Beginner’s Guide To Search Engine Marketing14 min read

“Let me Google it”

…must be one of the most common phrases uttered today.

We type in our keyword or phrase and an instant later have the results in front of us. We can then choose which pages to visit for the information we are looking for. It’s an unprecedented age of technology.

Depending on your keyword search, you may have paid adverts displayed as well. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) encompasses everything from the ads you see to the websites listed in your results page, and much more.

Of course, there are a number of search engines out there, but the daddy of them all is undoubtedly Google. Throughout this blog we’ll talk exclusively about Google as it commands over 85% of the desktop search market share, and 93% for mobile.

What is the difference between SEM and SEO?

Ever wondered what the difference is between SEM and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?

They are often used interchangeably, but really shouldn’t be because the distinction is clear and important for you to know when implementing a strategy for either one. So, allow me to uncover the differences between these two technical terms.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, encompasses SEO and is essentially the process of promoting a site online by paid or unpaid means.

Ads displayed at the top of your search engine results pages for specific keyword searches or on Google’s Display Network are paid initiatives. I will discuss this in more detail later. Unpaid refers to SEO.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, are measures taken to increase the quality and volume of organic (unpaid) traffic directed to your website by search engines.

“The objective of your SEO efforts is to rank as highly as possible to gain as much exposure as possible.”

Search engine marketing, or SEM, refers to paid and unpaid initiatives.

Ads displayed at the top of your search engine results pages for specific keyword searches or on Google’s Display Network are paid initiatives. I will discuss this in more detail later. Unpaid refers to SEO.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, are measures taken to increase the quality and volume of organic (unpaid) traffic directed to your website by search engines.

“The objective of your SEO efforts is to rank as highly as possible to gain as much exposure as possible.”

Ranking well through good SEO practices takes time. It could take many months, or even years, for an SEO-optimised page to make it into a top 10 position. SEO is a subset of SEM.

To put it in slightly more practical terms. When doing a search for a particular search term (keyword), the first page results could consist of a combination of the top 10 websites as well as ads.

The top 10 websites are there because of good SEO practices and the ads are there because advertisers paid for them to be displayed for that search term.

Ranking well through good SEO practices takes time. It could take many months, or even years, for an SEO-optimised page to make it into a top 10 position.

To put it in slightly more practical terms. When doing a search for a particular search term (keyword), the first page results could consist of a combination of the top 10 websites as well as ads.

The top 10 websites are there because of good SEO practices and the ads are there because advertisers paid for them to be displayed for that search term.

Why is SEM important?

“Simply stated, SEM is important because it provides online exposure for your brand and products.”

Ranking on the first page on Google can be challenging. Even if you created the highest quality page and have applied the best SEO practices, it is still a long way to the top of the pile.

In fact, even with everything going for it, there’s no guarantee your page will ever make it to the first page. If the keyword you’re ranking for is very popular, you’ll be up against some huge brands and businesses.

This is why part of your SEM strategy should include paid and unpaid components. The paid component of your SEM strategy is highly effective because it serves your ads to people at exactly the time they are interested in engaging with your products. As a result, they’ll probably be more likely to buy!

Types of Google ads

As you go along your daily online routine, you probably come across many adverts in the different sites you visit, on search results and in apps you use. Many of these ads are being served to you through one of two Google ad networks. These are:

AdWords Search Network Ads

These are ads that appear above, and sometimes below, organic search results as well as alongside the search results of Google’s partner sites.

AdWords Display Network Ads

These ads appear on more than 2 million sites and over 650 000 applications.

A step-by-step guide to SEM

Now we know what SEM actually is and why it is a crucial part of any business in the 21st century, we can get stuck in on the how to effectively market online.

Mobile-friendly

We are in the midst of a shift from desktop to mobile.

“In 2016, mobile overtook desktop as being the primary device for consuming online content.”

Google has responded to this trend with the introduction of its Mobile-First Index in 2018.

It ranks the mobile site first and then uses this as a basis for ranking the desktop site. It used to be the other way around. Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test” tool checks how mobile friendly your website is.

It’s Google’s way of getting everyone to focus on the quality of their mobile sites, as the vast majority of web searches are now completed on mobile, and own users need to enjoy a positive experience on this platform.

Keywords

Now let’s take a look at the all-important keyword. The keyword, which can also consist of a few words, is what makes the initial introductions between your user and your business.

The keyword, also called “search term”, plays an important role in the level of success you can achieve in your company, so needs to be carefully considered.

Start by doing your keyword research.

Irrespective of whether you’re trying to rank highly through SEO practices, or paying for ads to appear, it’s governed by the keyword search. So, you want to do thorough keyword research to make sure you get exactly the kind of traffic you’re after.

Each page you run should have a primary keyword that is different to the keywords on your other pages. You don’t want to compete with yourself.

A word of warning: you must not repeat the keyword too many times on the page. If it’s used too many times, search engines will see it as keyword stuffing and you’ll be penalised.

Google is smart enough to pick up, from the content on the page, that it relates to the main keyword.

In fact, pages that perform well on searches will rank for your main search term as well as for hundreds of related terms.

It’s common for pages on the first page of search results to rank for well over a thousand keywords. The focus as the creator of the content however, is to be clear as to what your primary keyword is and ensure the rest of your content relates to it.

Popular keywords attract a lot of traffic but they’re more difficult to rank highly for, and the ad costs are greater. Longtail keywords, which consist of 3 or more words, attract less traffic but are also far less competitive and easier to rank well for. They are also cheaper to bid for ad position, which is ideal when going up against huge multi-million businesses.

The major benefit of longtail keywords is that people who use them are generally further along the buying cycle, they’re more specific and often worded as questions.

This means that it attracts a higher quality visitor who is searching for a specific service or product.

Your keyword research will tell you which longtail keywords are searched for. Don’t focus on keywords that have zero search volume for obvious reasons.

There are a few things you can do to identify the keywords you should use:

  • Use AdWords Keyword Planner to see what the search volumes are for the keywords you’re interested in. It will also provide suggestions.
  • Check out competitors that are doing well. There are websites like Ahrefs that have tools to provide you with the keywords your competitors are ranking for.
  • Identify longtail keywords that receive modest amounts of traffic each month.
  • Google Trends is another really useful and easy to use tool that allows you to see what search terms are trending.

Choose a Bidding strategy

Now we get to the part that has resulted in Google becoming the most valuable company in the world. Of course, they make tons of money and nearly all of it comes

from advertising. These are the PPC, or pay per click, options advertisers can choose for their paid campaigns:

  • CPC, or cost per click – advertisers pay per click on their ads. This is an effective strategy for driving traffic to your website.
  • CPM, or cost per thousand viewable impressions – this is available for Display Network campaigns only and is ideal for increasing brand awareness.
  • CPA, or cost per acquisition – advertisers pay when a specific action has been taken on your website after your ad had been clicked.

Understand how the ad auction works

“Paid ads! Great!” You may think. “Now I don’t need to produce a quality page. I’ll just pay for one of the ad spots and get the exposure I need.”

However, search engines are wise to this kind of tactic. Your ad still has to compete for a position, and whether or not you win a spot depends on your Ad Rank score.

This is calculated based on the maximum you’re willing to pay and its quality score.

Google determines your quality score based on your ads relevance to a specific search term, and the experience the user will have when engaging with your ad and its landing page.

This is oversimplifying things, but you get the idea. Google takes quality and user experience into account.

Here’s how the ad auction works:

  1. Every time someone punches a search query into Google, an ad auction is triggered. These auctions are governed by keywords that advertisers choose to bid on. You’ll state how much you’re prepared to pay for specific keywords. Google checks if the user’s search query contains any of your keywords and if it does, you’re entered into the auction.
  2. Google then determines your Ad Rank score calculated from your maximum bid and your quality score. The Ad Rank score determines if you win a spot and where your ad will be placed relative to others.

Google paid ads options

Google AdWords gives the advertiser the following choice for ad campaigns:

Search Network only

These are ads that appear alongside your Google search results as well as the results of other search sites that are in partnership with Google to display ads.

Display Network only

Google’s Display network consists of websites, smartphone apps, blogs, videos, and other online destinations that display AdWords ads. The benefit of the Display Network is that ads can be shown on relevant content. For example, if you provide fishing tours, your ads could show up on fishing websites and forums related to fishing.

The Search Network and Display Select

This campaign allows you to reach users as they use Google search or visit websites. Your ads will appear alongside Google search results and the search results of partner sites, as well as across the Display Network.

Shopping

The shopping campaign can be used to promote online and local inventory. These ads show an image of the product with a title, store name, price, etc.

Video

Video campaigns allows you to show video ads on their own or inside other streaming video content on YouTube and across the Google Display Network.

Universal App

The Universal App campaign lets you advertise your app across Google’s largest properties which are Search Network, Display Network, YouTube and Google Play.

Google Remarketing

Remarketing allows Google to track your website’s visitors so that you can reach them with highly targeted ads based on the actions they had taken on your website.

These ads will be served to them as they continue with their searches, watch YouTube videos, read articles or engage with apps. The paid ads options listed above will be utilised to serve up your ads. The clickthrough rate of a remarketed ad is quite clearly higher than one than isn’t:

This is a highly effective form of advertising as it targets individuals who had already expressed an interest in your products.

I’ll give you a simple example. Let’s say you have an online lawnmower store. Someone had come onto your website, viewed your Z234 model and added it to cart. Sadly, before the purchase was completed and for whatever reason, the visitor left your website.

With Google remarketing, you can add this individual to an audience list based on the product she chose and the fact that her cart was abandoned. Now, as she continues her online journey, she’ll be served with ads relating to that lawnmower.

You may even choose to offer this audience a 15% discount if they conclude their purchase within a week.

Not only this, but you can remarket to customers in different ways based on what stage of the buying process they reached. For example, you may decide to target ads more aggressively at someone who has spent time browsing through your product pages, with offers and deals on various products.

With someone who has reached check-out and decided not to buy, a gentle nudge with a small discount may be all that is needed.

Closing Thoughts

So, it’s clear to see that SEM is how you get exposure to your brand and products over Google’s Search Network, Display Network, Google Play, YouTube, partner sites and within apps.

It encompasses SEO which relates to improved positioning in search results. It’s an unpaid method of attracting “organic” traffic to your website. It can take a long time for a page to rank well.

Your exposure can be boosted through paid ads which finds your target audience wherever they are online. Your marketing strategy should include both unpaid and paid initiatives for maximum return on investment.

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