A Business Owner’s Guide to Search Engine Marketing

Dhiraj Nallapaneni

11 min read Last Updated Mar 3, 2020

If you want to get new customers through Google, it’s important to take a look at search engine marketing. Chances are that you’ve seen an ad like this: 

Businesses pay for these ads to get their content in front of interested prospects for a simple reason: they work. There’s a reason why Google is a trillion-dollar company: most of the company’s revenue comes from search ads. Here’s what we’ll cover in this article. 

Search Engine Marketing Definition

Search engine marketing is the process of optimizing your website to get more traffic on both paid and organic channels. 

Why is SEM Important? 

The more visible your business is on search engine result pages, the easier it will be for potential customers to find you. Chances are that you’ve been already trying to rank higher for keywords relevant for your business. 92% of searchers will choose businesses on the first page of Google. 

Of course, you can achieve the same thing by paying for Google ads. For example, let’s say that you run a law firm and you want to advertise and reach potential clients who haven’t heard of your firm before. 

An easy way to do this is to spend money on a keyword like “law firms in Detroit”. Chances are that anyone searching for this is in need of a lawyer. Paying for ads can help you get in front of interested prospects. 

Search engines like Google and Bing allow you to bid on keywords like “law firms in Detroit”. While paid ads cost money, it’s a great way to drive relevant traffic to your website. Since more and more customers are turning to search engines to discover businesses, search engine marketing will only be more important in the future. 

SEO vs. Paid Ads 

There are two very similar terms that you’ll often hear thrown around: Search engine marketing (SEM) and Search engine optimization (SEO). You might hear people debating which one is better than the other. While SEO is a component of SEM, most of the time, people having this debate are really comparing SEO with paid search ads (another component of SEM). 

Let’s talk about some of the main differences and the pros and cons of search engine optimization when compared to paid search ads. 

What You Should Know about SEO 

Search engine optimization involves getting more traffic to your site based on organic Google search results rather than paid advertising. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind about search engine optimization. 

SEO is Earned 

While some aspects of SEM require that you pay every time a potential customer clicks on your ad, SEO does not. SEO is based on “earning” the respect of each search engine. It’s on you to create quality content and gain brand authority. 

SEO Takes Time 

You should not expect quick results from SEO. Creating quality content and optimizing your site for search takes time. Paid ads, on the other hand, can get traffic to your site quickly. 

SEO Has Higher Clickthrough Rate 

SEO is a form of natural selection. Businesses that rank high have survived the ultimate challenge… thousands if not millions of people value them. That’s why customers trust organic search results. 

 Plus most folks just don’t like ads — one reason (among many others) that Netflix has so many subscribers. Unlike cable, Netflix charges a monthly fee for the privilege of not showing ads. The same idea applies to search results. People are more likely to click on organic results than any paid result. 

Which One is Better? 

The larger a business gets it may be inevitable that it will need to spend some amount on search engine ads. Often driving the inevitability is the need to get new customers. Logically the best approach is to first try the most efficient channels first. When it comes to investing often it is better to maximize the value from highly effective channels. 

Here at BirdEye, we use SEO and SEM in tandem. Both work effectively and can complement each other. Let’s talk about how. 

How Paid Ads and SEO Work Together 

Google recommends that brands can do best when they have paid and organic results near each other. While that is a self-serving statement, it doesn’t mean Google is wrong. At BirdEye our recommendation to the many local businesses we help is to gain maximum value 1st from SEO. 

Use Paid Search Data to Inform SEO 

Paid ads also help you understand which keywords and which messages work best.

For example, which one of these keywords would drive the most traffic for a local dentist? 

  • “Best local dentist”
  • “Best rated local dentist”
  • “Pain-free dentistry”

Unless you wanted to guess, trying each of these variations 1st as ads would allow you to quickly learn which one works the best in converting customers. 

When you get great results from a paid keyword, you should consider how you could use this keyword for SEO as well. If you’re getting a ton of traffic from a keyword that you’re bidding on, you should consider building some content so that you can rank for this keyword organically. After all, you already know that it’s something your potential customers care about. 

More Visibility Means More More Results 

If you have a paid search ad and an organic search result for the same keyword, you will start seeing better results from customers. The more they see your brand and the more awareness they have of your services, the higher the chances of them turning into customers. 

Learning SEM for Beginners 

Want to get started with search engine marketing, but don’t know where to start? Luckily, Google has resources designed just for you. Google Skillshop offers free courses designed to help you learn how to use the Google Ads platform. You can work to get a Google ads certification at your own pace. 

While Google is the biggest search engine by a long shot, you should also pay attention to Bing’s paid advertisements. It’s been estimated that as many as 25% of online searches in the United States are done through Bing. Microsoft also offers free courses to help you manage your Bing ads. 

SEM Terminology 

If you’re just getting started with SEM, it can be tough. There are some terms that get thrown around that you might not yet be familiar with. Here are a few: 

Branded keyword- A branded keyword is a keyword that contains your company’s name. An example of a branded keyword for BirdEye would be “BirdEye reviews”. 

Non-branded keyword- A non-branded keyword is a keyword that does not contain your business name. A dental practice in Houston might bid on a non-branded keyword “dental practice in texas”. 

Return on Investment (ROI)- The amount of money you get from your spending on ads. 

Click-through rate- The rate of how many people who see your ad actually click on it. 

Search advertising- Search advertising deals with ads that show up in search engine result pages. 

Display advertising- Display advertisements are visual ads that show up on third-party websites. 

Impressions- Impressions measure how many times your ad has been seen. 

Pay-per-click (PPC)- Pay-per-click is a revenue model used by companies like Google, where businesses need to pay for every click that they receive from customers. 

SERP- Search Engine Results Page. When you “run” a search like “Best local Lawyer” the results are a SERP. Ideally, your business will show up on the 1st page!

Search Engine Marketing Examples 

Want to see an example of how paid search works in the real world? Here’s an example from a hot company. 

Once you click on the ad, you’ll be taken to a landing page that looks like this. 

This page is a guide to online review management. It’s important that your landing page reinforces the message of the ad. Otherwise, you might see that your prospective customers get confused and leave the page. 

Our purpose in this ad is to build awareness for our brand. However, you’ll also see landing pages that are geared towards conversion. These pages will look more like this. 

You’ll notice this page has a form where prospects are meant to fill out their information. While not every person who stumbles on the page is ready to fill this out just yet, chances are that people bidding on a keyword like “get authentic Google reviews” might be looking for a page like this. That’s why search engine marketing works so well: it brings interested prospects right to your doorstep. 

Search Engine Marketing Techniques 

Here are a few things that you can do to ensure that your SEM campaigns are successful. 

Do Keyword Research 

The very first thing you can do to ensure your success is to make sure that you’re bidding on the right keywords. You want to make sure that you’re bidding on keywords that potential customers are looking for. Google Keyword Planner allows you to see metrics like search volume and keyword competition. 

Set A Budget 

Before you start any SEM campaign, it’s important to think about how much you’re willing to spend. Take an honest look at your finances and ask yourself how much you can afford to spend on Google ads. 

Your budget doesn’t just include how much you’ll be spending for the ad. Think about the resources you’ll need to create quality ads, high-converting landing pages, and manage your ads. 

Measure Results 

For any form of marketing, measuring results is crucial. Search engine marketing is no exception. Keep a close eye on your ads’ quality score so that you can make improvements to ads that aren’t performing as well as you like. 

Make sure that you’re keeping a close eye on your return on investment as well. That means you can kill ads that aren’t getting results and boost ads that are. 

Understanding the Ad Auction 

Google ads determine which ads will show to potential customers in an auction. There are three factors that determine whether or not your ad will show for the search term that you’re bidding on. 

Bid- Your bid is the maximum amount you’re willing to pay to get your ad to show. The higher your bid, the better chance you have of winning the auction. 

Quality Score- Google will give your ads a quality score based on factors like quality of your ad, use of keywords, and relevance of your landing page. You can see the quality score of your ads in your Google Ads account and make adjustments whenever necessary. 

Expected Impact from Ad Format- You do have the option to add additional information to your Google ads. You can add extensions like your phone number so interested prospects can call you directly. Google’s algorithm attempts to determine the effectiveness of your ad format, which also affects the ad auction. 

You may be wondering why Google cares about the quality of your ads at all and why they don’t simply take money from the highest bidder. There is a reason for this. If Google just took money from whoever was willing to pay, search engine result pages would be littered with low-quality ads, leading customers to seek out a new search engine. It’s in Google’s best interest to promote high-quality, relevant ads. 

Social Proof in Search Engine Marketing 

There’s an easy way that you can increase the effectiveness of your SEM: social proof. If you’re bidding on non-branded keywords, there’s a good chance that the Google user has never heard of you before. That’s why it can be helpful to show off the opinions of your happy customers. 

An easy way to do this is through Google seller ratings. Chances are that even if you’ve never heard the term, you’ve seen a Google seller rating before. It looks something like this: 

These seller ratings show off your business’s overall star rating and number of reviews, showing prospects how much your current customers value your services. These ratings help your ads stand out relative to the competition. Google seller ratings lead to real results. According to Google, businesses that use seller ratings see a 17% higher clickthrough rate

Of course, there are certain requirements that you need to meet in order to run seller ratings. 

  • 100 reviews in the country you’re running ads in the last 12 months. 
  • An overall star rating of 3.5 stars. 

That makes it important that your business is collecting reviews on sites all over the Internet. For more information on how to collect reviews, check out our informational video below.  

In Conclusion 

If you have any questions about search engine marketing, feel free to leave a comment below. Our experts are happy to address a question- we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.