SEM for Beginners: Understanding Search Ads

letter blocks spelling Google Adwords

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is often confused with its counterpart SEO, Search Engine Optimization. However, the two couldn’t be more different. Besides the fact that they both use keywords and search queries as their basis of marketing, they each require unique strategies in order for them to be a true success. Okay, so what is SEM?

SEM is classified by any marketing on the SERPs (search engine result pages), mostly ads. The most common outline looks a little something like this:

  1. An advertiser bids on keywords with the amount they are willing to pay for a user to click an ad
  2. The engine ranks advertisers based on their bid and relevance to the search
  3. The best matching ad appears alongside the user’s search results

However, there is more to SEM than just bidding a budget and writing ad copy. In this article, we’ll be discussing the basics of SEM and strategies you can use within your own campaigns including:

  • Ad Rank
  • Audience
  • Campaigns
  • Optimization

Ad Rank

Ad rank is exactly what it sounds like – the way Google, or any other search engine, ranks ads in order to classify their position on a SERP. Think of it just like you would with SEO. Google sees your ads, takes certain factors into account, and then places (or doesn’t) your ad on the proper page. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, as with anything that has to do with search engines, it’s not.

Major ranking factors include:

  • Bid amount
  • Expected CTR
  • Landing page user experience: what does the page you are sending them look like?
  • Ad relevancy
  • Ad format
  • Quality Score: the 1-10 rating that is reported for each keyword in your account calculated by estimating the quality of your ads and their associated landing pages.

Rule of thumb, if you want your ad to rank well, follow the ad guidelines. This differs depending on search engine. However, most are opposed to certain wording, graphics, links, and more. Be sure to read through these and understand what is acceptable when formulating your ads.

Knowing Your Audience

I’ve mentioned before just how important knowing, understanding, and relating to your audience is. But, no where is it more important than with SEM. Why? Because of the money. You are placing a bid and setting a budget in order to place these ads, shouldn’t you be sure that they are hitting the right people?

The good news is there are a variety of tools to help you dive into what your audience looks like and what you can do to cater to them. And, even better, you can use these tools in other aspects of your marketing strategy as well!

Google Surveys

  • Test consumer insights
  • Uncover customer mindsets
  • Probe for audience thoughts on existing or past campaigns

Google Trends

  • Answer key brand questions
  • Gauge consumer search behaviors
  • Confirm hypotheses about audience interests
  • Share audience interest over time

Google Shopping Insights

  • Understand consumer awareness and mindshare for a product, from national down to city-level insights; Insights is currently available for the US market only

Google Correlate

  • Find queries that follow a similar search pattern, thereby uncovering insights that might not otherwise be visible.

Setting Up Your First Campaign

Here, I wanted to provide a step-by-step overview of how you can set up a campaign and any key elements you should be aware of. As always, these should be dependent on your specific business. Everyone is different and it’s important to test and adjust to find what works best!

Also, it should be noted that the below instructions and tips are specific to Google and AdWords. These may differ slightly depending on the platform you are using.

Getting Started

  • Select campaign settings: go to “campaigns”, hit the campaign ad type, choose to add goals, enter your website URL, give it a name, go to additional settings to make adjustments to devices and other customizations, go with the default t start things off to see how it performs, choose your location, set languages, go onto bidding and budgeting and opt out of ECPC, choose a standard delivery method, optimize ad rotation, default ad scheduling until you get a clearer picture, leave dynamic search ads alone, wait to set up campaign url settings until you have good data to start tracking
  • Create ad groups
  • Create ads
  • Review ad group

Finding Your Keywords

  • Go to the Google Ads Keyword Planner
  • Search for words or phrases related to your products or services
  • Narrow down your list by conducting research on how often words are searched, etc.
  • Look over suggested bid estimates for each keyword, so you can determine your advertising budget
  • Save these to your plan so they are ready when you go to launch your campaign

Picking Keyword Match Types

  • Broad match shows your ads based on keywords and close variations like synonyms and misspellings.
  • Broad match modifier shows your ads based on the broad match, but excludes synonyms. (+)
  • Phrase match shows your ads based on exact phrases and close variations.(“”)
  • Exact match shows your ads based on exact keywords and close variations. ([])
  • Negative match shows your ads based on searches and site visits that exclude keywords. (-)

Parts of Your Text Ad

  • headline
  • URL
  • Path fields (optional): There are two optional “path” fields, which can hold up to 15 characters. Part of your display URL, they are placed after your website’s domain to give readers an idea of the content they’ll see upon clicking your ad.
  • Description
  • Highlight what makes you unique
  • Use a CTA
  • Include sale terms
  • Match your ad to your keywords
  • Match your ad to your landing page

Ad Extensions

  • These help with visibility, performance (10-15%) and offer more value
  • Extensions show with your ad when: 1. The extension (or combination of extensions) is predicted to improve your performance. 2. Your ad’s position and Ad Rank is high enough for extensions to show. To show extensions, Google Ads requires a minimum Ad Rank.
  • You can find an overview of the complete ad extensions you can choose from HERE

Optimization Strategies

Okay, so now you have the run down on how to set up your ads and what should all be included. But, how do you make them work their very best so you can get the most bang for you buck? Once again, it’s all about optimization. Even if this isn’t SEO, you still have to adjust your ads to fit not only the needs of your audience, but Google as well. After all, it still crawls, ranks, and indexes your ads – just on a different level.

So, here are some optimization tips and tools to get your ads seen:

  • Continue to edit and refine your ads, show your best ads most often, and organize your ads into better ad groups
  • Look at keywords, targeting and reach to reach more people who are interested in what you offer
  • Always be monitoring and adjusting bids and budget to get more impressions and clicks or improve your Ad Rank
  • Collect data for about 6 months before using the google assistant to ensure that the data it uses is accurate
  • Bid Simulators: you can simulate the impact of all kinds of modifications, things like changes to your Max. CPC bid and its impact on the costs or numbers of clicks, impressions, or conversion value.
  • Campaign drafts and experiments: test and measure the impact of changes to an existing Search campaign.
  • Ad customizers: allows you to customize your ads (with the insertion of a little piece of code), so that they adjust based on the type of search being performed, where it’s occurring, or even the date, time of day, or day of the week!
  • Pay attention to the Search Term Report and the Auction Insights Report, they can be key components to your ad success

SEM, just like SEO, takes time to perfect. Your first ad campaign may very well be a flop. It’s all about learning, testing, and adjusting to ensure that your ads are not only set up correctly in the eyes of the search engine, but also offer something of value to the customers you are targeting.

Need help with your SEM strategy? I may have some experience in that field (if you couldn’t tell). Fill out my contact form for a meeting and free consultation!

Published by Stevie Howard

I am a digital marketer that has experience in a variety of fields including social media, SEO, SEM, lead generation, content strategy, and more.

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