What is Search Engine Marketing? 4 Best Practices for SEM

Search engine marketing, commonly known as SEM, is one of the best ways to grow your business online, whether your business is a brick and mortar store or online-only. When we head online with a question, we head straight to Google or a similar search engine to find the answers, so it’s no surprise that competition to be that answer is fierce.

While SEO is a great long-term solution, SEM is ideal for any business that wants to see immediate results and has the budget to put it into practice.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is when a business pays to display their advertisements on search results pages. For example, if you search for something like “tree surgeons Seattle,” you’ll see a list of organic search results your search engine has found and ranked for you, but also a handful of results that have Ad next to them.

These are the results those companies have paid for. They’ve created a PPC (pay-per-click) ad and “bid” on the keyword “tree surgeons Seattle” to pay your search engine to display that ad to you at the top or side of the search results page.

These ads may come in a variety of formats, but they all aim to get you to click on them to find out more. 

Why is Search Engine Marketing So Powerful?

Search engine marketing is powerful because it removes the barrier to entry for new businesses. Yes, it is a pay-to-play model, but reaching the top of the organic search results isn’t easy and can take years of work building your authority online before you’ll reach the coveted first 3 spots, depending on how competitive the keywords are.

So, even if your business is brand new, you can pay for an ad and display it with the businesses that have been building up their online authority for a decade or more.

Better still, you can choose keywords that align with where that customer is in their purchasing journey – so if you’re willing to bid a little more, you can show your ad at the moment when those customers are actively looking to make a purchase.

What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Let’s just touch on this again quickly before we move on. SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of optimizing your website content so it will appear at the top of the organic search results for your keywords. SEM is where you pay to place an ad there instead or as well.

So, how can you effectively use SEM to get your business ahead, especially if it’s relatively new or if you’re new to the world of SEM? Let’s take a look at the best practices you need to know.

4 SEM Best Practices to Ensure Your Ads Are Worthwhile

First, it’s worth noting that, depending on your keyword and what you’re advertising, your ad copy and landing page will ultimately decide if you get a good CTR (click-through rate) and conversion rate (how many people buy, call, or fill in your form).

That said, not all ads need fancy ad copy, they just need to be clear, so with that all in mind, let’s dive into the SEM best practices you need to know. 

Keywords Are The Most Important Factor and Dictate Your CPC

Your CPC is the cost-per-click, so the more competitive the keyword, the higher the CPC will be because more businesses want to appear for that search. Your keywords are the words and phrases you want to appear for when someone searches for that search term, so if you get those wrong, your ads will appear to people who aren’t actually interested in what you have to offer. 

Of course, it’s not just that simple, especially if you want to maximize your ROI (return on investment). The more competitive the keyword, the higher the CPC, and so the less competitive the keyword, the lower the CPC.

So, why would this matter? It matters because, in some circumstances, you can be smart with the keywords you choose and catch customers earlier in the purchasing journey and help them make the decision to buy while they’re on your site. While this may take a little more work on your end, it can pay off hugely in the long run.

Again, the effectiveness of a strategy like this will depend on your niche’s buyer behavior, as someone who has a problem with their sink may simply search for “Plumber in Seattle,” because they have an emergency and need someone to solve the problem. Anyone else may be worth marketing to via SEO with helpful content.

But if you were selling a weight loss plan, for example, the keyword “weight loss plan” is likely very competitive, while “How can I lose weight by next week?” or “How can I lose 15lbs?” may not be. 

So don’t skimp on your keyword research. There are plenty of free and paid keyword research tools out there (UberSuggest and AnswerthePublic being two great free tools), so do your research before you start testing with your cash.

Know Your Ideal Customer Inside-Out

Creating search engine ads will also require you to narrow down your ad’s audience. Bigger isn’t always better, especially when it comes to spending money on who you show your ads to. So, you want to narrow down the audience for each ad to ensure you have the best chance of finding someone who is most likely to need what you offer.

So, learn about your ideal customer and target your ad to them. Think about where they live, where they are in their purchasing journey, their income, gender, what and what other products or brands they’re interested in.

Test Your Ad Copy

We discussed the importance of your ad copy a little earlier, and that’s a huge topic that’s certainly worth learning more about. Regardless of how skilled an ad-copywriter you are, it’s important to test your ad copy and headlines, test again, and test some more.

It’s incredibly tempting to put up an ad, start turning a profit, and completely ignore it. However, you should continue to test your ads to further improve your ROI. The ideal scenario is one where you essentially know that if you put in X dollars, you get double that amount back. That ratio isn’t always possible, but if you can reliably turn a bigger profit simply by upping your ad spend, your ads have reached a great place.

Don’t Forget That Things Change

As we touched on in the last point, you shouldn’t set up your ads and forget about them. Even when they’re working optimally, you need to check in regularly to check nothing has changed. The cost of your bids and the auction process (that’s how search engines decide who they’ll display on that search), may change, and you may find that you’re consistently getting out-bid and need to tweak your strategy.

That’s just a part of doing SEM, so don’t let it phase you. By the time your CTR is good enough that you’re consistently turning a profit enough to want to leave your ads to work their magic, your ads’ quality score (one of the factors search engines use to decide who they’ll display for the search results) will be high enough that you certainly won’t have to start from scratch.

SEM is a great way to get a new business off the ground or increase your business’s success, and you don’t need a budget of thousands of dollars to get started. Of-course, the more you can do to get your business seen, the better, and so any SEM campaign should be supported by SEO. One of the best ways to do this is by doing guest posts. Guest posts are notoriously difficult to get organically, so choosing to pay to ensure your guest posts get in the right place is always a good idea. If you’re interested in finding out more about how guest posting can support your SEO and SEM efforts.

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