Search Engine Marketing (SEM): Worth the investment for your organization in 2018?

In 2018, businesses will commit more than 41% of their marketing budgets to digital marketing—with the largest part used for search engine marketing (SEM) strategy and campaigns.

What’s behind the growth of search engine marketing? Is it worth it for your organization? Do you know how much of your organization’s time, energy and budget should be spent on your SEM strategy?

SEM vs. SEO—What’s the difference?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are not the same. What’s the difference?

Essentially, SEM is a way of buying visits to your site, whereas SEO attempts to “earn” those visits organically. Collectively, they are complementary strategies that enhance your digital marketing efforts. In this blog, we’ll focus on SEM.

The goals of search engine marketing

SEM is designed for very specific purposes: making your brand more visible, generating engagement, driving traffic to your site, or driving immediate revenue (especially retargeting).

By focusing in on the most relevant keywords and targeting your most desired audience, SEM can help boost visibility in search results. Testing ad content, ad design, and bidding strategies helps to optimize your ad’s placement and attractiveness on search result pages.

While each search platform varies its approach (Google, Bing, Yahoo), the general concepts of search engine marketing remain the same. So do the tactics that help you improve your paid search results.

SEM tactics that work for your brand

From keyword selection to organizing your ad campaigns to competitive monitoring, proven SEM tactics will help you get the best return on your search advertising spend.

Organizational Tactics

Segment by Match type. Match type is how precisely your chosen keywords must match a Google user’s search terms in order for your paid ad to show. One way to organize ad campaigns is to separate them by match type, creating one campaign for Exact match keywords and another for Broad match keywords.

This strategy is most effective for smaller brands with limited budgets, as you can more precisely control your campaigns with a focus on key targeted Exact match keywords.

Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG). The SKAG approach has been gaining in usage recently. Each ad group has only one keyword, and within each group you can have multiple match types.

The advantage of SKAG is that a deep focus on a specific keyword brings you improved quality scores, average positions, and click-through rates (CTRs). Together, these metrics should promote better conversion rates as well as lower ad costs.

Competitive Tactics

Analysis of competitors’ historical data.There are insights to be gleaned from the search strategies and terms of your strongest competition:

  • Which SEM tactics are working for them?
  • Where can your brand seize the opportunity to fill in a missing segment?

Outside of the time required to do thorough research, this analysis can be a relatively inexpensive way to improve your SEM strategy. Tools for competitive research vary in cost and capabilities. These include:

Paid Search Conquesting. With this aggressive SEM tactic, you bid on your competition’s brand name or product names. Beyond those specific terms, you would also want to consider search queries that indicate purchase intent, such as “reviews” and “reliability,” as well as product comparisons. Although this tactic can be more costly than others, it allows you to build awareness of your brand through a better-known brand.

Testing and Optimization Tactics

A/B testing to optimize ads. Continual testing is essential to find the approach, ad campaign settings, and ad content that bring the best results. In an A/B test, you compare a variable under the same circumstances to see which performs best. You should only test one variable at a time to get the clearest results, whether that variable is your ad headline, body text, link or keywords for the ad campaign.

Google’s Campaign Experiments. Built into Google’s AdWords program is a tool called Campaign Drafts and Experiments, which allows you to test ad copy and ad campaign changes without making them live. You can view the effect of the potential changes, compare performances of those campaigns to your current campaigns, and preview the effectiveness of the new drafts before putting ad dollars behind them.

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Social media and SEM

The larger social channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, to name the big three) have built-in, robust advertising platforms of their own. Unlike ads on search engines, your sponsored social content displays directly on users’ feeds. Some of the same principles above can be applied to optimize your social ads for views and ROI.

Bear in mind that social posts are not 100% searchable—and your “likes” and “shares” don’t factor into search results. However, because Google searches for backlinks and page content, heavy traffic to your social profiles can lift your rankings.

One final, crucial tactic: Patience

Search engine marketing is hard work. It’s a highly strategic practice that requires a solid understanding of its principles and dedicated attention to detail. Regardless of the SEM tactics you embrace, it’s important to realize that finding and optimizing the right approach for your brand takes time.

There are no overnight fixes in SEM, and achieving positive results requires a commitment to continuous testing and improvement of your strategies. Make the commitment and you’ll see that a refined search engine marketing strategy is essential for growing your business results.