These days it's not enough to be good at just one three-letter “S” word (I’m talking about SEO you sicko). Search engine optimization may be crucial for a brand to be found on the internet, but search engine marketing (SEM) is becoming just as imperative.
It will likely soon be considered just one of the regular costs of doing business—mostly because your industry competitors can bid on your company’s name for paid search. If you aren’t there to bid and win, they get your paid search results by default. It may sound confusing and unfair, but this is just one more reason you need to pay attention to SEM.
SEM In A Nutshell
SEM is Internet marketing that increases a website’s visibility to search engines via paid advertising. More specifically, big online search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! have proprietary ad placement built into their ever-popular and ever-coveted organic search results real estate. Businesses and advertisers can bid on search queries related to their business offerings in an open market through the respective search engines' ad platforms. Easy, right?
Keeping It Even
Search engine juggernauts like Google have a system of checks and balances in place within their advertising platforms designed to create somewhat of an "even playing field" among search engine marketers. This system is intended to allow even the smallest of businesses an opportunity to compete in the auction for the top search results.
Google has a "Quality Score" rating system that requires advertisers to have more than just money to throw at ads. To achieve a high "Quality Score" and ultimately higher search ad results, advertisers have to closely manage the relevance of keywords you're bidding on, the text copy of the ads, the pages they direct users to and the overall functionality of the ads themselves.
Setting Your Budget
Which leads to the next point about SEM. No matter what industry you're in, there's a case to be made for investing in SEM. So what does that mean? How does one “invest” in SEM?
As an advertiser you can decide on a SEM daily budget for your campaign based on your advertising goals and/or the average amount you're comfortable spending per day. Also, it's not fixed, so you can change your budget at any time. The recommended daily budget for SEM will depend on your goals. For instance, if your goal is to show up at the top of search results consistently, your budget may need to be much higher than if you're just trying to generate ad impressions (i.e., ad views).
Other factors that may have an effect on your budget include:
- Competitive landscape. Other businesses in your markets that are using SEM.
- Number of keywords you're bidding on. The larger your keyword list, the more diluted your budget.
- The size of the market in which you're serving your ads. As you increase your territory, the number of potential searches also increases.
- Relevance. If your ads or your keywords are not relevant to the page they link to, you will sometimes pay upwards of 300% higher for your clicks.
Tools like Google's Keyword Planner can help give you an idea of what kind of search volume and costs you may expect from a given set of keywords. For those who are just entering the SEM pool, it's usually best to start out with mid-high budget over a shorter period of time. This allows you to see where you stand against your competition as well as determine what kind of return you want from your investment. Then you can gradually back down or increase as needed. This may all seem kind of intimidating for anyone new to SEM, though.
More Than The Money
Investing in SEM isn't just a matter of money—it takes time and expertise. That’s something that a lot of companies don’t have—experienced staff on hand to do it right. In that case, you need to find a partner that knows the ropes and can get you the results you need.