SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a shortcut method for advertising your brand, products or services. It is often confused with terms such as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SMO (Social Media Optimization). In spite that the three are totally different entities, they overlap, and work best functioning as a team. While SEO helps your webpage go higher in organic search results and SMO is concerned with marketing on social platforms, SEM refers to ‘paid ads’ that appear in search engines; typically at the top and bottom of organic results on a page.

As we all know that Google is the most widely used search engine, we’ll use it as the base for getting an insight on how SEM really works. In order to pursue this marketing strategy, we need an effective tool, such as Google AdWords.

Before we go further, let’s settle down for a bit and grasp the concept around Google Adwords, which can be classified into two categories:

  • Search Network
  • Display Network

As the name might suggest, Search Network refers to the ads that appear in search engine results. On the other hand, Display Network includes all the ads that we see on all other websites trying to make money via Google Adsense.

Apparently, Google AdWords will suggest you to go both ways for a powerful ad campaign. This may appear like a legit solution for accelerated brand recognition, but in reality it’s not. The same ad is never appropriate for both networks because their placement occurs on non-identical terms. Google AdWords just wants your money, so it’s up to you to act smart or obey blindly.

Search Network vs. Display Network

The Search Network shows ads that are relevant to keywords or phrases that people type into Google. Therefore, we can call it specific and prospective marketing, because your ad is offering what the person has requested at that time. The Display Network shows ads that appear in a more random fashion within content you are going through. They are placed in accordance with several factors which can be contextual, behavioral or demographic. Referred to as “interruptive marketing”, they offer something the user has not voluntarily asked for.

SEM comprises both Search and Display ads; both have the potential to benefit all kinds of businesses. Display ads need to be more visually attractive and suggestive in nature to be noticed. At least 3 million websites are using Google Adsense, thus it guarantees an ample audience. Out of 7.7 billion people in the world, more than 3 billion use the internet everyday. About 90% of them start with a search engine, whether it’s for work/study, research or entertainment. Naturally, search ads have a broader and profoundly targeted reach.

Cost of SEM

Any website that wishes to benefit from SEM in the long term needs decent SEO. When your website complies with Search Engine Optimization, it means it is efficient, reliable and holds valuable content. If your page lacks all three things, SEM alone will not be of much use. Google assigns a quality score to every website so if your score is low, it will literally cost you.

When users leave your website immediately after a click or post bad reviews, this indicates a bad user experience. Google notices these things and deducts points; on a scale of 10, you at least need to maintain a 5. Websites with a score of 4 or less are charged more per click, sometimes as much as 400%. On the contrary, websites with a good score (6 or above) can get up to 50% discount.

Important factors affiliated with SEM:

  • Impressions – the number of times your ad appeared before a user
  • CPC (cost per click) – the amount you pay per click on your ad
  • CPM (cost per million impressions) – you may choose to pay just to be seen/appear on screen
  • CTR (click through rate) – the number of clicks (on ads) that reached your webpage
  • CTA (calls to action) – number of subscriptions/sales achieved

When impressions are high and the rest of the factors are running low, this is a hint that you need to change your ad (make it more appealing). However, if your CTR is high and CTA is non-existent, while your CPM is skyrocketing – this is bad news. Users don’t stay at your page for long and hate you because your ad obviously showcases misleading content.

You will not be charged for your ads unless someone clicks on them; exception is when you select the CPM method. Search ads are a bit pricey, owing to their rather direct approach as compared to display ads. Ads that appear on search pages have a CTR that exceeds the latter by about ten folds. Getting too many clicks is good when CTA follows the pattern; otherwise it’s a colossal waste of money. The key to spending less is setting a budget, where you may create 5 ads or 50; you can go as low as $10 per day. Don’t leave everything to Google/Adwords and make sure to keep check of your content quality. On average, you might be subject to $2 per click, so design your ads wisely.

How SEM is better than Traditional Marketing

SEM is particularly benign for startups as it is the easiest and quickest route to  establish brand recognition. It is so much cheaper than traditional marketing, which includes television advertisements, billboards, newspapers etc. SEM happens online and is thereby most convenient for businesses that need to communicate globally. Traditional marketing techniques are usually limited to a national level and require huge investments that could sum up to millions of dollars.

Leads come in quickly when you use SEM the right way; the first purchase could occur within 24 hours. Managing search ads or display ads is generally painless. If one ad isn’t working for you, you can remove or change it anytime without paying extra expenses. Traditional ads usually come with paid contracts, so you are typically not allowed to make alterations during the signed time period. In case there is room for change, it will be considerably expensive.

SEM is all about repetition, consistency and steady growth. It helps you remain visible in front of an extensive audience. It is unlikely that someone will notice you the first time and immediately become a customer. The success of an organization is proportional to trust-building among potential clients/customers.

Unlike traditional ads, you can run search/display ads for unlimited time periods with countless variations. Users might look at your ad a couple of times before they finally decide to click. Even after they reach your website, it may take months before they buy your products or services. Nonetheless, it is a victory and plays a significant role in improving brand recognition and establishing a reputation among competitors.

Traditional advertising is basically stagnant; the audience is limited and the timeline is predefined. You may only reach a small fraction of your targeted audience or even less. On T.V, only people interested in a certain program will get to see your ad; not to mention, the majority will be away for a break or mute the commercials. Other platforms such as newspapers and radio are nearly obsolete. Talking of billboards, again very few people in passing will have a thorough look. The only time people actually observe advertisements on the road in when they’re stuck in traffic or parked nearby.

SEM Optimization

Before you sail through SEM, you’ve got to get some things straight or you’ll end up with hefty inputs followed by trifling outputs. The first thing you have to master is “keywords”; try different combinations or phrases and the search engine will show you the commonly used ones. Although using more keywords helps increase your rank in search engines, over-stuffing that appears unnatural is not recommended. Use keywords in a humane way instead of a mechanical approach.

You shall also look at the results and see if the websites listed have a connection with yours. Are they offering the same services/products or similar content as yours? The toppers in organic results are considered the most trustworthy sources, so scrutinize their content and learn a few things.At the end of the day, you will be aware of your top competitors as well. Often you’ll come across websites that have secured a place on the 1st result page of Google via an ad and in organic results; these websites are the example of doing SEM right.

You can also research different topics that people commonly look up. Use these topics as templates for your blogs, if relevant to your business. Suppose you’re marketing a clothing line, you could use an article like “The latest fashion trends this Fall” or “Cheap Dresses that Look Lavish” etc. Blogs and articles with original content and frequently sought subject lines are a great way to bring in traffic and ultimately potential leads. When you achieve a good score with SEO, your SEM will automatically improve.

You must start SEM with clear goals:

  • What is your budget?
  • How many ads can you start with (3-5 are enough initially)
  • Your target audience (age, gender, location etc.)
  • Supply and Demand Capacity

Let’s say you’re an IT firm that wants to connect with clients on an international level. You’ll require a fairly substantial budget, maybe 50+ ads, and most importantly the capacity to equally cater numerous customers at the same time.

Getting back to Keywords, there are two kinds – positive keywords and negative keywords. For the sake of reaching the right audience, you have to provide both to the search engine. Positive keywords are the ones that will lead to your site on search pages and negative keywords are those that will help exclude you from particular searches. For example, your website is a platform for streaming popular T.V shows via a paid subscription. Many people will search for something like “watch Game of Thrones free” and you will appear in the results even though you’re not offering the service for free. Users that click on your link will certainly leave your website right away once they’re asked to enter credit card details; this is bad for your score. Hence, simply add “free” to the list of negative keywords.

Last but not least, is your “Landing Page” – this can make or break your SEM campaign. The Landing Page is the place where your ad leads to when someone clicks on it. This is not necessarily your homepage or contact page; it just has to be the right page. Your landing page should exhibit what the ad promised and the user wants. Let’s say you sell all kinds of shoes online and the user is specifically looking for sneakers displayed in your ad, guide them to the page where he/she can order those sneakers. Definitive landing pages are the ticket to immediate sales + rapid revenue generation.

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