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SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

SEM (search engine marketing) is advertising on the search results pages where your advert will appear above, to the right or below the organic results.

It's really a part of PPC (Pay Per Click) because this is the system used by Google Adwords and Bing Ads. They show your advertisement, if someone clicks on it you pay.

But I've kept SEM separate because it is a field of expertise in itself. Creating successful campaigns that don't lose money is an increasingly difficult activity.

The basic principles of SEM

To be successful in SEM you are looking to achieve the following:

  • Pay less per click than your competitors but appear higher than their advertisements.
  • Create ads so relevant to any particular search query that, when users click through, they do what you want them to do (e.g. buy a product, sign up to a newsletter, fill out an enquiry form, etc.)

Paying less than your competitors

A common misunderstanding for those who start in SEM is assuming that the price you are prepared to pay per click defines where your advertisement will appear. The higher you bid, the higher your advertisement appears.

Not exactly true.

Search engines want to make money from PPC and they won't do that if the advertisements that show up are not relevant to the query that the internet user is searching.

So lets take an example from a client of mine, doodledmaths (who now no longer need to do SEM but to illustrate a point). The phrase being searched was “maths tutor online”.

OK – doodledmaths is an iphone app that helps children practice and improve their mathematics so that's a good fit.

But what if Coca Cola came along and thought, “We'd like to advertise our soft drink to people who search 'maths tutor online' just as a bit of our brand awareness campaign.

Big companies like Coca Cola have deep marketing pockets and they could easily just bid to be at number one. This could result in large numbers of search queries being filled up with adverts that bear no relation to the search.

Coca Cola is happy. They get plenty of brand awareness coverage while spending very little because so few people click their advert.

But this isn't in the interests of the search engines. If adverts don't get clicked, no matter how high the bid, they don't earn money.

Better to earn 50% of a $.050 bid than 0% of a $10 bid.

The relevancy factor

So search engines factor in relevancy to any advertisement. How relevant is it to the search being carried out. In the example above it's clear that the soft drink advertisement is not relevant to the search so it's not going to show, no matter how high the bid.

But what about cases which are less clear?

All the major search engines consider various variables and these include:

  • Does the advertisement include the phrase being searched?
  • How often do users click on the advertisement?
  • Does the landing page that the advert links to include the phrase being searched?
  • How well do users who click on the advert react to the page they are taken to?

These factors are all compared with the other advertisements showing and the more relevant ads are shown higher. I would say regardless of what is being bid but that's not quite true. The bid amount remains a factor.

By carrying out experiments with different advertisements and different landing pages you can learn what works best for various keywords and this allows you to rank higher in the ads but pay less than your competitors!

Getting the right visitors

Getting people to click on your advertisement regularly and stay on your site may be important factors in improving your ads ranking without having to pay as much as your competitors but it doesn't mean your home free yet!

Creating an advertisement that performs well and brings in large amounts of traffic at a low cost doesn't necessarily mean you will make money from it.

Unless those visitors then achieve your goal your campaign will still effectively lose money so it's vital you know where these visitors are going and what they are doing after they arrive on your website.

Setting up Google Analytics

The first step is to connect your Google Adwords to your Google analytics and the step by step guide on how to do this is here:

For Bing and Yahoo ads the instructions can be found here:

This will now allow you to see what percentage of visitors from any particular keyword search or advertisement actually achieve your goal.

Note if your website is not eCommerce you can set up other types of Goals in Analytics using this tutorial:

Setting up Google Adwords

Setting up Google Adwords so that you can create, monitor and refine the effectiveness of your campaigns is a lengthy subject and too long to fit on one page.

To be more exact it comes to over 10,000 words and as such I've put together everything you need to know in the booklet Making the Most of Google Adwords.

You can buy in the following locations and formats:

The book also covers the use of Google Adwords outside of SEM.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

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