If your current search engine marketing (SEM) program only brings in moderate results, then here’s how to revamp your efforts and get on the right track.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to plan out your ROI goals
  • Quick tips for optimizing your site
  • Ways to identify your “money keywords”
  • Why conversion tracking is key

Would you describe your SEM results using words like “OK” or “decent?” Then it might be time to start thinking differently about your strategy to make the most of your marketing dollars.

Maybe you, like most companies, bid for ad placement based on your position goals. You know the traffic you can expect. You could even go so far as to multiply your expected traffic by your conversion rate to get an anticipated return on investment (ROI). 

While this is a standard practice, 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. But, as with many aspects of SEM, it’s not a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all formula. ROI is determined by many different factors. Google offers this particular 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

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 poorly designed website or sub-par landing page. That’s why you want to ensure all of your pages are fully optimized before going all-in. Of course, it also helps to add new, high-quality content at a consistent cadence so you continue to build strong SEO. 

Ideally, your website:

  • loads fast
  • is safe and secure (with “https” in your URLs)
  • can be easily viewed and navigated on a mobile device
  • is optimized with meta descriptions, headings, and page titles
  • features a sitemap

You also want to optimize your landing pages so your message is clear and your 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. This tool measures things like page speed, mobile rendering, SEO, security, and more, with tips on 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 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, accurate 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.)

If you’re not confident that your tracking and reporting is set up properly, it may be worth reaching out to a marketing agency that can take a look at your accounts and let you know whether or not things are operating as they should be. 

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.

You can also look into a range of keywords, from branded and non-branded to long-tail and location-specific. 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, you can 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’ll 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” mindset that lets campaigns run on their own. Rather, you want to have a plan to analyze and iterate regularly so you can be sure your campaigns are as optimized as possible for your target audience.

6. Leverage your “money keywords”

Around here, we refer to the keywords that bring you the required ROI to make the campaign worth your time and expense as “money keywords.” Basically, they’re your SEM program’s best friend when it comes to performance and generating the highest ROI. 

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 LTV 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 LTV, let’s talk about lead scoring. Most digital marketing pros know it’s crucial to stay on top of the value of your inbound leads. With lead scoring in place, you’ll have a quantified system to 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. After all, it’s not about simply driving conversions, but about driving the right conversions.

The takeaway

Whether you’re starting from the ground up or working with a long-time established marketing program, zooming out to take stock of your current efforts is always a worthwhile practice.

Make sure your processes are set up for maximum ROI so you can get the most bang for your buck while giving the competition a run for their money.  

This post was originally published in August 2014 and was updated in October 2020.

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.