Understanding Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

How do you make SEM work for you?

Over 100 Billion dollars will be spent this year in the U.S. on digital advertising such as search, display, social media, and email marketing. Search or also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM) represents the largest share with more than 45% of the total spend. Google leads the way with over 92% of all searches.

The numbers are incredible and growing every month with new ways to advertise and new digital strategies to consider. However, Search Engine Marketing remains the undisputed champion. 81% of shoppers reported searching for a product or service first online. 63% conducted those searches from a mobile device. We are always looking for things online, whether it’s where to eat, what book to read or where to buy your next car.

Is Search worth your investment? Earlier this year, Google reached a market capitalization of 1 trillion fueled by strong expectations of advertising sales. Let’s examine its business proposition. What do you need to get started and how do you compete to win?

The Search Engine Endgame:

The endgame of a Search Engine, for Google etc. is ad sales. 84% of Google’s revenue is ad sales. So, it’s understandable that Google demonstrates an unrelenting desire to provide the most relevant listings to every word and phrase searched. But, it’s also more than that. A Search Engine needs to be fast and available anywhere and everywhere. Today, you can search by just about any means possible; via voice, via mobile, via desktop, or even via hand signals and different languages.

The delivery of search results has to provide a favorable and positive connection to the searcher. The better the Search Engine is at connecting the searcher with what they are searching, the more often search will be used.

Pretty simple, but it is all about relevant results. The results turn into click-throughs. Google processes over 3.5 billion searches every day. Searches are for anything under the sun and beyond, but how many relate to your business and in your area? Would you like it if a searcher found you as they searched online for “poor credit auto loans?“ How about hundreds of other combinations of similar phrases aimed at finding your business?

Getting started with SEM:

One of the first things to consider is that SEM is a targeted system. That you only pay for advertising when the searcher conducts a click-through to your website. The fees you pay are actually bids for the placement of your ad associated with certain key words or phrases searched. When you win a bid for a placement, your ad will appear for the key words or phrases related to your product or service.

For example, the searcher typically scans the search results and picks the most relevant listing or ad to click on. If your ad listing is not clicked, you don’t pay the bid. So, in this case, SEM is also a branding system.

An ad listing that is shown to a searcher is called an “Impression.” The percentage of click-throughs to impressions is called CTR or “Click Through Rate.” One goal here is to achieve a high CTR with your key words and phrases. 86% of all search click-throughs occur from the top 4 positions on the page. Most of us only look at the first few listings, so increased relevance is critical.

The key here is that the Search Engine actually wants you to win and continue to win the relevancy battles. They can make it easier for you to keep winning by subsidizing the winning bid. A good SEM strategy will reward you with better performance over time, making it harder for new bidders and other ad listings to knock you out of your top performing key words and phrases. It’s a classic game of “King of the hill,” however, the search engine determines the rules.

What makes a good SEM strategy?

So, if it’s all about getting to the top of the hill and maintaining that position – What do you need to do that? What does the Search Engine look for from the advertiser?

After you get started with SEM, the Search Engine wants to know what happened after the click-through. Did the searcher contact you? Did the searcher engage your business in a meaningful way? Did they watch a video? Or view Inventory? Or check directions? or even complete a credit application?

The Search Engine is looking for anything that suggests that the content of your site was valuable to the searcher and related to the original nature of the source key word or phrase.

When you are able to report back activity, it is called a “conversion.” More conversions mean that the Search Engine is able to make better bid placements. Better bid placements result in more conversions. A great cycle to be in and that’s how you win with Search.

Getting Quality Conversions:

Conversions on your website from ad click-throughs are the key to getting more success with SEM. In order to get more conversions, some general rules should be applied to your website.

1. Your site needs to report conversions back to the search engine. This is a code placement that sends the conversion information to the search engine for review. The more conversion types the better as the Search engine can assign value to each and help guide better ad content driving better conversions.

2. Relevant and focused content. Conversions will increase as your content is more relatable to the reason why the searcher clicked on the ad. For example, if your ad reads “get pre-approved at ____,” make sure your pre-approval form is prominent on your page and simple to use. In many cases, your main website homepage was not built to handle SEM traffic, so a designed “Landing page” may offer a better conversion rate for specific ads.

3. The content on the page is reviewed by the Search Engine and ranked by quality/content score, mobile friendliness, and site speed. A fast and mobile friendly site with focused relevant content will help win more bids and maintain the top position. Investing in your site will pay dividends. High conversion actions like a credit application should be easy to use and convenient to the end-user.

4. Make sure the site is integrated with your social efforts and utilize “retargeting” solutions. Code is placed on your site to track the visitor’s journey and continue to engage after the visit. Retargeting increases the chance of a return to your site and an overall higher % of conversion. It increases recall and activity with other digital marketing efforts including social, display, and email.

In summary, SEM is a great marketing solution, but requires an investment to maximize. SEM will get your business in front of the right audience and if done right, provide a performance-based path to growth. It’s hard to deny its effectiveness when you win the most relevant searches to your business.

My recommendation is to engage an expert. Weather you do that internally or through a qualified agency, the key is to find someone who understands the process and has taken the time to understand your business and communicate the results to you.

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