Understand Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

There are two main ways to get a business found in search engine results pages (SERPs): search listings and paid ads. The paid portion of placement on search results pages is called search engine marketing or SEM.

Understanding Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Understanding Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search engine marketing is increasing a product or service’s visibility on a search engine results page through paid advertising. You might notice every time you search for something. The ads always appear right at the top or bottom of the search results. This is the main type of online ad you will likely use as a digital marketer.

Let’s talk about pay models. When doing SEM, you typically pay when someone clicks on your ad. This is called pay-per-click advertising. or PPC advertising. PPC is a type of advertising model that allows businesses to only pay when someone clicks on their ad.

Besides pay-per-click, there are other types of advertising pay models. One example is to pay by how many times someone sees an ad, also called impressions. This is why PPC advertising is desirable for many marketers and businesses. They only pay when someone takes an action and clicks on the ad. PPC ensures Google is aligned with the advertiser to show the right ads to users.

Compare that pay model to a non-digital channel such as a magazine. When you are advertising in a magazine, you have to pay a large upfront cost. Plus, you can’t really track the actions the reader takes. An exciting part of digital marketing is being able to optimize an ad based on user actions.

Why do marketers choose to do SEM below are some of the advantages:

  • Reach likely customers. SEM allows you to have a website, app, or product shown in the SERPs when someone types in certain searches. For example, if you have a plumbing business in Phoenix, Arizona, and a potential customer searches for a “plumber in Phoenix, Arizona,” it’s likely they will be interested in your business.
  • Quickly appearing in the search result pages. New website will have a difficulty in showing in search results and so SEM can make it happens.
  • Learn which ads are driving sales. It is particularly true for a new business website, which doesn’t have any data on on-site visitors. Using SEM, you can drive traffic to specific web pages on your website to collect data that allows you to determine which content is performing well and which can be improved.
  • Control over where you send the searchers. SEM gives you the control over which page shows in the search engine for a given search. For example, in a plumbing business, potential customers are searching for “leaking water heater repair.” Your homepage ranks in the search listings in Google for this search. With SEM, you can tailor your messaging and use this more direct landing page for searches containing keywords related to leaking water heaters or water heater repair.

*A landing page is any webpage where a visitor enters a website. Typically, the landing page should directly address the problem the potential customer is trying to solve.

Common SEM terms

Let’s go over some of the common SEM terms.

Common Advertising Terms

  • Digital advertising: communication made by a company to promote its brand, product, or service using various platforms and online channels.
  • Traditional advertising: non-digital placements, like newspapers, radio, TV, or billboards.

Common SEM Terms

  • Clicks: interaction with an ad and online user. Clicks can help you understand how well your ad is appealing to people who see it.
  • Impressions: how often your ad is shown. An impression is counted each time your ad is shown on a search result page or other site in the Google Network.
  • Organic results: search results not paid for by advertisers.
  • Paid results: search results that advertisers pay to show whenever a user runs a search containing certain words or phrases (known as ‘keywords’).
  • SERPs: search engine results pages that are Google’s response to a user’s search query.
  • Visitors: the total number of times people have been to your website or app as a result of clicking your ad.

Digital Advertising Terms

  • Landing page: the webpage where people end up after they click your ad.
  • Optimization score: an estimate of how well your Google Ads account is set to perform. The optimization score runs from 0% to 100% meaning that your account can perform at its full potential.
  • Targeted location: the towns, cities, or countries where your ads will appear.

Common SEM ad formats in Google Ads

Over the years, the types of ads that display in Google Search have evolved. The ultimate goal is to show ads that fulfill the needs of your potential customers as well. Let’s go over the different types of ads you will encounter in the SERPs.

Text ads are classic ads with a title that is a link. Following the title is a short description. The description should appeal to the searcher and help them understand what they will find if they click on the webpage.

Google text ads example
Google text ads example

Shopping ads are specifically for e-commerce businesses. They show products related to the search. Often, products from several different companies have shopping ads displayed. The main difference from text ads is the photo of the product shown in the SERPs.

Google shopping ads example
Google shopping ads example

Local services ads are specifically for businesses with local, service-based customers. For example, locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, and real estate agents. To use a local services ad, the business has to be screened by Google. This means someone from Google has confirmed it’s a legitimate business. The screening gives the business additional credibility with potential customers.

Google Maps ads are for local businesses as well. However, unlike local services ads, they can be for local product-based businesses. For example, a Google Maps ad may work well for a restaurant, a jewelry store, or a fitness gym.

Google Map ads
Google Map ads

Call ads are only for mobile searches, and they became popular as a result of more people using their phones rather than their computers to search for products and services. Call ads allow potential customers to click on the business to immediately make a phone call.

For several Google Ad types, there are several options for what is called an ad extension. Ad extension features additional information about a business, such as additional website links, a phone number, or an address. There are several ad extensions. Here a few you should know about.

  1. Site link extensions include additional website links that may be helpful to the searcher. The text ads example above has the site link extension.
  2. Call extensions make it possible to call a business by clicking on its ad.
  3. Location extension enables customers to find a local business and pull it up on Google Maps.
  4. Price extension lists a specific product and its price. When potential customer clicks on the link, they are taken directly to the product page.
  5. Structured snippets extension highlights specific aspects of your products and services. Examples of available headers include services, brands, amenities, types, and styles.

You might want to consider YouTube search engine platforms. Your potential customers might use the platform to solve their problem like watching a product review before making a purchase. In this case, they are already in the consideration stage in the marketing funnel. Search engine marketing is an ever-evolving advertising opportunity. As Google learns more about how to best serve searchers, the different ad types and extensions evolve as well.

Google Ads bid strategies

Every Google Ads campaign requires a bid strategy, and determining the correct strategy is key to the success of a business campaign with Google Ads.

Bid strategy

A bid strategy is designed to help achieve campaign goals based on budget. The most basic bid strategy is Manual Cost Per Click (CPC). You set your own maximum cost per click for your ads.

Alternatively, automated bidding strategies allow Google Ads to automatically set bids for your ads based on the ad’s likelihood to result in a click or conversion that helps you achieve a specific goal.

Smart bidding

Smart bidding is a subset of automated bidding strategies. These strategies use machine learning to optimize conversions or conversion values with each auction. They factor in a wide range of auction-time signals such as the user’s device, location, time of day, remarketing list, language, and operating system. A bidding strategy automatically determines whether or not to bid and how much to bid based on auction-time factors and the search context. 

Types of bid strategies

Bid StrategyDefinitionGoal
Maximize conversion valueThis strategy uses advanced machine learning to automatically optimize and set bids. It also offers auction-time bidding capabilities that tailor bids for each auction.Increase business value
Target ROASThis strategy analyzes and intelligently predicts the value of potential conversion every time a user searches for products or services you’re advertising. It determines that a user search is likely to generate a conversion with high-value Target ROAS will bid high on that search.Increase business value
Maximize conversionsMaximize conversions automatically sets bids to help get the most conversions for your campaign within your budget.Increase sales or leads
Maximize clicksThis automated bid strategy sets your bids to help get as many clicks as possible within your budget.Increase website visitors
Target CPATarget CPA is an optional target to maximize conversions. This bid strategy sets bids for you to get as many conversions as possible through the average cost you’d like to pay for each conversion.Increase sales or leads
Target impression shareThere are three options for the target impression share strategy, depending on where you want your ads to show:
– on the absolute top of the page,
– on the top of the page
– anywhere on the page of Google search results.
Google Ads automatically sets your bids to show your ad based on your placement settings.
Increase awareness and visibility
Cost per 1000 impressions (CPM)You’ll pay based on the number of impressions (times your ads are shown) you receive on YouTube or the Google Display Network.Increase awareness and visibility
Cost per view (CPV)This is the default bid strategy to set the amount you’ll pay for video ads in Google Ads. You’ll pay for video views or interactions.Increase awareness and visibility
Types of bid strategies

Google Ads guides you to choose a bid strategy by asking a series of questions to determine your campaign goals. However, the website offers the option to select a bid strategy directly. Once selected, users can choose specific bidding strategies from a drop-down menu.

It is important to identify marketing goal first and then match it to the appropriate strategy. Choosing the right strategy often takes trial and error, so don’t worry if you selected strategy doesn’t work initially. You can always apply what you’ve learned from previous attempts to your next campaign.

Resources for more information

Happy learning and good luck!

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