Search engine marketing (SEM) is today regarded as the unsung hero — and the secret weapon — for many growth marketing leaders.
In addition to achieving a successful consumer decision journey across multiple channels and devices, search delivers bottom-line results and ensures on-track results for the long-term for building both brand awareness and customer acquisition.
Here are the best practices recommended for a winning SEM strategy.
1. Deliver Value Across the Decision Journey
As the behavior of your fragmented customers evolves, your growth marketing plan should as well.
Who are the customers behind all those clicks?
New research from Bing & Google allows us to better understand the five distinct stages all customers share:
- Initiation: Getting background information and buying landscape to become a more informed researcher.
- Research: Exploring buying guides, recommendations, and products that meet basic criteria.
- Compare: Comparing a handful of products that meet the customer’s criteria, including ratings, reviews, features, and cost.
- Transaction: Finding where to buy, then seeing pricing and promotions, availability, and local stores.
- Experience: Getting customer service, asking maintenance questions, and making additional purchases.
2. Align Your Campaign & Business Goals
Search can impact, and help you measure, your business goals with the use of digital analytics.
Be sure to align your SEM strategy with your campaign objectives:
- Brand awareness and perception: Bid competitively on your non-brand, brand, and competitors’ keywords. Non-brand searches are the key to starting a journey: 72 percent of brand ad clicks had a non-brand or conquest term in the user journey preceding the brand click. Searchers were 30 percent likelier to conduct a branded search after being exposed to a brand ad on a generic search query or a competitor’s branded query.
- Win new customers: Consumers rely on search to inform purchase decisions. SEM can help with every stage of the decision process. At the start of their journey, 49 percent of consumers use a search engine to find the products they want.
- Drive sales: Search’s strength is driving conversions. It outperforms other marketing channels across devices in conversion rates.
- Enter new markets: The ubiquity of search allows you to activate a cross-border marketing strategy that drives foot traffic with Location Extensions, get more phone calls with Call Extensions, and increase ad clicks with Sitelink Extensions.
3. Expand Your Marketing Funnel
As a constant companion, search is no longer just a product — it’s a behavior.
We turn to search at all times and in all places, whether on our desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones.
Understanding how people search at different points on their purchase journeys opens the door to engage your brand with this new audience.
Having become an engine of insights, search now delivers influence throughout the five buying stages (initiation, research, compare, transaction, and experience).
SEM also reinforces your conversion funnel and unifies disparate marketing activities.
4. Take Audience Targeting to the Next Level
Right-time, right-place engagement alone is no longer enough to compel potential customers.
You need to reach as many unique searchers as possible utilizing audience targeting.
Step 1: Build richer buyer personas that consider these factors:
- Behavioral: Past behaviors are useful for understanding consumers’ interests and their likelihood to purchase. To better measure user behavior, analyze activities across websites, searches, and content which is well-tracked by cookies deployed via Google and Bing Search Ads.
- Demographic: Buying preferences are influenced by elementary but important factors that include age, gender, and location which is well-targeted using Facebook Ads.
- Contextual: Consumers often search in the moment. Analyzing where, when, and how they search can provide useful content for creating more impactful ad campaigns which again is a targeting approach for Bing and Google Ads.
Step 2: Choose keywords that align with the key stages and mindsets of your target customers, here are some examples to consider in building a keyword campaign:
- Initiation: Keywords such as “What is” and “Benefits of” work best at this stage.
- Research: Keywords such as “Buying guide” and “Models” work best at this stage.
- Compare: Keywords such as “Reviews” and “Features” work best at this stage.
- Transaction: Keywords such as “Where” and “Coupon” work best at this stage.
- Experience: Keywords such as “Support” and “Experience” work best at this stage.
5. Lift Other Investments with Paid Search
Optimize your search efforts by combining organic search with a paid SEM strategy.
- Search and social: Customers who click your paid search and social ads are likelier to buy and spend more. Strengthen your keyword coverage to get more impressions, and tailor your bidding strategy for commercial-related PPC campaigns.
- Search and TV/Radio: Search volume spikes for days after a commercial airs. In a Bing Ads study of the biggest commercial event of the year, the Super Bowl, the increase in branded search volume followed a consistent pattern across industries. We did this a number of times in Indonesia and Philippines in our conquest (i.e. Ayosdito & Berniaga) for market share dominance against Sulit and Tokobagus back in 2012 to 2014.
- Search and display: Conversion rates increased by 52 percent while display and search were running simultaneously. Not only did conversion metrics increase, but campaign reach (impressions) increased by 45 percent as well. Do also remember to run video campaigns on Youtube which is a good conversion channel after the TV ad campaigns.
- Search and other channels: When Bing/Google Ads is alone in the purchase path, purchases have a 27 percent higher order average order value than purchases not including Google Ads, which also generate value when paired with other channels.
6. Fight & Win the Battle for Paid Search Budget Share
SEM still competes with other channels for a share of your marketing budget.
So bring along hard data that connects the dots between search engine marketing and business benefits.
Your budget share battle plan involves three elements:
Pick the Right Metrics to Measure SEM Impact
Metrics provide an easy way to see what is and isn’t working.
Your team can test, change and optimize your brand’s SEM strategy for better results through a constant process of keyword casting and keyword optimization.
Focus your reporting by identifying and tracking key performance indicators that reflect your business goals:
- Acquiring new customers
- Encouraging repeat customers
- Driving foot traffic
- Getting more phone calls
- Increasing ad clicks
- Building your brand trust
- Expanding cross-border strategy
Separate SEM Impacts from Other Channels
Know which channels drive your marketing results.
Each sale is the culmination of a series of marketing touches that may involve several channels over the course of days or even weeks across the marketing funnel.
Attribution gets quite complex at times, so if you can prove campaigns with paid search deliver ROI and bottom-line results, you’ll unlock more budget and further optimize search performance.
Apply the Same Process to Allocate Budget Between Google AdWords & Bing Ads
This last piece falls into place when you analyze the paid click share and query that each SEM option represents within your industry.
You’ll not only get your business in front of a large audience, you’ll be confident that your paid ads will lead to clicks.
SEM is the backbone of today’s marketing mix.
With so many channels and more fragmented customer journeys, the real challenge is ensuring you engage audiences at the right time through the right device.
You no longer can afford to put all of your marketing dollars into one search ad network.
Follow the best practices outlined here to maximize the reach, impact, and value of your paid search campaigns with bottom-line results.
Then your fight for marketing resources will be far easier to win!