CRASH COURSE: SEM For Beginners!

CRASH COURSE: SEM For Beginners!

First things first, what does SEM mean?

Good question, we’re glad you asked! SEM is an acronym for “Search Engine Marketing.”

Search Engine Marketing is a powerful digital advertising tactic that uses “keywords” to show ads on the search engine results pages (or SERPs) such as Google Search and Bing Search. Have you ever seen ads when you do a Google Search?

Essentially with SEM, brands put their message and offer in front of potential customers who are actively searching for products or services. These are the ads you see when you do a Google search.

Keywords? What are they?

Keywords are the words selected to have ads shown for when people search for different products or services. In the screenshot above, the keyword is “car detailing ottawa”. These are words that a user would need to type into Google/Bing when looking for something they want. In this case our ad that we created for Exotic Autowa comes up, ready for someone in Ottawa who wants to get a great deal and service on cleaning their car.

Every keyword has an associated Cost Per Click (or CPC) which is determined by the demand and supply of that keyword. It is essentially an auction or stock market for keywords. The CPC is influenced by thousands of different signals such as competition, your budget, and your quality score which is made of many factors including your ad copy and landing page that a user arrives on after clicking on your ad. This is Google’s secret sauce and the reason you would bring in a team like ours to help manage your SEM program. 

Tip: if you are looking to hire a SEM company ask them what they do differently in their bidding and optimization process to stand above competitors in the SERPs.

So how it all works: a company bids on specific keywords that relate to their product or services so that when a customer searches for something she wants, she will be presented an ad on the search results.

Now not all keywords are created equally either. There are actually 4 different “types” of keywords.

Broad match

Your ad may populate in the search results for any part of the keyword, or even close variants of the keyword. For example, if your keyword is “men’s sneakers”, your ad may populate for close searches like “men’s shoes” or “women’s sneakers”. Not all words in the keyword have to be in the search for your ad to populate.

Modified broad

This type of keyword is a little more restrictive. This is our favourite type of keyword to use. By adding a + to a regular broad keyword it becomes modified broad.

What this means is that ALL of the words that appear within the keyword string, and in ANY order (assuming when bidding on it on the backend you have included the plus (+) symbol), then the ad will be presented for this keyword string. We like this match type because it allows us to discover new keywords by using the data we receive to build out new keywords that are proven to have already been searched.

So if your keyword is +mens +sneakers, your ad will appear if the user typed “what sneakers are the best for men” or “blue sneakers for men”. Remember, all words must be included when someone searches but in any order = modified broad.

Tip: remember the person searching does not need to include the plus (+) symbol when searching only the person building the SEM campaign needs to include the plus before each word to ensure it is modified broad.

Phrase match

When you use phrase match keywords your ad will populate as long as the user types your keyword in order and how you typed it. So there can be other words in the phrase before or after your keyword.

For example, “where can I find the best men’s sneakers?” or “men’s sneakers in New York”

Exact match

Your keyword will only trigger an ad if the user types EXACTLY what your keyword is. So no words before or after your keyword. “men’s sneakers” exactly like that is the only way your ad will be triggered.

Negative keywords

Sometimes a brand’s chosen keywords may trigger for something that is totally unrelated to their services. To stop this from happening brands need to deploy something called “negative keywords”.

For example, if you run an apparel company that specializes in only men’s clothing you would need to set rules so you don’t appear for searches relating to “women’s clothes”.

Say a user is typing “buy women’s clothes online” and you have “+buy +clothes +online” as a modified broad keyword, your ad will appear even though you don’t make women’s clothes.

To stop this from happening, this men’s clothing store may choose to use “women” as a negative so people searching for “women’s clothes” will not get your ad for MEN’S CLOTHES!

Remember if you do not use negative keywords you will waste your ad dollars when the person clicks on your ad, but it will also reduce your quality score. This is not good!

Quality Score

Ok, so you’ve built out your landing page, or have traffic going to your website. That’s great! But the work isn’t done quite yet. Quality score helps determine where you rank for a search within the SERPs.

Your CPC will be determined by taking your quality score and multiplying it by your maximum bid to set where you rank in the search results.

When you’re running an SEM campaign, you’ll want to ensure the keywords you chose relate to your ad groups, and even align with where you’re sending traffic. Using the men’s clothing company example,  if you are running ads promoting your sneakers you’ll want to send users to the “sneaker” section of your website.

If you are sending them to the home page with little to no mention of sneakers, or if you’re sending users to your “T-Shirt” page you’ll see a drastic quality score decrease.

In Search Engine Marketing, quality score is extremely important. Google uses quality score in helping to rank ads. Of course, those with the most to spend usually end up at the top of the search results, having an excellent quality score can help you rank up there with the top brands.

If you have a moderate budget, and a poor quality score you very well may be wasting your money with SEM.

How would I increase my quality score?

Generally speaking, the higher the quality score, the better. When you have a good quality score you simply won’t be spending as much in the auction to have your ad rank higher. Since quality score also determines how often your ads appear in the search results and sets what your bid will be it’s crucial to improve yours.

There are a couple of things you can do to improve it:

  1. Research what keywords are being searched. You can find new keywords, including long-tailed keywords that can really boost your impressions, clicks, and traffic! Google offers a free tool you can make use of.
  2. Ensure your ad makes use of the keywords you are using in specific ad groups. When the ad copy is highly targeted and relevant, the better your CTR (Click Through Rate) and quality score your ads will receive.
  3. Negative keywords. Like we mentioned negative keywords help remove irrelevant traffic. Make use of these to filter out unwanted searches and users looking for services that are unrelated to what you offer.
  4. Proper campaign structure. Separate different keywords into something called “ad groups”. This way you can have different “themes” for the various services you offer.
  5. Ensure your landing page is relevant. As we mentioned, it’s crucial you’re sending traffic from your ad to a relevant landing page. If you’re sending people to unrelated pages your quality score will dip, and your bounce rate will dramatically increase. So ensure its a cohesive experience for users throughout the funnel. As an example, if you clicked on an ad promising you deals on “men’s shoes”, would you be happy to land on a page for “women’s shoe deals”? We’re guessing you wouldn’t be happy (like us) and would bounce from the page quickly to find what we are actually looking for.

Tip: Click Thru Rate is a metric used to determine the relevancy of your keyword and ad. The way to calculate Click Thru Rate is by dividing the number of clicks your keyword or ad receives into the number of impressions or times that your ad/keyword is served. This percent result will give a benchmark as to how well your keyword or ad is performing relatively to the others in your campaign.

Campaign Structure

You may be wondering, “hey what makes an SEM campaign?” That’s a great question too. An SEM campaign is a variety of different elements working together to help market your products or services.

An SEM campaign is broken down into 5 different sections. The first section would be the ad account. Then, below that the campaign level, then the ad groups, the keywords and finally the ads themselves.

We separate campaigns out like this to improve quality score, and to deliver the customer with a highly relevant ad for their search. We like to think of it like a pizza. The ads account is the full, pizza with all the toppings, sauce and cheese on it ready for delivery.

The campaign level is like the dough. It’s the foundation of the pizza that all the toppings and ingredients go on. The ad group level is like toppings. For example, there’s a variety of different meats that can go on the pizza and many different veggies that can go on the pizza.

The keywords section is like choosing exactly what kind of toppings you want. For example, in the veggie ad group, you may select “green peppers” and “mushrooms” whereas the meat ad group you can choose “pepperoni” and “sausage”. The ad section would be where the order takes place. It would contain exactly what the pizza shop needs to successfully deliver you the right pizza.

Simply put, a campaign is the “home” for your ad groups, and your “ad groups” are the “home” for your keywords. This way your SEM campaign can be separated by different themes for all the different services you offer.

For a further breakdown check out the figure we created below!

Need help setting up your SEM campaigns properly? Feeling a little overwhelmed? That’s totally understandable. This can be quite overwhelming for beginners.

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