Great SEM strategies need great SEM software. Here’s a list of our top picks in 2023.
Here, you’ll find:
- What SEM software is and how it works
- Why it’s a good idea to use SEM tools
- Best practices for using SEM software
- Top picks for SEM tools to consider
Website owners: have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer thought of selecting a tool for your search engine marketing (SEM) campaign?
Sure you have.
Most come to a crossroads of either needing to move away from manual marketing processes or building a more robust tech stack.
Whichever boat you’re in, we have the goods to help you make a decision. Let’s explore what software search engine marketing campaigns should use in 2023.
The top 6 search engine marketing tools for 2023
We’ll break down the benefits of these SEM platforms in just a minute. But first:
What is a search engine marketing software tool?
SEM software is a tool businesses use to increase their site’s visibility on search engines like Google and Bing. Different types of SEM software guide different areas of your digital marketing campaigns, such as planning, execution, and monitoring.
A business’s SEM tech stack may have marketing tools that can perform keyword research, content optimization, link building, ad campaign optimization, and competitor analysis.
For example, a business might use a:
- Market research platform to identify competitors and target audiences and how to best reach them (e.g., topics they discuss, sites they frequent, influencers they follow)
- Search engine optimization (SEO) tool to identify relevant keywords and optimize their website content for those terms
- Pay-per-click (PPC) tool to manage their ad campaigns (e.g., setting bids, tracking performance)
SEM software helps marketers and businesses simplify their tasks using AI and automation.
How does SEM software work?
Search engine marketing software tools act as genius assistants that help you get the most out of your digital marketing efforts. They pump out data in minutes that would take you days to achieve. But not all perform the same tasks; some are designed to plan your strategy, track results, automate tasks, keep an eye on competitors and discover new opportunities to get ahead.
- Keyword planners find the best words to use in your content, so it shows up higher in search engine results.
- On-page optimizers ensure your website is set up correctly for search engines to understand what it’s about.
- Ad campaign optimizers help you create ads that will reach the right people and get them to take action.
- Rank trackers show you how well your content performs and which pieces need improvement.
- Audience and competitor research tools give you insights into who your customers are and what other companies are doing in the same space as you.
Now that you know what it can do, let’s explore why you should or shouldn’t use search engine marketing platforms.
Why should (or shouldn’t you) use SEM software?
Using SEM marketing tools can be like having a team of experts working for you 24/7. It saves time, money, and headaches by improving results from all of your digital marketing efforts.
“We live in a data-driven world, so it makes sense that data is one of the most valuable assets for digital marketing,” says Sam Yadegar, CEO of HawkSEM. “It’s nearly impossible to keep up with signals and do in-depth research without the assistance of thoughtful SEM software.”
Some of the benefits they offer include:
- Automation of tedious tasks like keyword research and ad campaign optimization
- Increased visibility in search engine results
- Higher accuracy for tracking performance metrics
- Access to competitor insights right at your fingertips
- Improved ROI from digital marketing efforts (thanks to your bird’s-eye view of every campaign)
“What I love about SEM software is that it helps you understand where to allocate budgets, where to save money, what audiences are focusing on to drive revenue, and low-performing search terms to avoid,” Sam continues.
But SEM management software comes with some drawbacks — for instance, some tools are expensive and have a steep learning curve. And then there’s the concept of using it to replace human experts and expecting amazing results — not gonna happen.
“The most successful marketers have the right balance of the human touch, AI, and software. Can’t leave everything to full automation for stand-alone success, however, the right software tools can definitely give you a leg up.”
10 best practices for using SEM software
Search engine marketing works best when you have a holistic strategy that includes paid search and organic search. Here are a few best practices for choosing and using SEM optimization software to achieve the best results possible:
1. Research and choose the right software for your needs.
For example, if you’re a small business, you may not need the most expensive software just yet.
2. Choose software that integrates with other tools and platforms.
This will help you get the most out of your data and save time.
3. Make sure to use all of the features available in the software.
Many tools have features like keyword research, ad campaign optimization, and audience insights that can be used to improve your campaigns.
4. Set up tracking and analytics to measure performance.
This will help you understand what’s working and what needs to be improved.
5. Use automation tools to save time and money.
For example, you can automate bidding and ad placement to ensure your campaigns are running efficiently, and identify keywords eating up your budget without producing results (e.g., sales).
6. Monitor competitors’ activities to stay ahead of the curve.
For example, you can use SEM software to track competitors’ ad campaigns and adjust your own accordingly.
7. Use keyword research tools to find the best words for your content.
This will help you target the right audience and increase online visibility in search engine results and ad campaigns.
8. Optimize your website for search engine visibility with on-page optimization tools.
This will help you rank higher in search engine results and drive more organic traffic to your website.
9. Track your rankings with rank trackers to identify areas of improvement.
For example, you can use rank trackers to identify which pieces of content ranking on page two you can optimize and revise to boost it to page one.
10. Leverage audience and competitor research tools to gain insights into customer behavior and industry trends.
This will help you create more effective campaigns and target the right audience.
Following best practices can be the difference between getting the results you seek and wasting money on non-performing campaigns.
Search engine marketing software: Pricing expectations
The prices of search engine marketing software vary, since each offers different features. For instance, a keyword research tool that only finds keywords and nothing else will cost more than one that has all the bells and whistles, such as rank ranking, competitor tracking, and on-page optimization.
Then there are tools that do two entirely different things. For instance, an SEO tool may not cost the same as an audience research tool.
Most software for SEM is priced on a monthly basis and comes in tier packages. This allows you to choose based on your budget and needs. Enterprises often get custom quotes and plans to match the scale of their online marketing campaigns.
Aside from pricing the search engine marketing tool, you must also factor in hiring an expert or team to operate them. If you opt for in-house, then that’s a salary plus benefits. Another option: hire individual freelancers experienced in a specific area, such as SEO experts. But then you’ll need several to cover all areas of your search engine marketing strategy (e.g., content writing, content marketing, content strategy, PPC campaign optimization).
An alternative is to work with a digital marketing agency that’s familiar with SEM management tools and may even come with its own. For instance, HawkSEM offers holistic search engine marketing services, plus we have a proprietary software solution called ConversionIQ that pulls valuable campaign insights to improve results fast (more on that below).
Top search engine marketing software in 2023
There are dozens of search engine marketing software out there. Which you choose depends on your budget, preferences, and goals.
“I’d recommend using in-depth tools that contribute to your greater strategy — for example, if you’re looking to build a keyword list, find a tool that also provides search volumes, competitors, difficulty in ranking, and search trends for those keywords, as opposed to “silo tools” that only do one task,” advises Sam.
On that note, here is a list of tools we find impressive for planning, executing, and managing search engine marketing campaigns.
ConversionIQ is a powerful SEM management tool that eliminates data silos and the guesswork from your ad campaigns. It does this by pinpointing which keywords in your ads are generating the most leads and sales for your campaigns.
With this intel, you can carefully tweak your campaigns by removing low-performing search terms, so you can redirect ad spend toward ad groups that generate favorable results.
It does what every campaign manager needs — turning data into actionable insights that deliver impressive outcomes.
By adding ConversionIQ into your toolkit, you’ll never have to wonder where leads are coming from, how to scale plateauing campaigns, and when to increase or decrease budgets to stop wasting ad spend. Its detailed reports even identify your top customers, and what keywords they’re using, so you can drive more clicks and conversions from them.
Some of its robust features include:
- Account anomaly signals to detect potential issues with your ad campaigns
- Quality score optimization to ensure your ads are seen by the right people
- Growth signals that identify opportunities to scale campaigns
- Trend performance indicators to track how campaigns are performing over time
- Audience optimization to ensure you’re targeting the right people with your ads
- Detail reporting dashboard on all client key performance indicators (e.g., clicks, conversions, cost to convert)
- Integrations with tools like Pardot, Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo, Google Ads, and Shopify (to name a few)
Microsoft and Columbia University used it to identify long-tail keywords that are low-volume, but high-converting and it drove revenue.
ConversionIQ helped 2x lead volume, reduce cost per acquisition by 40%, and increase lead quality by 60%.
“It’s one of the only tools out there that stitches together marketing strategy with revenue/ROI,” shares Sam.
Semrush is a comprehensive SEO software that provides users with data on organic and paid search, including keyword research, competitor analysis, and backlink monitoring. And even has a tool for on-page optimization using its keyword suggestions.
All SEO software link with your Google Analytics and Google Search Console accounts to pull real-time data from your website or application.
Some of its most popular features include:
- Detailed insights into how competitors are ranking for certain terms and what keywords they’re using in their ads
- Reports to keep your ad campaigns and content strategy on track by monitoring KPIs like impressions, clicks, cost per click (CPC), cost per acquisition (CPA), and return on investment (ROI)
- On-page SEO to guide keyword usage and topic coverage to ensure you’re including what competitors write about and more
- Rank tracking to monitor content over time and to identify what needs improvement
- Content creation and distribution using three tools (topic research, content creator marketplace, and social media poster)
As for the cost, Semrush has three plans to choose from:
- Pro: $119/mo for five projects, 500 keywords to track, and 10k results per report
- Guru: $229/mo for 15 projects, 1,500 keywords to track, and 30K results per report
- Business: $449/mo for 40 projects, 5K keywords to track, and 50K results per report
- Custom: Available for businesses that need something more than what the plans offer
Ahrefs is another SEO tool that’s been around since 2010. It helps businesses rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs). It comes with many of the features you’d expect, such as keywords explorer, website audit, rank tracker, and competitor research.
However, it also comes with a content explorer tool, which helps you find content ideas and link opportunities. This works by inserting a keyword or topic, and it’ll pull up content that’s ranking high and getting lots of traffic. You can use this to find trending topics to write about and drive traffic to your site.
Here’s an overview of Ahref’s other features:
- Backlink analysis to identify which websites are linking to your competitors
- Site explorer to get an overview of a website’s performance and backlinks
- Keyword research tool to find relevant keywords for your content
- Rank tracker to monitor keyword rankings over time
- Competitor research to see what strategies your competitors are using
Ahrefs has four paid plans available, which include:
- Lite: $99/mo for SEO dashboard, site audit, site explorer, rank tracker, alerts, and keyword explorer
- Standard: $199/mo that comes with Lite, plus six months of history, SERP updates, content explorer, and various other tools
- Advanced: $399/mo for everything in Standard, plus Google Data Studio, dashboard folders, two years of history, and more
- Enterprise: $999/mo for everything in Advanced, plus unlimited history, access management, pay by invoice, audit log, API, and directory listing
SpyFu is an SEO and PPC tool that helps businesses track their competitors’ strategies and build campaigns that outdo them. It starts at a more affordable rate compared to other SEO tools, making it a great pick for small businesses.
It offers a range of features that include:
- Seo tools: Build content that ranks using its rank tracking, SERP analysis, domain comparisons, backlink builder, competitor analysis, and, of course, keyword research features
- PPC tools: Find the best keywords to target and avoid using its Google Ads advisor and other tools like Google Ads templates, competitor analytics, ad history, and domain comparison
- Competitive Intel: Learn what your competitors are doing to find gaps and opportunities to outperform them — includes tools like traffic analysis, domain comparison, and new market player detection, and also reveals top SEO and PPC strategies
- Reports: Generate insightful reports that highlight what’s working, what’s not, and detect missing opportunities — available for SEO and PPC and can be scheduled for automation
There are three plans available for Spyfu, here are the monthly rates (annual is also an option):
- Basic: $39/mo for 10K row search results, 10K row data exports, 100 domain overview PDFs, six months of historical data, and 5K weekly tracked keywords
- Professional: $79/mo for unlimited search results, data exports, and domain overview PDFs, plus 10+ years of historical data, 15K weekly tracked keyword rankings, and API access
- Team: $299/mo for everything in professional, plus 40K weekly tracked keywords, 5 user logins, and 2K sales leads and domain contacts (compared to 500 and 250 for the other two plans)
Optmyzr is a lesser-talked-about PPC tool that can benefit your Google, Bing, and Amazon ad campaigns. One feature that sets it apart is its Enhanced Scripts, which allows you to create advanced workflows using code (without coding knowledge).
It integrates with various Google platforms, including Gmail, Docs, Google Apps, Calendar, and Spreadsheets. This means you can sync with and develop automated marketing processes using these tools.
Let’s say you’re running a PPC campaign and need to generate weekly reports for your team. With Enhanced Scripts, you can create a script that automatically pulls data from your campaigns, compiles it into your team’s spreadsheet, and emails it to your team every week. The best part: no more manual data entry or formatting.
Other features this tool comes with include:
- Real-time data refresh and reporting
- One-click optimizations
- Campaign monitoring and alerts
- PPC data insights
- Automation features
- Personalized training and onboarding
- Ad campaign bid management and budget optimization
Optmyzr’s pricing model is unique — its plans are based on your monthly ad spend. For example, for $10K/mo ad spend, you’ll pay $249/mo, and you’ll get:
- All core features and automations
- Real-time data refresh
- A half-hour onboarding session
- A personalized video training session bi-annually
- Up to 25 accounts
Plans increase by $50/mo as your monthly ad spend increases ($25K to $75K to $150K to $250K). Then it jumps to $649/mo for $350K ad spend and $799/mo for $500K ad spend.
Opteo specializes in Google Ads and comes with features that help users to improve ad performance, track campaigns, and view reports (unfortunately, no exporting). What makes it unique is its ad writing tool, which you can use to write ad copy directly into the platform.
If you have campaigns across Google’s various platforms (e.g., Search, Display, and Shopping Ads), you can use Opteo to manage them.
Here’s a look at its features:
- Bad traffic exclusion
- Google Ad alerts
- Slack integration
- Budget management and optimization
- Performance monitoring
- Error detection
- Shopping ads management
- A/B testing for ads
This platform offers four pricing tiers, which include:
- Basic: $99/mo for 25 accounts, $50K ad spend/mo, live chat support, and 24hr refresh cycle
- Professional: $199/mo for 50 accounts, $250K spend/mo, priority support, 12hr refresh cycle, and Google Ads reports
- Agency: $399/mo for 100 accounts, $500K spend/mo, and everything in Professional
Enterprise: $799/mo for unlimited accounts, $1m spend/mo, account manager, 6hr refresh cycle, and everything in Agency
Building SEM campaigns that generate results requires two things: a solid strategy and the right tools.
With this guide, you can find software that fits within your search marketing needs and budget. The goal is to find something that can do almost everything you need to minimize costs and prevent the need to learn more than one tool.
If you’re lacking in a solid (and hopefully holistic) strategy, then purchasing software shouldn’t be on your to-do list just yet.
HawkSEM’s experts can work with you to develop a comprehensive SEM plan that meets your goals and budget. Plus, we come with the tools (and manage them for you).
Ready to get started? Reach out to the HawkSEM team today!