The term [Search Engine Marketing] is sometimes used liberally to describe the various ways of working with search engines to trigger favorable positions on search engine result pages (SERPs). At Vagary, we make a clear distinction between search engine optimization (SEO), local search & search engine marketing (SEM). From a tactical perspective, each search strategy is very different to undertake, requiring its own set of skills. For this post, SEM is the process of managing paid search campaigns on platforms such as Google Adwords, BingAds, and Yahoo! Gemini. SEM is a form of advertising. In other words, with SEM you are paying for ad impressions (indirectly) and traffic to your site.
SEM is the primary way that search engines like Google and Bing monetize their site/platform. On the backend, these sites have self-service platforms, like Adwords, that allow SEM practitioners to create and manage SEM advertising campaigns at any time. Perhaps the most difficult concept about SEM for non-practitioners to grasp is the fact these ad management platforms, and the algorithms that they are based on, are still in a nascent stage and they are constantly being changed and updated. They’ve been moving targets since their inception in the early 2000s. Be wary of any professional that tells you they know everything about search engine marketing. Search engines are constantly revising their algorithms as well as updating their SEM management platforms.
Initially search engine result pages (SERPs) showed the best results for the “entire” Internet. In the early days, large enterprises with deep pockets of SEM budgets controlled the space. For the most part this is still true, but SERPs now show localized results. This means that savvy local small businesses now have the ability to get in the SEM game, but the strategy is often pricey for a local player. As a strategy, SEM often isn’t an option for a small retail business because of the cost involved and the expertise required to manage an SEM account effectively. This doesn’t mean the SEM is never an option for a small business but the decision to deploy the it really depends on the local business and its business goals, communication goals, etc.
As search engines have evolved since the early 2000s, they have made numerous changes to the SEM platforms used to manage search campaigns. Each search engine is similar to, but different than, the others. At the tactical level, managing an SEM account in Google Adwords is going to be different than managing an SEM account in BingAds. From a management perspective there are many similarities but the differences are enough to take caution and pay attention to detail with each engine. Keeping your SEM accounts up-to-date so that they perform efficiently in this volatile environment should not be underestimated.
Initially search engines didn’t have metrics associated with a cost per conversion. Times have changed. Now SEM conversions can be measured for many types of post click interactions. The key to managing SEM accounts based on (interaction) conversions is going to be the proper deployment of your analytics tracking scripts/software and the proper tagging of your search components: campaigns, ad groups, products, keywords, ads.
Paying for traffic on search engines was not always attractive for local businesses. This situation has changed in recent years due to Google’s and Bing’s ability to serve ads based on the geographical location of the person conducting the search query. Some of this functionality has been around for a while but the way SERPs have evolved has made SEM much more attractive for small businesses.
SEM advertising platforms offer many different filtering options for your ad impressions. You can show impressions just for people conducting a search a on mobile phone. You can show local ads that allow mobile phone users to click and ring directly your store telephone. You can show ads that display on Google maps. You can show ads that pop up on YouTube videos for specific types of content, and only for specific geographical locations. The number of filtering options is truly staggering.
Now consider that, on the three major search engines, your minimum monthly budget is almost non-existent. Also consider the fact that SEM platforms also allow you to serve text ads on sites that are part of their content network. In many cases, you can select the exact sites you’d like to place your ads on, so long as they are part of the search engine’s content network. Again, the number of different campaign setting options is almost limitless. In short, you don’t need a large budget to run SEM campaigns but the expectations for the strategy need to be set appropriately.
The most important factor regarding your SEM account is your account structure. Your account structure determines how your keywords are grouped into campaigns, categories. Your account structure can reflect either your merchandising categorization, your communication goals, your service offering, your geographic service area, or otherwise. While the account structure is not a set configuration, the ease of the long-term management of the SEM account depends on it. Ultimately your account structure determines how much you spend on specific types of keywords and where you will spend all your SEM dollars.
The creation of your SEM account structure should involve a strategic discussion of your overall expectations and communication goals. There are numerous low-level details involved in the management of an SEM account such as keyword research, analytic deployment, ad copy testing, landing page designation, keyword bidding, negative keywording, etc. At Vagary, we can inherit an existing SEM account and manage it moving forward or we can work with you to create a strategic account structure from scratch, based on your business and communication goals. Our best guess is the SEM is not the only strategy in your communication plan. Your SEM strategy should complement your other communication strategies, not be managed in a silo.
UTILITY: SEM is the strategy of placing an advertisement in front of a potential customer at the exact time that they are searching for a market solution for their problem. SEM is indispensable for Ecommerce sites.
DIFFICULTY: The difficulty of SEM should not be underestimated. Creating a search account for advertising is easy. Managing a paid search account efficiently can be difficult, depending on the scope of your account. Novice search marketers can easily overspend for traffic and ultimately send a lot of junk traffic to site. Ultimately, your search team will need to work with you to understand the appropriate keywords or keyword phrases that are appropriate for your business to go after, given your budget.