If you or your business has any form of online presence, you have likely heard of search engine optimization (SEO)—the process of optimizing your online content to rank higher in search engine results. SEO is a more commonly discussed marketing technique because it is free, and anyone can do it. Search engine marketing (SEM), on the other hand, is a strategy that is a bit more complex.

SEM is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (or SERPs). Advertisers must bid on keywords that search engine users might enter when looking for certain products or services. This gives the advertiser an opportunity for their ads to appear alongside results for those search queries.

Benefits of using search engine marketing tactics include:

  • Reach your clients instantly
  • Increase brand awareness
  • Create geo-targeted search ads
  • Implement and manage ads easily and quickly
  • Target the right audience through optimized ads
  • Increase traffic through ad visibility
  • Pay only per action
  • Appear on competitors’ related keywords

Here is a guideline for executing the search engine marketing strategy:

1. Choose an Advertising Platform

An SEM platform is a system where brands can pay to have ads displayed in the search engine results when users perform a search. The most common SEM platforms are Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising.

  • Google Ads is the most widely used SEM platform. Billions of Google searches are performed a day, so it can help you get in front of the largest online audience.
  • Microsoft Advertising can connect you with millions of searchers that Google can’t reach. Microsoft Advertising actually displays your ads on Bing, Yahoo and AOL, helping you connect with searchers who aren’t exclusively using Google for search.

2. Research and Select Keywords

Keywords are words and phrases that you target in your search engine campaigns. When a user types in a search query that includes the keywords you’ve specified, they will see your ads. For example, if your campaign targets the term electrician your ads will show up when a user searches a phrase that includes that word.

There are four types of keywords you can use in your search engine marketing campaigns:

  • Broad match keywords: These keywords target multiple variations of a term such as similar phrases, singular or plural forms, misspellings, stemmings, or synonyms of the target term. If you choose electrician as your board match keyword, you could also show up in results for electricians, electrical repair, electricity problems and more.
  • Phrase match keywords: These keywords target the exact phrase, as well as any phrases that have words that come before or after the target keyword. Your exact key word would have to be in the search, but it could also include other words, such as local electrician or residential electrician.
  • Exact match keywords: These keywords target words that are closely related such as misspellings, singular or plural forms, stemmings, abbreviations, reordered words and paraphrases. It does not include words that could be considered synonyms. The key words could be in a different order, but the search will need to match your key words in order for your ad to appear.
  • Negative keywords: These keywords are those you specifically want to avoid targeting. This may include words that are related to your business but are unrelated to the intent of your marketing campaign. For example, you may want to exclude the words car or automotive so you don’t get inquiries about a vehicle’s electrical system.

3. Determine Your Target Audience

Audience targeting is another method to further determine when and where your ads show up. These additional target parameters include:

  • Location targeting: Ads are only shown to people within a certain ZIP code or geographic region
  • Ad schedule targeting: Ads are only to be displayed at certain times of the day or during specific days of the week
  • Demographic targeting: Ads are only shown to users who fit certain demographic categories based on age and gender
  • Device targeting: Ads are only displayed on specific devices such as mobile phones, desktops or tablets

4. Write Your Ad Copy

Generally speaking, your ads should mimic organic search results. A standard ad usually consists of two headlines, a description, and a website URL. However, there are options for including additional information. Some of these additions include:

  • Sitelink extensions- Where users are taken to a specific page on your website that directly addresses their problem or need.
  • Callout extensions- Short snippets of text (up to 25 characters) that give more information about the service
  • Call extensions- Add a phone number so viewers can call your business with one click
  • Message extensions- Allows viewers to send a message directly from the ad
  • Location extensions- Displays your address, phone number and visual map along with your ad
  • Advertiser ratings- Awarded by Google, this rating shows that you are a highly-trusted advertisers with a great track record of service.
  • Price extensions- Options and prices are displayed directly on the ad
  • Structured snippet extensions- Includes a header and list of features of the product or service the viewer is searching for.

5. Participate in the Ad Auction

Setting up an ad campaign does not guarantee that your ad will show up every time a user searches for your specified keywords. Instead, the SEM platform has an automated process that decides if and when your ad will show along with how it competes against other brands that are targeting the same keywords. This is called an ad auction. An ad auction is based on three factors:

  • Max CPC (cost per click) Bid: Maximum amount you are willing to pay when someone clicks on your ad.

  • Quality Score: A score or rating that the SEM platform assigns to your ad. It is based on factors such as your click-through rate, the relevance of keywords to the ad group, the relevance of landing page to keywords and historical ad performance.

  • Ad Rank: A rating that the SEM platform gives to your ad to determine where it will show up on search engine results pages. The higher your ad rank, the better placement your search ad will have.

                                                            Max CPC Bid x Quality Score = Ad Rank
    



6. Optimize Existing Campaigns

Once your ads start running, continue optimizing your campaigns to get the best results.

  • Add additional relevant keywords: If you discover you can find better qualified leads by adding another word or phrase, modify your ad.
  • Set negative keywords: Remove keywords that are attracting the wrong type of traffic.
  • Utilize A/B testing: A/B testing can be used to create different variations of your ad strategies. Review what works and what does not. Tweaking your campaigns will help you find the highest-performing combination of targeting, ad copy, keywords, and landing pages.



Search engine marketing is essentially the “pay-to-win” version of search engine optimization. They both share the same goal of getting your brand to appear higher and more frequently on the search engine results page. If you manage to do it correctly, you will maximize your marketing success by yielding more clicks, conversions and an overall higher return on investment.

Read more about developing a digital ad strategy for your business in our guide on advertising.

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