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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 21

Have an established search engine marketing (SEM) campaign that brings in moderate results? It’s time to take your campaign to the next level. Here’s how to get on the right track.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to plan out your ROI goals
  • Quick ways to optimize your site
  • How to identify your “money keywords”
  • Why conversion tracking is key

Is it time to switch up your SEM plan? If you’re only seeing results you’d describe as “OK” or “decent,” we say the answer is yes. But to make the most of your marketing dollars, it might be time to start thinking differently about your strategy. 

Maybe you, like most companies, bid for ad placement based on your position goals. You know the traffic you can expect, and even go so far as to multiply your expected traffic by your conversion rate to get an anticipated return on investment (ROI). This may be standard practice, but we’re going to be honest: You can do better. 

Rather than plan your expected SEM ROI after setting up your campaign, it should be the driving force in how you plan your strategy. After all, if your end results are the reason for all your work, then it’s logical that they should be behind the strategy, right? 

If Google’s constant algorithm updates and changes make SEM seem like a puzzle you can’t solve, read on — we’ve got the play by play.

HawkSEM blog: How to Get Higher ROI from Search Engine Marketing

ROI is determined by many factors and isn’t one size fits all. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Plan out your ROI goals

For your campaign to be successful, you need a reasonable ROI goal. As with many aspects of SEM, it’s not a black and white formula — ROI is determined by many factors and isn’t one size fits all. Google offers this formula to determine the profit you’ve made from your ads compared to what you’ve spent on those ads: 

ROI = (Revenue – Cost of goods sold) / Cost of goods sold

But no matter how you’re determining your ROI goal, it’s wise to keep in mind your costs, your revenue-to-cost ratio (including things like pay-per-click spend, display ad clicks, and agency fees, if applicable), and your customer lifetime value (LTV).

2. Optimize your site

Few things can derail a stellar SEM campaign quicker than a sub-par website or landing page. That’s why you want to ensure yours is optimized before diving in. It also helps to be adding new, high-quality content at a consistent cadence so you continue to build strong SEO. 

Ideally, your website loads fast, is super secure, doesn’t have any wonky formatting when viewed on a mobile device, and is optimized with meta descriptions, headings, page titles, and a sitemap. You also want to optimize your landing pages, so your message and CTAs lead the prospect to the desired action.

Pro tip: Hubspot has created a Website Grader tool that lets you input your domain to see instant results. The site measures things like page speed, mobile rendering, SEO, security, and more, and offers tips for how you can optimize further.

3. Make sure your conversion tracking is good to go

It may seem obvious that you should set up conversion tracking to effectively be able to draw lines from your ads to things like purchases and form submissions. But time and time again, we see companies that have failed to properly set up conversion tracking, which means they don’t have a firm handle on how their SEM program is performing. 

Conversion tracking not only gives you insight into performance, but it collects valuable data on customer action that you can use to iterate your program down the line. (Google Analytics is arguably the most popular conversion tracking tool, though there are other options you can explore as well.)

Pro tip: Granular tracking lets you see what’s working in your SEM program down to the keywords and device targeting, and it’s part of our smart way of marketing to drive more revenue.

4. Revisit your keywords

Not all keywords are created equal — and some are more effective than others. While you certainly want to invest in a range of keywords, it may be time to revisit the order of importance you currently have in place. 

If some keywords have consistently proven unprofitable, for example, you may want to consider dropping them altogether. Think about keywords for each stage of the buyer’s journey, and plan based on the ROI you can expect from each keyword on your list. This is another reason why it’s crucial to have proper tracking in place so you can plan accordingly.

HawkSEM blog: How to Get Higher ROI from Search Engine Marketing

Campaign missteps include not using negative keywords, paying too much per click, and opting for a “set it and forget it” process. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Structure your SEM campaigns properly

Based on your ROI goals, determine the cost per acquisition (CPA) within your budget and that will generate a profit. That way, when you compete for ad spaces strategically, you know when to put more money into an ad, and when to withdraw money from another. 

Common campaign missteps include not using negative keywords, paying too much per click, and opting for a “set it and forget it” process instead of analyzing and iterating. (Sound like too much to take on? There’s a solution for that.)

6. Leverage your “money keywords”

We’ve mentioned money keywords before — they’re the keywords that bring you the required ROI to make the campaign worth your time and expense. In other words, they’re your SEM program’s best friend when it comes to performance and the highest ROI-generating keywords. 

Analyzing your keywords and researching which ones have proven to produce the best results for your business will show you which money keywords your brand should leverage. But it’s not all about clicks — you also want to look at which ones are driving the best lifetime value as well. It’s worth noting that this data may not be immediately clear — but over time, you’ll start to see the path to real results. 

7. Set up lead scoring

Speaking of lifetime value, let’s talk lead scoring. Digital marketing pros know it’s crucial to know the value of inbound leads. With a lead scoring system in place, you can see the assigned value a lead has and where it should rank compared to other leads. 

This is helpful for your sales team to know who to reach out to first, and helps you better understand the connection between keywords, conversions, and your overall SEM program.

At the end of the day, we know it’s not about simply driving conversions, but about driving the right conversions. ConversionIQ is HawkSEM’s 3-step approach to digital marketing. We look at what’s driving actual revenue — not just traffic and form completions — and set you up to drive high-quality conversions that continuously improve your bottom line. Want to know more? Let’s chat.

This post was originally published in August 2014 and was updated in October 2019.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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