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SEM - What Is Search Engine Marketing?How To Do It Right?
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SEM – What Is Search Engine Marketing? How To Do It Right?

June 16, 2020

In Digital Marketing, we keep hearing the words SEM. Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is one of the most important and effective drivers of growth for businesses in a competitive digital space. We will discuss what is SEM, and what practices are best suited for a successful SEM campaign.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing is a marketing practice of using paid advertising campaigns to increase visibility on search engines. Brands bid on target keywords, that they believe their prospective customers might enter when looking for a certain product or service on search engines like Google and Bing. When users type in these keywords, they find the ad for the brand. The brand has to pay for every ad that is clicked by a user. This is known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. 

These ads are typically placed on either the top or bottom of a page, along with an “Ad” designation, to let users know that it is a paid advertisement. Some ads appear in small text format, while others appear as Product Listing Ads (PLAs), with product-based images appearing in a featured carousel.

Search Engine Marketing is an effective marketing strategy as it allows businesses the opportunity to place their ads in front of highly motivated customers, with high commercial intent, ultimately leading to higher conversion rates.

What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

SEO refers to the process of getting web traffic through organic or unpaid search results, on different search engines. In SEO, businesses don’t pay for their ranking on search engines. These ranks are instead earned by businesses, by having the most relevant, and optimized content, for any given keyword or keyphrase. Organic search results on SERP don’t include the designation “Ad” on them.

SEM, on the other hand, is the process of getting traffic to a website through the means of paid ads. SEM and SEO are an essential component of most digital marketing strategies, that work together to drive more traffic, and significantly enhance brand awareness.

What are the different SEM Platforms?

The most commonly used SEM Platforms are Google and Bing.

  • Google Ads- Google Ads is Google’s online advertising platform that companies can use to display short adverts about their products and services, on the Google search engine. Google Ads is very flexible, and allows its customer to set a maximum daily limit cost of the campaign. It allows businesses access to its billions of daily users. According to Moz, 80% of search results now contain Google Ads ad placements. This just goes to show that more and more businesses are turning to Google Ads, to get more visibility and traffic.
  • Bing Ads– Bing Ads has a similar bidding process to Google Ads, but has lesser competition, and cheaper PPC cost. On average, Bing’s PPC is 33.5% cheaper than Google’s. Bing allows its users to assign different campaigns to different time zones, which makes it an optimal choice for international campaigns. Bing Ads also allows its users the flexibility over selection of search partner targeting; users can target just Bing & Yahoo, just search partners, or both, at an ad group level.

What are the different types of SEM Keywords?

SEM keywords are keywords or phrases that best describe your products or services, that you would target in the SEM campaigns. Businesses first need to identify keywords that are highly relevant to their offerings, and that they believe their customers are likely to enter when searching for their products online. The 4 types of keywords that businesses can use in their SEM campaigns are:

Broad match keywords
Broad match keywords have a greater audience reach, as they allow ads to appear on search results, whenever any user searches for any word, from the target keyphrase, in any order. It also triggers your ad for similar phrases, close variations of the phrase, and related searches. 

Phrase match keywords
Phrase match keywords allow your ad to be shown when users target the exact phrase of your keyword or a close variation of the exact phrase of the keyword, with additional words before or after that.

Exact match keywords
Exact match keywords trigger your ad for the exact keyword or very close variations of the exact keyword regardless of misspellings, singular or plural forms, abbreviations, and paraphrases of the keyword.

Negative keywords
Negative keywords are those keywords that you want to avoid in your SEM campaign. Negative keywords allow you to focus on relevant keywords by excluding close variations or similar searches that are not applicable to your business.

How to target SEM Keywords for your audience?

Google and Bing have additional features that allow brands to control when, or who see their ads-

  • Location targeting- This setting allows your ad to be viewed only by users within a certain geographical area.
  • Demographic targeting- This setting allows your ad to be displayed only to users that fit a certain demographic, based on their age and gender.
  • Ad scheduling targeting- This setting allows your ad to be shown at a particular time of the day, or certain days of the week.
  • Device targeting- This setting allows your ad to be shown only on specific devices, such as mobile phones, desktops, or tablets.

What is SEM Account Structure?

A crucial aspect of a successful SEM campaign is the SEM account structure. It is the grouping of relevant themes and keywords to create a cohesive campaign that can help you increase click-through rates, lower cost-per-click and enhance the overall impact of the campaign.

The account structure is divided into 5 elements:

Ad campaigns
Every account has multiple ad campaigns which have its own unique goal, budget, and targeting settings. Ad campaigns focus on similar products or services, with a well-defined target audience and promotional strategy. For example, a supermarket can create different campaigns for its food supplies, household products, and personal care products.

Ad group
Ad campaigns are sub categorized into ad groups for specific themes. Ideally, the number of ad groups should not exceed 7-10 per campaign. In the example of supermarkets, the campaign targeting food supplies can be subdivided into two ad groups of food items and beverages.

Each ad group has its own set of unique keywords to attract a specific set of target audience. It is recommended to have 20 or less keywords per ad group. You can use any of the four types SEM keyword to match the queries of the users.

Ad text
Ad text, or better known as Ad copy, is the written text that your end users would actually see. Most ad copy have two headlines, a short description, and a website URL. It is essential to write creative and attention grabbing ad copy to drive greater leads and conversions.

Landing page
Landing page is the web page that users will land on once they click your ad. A well made landing page can help to enhance user experience and reduce your bounce rate.

What is Ad Auction? How to do it right?

Ad auction is the process used by SEM platforms, where advertisers bid on relevant keywords, to have their websites appear for relevant search results. Whenever an ad is eligible for a search result, it goes through an auction. Google gathers all ads whose keywords match the user’s search query. The ad auction determines which ads show up in the search results, and at which rank. To enter the ad auction, brands need to identify and select keywords they want to bid on, and state their budget for cost per click.  The 3 main factors that Google takes into account in an ad auction are:

  • Max CPC Bid- It is the maximum amount that you are willing to pay for a click on your ad.
  • Quality Score- Quality score is the most important metric in search engine marketing. It is a rating that is assigned to your ad by the platform. High quality scores help ads to rank better on SERPs, at a lower cost. Quality scores are based on factors such as CTR, relevance of keywords to the ad group, relevance of landing page to the keywords, and historical ad performance.
  • Ad Rank- Ad rank is the rating given to your ad by the platform, which determines the position at which your ad will show on SERPs.

Max CPC Bid * Quality ScoreAd Rank

To win the Ad Auction, brands need to focus on getting a better Quality Score, as platforms like Google give more weightage on ads with better Quality Scores than on ads with higher Max CPC Bid.

How to create effective SEM campaigns?

Research Your Target Audience
For an advertising campaign to be successful, it’s important to know your target audience. There needs to be valuable insights into your target audience such as FAQs, demographics, shopping habits, purchase requirements, average spend, and pain points.

Keyword Research
Keyword research is one of the most important steps in any SEM campaign. Businesses need to identify relevant keywords that would likely be used by their target audience. There are multiple tools, paid and free, that can help you find the most popular and trending keywords.

Ad Account Structure
For an SEM campaign to be effective, businesses need to create an organized account structure. Google and Bing use account structure as a metric to determine the quality score of an ad. Hence, it is important that keywords are relevant to the ad group that they belong to, and ad text should also contain these keywords. The ad copy must be compelling, and should resonate with your target audience. It is advisable to include a clear call to action button, and utilise ad extensions, when creating your ad for better user response.

Optimise Existing Campaigns
Existing campaigns can be optimised through addition of relevant keywords, inclusion of negative keywords, and utilisation of A/B testing to create variations of your campaign, and implement the one that gets you better results. Optimising all your ad campaigns will give you a better ROI, and help your brand grow faster.

Final Thoughts

SEM has become an important strategy in digital advertising because it is a conversion based strategy that gives you instant results, and brand awareness. At Alkye, we offer digital marketing services including SEM, to help our clients to become an authoritative figure on search engines and grow their business exponentially.

Bing AdsGoogle AdsPaid adsPPCSearch engine marketingSEMSERP
Nicola Bond

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Nicola Bond

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