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How to Master SEM in 2016


SEM, aka search engine marketing, is one of the most effective and powerful ways to drive website visits, manifest conversions, gain new leads and so much more. But despite its potency, there seems to be some confusion as to what exactly SEM is. While the phrase seems basic, it is understandable as to why some are unclear — the expression has often been used to encompass other principals such as SEO. While SEO can be a factor to SEM, the core of it is pretty straightforward. Google defines SEM as:

“The use of online advertising on search engine results pages to help visitors find your website. SEM often uses pay-per-click (PPC), a bidding model that charges advertisers only when someone clicks on their ad (also referred to as cost-per-click, or CPC).”

While understanding this system and how to leverage it in a meaningful way may sound intimidating, it can be rather simple if you understand today’s best practices. Once you have this foundation, you can dig deeper and really get into the nitty gritty of SEM.

Let’s take a look at the most simple and effective ways to implement SEM techniques:

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising, or PPC, is one of the most popular forms of SEM. With PPC, advertisers bid on ad placement in the sponsored ads section on the SERPs. As was mentioned before, it is only when the ads are actually clicked on that you will be charged.

The bidding itself is based upon various keywords that are targeted toward specific queries. If you are a gardener, you might bid on keywords like “landscaping” or “lawn care services.” The amount of the keyword bid will ultimately determine how much is charged for each click through.

The most popular and well-known form of PPC ads is Google AdWords. But do keep in mind that Google is an extremely competitive platform to rank for, so smaller businesses might fare better on Yahoo or Bing.

In order to run a successful PPC campaign, selecting the right keywords is crucial. Choosing highly sought after keywords will likely deplete your funds quickly while gaining minimal impressions. Your best bet is to target long-tailed keywords. These are longer and more precise phrases that are typically less cutthroat and more affordable. Additionally, these types of keywords are beginning to account for the majority of searches as mobile use and voice to text queries continue to gain momentum. The Google AdWords Keyword Planner can be your best friend in making the right choices.

Ad Content

Now that you have selected your words to rank for, creating compelling ad copy is of the utmost importance. If your ad doesn’t entice folks to click through, your campaign is useless. When creating ad content be sure to:

  • Touch on consumer pain-points that you can address;
  • Highlight the benefits of your offerings;
  • Ensure that your ad is highly relevant to the keywords you have chosen.

Additionally, your ads should drive visitors to the correct landing page. This should be deep within your site and as close to the point of purchase as possible. Consumers will not be willing to dig through your site for what your ad is promoting, and if it doesn’t take them directly to what they are searching for, they will quickly move to a competitor’s site. Landing page relevancy is key to turning that click-through into a sale.

Expand Your Campaign Beyond the SERP

While PPC is an amazing way to acquire site visits and conversions, your SEM campaign should encompass other Google initiatives to really get the competitive edge. One way to do this would be through Gmail Ads. Through AdWords, Gmail ads can now be managed and created to target individuals directly in their inboxes. Several customizable templates are available to help craft the inbox ads to best suit your company’s needs.

Another way is to target audiences through YouTube shopping ads, TrueView ads, and even SMS text message remarketing. By embracing all of Google’s offerings, you are expanding your advertisement’s potential reach, amplifying your brand presence, and helping to support the other ads that are already in place.

Track, Test, and Adjust

This lies at the very heart of almost all marketing efforts. Without tracking, testing, and establishing ways to improve your efforts, your campaigns will never reach their peak potential. If you really want your SEM campaign to deliver a serious ROI, it is crucial to test how effective your ads are.

Paid search is a fantastic avenue for continuously trying new approaches. Its rapid response structure allows for a plethora of useful data to be gathered in a short amount of time. With PPC it is possible to analyze thousands of clicks and millions of impressions in just a few days, so testing should always be taking place. You could upload your ads, allow them to run for a few days, pull the results and upload your improvements later that day.

Test keywords, copy, landing pages, CTAs and all other elements. A/B test to see which ads are producing a higher click through rate and the most conversions. If all of this feels a bit overwhelming to you, some of the most important metrics to track are:

  • Search engine ranking;
  • Sales, traffic, and conversions from each search platform;
  • Conversions driven by various keywords, landing pages, and categories.

SEM is a challenging field to maneuver. But if you know the basics as well as the direction that the market and consumers are heading, you can gain a significant boost in sales, traffic, and SERP ranking. This is just the foundation, however, and SEM goes much deeper. Just like any other practice, the more you learn about it, the better you will get. Take advantage of the myriad of online resources and get yourself some hands on experience; no amount of reading can compare to actually getting your hands dirty.

Have you ever tried your hand in paid search campaigns? What did you find to be your biggest successes and biggest pain-points?

By Tina Courtney

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