testing and tweaking each of these components to keep your business competitive.

Let’s look at some of the search engine marketing techniques experts have in their toolbox.

What are the Different Types of Search Engine Marketing Techniques?

The most important thing to understand is the best SEM techniques are always changing. Chasing the latest fad techniques may provide a short-term boost, but it makes your overall strategy unstable. The following list of SEM techniques focuses on building a simple and sustainable SEM strategy.

Use Keyword Research to Find the Most Valuable Keywords for Your Business

Keyword research is one of the search engine marketing techniques business owners can use to get the most value out of their marketing budget. Since over 80 percent of ad spend goes to Google, you need to master Google Ads. They have a keyword planner tool that allows you to check the search volume of keywords and phrases related to your business.

First, make a keyword list on paper. Start with 10-15 words or phrases under three words that are related to your business. Let’s use an SEO company as an example. Our list might look like this:

Once you have your list, use Google Ads to check the search volume and competition of each word. Some may be out of your current reach, but they are worth noting for your long-term strategy.

Next, come up with 3-5 phrases longer than three words for each keyword on your list. These are called long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords have a lower search volume, but they’re more likely to draw relevant traffic to your site. If you own a brick-and-mortar business, long-tail keywords are the X-factor of a successful search engine marketing strategy. Unless you sell your products online or can provide your service remotely, you need your web traffic to be from people within your geographic location. Add your state, county, and city to the keywords on your list and analyze the search volume. Our list for search engine marketing would look like this:

  • Search engine marketing companies in Irvine
  • SEM companies in Irvine
  • Search engine marketing companies in Orange County

Once you settle on your keywords, you are ready to create an ad campaign.

Divide Your Ad Campaigns into Specific Ad Groups Using Your Keyword Research

Before you create your ads, you want to set up Ad groups based on your list of keywords. Each keyword is its own ad group, and each group contains ads targeting relevant long-tail keywords.

Be sure to include negative keywords at this stage. Negative keywords are words you don’t want to target, even if Google thinks your Ad is relevant. The simplest example is the word “free.” If you sell furniture, then you don’t want to target searchers looking for free furniture. The more ‘niche’ your business is, the more important negative keywords are in driving the right traffic to your website.

Make Each Character of Your Ad Text Impactful

There are three main components of an Google Ads advertisement, each with their own character constraints:

  • Two headlines with a 30-character limit per headline
  • A description with an 80-character limit
  • Two path fields that describe your destinational URL, with a 15-character limit per path

You have very limited space to work with. Each character in each section needs to serve the greater purpose of getting clicks. Put on your consumer hat for a second. Think about the types of ad headlines that grab your attention. What words grab your attention?

Your headline should specifically address one of the problems of your target audience. Use the description section to explain how the product or service your advertising addresses these problems.

Keep Your SEM and SEO strategies in Sync

As we hinted at earlier, a good SEM strategy revolves around a good SEO strategy. There is no point paying for traffic to your site if the landing page doesn’t relate strongly to the ad copy.

A good rule of thumb is to have the main keyword of a given ad match the main keyword of the page or article to which the ad links. You can also create the ad first and write blog or landing page copy afterward.

Another smart move is to have the call-to-action of your landing page address the same customer pains as your ad copy. A good SEM strategy draws in only leads most likely to buy, so be specific. Try to target everybody and you’ll reach nobody.

Test and Tweak Your Ads on a Regular Basis

What works today might not work tomorrow. The world of search engine marketing changes quickly. The first thing you have to do is decide on your key performance indicators (KPIs). Click-through rate and bounce rate are the most common metrics to track.

Use the first month to get benchmarks for all of your metrics. Then, track their rise and fall on a monthly basis. Don’t get wrapped up too much in day-to-day changes, though. Keep your focus on trends instead.

Keeping track of metrics is only half the battle. Data is useless without action. Make tweaks to ads that aren’t performing up to your benchmarks.

Why You Need a Digital Marketing Agency for Your SEM Strategy

Search engine marketing isn’t something you can pick up in a weekend. It takes dozens of hours of studying to understand how search engine marketing works and all the different SEM techniques experts use to optimize their paid search efforts. You’re too busy running your business to invest those hours in studying.

Then it takes several hours a week to develop and execute an SEM strategy. I’m sure you don’t have that kind of time. Creating an impactful as takes a combination of strong market research and excellent copywriting. Our team of experts has experience in using the SEM techniques mentioned in this article to create ads that consistently earn high-quality scores. We’d love to schedule a conversation to tell you more.


About Text Ads

What is SEM and Paid Search Marketing

Brett Pucino: Brett Pucino is a content writer with seven years of experience crafting compelling copy for brands looking to expand their digital footprint. He is passionate about building brands for both businesses and people, and he is always available for a conversation on Twitter (@BPucino).
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