Search Engine Marketing Course Overview

Introduction to Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

The online marketplace has never been more competitive. With the rapidly increasing number of digital buyers and an unprecedented boost in global retail e-commerce sales, it is more important than ever to make your business visible online. 

So, how can businesses make their marketing more effective amidst the competition? Is there a way to get value from digital advertising investments while having a competitive advantage?

The answer is: search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing (abbreviated to SEM) is a digital marketing strategy aimed at increasing the visibility of websites on search engine results pages (SERPs). When done right, SEM is an effective way to grow and establish your online business presence, which is a powerful alternative to organic strategies.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a digital marketing practice of using paid advertisements to promote a business online. The advertisements appear on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Unlike search engine optimisation (SEO), which focuses on organic search activities, SEM refers to paid search advertising. In simpler terms, advertisers pay money for their ads to appear alongside organic search results of search engines such as Google and Bing.

Also known as paid search or pay-per-click (PPC), these ads appear in various formats, from text-based advertisements to visual product listings. 

For instance, what happens when you search “running shoes” on Google? While websites with a solid SEO strategy typically rank first organically, you will also find search results with a tiny “Ad” written next to them. These are paid searches.

With search engines like Google being the primary source for online searches, your products or services must rank first in SERPs when a user is searching for them.

Objectives of SEM in Digital Marketing

With countless businesses like yours vying for attention and recognition from the same target audience, the last thing you want is to get invisible among the millions of searches on SERPs. While organic marketing efforts through SEO are great, they may not be enough to give your business the limelight it needs to stand out from competitors. 
Objectives of SEM

Search engine marketing is one of the fastest and most effective ways to directly reach your target audience by displaying paid ads among search engine results. It takes advantage of the psychology of online shoppers, who are more likely to make a purchase the moment they see relevant ads with at-a-glance information like price and product details. As soon as consumers search for a product like yours, they directly see your ad at a prominent location on SERPs without having to scroll further down. 

Let’s look at the objectives search engine marketing seeks to fulfill:

1. Generating and reinforcing brand recognition

2. Reaching consumers at the right place and time

3. Tapping the target audience

4. Offering a competitive advantage

5. Scaling with business growth

1. Generating brand awareness and recognition

Since SEM puts ads at the top of search engine results pages, it’s easier for consumers to become aware of your brand. With more awareness comes greater recognition and, eventually, a boost in sales. Repeatedly and consistently presenting your brand increases the chances of a prospect becoming a paying customer. Recognition increases familiarity, and people are more likely to engage with brands they are familiar with than brands with a meek online presence. 

2. Reaching consumers at the right place and time

A significant chunk of global online search experiences starts with a search engine like Google. Thus, making yourself prominent on search engine results pages is an effective way to reach prospects precisely when searching for something you offer. However, every click on your paid ads may not turn into a sale. Yet, it serves as a crucial touchpoint and takes the prospect further down the sales funnel towards becoming a loyal customer.

3. Tapping the target audience

Unlike traditional marketing strategies, search engine advertising brings you several steps closer to your target audience. Traditional advertising avenues are expensive, and even after spending a fortune on advertising campaigns, you may never be able to focus on your target customers. On the contrary, search engine advertising doesn’t cost you a penny unless someone clicks your ad. Moreover, SEM is a sure-shot way to feature on top of SERPs and be noticeable to your audience.

4. Offering a competitive advantage

When done right, search engine marketing can reinforce your SEO strategies. If you already have exceptional SEO strategies with a coveted spot on SERPs, SEM allows you to appear above organic search results with paid ads. With a solid and compelling SEM strategy, you can easily stay ahead of your competitors and establish your market presence.

5. Scaling with business growth

Since SEM is scalable, you can gradually increase your search engine marketing efforts as your business grows. In addition, SEM is flexible, letting you refine your paid advertising campaigns depending on your marketing goals and objectives. You can keep your budget limited and see what works best for your business. Once you identify the best strategies, you can scale your efforts to match your marketing expectations.

Types of Search Engine Marketing

Although modern interpretations define SEM as paid online advertising, search engine marketing is of the following three types:

  1. Pay-per-click (PPC)
  2. Organic SEO
  3. Local SEO

Let’s explore each type of search engine marketing.

1. Pay-per-click (PPC)

In the pay-per-click or PPC model, the advertiser must pay a fee every time a user clicks on their online advertisement on SERPs. Also known as Sponsored Search or Sponsored Ads, PPC search results are easily visible to online searchers due to their prominent position at the top of SERPs. Google labels paid search results as “Ad” or “Sponsored.”

2. Organic SEO

Unlike the PPC model of online advertising, organic SEO aims to increase online visibility and drive traffic through organic search results. A search engine optimisation method helps businesses gain organic traffic and increased visibility through unpaid and non-local results. Hence, advertisers need not pay a fee for every click-through to their site.

3. Local SEO

Local SEO aims to get your business to appear in Google Map results. Like organic SEO, there is no charge involved in implementing a local SEO strategy. Unlike organic SEO with a global reach, local SEO focuses on increasing the business’ visibility within a specific geographical area. Thus, it mainly caters to the local audience and helps them discover companies online.

How to Start a Search Engine Marketing Campaign

A powerful and effective SEM campaign strategically optimises paid search ads with specific marketing goals in mind. 

However, creating a search engine marketing strategy that works and gives the desired ROI is not a cakewalk. It requires a thorough understanding of how paid advertisement platforms work. In addition, you need to consider variables such as keywords, ad creation, and, most importantly, your budget. 
Factors of SEM Campaign

Below is an overview of the critical factors you should consider before kickstarting your search engine marketing campaign.

Keyword Research

Keywords are the terms or phrases users enter into a search engine to find related information online. Since this is where the search engine experience starts, keyword research forms the basis of search engine marketing campaigns. Thus, you need to focus on the keywords that will form the foundation of your SEM campaign.

Several online keyword research tools (Google Trends, Google Ads Keyword Planner, SEMrush, and more) can help you conduct keyword research. These SEM tools provide helpful information, such as keyword volume and competition. In addition, they let users track critical metrics and monitor other core areas of SEM campaigns. 

Budget Planning

Since search engine marketing involves pay-per-clicks or paid searches, budget planning becomes a crucial part of an SEM campaign. The budget for search engine marketing campaigns primarily includes the keyword cost or the bid you place on keywords during the ad auction. These keywords or queries are what your ads will show up for in SERPs.

You may only want to bid on keywords with high commercial intent if you have a tight budget. Such keywords refer to the tendency of online customers to make a purchase, such as “buy,” “discount,” “free shipping,” and so on. Those with a more generous budget can bid on keywords that target the earlier stages of a buyer’s journey. 

You must consider the keyword volume and competition when planning your SEM budget. High-competition keywords tend to be more expensive, while extremely high-volume keywords, although more competitive, may not always be relevant. Eventually, you need to strike a balance between competition (budget) and volume (demand).

Advertisement Creation

Once you have allocated a budget for your SEM and finalised the keywords, the next step is to create compelling ads that earn clicks. Writing a data-driven and keyword-rich ad copy is the only way to ensure high ROIs from your SEM campaign. Understand what your target audience is looking through their queries and curate your ad accordingly.

Here are some pointers you can keep in mind when creating your SEM ad copy:

  • Understand how SERPs work.
  • Analyse the competitive landscape and set up an ad copy test to identify ads that help you achieve conversion goals.
  • Use SEM tools to compare and analyse keyword search volume and competition.
  • Ensure your keywords address the right user intent.
  • Identify negative keywords that don’t lead to conversions and avoid using them in your ad campaigns.
  • Define aspects of your products/services or try to answer related frequently asked questions within your ad.

Search Engine Marketing - Pay-per-click (PPC)

The pay-per-click or PPC is an internet marketing model in which advertisers are charged every time one of their ads is clicked. Instead of earning traffic organically, the PPC model of search engine marketing “buys” visits to a site. 

A most popular form of PPC is search engine advertising, where advertisers bid to display their ads in a search engine’s sponsored links. Thus, when a user searches for something using keywords related to a business offering, the corresponding paid ads appear on the top of SERPs. With every click the ad gets, the advertiser has to pay the search engine a fee. 

Creating a successful PPC strategy involves a lot, from researching the right keywords and organising them into campaigns and ad groups to building PPC landing pages optimised for conversions. PPC campaigns are a two-way street. If your ads and landing pages are relevant and valuable to users, the search engine, in turn, rewards you by charging less for ad clicks.

Before you embark on your PPC journey, learning how it works and how to do it right is crucial.

Google Ads (Google AdWords)

Google Ads, formerly known as Google AdWords, is a paid online advertising platform where advertisers can create online ads that appear on Google SERPs. The most popular PPC advertising platform globally lets any business reach its target audience exactly when they are interested in the products and services it offers. 

In a nutshell, Google Ads lets you:

  • Promote your business
  • Sell products or services
  • Raise awareness
  • Drive traffic to your website

You can manage your Google Ads account online. The platform is flexible enough to let you create and modify your ad campaigns anytime. Another unique feature of Google Ads is that you can set and control your ad campaign budget. Moreover, you can choose where your ad appears on SERPs and measure the impact of your ad through the platform. Using Google Ads for your PPC marketing is particularly beneficial. The search engine giant garners the maximum traffic, increasing the chances of generating the most clicks to your ads.

What is a PPC campaign?

A PPC campaign refers to the entire process of setting up a pay-per-click advertisement drive, from keyword research and ad creation to building optimised landing pages and measuring the impact of ads. It also involves determining the campaign budget, defining the target audience, and tracking conversions.Benefits of PPC

Advertisers typically bid for keywords for which they want to display ads. However, a higher bid price does not necessarily guarantee a favorable placement in SERPs. Search engines also consider other relevant factors such as ad quality to determine which ads deserve the highest position. 

PPC campaigns are trackable. You can also measure the impact of your PPC ad campaigns by analysing various metrics such as clicks, impressions, conversions, your ad performance across devices and locations, and so on. 

PPC Campaign Management

Good PPC campaign management differentiates a successful digital marketing strategy from a poorly implemented one. It is about tracking your campaign to remain up-to-date on how it is running and making improvements to maximise profit. Efficient PPC campaign management also lets you stay ahead of the competition and be on top of performance trends.

Below we list some PPC campaign management best practices you can adopt to stay on top of the paid advertising game:

  • Know your goals: Identify your ultimate business goals, assess how they fit in with your marketing strategy, and understand what you want your campaign to achieve. In addition, define the metrics you will use to measure success and improve performance. 
  • Use A/B testing - Your PPC ads and landing pages are the keys to achieving your campaign goals. Thus, you need to test your landing pages and ads to improve them and select the best-performing ones. A/B testing involves comparing two forms of the same landing page or ad for the better performing one.
  • Audit keywords - Keyword auditing is especially useful when one or more of your ad groups show unsatisfactory performance. High bounce rates and low click-through rates are prominent indicators that you need to review keywords to get your ad groups back on track.
  • Update your list of negative keywords - Identifying the right keywords is essential, but removing irrelevant ones is equally crucial. Negative or irrelevant keywords add no value to your ad campaign. Frequently updating your negative keywords list is necessary since you don’t want your ads showing up on search queries that won’t result in conversions.

How does PPC work?

Although the PPC marketing channel covers a wide range of ad platforms, the most popular ones are Google Ads and Bing Ads. Within each platform, there could be many ad formats, including search ads, display ads, shopping ads, video ads, and more. However, Google Ads remains the most used PPC advertising platform for the sheer access to a large global audience and the various convenient options to set up and run campaigns.

The fundamentals of how PPC works remain the same regardless of the platform or ad format you choose. The steps below give an overview of how pay-per-click advertising works:

1. Sign up and create your account on an online advertising platform (such as Google Ads).

2. Decide your campaign budget, followed by deciding where you want your ad to show and which keywords you want to trigger for your ad to show.

3. Set the maximum cost-per-click (CPC) bid or the price you are willing to pay every time a potential customer clicks your ad.

4. Write your ad, preferably a simple text ad, if you are new to PPC advertising.

5. Your ad now goes to an automated bidding system (known as Ad Auction) with other advertisers bidding on the exact keywords as you.

6. The ad auction decides which ads make it to the top positions in SERPs and the order of the advertisements shown.

7. Once your ads get a place in SERPs, you must pay when an online searcher clicks your ad. 

To fully understand how PPC advertising works, it is worth looking at the mechanism of PPC ad auctions. 

For every search a user performs, an ad auction takes place to determine an ad account’s suitability to enter the auction, the order in which the eligible ads appear in the SERPs, and the cost-per-click (CPC).

CPC is the amount an advertiser determines for a specific keyword or ad group, and it is the maximum they are willing to pay for each ad click. Another critical metric is the quality score (QS). It considers multiple factors such as the ad's relevancy, expected click-through rate (CTR), and landing page quality.

The final position an ad earns on the SERPs is the outcome of the CPC and the QS, collectively expressed as the Ad Rank. A straightforward explanation of the Ad Rank is the quality score multiplied by the maximum CPC. Thus, both the quality score and the maximum bid amount strongly influence the ranking of a paid ad on SERPs.

Do you need a PPC Campaign?

Has all that information left you wondering if the PPC efforts are worth it? Do you need a PPC campaign for your business?

Take a look at these benefits of PPC advertising to know how it can radically transform your business and why you should channel your investments into it:

  • Receive instant clicks - It takes only a few hours to get your PPC ads up and running, provided your bid is high enough, and you are eligible to enter the auction. Unlike SEO and other marketing campaigns, PPC gives quick results.
  • Target specific audience - With PPC, you can target a particular audience based on data. As a result, you save significantly on advertising costs once you know your customers and how they search.
  • Choose from multiple ad formats - You can explore various ad formats with PPC campaigns. Choose the format that aligns with your business and marketing goals, from search ads, shopping ads, and display ads to Gmail and video ads.
  • Track and measure performance - One of the most significant benefits of PPC over traditional advertising channels is the ease with which you can measure and track the ROI from your campaign.
  • Get complete control over your ads - With PPC advertising, you get full control of how you want your ads to display and how much you wish to spend on ad campaigns. Other marketing avenues typically don’t offer the same level of flexibility and liberty

Important terms in PPC

Now that we have covered the fundamentals of pay-per-click advertising, let’s review some important terms in PPC: