Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - a quick guide

09 Aug 2022  |  by Kristina Kramer

8 min read 

Search Engine Marketing, also known as SEM or SE marketing, can be an incredibly cost-effective way of reaching new customers. 

While Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategies can take months or years to provide results, a SEM strategy can place an ad for your business at the top of page one in only a few clicks.

In this guide, we’ll teach you everything there is to know about SE marketing, including what the process involves, the platforms you can use, and some tips for success.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. The process involves driving traffic to your website by purchasing ads on search engine results pages (also known as SERPs).

During a SEM campaign, a marketer will pick relevant keywords or key phrases that they want to target with an advert. They will also tell their chosen search engine how much they’re willing to bid per click.

Once the campaign is set up, a consumer who triggers any of the associated keywords or phrases will be shown a number of adverts related to that term. These ads will be displayed in order of who bids the most, alongside several other variables. If the customer clicks on an ad, they will be directed to the advertiser’s website and the advertiser will then be charged.

What are the most-used SEM platforms?

SEM platforms are search engines where a brand can place adverts. Today, Google remains the most common SEM platform by far. However, the Microsoft Advertising Platform (formerly Bing Ads) is also a popular option with marketers who are looking to reach a different audience.

No matter which platform you decide to use, you should remember that these platforms shouldn’t be considered as competing products. If they’re utilised correctly, then you will find that using multiple platforms allows you to expand your ad’s reach into different territories, demographics, and markets.

The Google Ads platform

Google Ads is the most widely used SEM platform. It’s easy to see why, too. Every second (on average), Google processes 40,000 search queries. This equates to more than 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year. 

Known as Google Ads since 2018 (it was formerly known as Google Adwords), Google’s SEM platform allows you to get your ads in front of the largest number of potential customers.

Overall, using Google Ads is an effective and simple way of driving qualified traffic to your business. After all, these customers are already searching for products and services like the ones you offer. Plus, ads from the platform can span across other channels too, including YouTube, Blogger, and Google Display Network.

Additionally, the Google Ads platform provides businesses with a number of unique benefits. For example, no matter the size of your business or your available resources, you can tailor your ads to suit your budget. This is because the Google Ads tool allows you to stay within your monthly cap and even pause or stop your ad spending at any point in time. Plus, on top of this, Google Ads also helps you analyse and improve your ads so that they reach more people.

Microsoft Advertising Platform (formerly Bing Ads)

Bing’s advertising platform is now powered by Microsoft. Although Microsoft’s search network is much smaller than Google’s, it still allows you to reach a substantial number of potential customers. When you connect on Microsoft’s platforms and apps, you can reach 724 million monthly unique searchers and 296 million unique users. Today, the Microsoft Search Network powers 21.6% of United Kingdom searches and delivers 489.3 million searches every month.

When you use the Microsoft Advertising Platform, you gain access to several different networks, including Bing, Yahoo, and MSN. On top of this, advertising on Microsoft’s networks provides a number of benefits. For example, because the ad’s potential reach isn’t as high, ads tend to cost less than they do on Google and the average cost-per-click (CPC) is usually lower. Similarly, there’s less competition for desirable keywords.

Planning an SEM strategy

Much like any other form of marketing, in order to provide an effective ROI, you need to plan your SEM marketing strategy. To do this, you must set your budget, choose the correct keywords, put your ads into groups, and continually monitor performance. Let’s take a look at each of these elements in greater detail.

Setting your budget

Each time a prospective customer clicks on one of your ads, you’ll need to pay the amount you opted to bid. As a result, each piece of traffic you receive costs you money. If you generate a lot of traffic with an aggressive bidding strategy, then this cost can quickly rack up. Thankfully, platforms like Google Ads allow you to set cost caps, so you cannot exceed a spend limit. That said, you’ll still need to decide how much you’re willing to spend on each keyword/phrase each month.

On top of this, besides the money you choose to spend on your search engine marketing campaign, you also need to consider other costs you may incur, such as:

  • Copywriting (effective ads don’t write themselves)
  • Site development and improvement (particularly if you need to design and build new landing pages)
  • Research time
  • Analytics

If you fail to set an appropriate budget that incorporates all aspects of your campaign, you’ll find that you overspend. If this is the case, you may not deliver your desired level of ROI.

Choosing your SEM keywords

Your SEM keywords are the words and phrases you’ll target as part of your SE marketing campaign. When users search for these keywords and phrases, they’ll see your ads.

Certain keywords will perform better than others, with huge differences in terms of bidding competition and cost-per-click.

You should start the process of selecting your keywords by brainstorming brand terms and terms that describe your product.

If you have a small budget, then it’s best to bid on keywords that have buying intent. However, if you have a larger budget, you may find that you have room to bid on keywords targeting earlier stages of the buyer's journey.

Before you finalise your keywords and start bidding, you should check what level of traffic these keywords receive and the level of competition for bidding on these terms. After all, if no one's searching for your target keywords, you won't get any results from your ads. At the same time, keywords with extremely high volume attract more competition and the cost for bidding may simply be too high for your budget. 

Of course, relevant high-volume and low-competition keywords are ideal, but they’re very difficult to find. As a result, selecting the right keywords is a balancing act between demand (volume) and budget (competition).

Creating your ad groups

Ad groups are an essential component of any search engine marketing campaign. This is because ad groups are one of the main tools you have for organising your SE campaign into a meaningful hierarchy.

Each ad group is home to the relevant keywords for that grouping, the text for the related ads, and your landing pages. For example, if you run an e-commerce store that sells men’s clothing, then you may split a wider campaign relating to men’s shoes into ad groups based on shoes for the gym, shoes for walking, and formal shoes.

Most search engines will look at the organisation of your ad groups to determine:

  • Which keywords your ads will show in response to
  • What your ad will say when it runs
  • Where the visitor will be taken when they click on your ad

Due to this, by creating ad groups, not only can you make your intentions clear, but you can also determine:

  • Who to advertise to
  • What to say to get their attention
  • How you’ll make your final pitch when the potential customer reaches your website

Measure your performance

As with any other form of marketing campaign, SE marketing works best when the strategy is reviewed and optimised regularly. Due to this, proper campaign tracking is absolutely critical for any search engine marketing effort. After all, when you’re paying per click, it’s easy to start spending large sums of money on keywords that aren’t providing any returns.

How to effectively track your campaign’s performance depends on your overall goal. Once you’ve defined that, you can determine which metrics you need to monitor. Popular options include:

Click-through-rate (CTR)

Click-through-rate measures the number of people who click on your ads and get directed through to your landing page. Your CTR tells you whether your keywords, ad copy, and CTA are doing their job in enticing prospects to click on your ad.

If you have a low CTR, you may find that you need to improve your keywords, ad copy, and CTA.

Quality score

Google defines quality score as “an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. Higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions.”

Factors that affect your quality score are:

  • Relevance of the ad copy to the keyword
  • Landing page quality and relevance to the keyword
  • Historical performance of your ads

Conversion rate

Your conversion rate is the number of people who took your desired action divided by the total number of visitors to your website.

Although your CTR tells you how many people are clicking through to your website, your conversion rate shows you how many of those people are actually converting. If you have a high CTR but your conversion rate is low, then it’s likely you’re paying for irrelevant clicks that aren’t providing results. As a result, you may need to shift your keyword focus.

Cost-per-action (CPA)

Cost-per-acquisition (CPA) refers to the cost or price you pay each time a user takes a specific action after reading your ad.

This is an incredibly useful metric because it shows you whether your search advertising efforts are successful or not. This is because it shows you how much you’re spending versus how much you’re actually earning.

If you continually optimise and improve these metrics, you’ll also find that you’re continually improving ROI and the effectiveness of your campaigns.

Integrating SEM into your marketing strategy

Here at Apteco, we can help you integrate SEM into your marketing strategy. This is because, with our help, you can integrate your data into a single platform.

By integrating Apteco software with your existing applications and tools, you can get one version of the truth and operate with greater accuracy and efficiency. Our solutions integrate seamlessly with platforms such as Google Ads. This means you’ll find it simple to set up ads, gather the statistics from ad groups, generate reports, and reflect campaign performance.

Our software integrates with a wide range of downstream fulfilment channels, martech and business applications, with everything managed and all responses collated in one seamless platform. 

To see how Apteco can integrate your data into a single platform, book a demo today.

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Kristina Kramer

Online Marketing Specialist

Kristina Kramer joined Apteco at the beginning of 2019. As online marketing specialist, her responsibilities include taking care of our website and various social media channels as well as the Apteco blog.

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