Your SEM Questions, Answered

Tyler Thostenson
June 1, 2021
Search Engine Marketing is one of the toughest landscapes of the ever-changing digital marketing universe. Here, we tackle some of the common questions we receive.

Given the vast landscape of platforms, strategies, and ad types that it encompasses, Search Engine Marketing is one of the toughest parts of the ever-changing digital marketing universe. Need some help navigating it? We’ve got you covered.

1. What is SEM?

  • Search engine marketing (SEM) leverages paid (as opposed to organic) efforts to show ads for your brand on the results page of a user’s online search. Paid search is typically also called pay-per-click (PPC), and is most commonly used in Google Ads, with Microsoft Advertising for Bing being an alternative option. 
  • You may occasionally hear other Google or Bing channels be put under the broader umbrella of SEM (such as Shopping), but for the purposes of this FAQ we’ll be sticking to the primary search functionality of the channel.

2. How does an SEM ad get placed?

  • SEM ads are shown based on the results of an automated real-time auction every time a user makes a search. Which ads show up in which positions are based on how much an advertiser bids; the quality of an advertiser's ads; and the increased likelihood of a user clicking based on ad extensions.

3. How can my search ads take the top position?

  • Google has a vested interest in making sure that nobody can achieve top position 100% of the time, but a number of factors can affect how often you appear at the top of the page.
  • Some are in your control. For example, Quality Score: A measure of the relevancy of your keywords to your ads to your landing page, along with the experience users have on your website (e.g., do they bounce right away or stick around and convert?). Ads with higher quality scores get an effective discount in the auctions that take place to show an ad each time a user searches. Bid: While Google is encouraging users to move towards smarter methods of bidding, such as Cost Per Acquisition and Maximizing Conversions, in cases where position is important to your business raising maximum bids can help.
  • But a lot of things are out of your control as well, such as changes in competitors and competitor bids and seasonality. Ultimately, the best search strategy is to be prepared to adapt tp changing trends and to continuously pivot to improve ad rank and keep your ads competitive.

4. What are Google Ad extensions?

  • Extensions allow you to expand the amount of information that is available in your search ads, giving people more reasons and opportunities to engage with your brand on the search results page. They are a free addition to any paid search campaign and have been proven to increase your ad’s click-through rate and quality score, which increases your chances to show at the top of search results. The added content from ad extensions will also give you more real estate on the page, providing an edge against competitors by pushing them down the page and out of sight.

5. Do I need to bid on my own brand’s business name?

  • Yes! Not only is it important to protect against other brands running searches on your terms so that your brand consistently owns the top of the SERP when people are looking for you directly. Another benefit of running branded search is controlling the messaging more fluidly than one can with SEO—for example, promoting sales or specific products or offerings. Additionally, taking up as much of the top of the search engine results page (SERP) as possible makes it more likely that users will click on your links rather than scroll down to find either irrelevant listings or competitors.

6. Is SEO or SEM more important for my marketing strategy?

  • The short answer is that they’re both equally important. Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) both aim to improve your brand’s appearance on SERPs, helping to boost your visibility online and grow your brand. 
  • SEM tends to have more immediate results as your listings can shoot to the top of the results page shortly after going live, while SEO takes more time to show results as you build credibility and relevance online.
  • SEM and SEO can and should have a symbiotic relationship: lessons from paid search can be applied to your longer-term SEO strategy, while the strength of your on-site SEO can affect the amount you pay for ads as more relevant ads tend to get a “Quality Score” discount from SEM platforms.

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