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Written by Caroline Cox on May 28 , 2021

It’s vital to spend your hard-earned digital marketing budget on channels that bring you the best ROI. That’s why knowing the latest Google Ads updates is key.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to invest in Google Ads
  • How the paid search platform works
  • The latest Google Ads updates
  • Expert tips for leveraging the platform successfully

The best place to launch your digital marketing efforts is where your campaign attracts a massive audience — no surprise there. And, according to a 2021 report, Google led the list of the most popular search engines, commanding more than 88% of the American market share. 

Paid advertisements often come hyperlinked at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs). Sure, you can work to rank organically for a given search term through SEO strategies — and you should. But not only can Google Ads help you get higher up in search results more quickly in the form of pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but it helps you stay competitive against others in your industry. 

The benefits of Google Ads

You probably know how Google Ads works: It shows your online advertisement to prospective customers who may be interested in your business. You place bids on keywords and search terms and secure the top slots of SERPs if you win.

As part of a PPC marketing strategy, you choose the maximum bid amount you wish to pay for each click on your ad. Your placement improves with your bid amount.

Since its inception in 2000 as Google Adwords, Google Ads has undergone many iterations and changes. Here are a few of the latest Google Ads updates that marketers should know about in 2021.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search.” (Image via Unsplash)

1.  Privacy-minded updates

We’re calling it now: Privacy will be a hot topic for marketers this year. In some ways, it already is, thanks to Apple’s latest iOS update and Google’s new FLoC tracking technology. 

As Search Engine Land reports, Google announced privacy-focused changes for its Analytics and enhanced conversion features during a May 2021 livestream. Part of 2020’s Google Analytics 4 rollout included closing measurement gaps and enhanced customer behavioral analytics data. Now, they’re taking things even further with advanced machine learning to behavioral reports in Google Analytics.

With third-party cookies on their way out, enhanced conversion aims to use first-party and consented data to fill in users’ insight gaps, particularly across multiple devices.

2.  Changes to phrase match and broad match modifier

In early 2021, Google announced that it was “making it easier to reach the right customers on Search” through updates to its phrase match and broad match modifier keyword types. 

Now, “broad match modifier” will be phased out, and this traffic will instead fall under the “phrase match” umbrella. The rollout began in April 2021 and will be complete for all languages by July. 

The search engine notes that these changes won’t impact exact match, broad match, and negative keyword match types. They also recommend only using exact, phrase, or broad match when adding new keywords moving forward. 

3.  The smart-bidding process

Google’s smart bidding aims to make marketing more manageable. The advertiser provides Google Ads with a budget, and Google algorithms get the best conversion value out of it. The intention is to maximize the total ROI of the campaigns.

Google algorithms find the opportunities that you might never spot, even if it’s promoting a low-priced product on your list. This approach is excellent for well-funded PPC campaigns that are already converting at a high rate.

In May 2021, Google announced new Google Ads smart bidding features. These enhancements aim to help marketers better manage bid strategies and drive more performance, according to experts

The new features include top signals for Target ROAS and max conversions, new opportunities on the Recommendations page, target impression share simulators, and manager account level seasonality adjustments.

Pro tip: Automation is great, but keep in mind that a “set it and forget it” mindset can only take you so far. The most effective paid search campaigns involve consistent analyzing, testing, and optimizing that can only come from experienced digital marketing pros.

hawksem: google ads updates 2021

A look at the Google Trends results for “at home yoga” over a 90-day period. (via Google Trends)

4.  Google Trends for a dynamic environment

The digital marketing landscape changes rapidly and often, which can affect your business. Google Trends is a fascinating feature that allows you to view the topics people are searching online, as well trending topics, trends over time, and more.

Need more help with your Google Ads campaigns? That’s what we’re here for.

Google Trends can provide insights into what is popular with your audience so you can modify your marketing efforts to match their expectations. If they’re searching for a business that offers home delivery, for instance, you can consider adding this service or something similar, like a pickup option.

google ads lead form

Google now allows users to submit lead forms as soon as they click your search ad rather than having to route to a landing page. (Image via Google)

5.  Drive more leads via search ads

With the rising trend of m-commerce and more brands moving their operations online than ever before because of the pandemic, the vast majority of shopping happens online.

With that in mind, Google has made it easier for businesses to capture leads through their search ads. Now, rather than sending users to a landing page, you can serve up a lead form as soon as someone taps the headline of your ad.

To activate this feature, simply go into your campaign and select the setting option. Once the form is submitted, the person can then decide if they want to head to your site or go back to the search engine results page (SERP). 

The takeaway

Google processes about 40,000 searches per second, making it a prime marketing ground for paid ads. The beauty (and sometimes frustration) of Google Ads is that it keeps on evolving, giving you new and innovative ways to capture the attention of searchers. 

Considering the authority of the search engine, staying on top of the latest Google Ads updates can only mean good things for your PPC program.

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on May 10 , 2021

Quality Score helps search engines provide users with the best information — and it can save you money as an advertiser as well.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to define Quality Score
  • Where to go to find your own score
  • Tips for improving your score
  • How your score can save you money

As a savvy marketer, you know reaching high-level rankings in search engines is pretty much table stakes when it comes to your digital marketing strategy. Of course, there’s no quick trick to making this happen — even with paid search, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to the top. 

But while it’s nearly impossible to predict what changes will be made next to these search algorithms, there’s one way to get insight into how Google views your site: Quality Score. The search engine defines Quality Score as “an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages.” The benefit? Higher quality ads can snag lower prices and better ad positions.

Each day, people conduct more than 4.9 billion searches on Google alone. With nearly 1.83 billion websites in the world vying for viewers’ attention, paid ad campaigns help set companies apart from the competition. While several factors contribute to the success of a paid ad campaign, Quality Score is one of the most important.

quality score

The Quality Score of PPC ads will dictate how much you need to bid on keywords to ensure an optimal position in search engine results. (Image via Unsplash)

What is Quality Score?

As we mentioned, Google uses Quality Score to rate the quality and relevance of keywords for pay-per-click (PPC) ads. The rating is meant to give advertisers a general idea of how significant their keywords are across all avenues they’re applied in. Google then uses this data to show more effective keywords to users each time an online search takes place. Your score is determined by three factors:

  • Expected clickthrough rate (CTR) – How your ads historically perform
  • Ad relevance – How closely your ads align with your keywords
  • Landing page experience – How relevant, useful, and user-friendly your content is

This information benefits advertisers because it helps determine what to optimize. You can see what keywords are driving search results and which words need to be re-evaluated. 

The effects of Quality Score

Advertisers care about Quality Score because it’s one of the most important factors used to determine how ads are ranked and what advertisers’ cost per click (CPC) will be. 

The score of PPC ads will dictate how much you need to bid on keywords to ensure an optimal position in search engine results. Basically, the better your score, the less you’ll have to pay for your ads to show up in your preferred position.

When people who see your ad click on it, Google views your ads as relevant because they are meeting the needs of potential customers. As a result, you earn higher ad rankings and a lower CPC. Therefore, by optimizing your score, you increase your return on investment (ROI).

Ready to take your digital marketing plan to the next level? We can help.

Determining Your Quality Score

Tracking your Quality Score allows you to assess your ad campaign performance and reconsider your budget allotment. To be able to do this, however, you must first identify your current score. 

To do this, log into your Google Ads account and create a new report under the Reports tab. Your report type will be Placement/Keyword Performance. There, under Advanced Settings, you’ll select Add or Remove Columns. 

Choose Keyword Quality Score Detail and then select your other report settings. Locate the Templates, Scheduling, and Email area and select Create Report. You’ll then be presented with your keywords’ Quality Score results. If you experience any difficulty, you can follow more detailed instructions in Google’s Help Center.

HawkSEM: How to Find Your Quality Score

Quality Score is an integral part of Google’s process when it comes to determining which ads to promote — and how to rank them. (Image via Unsplash)

4 Ways to Increase Your Quality Score

Quality Score determines where and how often your ads are shown. That’s why it’s important to work on boosting your rankings by continuing to improve your ads. Once you know where you stand in Google rankings, you can take the following steps to improve your score. 

Google doesn’t exactly lay out their specific formula for calculating Quality Score. However, recent findings published by Search Engine Land show that improving your CTR or the landing page has twice the impact as working on ad relevance. 

Here are four main ways you can work to boost your Quality Score:

1. Target your ad groups  

Increase the relevance of your ad by targeting your campaigns into clearly defined groups. Assign each group of ads its own set of related keywords to effectively target groups you want to reach. Avoid irrelevant keywords just for the sake of having them. In this case, you want quality over quantity.

2. Research keywords

Keywords are one of the most important factors in Quality Score success. Do your homework to determine how those words (and combinations) are performing and whether they’ll be effective for your campaign. Keyword research can reveal what keywords are being used, their importance to viewers, and how likely they are to drive traffic to your website.

3. Publish high-quality content

When writing ad copy, streamline the content so it focuses on one product or service. Not only will this help target a more specific audience, but it will likely yield better results. Readers want to digest easy-to-comprehend information. Ads with too many areas of focus or calls to action (CTAs) can be ineffective, resulting in someone bouncing or continuing to scroll without clicking. 

4. Regularly optimize your landing pages 

Your landing page is often a potential customer’s first impression of your business. Right away, it sends a message about your company. Quick loading time, relevant keywords, and clear, easy-to-read information can increase user engagement and earn you a higher Quality Score rating. 

The takeaway

Quality Score is an integral part of Google’s process when it comes to determining which ads to promote — and how to rank them. Tracking this info not only increases your chance at a higher ROI, but it can save you money in advertising costs.

Quality Score is a useful guideline to shed light on what’s working for you and can impact the way you develop your paid advertising campaigns to make them as effective and possible, resulting in a stronger strategy overall. And who wouldn’t want that?

This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Apr 13 , 2021

Seasoned marketers know: not all keywords are created equal.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Differences between short-tail and long-tail keywords
  • How these two keyword types work together
  • Why using both offers the greatest chance at success
  • When to use each keyword type

The power of keywords for your SEM strategy doesn’t just depend on relevance. The type matters too.

Long-tail and short-tail keywords work toward achieving the same goal. However, they do it differently. Knowing the key differences between these two types can help you properly tweak your marketing strategy, cut costs, and get to the top of the SERPs. Let’s dive in.

long-tail vs. short-tail keywords

The competition to rank highly for short-tail keywords is often fierce. (Image via Unsplash)

Short-tail keywords

Short-tail keywords (also called “head terms” or “broad terms”) contain up to three words, such as:

  • Swimsuits
  • Red roses
  • Digital marketing services

When you think about your business, these terms are the first words that usually come to mind. They’re also the first terms to come to the consumer’s mind when they’re looking for something online.

Short-tail keywords can be the same for a variety of businesses. For “red roses,” this keyword could apply to a local flower shop, an e-commerce shop, a big-box chain store, the list goes on. That’s why the competition to rank highly for short-tail keywords is often fierce.

Short-tail keyword pros

  • Appeal to a wide target audience: excellent traffic driver for your website
  • Easy to determine: they don’t require an extensive target audience research or keyword search
  • Easy to use: can be used to create a great variety of easy-flowing content

Short-tail keyword cons

  • High competition: Everyone wants to drive significant traffic, avoid extensive keyword search, and write easy-flowing content — that’s why these keywords are costly to bid on
  • Wrong type of traffic: Short-tail keywords are more general — for example, “French tips” could apply to nail salons or those trying to learn the French language
  • Low conversion rates: Short-tail keywords can generate numerous clicks, but the number of people who convert is usually lower

Overall, short-tail keywords can generate a lot of traffic for your website, helping with brand awareness and improving rankings.

Long-tail keywords

Also called “narrow search terms,” these keywords are more specific than their short-tail partners — for example:

  • Swimsuits for toddler boys
  • Fresh red rose bouquets near me
  • Digital marketing services in Boston

By entering such a keyword, searchers are more likely to find what they’re looking for. Often, the more specific the search, the higher the likelihood of purchase intent. 

While you may not generate as much traffic with long-tail keywords as you would with short terms, more of your visitors are likely to convert.

Long-tail keyword pros

  • Low competition: Cost per click for long-tail keywords is usually much lower since you only compete against companies in a specific niche
  • Intent: People who use narrow search terms are usually closer to the bottom of the sales funnel than those who use short-tail keywords
  • Conversion rate: Searchers with high intent are more likely to convert

 Long-tail keyword cons

  • Specifics: It takes more time, research, and effort to identify long-tail keywords your target audience may be searching for — and sometimes, you could be bidding on an “empty” term
  • Content implementation: Unlike broad terms, long-tail keywords can be harder to use in your content organically

Overall, long-tail keywords are harder to identify and implement into your SEM campaign. However, they require a lower budget and provide a higher conversion rate, as Yoast explains.

Do you need short-tail keywords?

Long-tail keywords are generally cheaper, more specific, and have a higher conversion rate. More than 70% of all internet searches are made up of long-tail keywords.

So, why do you need short-tail keywords anyway?

While it’s possible to design a campaign based solely on long-tail keywords, working without narrow terms can be tough since you may not generate sufficient traffic. 

Lastly, if you avoid short-tail keywords altogether, it may take a while to achieve your specific marketing goals.

short and long-tail keywords

Before using long-tail keywords in your content, consider testing them with PPC ads. (Image via Unsplash)

How short-tail and long-tail keywords work together

An efficient SEM strategy involves a balanced use of both keyword types. Here are just a few ways these keyword types complement each other:

  • Short-tail keywords create a foundation for long-tail keywords. Without brainstorming for broad terms, it’s hard to identify efficient long-tail keywords. Narrow terms grow around broad terms.
  • When creating content, you can dilute long-tail keywords with broad terms. This helps you avoid keyword stuffing, which can get you penalized by search engines.
  • Short-tail keywords target the top of the sales funnel while long-tail keywords are working closer to the bottom.

Each keyword type contributes to achieving the final goals of your marketing strategy.

Pro tip: Don’t be fooled into thinking short-tail keywords always have higher search volumes. As Ahrefs points out, this isn’t always the case

How to find short-tail and long-tail keywords

Finding short-tail keywords is somewhat easier than discovering efficient narrow terms.  You can identify them by:

  • Brainstorming what terms might bring users to you
  • Analyzing your website and traffic
  • Seeing what works for the competition

Long-tail keyword research is more complicated since it’s hard to identify which phrases your target audience is likely to use. You can find long-tail keywords by:

  • Using Google suggestions and related searches
  • Wielding different keyword search tools like Moz and SEMrush
  • Analyzing which keywords work for your website
  • Browsing forums, boards, and social media groups to see what people are asking about
  • Looking at what your competition is doing

Pro tip: Before using long-tail keywords in your content, consider testing them with PPC ads.

When to use short-tail and long-tail keywords

In digital marketing, using short-tail and long-tail keywords simultaneously can help you achieve impressive results. Of course, the percentage of each keyword type in the strategy depends on factors like your goals and budget.

If your main goals are brand awareness and lead generation, you may want to add more broad terms to your tactics. If you’d like to shift the focus to higher conversions and cost efficiency, lean more toward long-tail keywords. And, as always, monitor the results so you can iterate and modify accordingly. 

The takeaway

Our experience tells us that both short-tail and long-tail keywords are important to the success of a well-rounded SEM strategy. While using them may achieve different goals and require different budgets, it’s hard to create a comprehensive marketing campaign without both.

By leveraging broad and narrow terms, you can get one step closer to improving your search engine rankings, bringing more traffic to your website, increasing brand awareness, driving sales, and boosting your bottom line.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Apr 6 , 2021

Don’t fall for these roadblocks on the path to PPC success.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The common PPC mistakes even seasoned marketers fall for
  • How to avoid these pitfalls in your own campaigns
  • What elements make up a successful PPC program
  • Why optimization, consistency, and proper targeting are key

Running a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign is like getting your first credit card. If used wisely, you’ll spend some money now and be rewarded for your good decisions later. 

On the other hand, if you’re careless or not especially thoughtful about your decisions, you could be out of funds before you know it. 

While we can’t speak to your credit score, we can help you learn from the PPC mistakes of others without having to make these missteps yourself.

Here are the top 9 most common PPC mistakes we’ve seen, along with tips for avoiding them.   

HawkSEM: PPC mistakes

Once you know your audience, you can choose better keywords and create stellar ad copy that gets your target audience to click. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Not having a concise goal and strategy

We don’t recommend starting a PPC campaign without a clear goal in mind. Without a specific target or timeframe, it’s difficult to track your progress or know how to measure success.

End goals are so important that Microsoft Advertising begins every campaign setup process by asking you what your goal is so they can offer helpful suggestions. Plus, not having a goal can potentially make any strategy seem like it’s moving in the right direction.

Once you define your goal, you can create a plan for how to reach it. Define your audience as specifically as you can. Once you know your audience and strategy, you can choose better keywords and create stellar ad copy that gets your target audience to click. 

2. Not realizing that PPC goes beyond Google

Plenty of marketers get trapped in a Google-only mindset. But, as we’ve said before, Microsoft Advertising is a viable option for plenty of industries. 

Ads on Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) also run on the Yahoo! and AOL search networks. They have exclusive access to 63 million searchers who opt for the Microsoft search engine over Google, and their users tend to spend more money too. Don’t let Google’s reputation trick you into missing out on that opportunity.

Pro tip: Microsoft Advertising has a display network called the Audience Network that can be leveraged as well.

3. Not geo-targeting

Even if you’re selling your product or service all over the country, geo-targeting can help your ads appeal to people on a more personal level. 

People are attracted to brands and ads that feel personalized and like they’re speaking to them. This goes for both local and national companies. Google will allow you to geo-target advertisements by state, so you can include the user’s home state in the header of your ad to grab their attention. 

Take it from the search engine itself: “Location targeting helps you focus your advertising on the areas where you’ll find the right customers, and restrict it in areas where you won’t,” explains Google. “This specific type of targeting could help increase your return on investment (ROI) as a result.”

4. Not using negative keywords

You already know how essential your keywords are in a campaign, but there are a few other things you need to be aware of to better make use of keywords.

One of the PPC mistakes many companies fall for is failing to use negative keywords in their strategy. Negative keywords are terms that you can use to tell Google which search terms you don’t want to show up in the results for. 

For example, if you’re selling luxury bedding, and “bedsheets” is your keyword, you wouldn’t want to appear in a search query like “what to do with old bedsheets?” Using negative keywords can help improve the relevancy of your ads and make sure the right people are seeing them.

Pro tip: Don’t neglect your own branded keywords. Some companies will bid on the competition’s keywords to siphon off buyers looking for their brand. If your competition is bidding on your keywords and you aren’t, that could be a costly mistake.

5. Not taking advantage of available resources

Paid search platforms often have various features and tools to make managing your account easier. The trick is knowing what they are. For example, Google has ad scripts that help you automate many important but tedious repeating tasks. They can analyze your ads, send budget alerts, and assist with bid management.

Google also allows you to schedule your ads to run during certain times of the day. There are often windows of heightened conversion when your target audience will be most likely to see your ads. 

Ad extensions are another great resource. You can spotlight prices, location, site link, or features by adding them. They make the ads larger and more engaging. Ad extensions are free and can do wonders for your clickthrough rate (CTR). 

confusing ppc mistakes

If people get different messages from your ads and landing pages, they may end up confused about who you are and what you offer. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Not optimizing your landing pages

Where do people get sent when they click on your ad? If they’re not taken to a specific and optimized landing page, they may be unsure of what to do next. 

An optimized landing page has specific language about the next step a visitor to your site should take — aka the call to action (CTA). The CTA could ask them to do something like sign up for your email list, schedule a consultation, fill out a form, or give you a call.

Make sure your landing page is written with clear, easy-to-understand messaging that matches the language in your ad, and that you have an explicit next step. Elements that make up a killer landing page include:

  • An eye-catching headline
  • An easy form
  • A mobile-friendly experience
  • A thoughtful design

7. Not having a consistent message

Let’s circle back to messaging. Throughout all the content you create (including ads and landing pages), your tone, message, and branding should be consistent. If people get different messages from your ads and landing pages, they may end up confused about who you are and what you offer. 

Do your keywords match what you’re selling? Do they match the keywords on your landing page? If not, visitors may be unsure about whether your business is what they’re looking for and bounce from your page. 

To remedy this, it’s wise to repeat your ad copy on your landing page to keep visitors on track. Other best practices include having a similar design across all of your platforms and offerings, and keeping the tone and voice consistent throughout.

Need more help with your PPC? That’s why we’re here.

8. “Setting and forgetting” your campaigns

Another one of the PPC mistakes we see over and over is thinking that you can simply set up a campaign and let it run on its own. Experience has shown us that these campaigns require consistent monitoring, analyzing, and updating to reach their goals. 

Building a PPC campaign is a lot of work, so once it’s up and running, you may be tempted to leave it alone, sit back, and let it do its job for a while. But the truth is, it’s a good idea to monitor its performance as often as possible. You’re paying for the ad daily, after all, so you want to make sure you’re spending your ad budget wisely.

Look at your key performance indicators (KPIs) and watch for things like:

  • Low CTR
  • A low number of conversions
  • Keywords that aren’t converting
  • Other strange behavior or problematic issues 

As your campaign matures, you can start to think about scaling it. Then, once the campaign has collected enough data, you can look into expanding your keyword lists, try new types of campaigns and bidding strategies, and set up additional campaigns.

9. Striving for first place

Everyone wants to be #1 when it comes to PPC advertising, but it may be difficult (not to mention unsustainable) to strive for the top spot in the long term. 

While being in a higher position on the search engine results page (SERP) will pretty much guarantee you more clicks and an increase in web traffic, this isn’t always a great strategy for your budget. 

Ads further down the page can still have great CTRs and conversion rates, and will end up costing you less in the long run. 

The takeaway

When it comes to creating PPC ads that work, you may need to use a little trial and error before landing on the formula that gets you the results you want for your business. 

Luckily, avoiding the PPC mistakes above can help you have a more efficient journey towards creating a great PPC campaign with impressive ROI. 

This article has been updated and was originally published in May 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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 25 , 2021

Peanut butter and jelly. Rhythm and blues. Paid search and SEO.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Reasons to have paid search and SEO in your marketing plan
  • Ways SEO and paid search complement each other
  • Tips for leveraging both to increase ROI
  • How these strategies can be integral to overall campaign success

Paid search and SEO (short for search engine optimization) are two sides of the same coin. Paid search targets those searching for keywords related to your business through ads on the search engine results page (SERP). SEO, on the other hand, ensures your website, content, and social profiles are poised to rank well in organic search results.

While each strategy can be effective on its own, we’ve seen that pairing them together is one of the most effective ways to build a strong digital marketing foundation. 

So, how can paid search (also known as pay-per-click or PPC) and SEO work together? 

For starters, each initiative should be deployed consistently and with cohesive messaging. After all, creating ads that look and sound nothing like your website may confuse visitors and cause them to bounce. It’s up to you to make sure they fit together smoothly instead of working in silos.  

The good news? By proactively making sure the paid and organic components of your search engine marketing work together, you can speed up your campaign optimization and boost ROI as a result.

Here are 8 ways to pair paid search and SEO together successfully. 

1. Test new keywords

Keywords are the pillars of both SEO and paid search marketing strategies. You can use the same keywords for both. However, when the time comes to add new search terms to your campaign, testing them with SEO tactics can be time-consuming and labor-intensive (like writing new content and regularly updating existing posts).

On the flip side, testing new keywords with PPC ads is quicker and, often, easier. Creating an ad with a new keyword and monitoring results can take less than a week. With SEO, it could take months to have enough data to glean real results.

As soon as you see how well a keyword is doing with paid search, you can decide whether it could work for your SEO campaigns and projects.

Pro tip: When selecting keywords for paid search and SEO efforts, it’s key to keep intent in mind. As HubSpot explains, you want to avoid keyword traps, or “words and phrases that sound good, but have dual meanings or a mismatched intent.”

2. Retarget visitors

After a decent amount of time and effort put towards SEO, you could see this work paying off handsomely by attracting more visitors to your website. However, data show that only about 2% of them will convert after the first visit. 

The last thing you want is to provide valuable content only to have potential clients use this knowledge for buying products elsewhere. To avoid this problem, you can take advantage of retargeting

When a user leaves the website, you can inconspicuously attach a piece of code to anonymously track them. As these visitors go to other websites, your ads appear to guide them back to your landing pages, which ups your chances of converting the lead. 

paid search and seo together

Paid search marketing can give an SEO campaign the push it needs, since the latter can take several months to show significant results. (Image via Unsplash)

3. Cross-analyze data

Both SEO and paid search tactics give you a variety of data to work with. This data is crucial because it can illuminate what’s working and what’s not, so you can iterate and make updates accordingly. 

You can analyze the same metrics from both campaign types, including but not limited to:

  • Time spent on website
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Local conversions

By using this information and conducting A/B tests, you can figure out which keywords work best and how effectively you’re targeting your buyer persona. And, while it’s possible to analyze metrics for each campaign separately, doing it together can give you more valuable and detailed insights.

4. Dominate the SERPs

Some companies feel tempted to stop their paid search marketing campaigns once they manage to rank high in organic search results. But even if your website is proudly sitting on page 1 of the SERP, paid ads will always be higher up on the page, increasing your chances of visibility.

You can dominate the first page of Google in more than one way by:

  • Implementing regular content updates
  • A/B testing your PPC ads
  • Taking advantage of retargeting 
  • Optimizing content for the SERP features

When consumers see the same website on top of the SERP and in the ad, they tend to consider it credible. In this case, SEO and PPC complement each other perfectly, with SEO picking up where paid search left off.  

5. See faster results

Paid search marketing can give an SEO campaign the push it needs, since the latter can take several months to show significant results. You may already have a high-quality, well-structured website filled with valuable content. But things like domain authority, high-traffic blogs, and strong social followings usually take a while to gain momentum. 

PPC ads can bring more visitors to your website in less time than with SEO alone. This information allows you to tweak your SEO campaigns while improving the bounce rate and dwelling time to rank higher on Google.  

6. Enhance SEO content through PPC ad copy

The tactics that work for your paid search marketing campaign can often work for SEO as well. The best part about PPC ads is that you can get first results (even if it’s just analysis) quickly.

Once you see which PPC ads bring the most conversions, you can get valuable information about what type of content, title tags, and meta descriptions to use for your website.

And with PPC ads, it’s easy to split-test your work. By testing several types of ad copy, you can determine what works for both the ad and what could work on your website.  

rowing teamwork

Paid search and SEO complement one another, improve your bottom line, and help your overall program succeed. (Image via Unsplash)

7. Learn more about your target audience

Paid social media ads are another effective way to gain insight into the way your target audience feels, thinks, and acts. One great thing about social media advertising is the target options available on the various main platforms.

You can get hyper-specific about who you want seeing your ads (like middle-aged luxury car owners who live in Chicago and love fishing, for example). When you analyze data from these campaigns, you can discover new information about the target audience and use it for both your future PPC and SEO programs.

8. Optimize your budget

Using PPC and SEO together doesn’t just enhance your overall marketing efforts. It can also help you cut costs, generate additional revenue, and save time. 

Leverage both of these in tandem by:

  • Cutting content creation costs by testing keywords with PPC ads
  • Generating revenue with PPC conversions while an SEO campaign gains momentum
  • Saving time on keyword search by using the same keywords for both campaigns
  • Speeding up your SEO campaign with PPC retargeting and lead generation efforts
  • Optimizing your landing pages with both SEO and paid search in mind

The takeaway

Paid search and SEO don’t only coexist well, but they can enhance one another with results greater than the sums of their parts. In this way, they complement one another, improve your bottom line, and help your overall program succeed. 

By learning how to make these two strategies work together, you are giving your marketing campaign a powerful boost. Want more PPC or SEO expert insights? Get in touch.

This article has been updated and was originally published in September 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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Mar 23 , 2021

Looking to improve your ad strategy without blowing through your PPC budget in a flash? You’re in the right place.

Here, you’ll learn:

  • Why your PPC campaign is costlier than it should be
  • Ways to achieve a lower cost per click (CPC)
  • How to take full advantage of Google Ads’ dynamic cost-cutting features
  • Expert tips for keeping your budget in check

Is your PPC strategy growing costlier each time you pull a report? 

With competition constantly evolving, bidding on high-volume keywords can become more expensive — fast. As a result, while your paid search tactics may still be yielding excellent results, the ROI could be going down.

If you want to keep expenses at the same level, PPC needs regular tweaking, improving, and adjusting. These tips can help you make a more cost-effective PPC plan without having to revamp your entire strategy or lose your competitive edge.

ppc budget challenges

Analyze your existing PPC campaign to find out when the biggest number of conversions occurs. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Leave a few expensive keywords to SEO

Expensive, high-volume keywords may be inflating your PPC campaign budget. However, deleting them from the equation entirely could hurt your marketing campaign. 

If you can’t afford the CPC for several of your important keywords, consider changing your tactic by leveraging them for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.

Implementing more high-volume keywords into your website content can still get you the traffic you aim for in due time while saving precious ad dollars. Take things a step further by creating a thorough content plan that includes topic clusters with high-volume keywords to achieve even better results.

2. Focus on timing

In the race to choose the perfect PPC settings, companies often forget about the time. But if you don’t limit the time of the day your ads show up in front of the audience, you could be overpaying.

Analyze your existing PPC campaign to find out when the biggest number of conversions occurs. You can determine the times of day (and days of the week) when your PPC efforts are especially effective from there. As a result, you can stop showing your ads during low-conversion times and save money by eliminating useless clicks.

3. Choose one search network

If you’re trying to maximize your use of the Google Ads platform by leveraging all of its networks, you could be spreading yourself (and your PPC budget) thin. 

Running Search and Display network campaigns simultaneously can eat up your ad spend quickly without generating sufficient results or providing you the necessary information for further marketing efforts.

Create a more cost-effective PPC strategy by figuring out which search network can achieve the best results for your current business and marketing goals.

  • Google Search Network: best for attracting high-intent, targeted visitors
  • Google Display Network: best for brand awareness, remarketing

You can also switch between networks, just remember that each one warrants a separate campaign.

4. Explore YouTube Ads

While offering a wide variety of targeting possibilities, YouTube ads often have a much lower CPC than Google Ads (plus, Google owns YouTube). And with billions of monthly users, YouTube can turn into a powerful driving force behind your marketing efforts. 

Besides helping you target consumers by demographics and location, YouTube has highly personalized and advanced targeting capabilities. This allows you to choose the best formats to help achieve relevant marketing goals.

YouTube has a clear affordability advantage ($0.10 — $0.30 CPC) over Google Ads ($1 — $2 CPC for Search Network) while providing an impressive functionality and a wide reach.

Want to learn more about cutting PPC costs without losing value? Get in touch.

ppc budget - clean up testing

Clean up your A/B testing by stopping the process as soon as you get sufficient information. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Give more attention to negative keywords

Negative keywords are a crucial cost-effective PPC plan feature. If you aren’t using them carefully, you could be overpaying for useless clicks. 

Build your list by paying attention to the query reports that show which irrelevant searches are leading to clicks. Analyze these searches to beef up your negative keyword list.

Make sure to update negative keywords regularly. Each new PPC campaign report can give you new ideas for negative keywords. You can also do your own brainstorming to determine which terms you don’t want to rank for. 

Pro tip: Pay special attention to negative location keywords, as they tend to generate numerous erroneous clicks.

6. Clean up your A/B testing

While A/B testing is essential to a high-quality PPC campaign, overdoing it could be costly. Running several split testing campaigns for too long could be eating up your PPC budget quicker than producing results.

Clean up your A/B testing by stopping the process as soon as you get sufficient information. Failing to pause an A/B testing campaign on time simply turns it into A and B campaigns. Essentially, this means you’re paying for two similar campaigns, increasing your CPC in the process.

The length of the A/B testing process depends on a variety of factors, including budget, audience size, testing elements, and more. After a few weeks, see if you have enough info to confidently make a decision.

7. Consider Google’s dynamic keyword insertion feature

One of the advanced Google Ads features, dynamic keyword insertion (or DKI), could do wonders for making more cost-effective PPC campaigns.

DKI lets you create text ads which are automatically updated by Google to match the user’s search terms. This allows your ad to show up for variations of a particular keyword, giving it an opportunity to reach a wider audience with high conversion potential.

Essentially, DKI personalizes the ad for the searcher, making sure they get what they’re looking for. By boosting relevance, you can improve your chances of getting a valuable click-through while cutting costs on creating new ads.

Pro tip: You should avoid using DKI if you’re bidding on competitor brand terms. This is because their name will be in your ad, which could be viewed as deceptive (even if it’s unintentional). 

8. Beef up ad extensions

With traditional text ads, you don’t always get sufficient real estate to say everything you want to say. That’s where using ad extensions comes in handy.

These extensions allow you to increase the size and relevance of your paid ads by letting you include information that doesn’t fit into the ad itself, which can up your CTR.

You can also take advantage of Google’s dynamic ad extensions that pull information from your website and add it to your ad when it’s relevant to the searcher.

The takeaway

Your PPC campaign shouldn’t be static — it needs continuous updates to stay relevant and cost-effective. Luckily, there are a handful of cost-cutting options and strategic ways to keep your budget in check. 

By taking advantage of the available PPC options, features, and possibilities, you can keep your campaign (and your ad spend) in top shape.

This article has been updated and was originally published in October 2014.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Steve Dang on Mar 2 , 2021

Check off these boxes to ensure your PPC marketing strategies are on the right track for your SaaS brand.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Dos and don’ts when it comes to PPC for SaaS brands
  • How to make your assets work for you
  • Why retargeting (the right way) is key
  • Tips for optimizing your SaaS landing pages

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies have always faced a unique set of marketing obstacles, with long sales cycles and an emphasis on demos. Then 2020 happened, and things got even more difficult.

Many businesses had to make major shifts in their strategies and operations. The sudden changes in routines affected everything, including digital marketing. 

While website traffic and searches experienced a surge, the competition and cost of paid ads took a downward trend, according to Search Engine Watch. In 2021, customer wants and needs are still changing. Luckily, most SaaS teams are more than familiar with ever-changing goal posts.

As one of the most effective digital marketing tactics in terms of ROI, pay-per-click (also known as PPC or paid search) ads can help ensure your SaaS company is set up to weather the next unexpected storm. 

Here are 12 ways you can make PPC work for your SaaS brand.

1. Focus on credibility to convert visitors to leads

It’s especially key for SaaS brands to establish credibility from the beginning. If people are finding you through a search engine, they may not be acquainted with your company. (Unless they’re searching through a brand term, of course).

You want to make it clear that your company is legit right off the bat. One effective way of doing this is by aligning your brand with well-known clients.

If you have Fortune 500 clients in your roster, explore how you could leverage that through marketing, such as including their logos on your landing page (with permission). 

Even better: Create a case study that highlights your partnership with that brand and how they found success through working with you. This establishes credibility and helps people understand your offering on a deeper level.

HawkSEM: PPC Tips for SaaS Brands

OverOps uses brand logos and testimonials to illustrate their credibility.

You can also establish credibility through showcasing:

  • Awards
  • Press mentions
  • Client testimonials
  • Seller ratings

2. Always qualify your leads

Plenty of SaaS brands think they’re covering all the bases. They’ve got a customer relationship management (CRM) tool in place, and they properly store and track their leads. But if you’re not following up on those leads and taking advantage of lead scoring, you could miss out on helpful insights. 

There are two ways to score leads. The first is quantitative, which scores leads from 1 to 10, zero to 100, or something in between, depending on how granular you want to get. The other way is qualitative. For this, you can score with metrics like low, medium, or high probability. (Here’s how to use lead scoring in Salesforce.)

Once you decide how to score your leads, the next step is to optimize your campaigns for qualified leads. You don’t want to fall into the trap of seeing the conversion data inside of Google Analytics and simply optimizing for those conversions. 

Once you score your leads, it’s wise to connect them back to the originating campaigns, ad groups, keywords, segments, and devices. It’s tempting to rely on intuition when you’re optimizing campaigns, but the data won’t steer you wrong.

3. Know how to properly use CLV

Many SaaS marketing agencies focus a ton on lead volume. But, especially with the longer sales cycles that tend to come with SaaS, it’s also crucial to calculate customer lifetime value (CLV or LTV). This figure can be used to make critical decisions, such as how much you pay for user acquisition and how your target through paid search ads. 

HubSpot explains you can determine lifetime value by calculating the average purchase value, average purchase frequency rate, customer value, and average customer lifespan. Ultimately, multiplying customer value by the average customer lifespan should give you your CLV.

Once you have an accurate number, compare that with your customer acquisition cost (CAC) to make sure you’re getting the ROI you want. 

4. Understand what constitutes quality conversions

Speaking of CLV, your goal should always be to create clients for life. The more clients you keep, the less it’ll cost you (no surprise there). Plus, an increase in client volume coupled with a decrease in cost per acquisition (CPA) can save you serious money.

This mindset can help you market with the long game in mind. Big players and key clients will sometimes visit your website or contact you with questions multiple times before making a purchase, but that type of client can be more lucrative in the long run. 

SaaS PPC

Sometimes all you need is a display campaign targeted to a very narrow audience to start attracting the right kind of clients. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Put your best foot forward with landing pages

For SaaS companies in particular, your landing page is often the first step of the buyer’s journey for potential customers. So, it’s wise to prioritize ensuring your landing pages are as compelling and effective as possible.

As a guiding principle, make sure your landing page has a clear purpose. Each page element should work together to get the user to convert by filling out a form or performing some other desired call to action (CTA). You also want to entice visitors to scroll down through the entire page, if applicable, so the page shouldn’t be too long.

Extra features, like a chatbot, can also be quite useful in a landing page. They allow you to engage with your audience, reduce your bounce rate, and get a conversation started right then and there. You can also address any particular pain points they might have while the lead is warm.

Pro tip: Don’t let your landing pages go stale. You should consistently be testing them and optimizing accordingly.

6. Study your ideal client and current clients

If your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy is underperforming, you may have misread what matters to your target audience. Especially for technical and niche businesses, keyword targeting is crucial.

Due to the hyper-focused nature of the lingo in some of these industries, one keyword may have multiple meanings, some of which may not apply to your business. (For example, event planning software for businesses offers something different than a ticketed event platform). It can be helpful to go back through and make some of the following changes:

  • Adjust display times
  • Switch up keywords
  • Refresh your ad copy
  • Tailor by language and location
  • Add negative keywords to your campaigns

Sometimes all you need is a display campaign targeted to a very narrow audience to start attracting the right kind of clients. When you choose to go this route, however, pick your placements carefully and make sure they’re on relevant sites.

7. Nurture cross-channel alignment

Another common issue we see when it comes to PPC for SaaS is that various channels are too siloed and separate. This can result in miscommunication, unnecessary or repetitive efforts, and missed opportunities.

Synchronizing your channels can keep everyone working towards the same goal with a cohesive vision. When aligning on an element like your copy, you’ll know that you’re speaking to your target audience with a consistent voice and tone, whether it’s a followup email or a landing page.

Remedying this issue can be as simple as a weekly video sync or phone call with all the necessary team members to review and discuss current projects.

8. Take advantage of long-tail keywords

When it comes to paid search marketing, longer search terms often mean higher intent. Think of it this way: someone searches “blender,” and someone else searches “Vitamix black 5200 standard high performance blender.” Who do you think is more inclined to make a purchase?

The same concept can be applied to PPC for SaaS. Going after more relevant long-tail keywords targets those with higher intent and snags those potentially in the “research” stage of the funnel, which can be just as valuable.

Long-tail keywords are effective for SaaS brands because they help bring in better leads with PPC campaigns. This often results in more affordable leads that are highly qualified.

In the SaaS space, keeping low acquisition costs and sticking to budget are often major concerns. Focusing on long-tail keywords is a way to achieve desired results with these concerns in mind. To find the right long-tail keywords for your company:

  • Know your unique selling proposition and use that information in your keywords to highlight what makes you stand out 
  • Conduct keyword research to ensure your long-tail keywords are the same words customer would use in a query
  • Use keyword research tools to find ideal long-tail keywords for your market
  • Never use long-tail keywords that aren’t a good fit for your software or product, regardless of how easy they may be to rank for
  • Include questions in your long-tail keywords

9. Leverage all of your assets

It’s common for companies to generate a hefty amount of assets in their lifetime. But what good are assets that get lost in the shuffle or can’t easily be found?

SaaS marketing relies heavily on audience education — assets play a key part in that. In the past, keeping premium content gated was the best practice. Nowadays, it’s better to keep this content ungated to improve the chances of converting the lead instead of, as Search Engine Stream explains, possibly increasing your website’s bounce rates.

Whitepapers, insightful research, templates, and other similar content are excellent assets to educate and nurture your audience. Plus, having assets covering each buyer’s journey stage is an easy way to target the right person with the right content at the right time.

Pro tip: Keep your assets organized in a spreadsheet — preferably a cloud-based doc that your team can access, such as Google Sheets. It can include things like links to each piece, what stage of the buyer’s journey it addresses, and the type of content it is.

10. Avoid ad fatigue

With the lengthy sales cycle for SaaS brands, you can almost bet that leads will see the same ads over and over as they perform similar searches during their “research” phase. Eventually, this can cause ad fatigue with your target audience, and they may begin to ignore the ads.

This not only hurts your click-through rates and results in higher PPC costs, but it can also reduce the chances of a lead coming back to you when they’re ready to purchase. 

The best way to avoid ad fatigue is to cycle out ads regularly. Changing out your ads every month or so will likely result in better campaign and conversion results. 

11. Look beyond Google Ads

While Google is a major player in the search engine game, others, like Microsoft’s Bing, shouldn’t be ignored. 

Microsoft Advertising makes it easy to export your Google Ads campaigns to their platform. Plus, you could see even better results with a lower average cost per click (CPC) and have your ad spend budget go further. Depending on your target audience, you may find less competition on the Microsoft Ad platform, which includes those searching on the Bing, Yahoo, and AOL platforms. 

12. Consider retargeting

When it comes to PPC for Saas, retargeting can be a game-changer. This type of ad connects your SaaS offering with people who have already visited your site or mobile app. 

Google Ads is set up so that the default audience is generally set at 30 days. But this is often not enough time for the SaaS sales cycle, which can end up being three or six months out.

Once you determine a rough estimate for how many days it takes your leads to convert, you can tailor your campaigns accordingly, as long as it follows the platforms’ rules and is within the maximum membership duration. 

A lot of educating can take place during the buyer’s journey. If you’re serving white papers or other content campaigns that last longer than 30 days, your retargeting should do the same.

Lastly, don’t just retarget your entire audience. Make sure different audiences are getting different tailored messages when possible.

Pro tip: Platforms like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have their own retargeting tags, so make sure you’re placing each retargeting tag properly.

Speaking of LinkedIn, here’s a bonus video tip taken from our webinar all about PPC for SaaS:

 

 

 

The takeaway

PPC for SaaS brands often isn’t a straight-line path from A to B. Rather, it’s about different campaign types working together, nurturing your audience with education, and serving up various resources that ultimately get them to convert. 

As you talk through your digital marketing goals and strategies, you may find that a SaaS marketing agency is what you need to take your program to the next level and leverage ideas you might not have thought of before. 

Whether you partner with pros or keep things in-house, the above best practices will set you up to craft winning paid search campaigns for your SaaS company. Want even more PPC for SaaS tips? Check out this webinar recording.

This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2019.

Steve Dang

Steve Dang

    Steve Dang is Director of Digital Marketing & Strategy at HawkSEM. He's got more than 10 years of experience leading digital teams and revenue growth, working with clients in SaaS, FinTech, E-commerce, higher education, financial services, and more. In his spare time, Steve enjoys long runs, long swims, and long books.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 19 , 2021

    Yes, your PPC campaign should have negative keywords here’s why.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What defines a negative keyword
    • How negative keywords differ from standard keywords
    • Tips for building a negative keyword list
    • Best practices for these keyword types

    Like noodles for spaghetti, sunshine for plants, and gin for martinis, keywords are an essential part of pay-per-click (PPC) campaign success. The trick lies in understanding how best to deal with them so that everything runs smoothly.

    Maybe your paid search campaign brings in a ton of leads, but the conversion rate is low, meaning you’re spending precious ad dollars on unqualified clicks. Even with an otherwise stellar PPC strategy, ignoring negative keywords could waste a huge chunk of your budget. 

    That’s because you could be getting clicks meant for similar-sounding, but ultimately unrelated keywords. We’ve seen upwards of 90% in wasted ad spend when clients don’t include any negative keywords in their account.

    If you feel confident that you’ve selected the right keywords that are hyper-focused on your audience, that’s great! But if you’re not also leveraging negative keywords, you may be missing out on making your PPC campaigns as targeted as they can be.

    Want to make sure you know all the benefits of negative keywords for PPC? Then let’s dive in.

    What are negative keywords?

    Taking advantage of negative keywords can do wonders for eliminating window shoppers and bad leads. According to Google, a negative keyword (also known as a negative match) is a keyword type “that prevents your ad from being triggered by a certain word or phrase.”

    Meaning: if someone searches for a phrase including a term you’ve deemed a negative keyword, your ads won’t show up. 

    HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

    When you’re mining your reports for keywords to exclude, you want to include their variations as well. (Image via Unsplash)

    Negative keywords vs. standard keywords

    Keyword targeting helps ensure your paid search ad is tailored to your audience. When you pay for each individual click, you want as many clicks as possible to be from qualified leads. Negative keywords work the same way, just in the opposite direction.

    When you add negative keywords, ad platforms (such as Google or Microsoft Advertising) know that you don’t want your ad to appear for searches containing those words.

    If your company makes salsa, for instance, then you may want “salsa” to be one of your keywords. But if someone searches online for “salsa dancing” or “salsa lessons,” they’re probably not looking for your product. By adding these as negative keywords, you can filter out people searching with these terms and save money on bad leads.

    Pro tip: Negative keywords only apply to the first 16 words in a search query. So, when it comes to especially long queries, negative keywords after the 16th word won’t trigger the filter and your ad may still appear.

    How to build your negative keyword list

    It’s a good idea to conduct your negative keyword research the same way you conduct your standard keyword research, specifically before and during a campaign launch.

    There are some terms — like “address,” “free,” and “login” — that you’ll probably want to select right off the bat. Google suggests using your search term reports to look for terms that only seem relevant. Are there any that clearly stand out as negative keywords? Add those to your list.

    However, before using search term reports, start by thinking about the types of businesses, products, or services that your brand could be mistaken for (like the salsa example above). Then, brainstorm the search terms that might be used to describe them.

    Want to take your PPC to the next level this year? We can help.

    The different types of negative keywords

    As with standard keywords, there are various types of negative keywords. For PPC campaigns, negative keywords can be:

    • Broad match – Keywords that don’t have surrounding punctuation (there’s no negative broad match modifier match type)
    • Exact match – If the search contains the exact negative keyword you’ve specified, the ad won’t appear
    • Phrase match – Your ad won’t come up if the exact keyword terms, in that order, are searched

    But that doesn’t mean they function in all the same ways. As of the past few years, we’ve seen that “exact match” doesn’t always mean exact for standard keywords. It does, however, when it comes to negative ones. 

    Google explains that the main difference between these two types is that you need to include variations of these keywords if you want to exclude them. These variations can include:

    • Synonyms
    • Singular or plural versions
    • Misspellings
    • Any other close variations

    When you mine reports for keywords to exclude, it’s wise to exclude their variations as well.

    Pro tip: When you enter your keywords into Google Ads, you can add them at both the ad group and campaign level. For negative keywords, you generally want to apply them to the campaign level, not just the ad group level, so other keywords can exclude that term.

    HawkSEM: How Negative Keywords Benefit Your PPC Campaigns

    Regularly go into your ads account, head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab, and mark any keywords you see that stand out as being irrelevant. (Image via Unsplash)

    Adjust your negative keyword list as needed

    Just like your standard keyword list, your negative list shouldn’t remain stagnant. You should consistently recheck and optimize it to make sure your PPC ads are as targeted as possible.

    How often you go over your list will depend on various factors, including your campaigns and bandwidth. No matter what “consistent” means for you and your team, make a recurring reminder to go into your ads account and head to “search terms” in your Keywords tab to mark any keywords you see that stand out as irrelevant.

    In January 2021, Google made it easier to manage negative keyword lists. Google Ads users can now add a new column to view, filter, and edit negative keyword lists applied to campaigns.

    Pro tip: When it comes to symbols, Google allows for ampersands (&), accent marks (á), and asterisks (*) in your negative keywords. As such, keywords with and without these symbols will be considered two different negative keywords — think Beyonce as a different keyword than Beyoncé or “black & white” vs. “black and white.”

    The takeaway

    As you can see, there are many potential benefits to adding negative keywords to your PPC campaigns. Not only does this help weed out those who aren’t in the market for your product or service, but it saves you money because you only pay for clicks that will (hopefully) become customers.

    While you don’t want to overdo it on the keyword exclusions, with a bit of brainstorming and some campaign tweaks, you can be sure that your PPC campaign won’t attract the wrong crowd.

    This article has been updated and was originally published in January 2020.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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    Written by Sam Yadegar on Jan 4 , 2021

    Companies all over the world have to adjust to the new reality — which could mean rethinking current search engine marketing (SEM) strategies.

    Here you’ll learn:

    • What Google has in store for search in 2021
    • Which new tools could enhance your SEM
    • The latest standout SEM trends
    • Tips for adjusting your campaigns in the new year

    For most businesses, 2020 was a doozy. Between unpredictable sales and changes in customer behavior, many are still working on getting back to normal — the “new normal,” that is.

    Meanwhile, the SEM landscape continues changing faster than you can flip calendar pages. Whether you’ve already finalized your marketing plans for 2021 or are scrambling to make it happen now, this is a great time to make sure your paid search plans are set up for success in the new year.

    Below, we offer some ways to do just that.

    1. Keep Google’s novelties in mind

    Despite pandemic news and a holiday season unlike any other, Google continued updating its algorithms and policies. (Case in point: Their December 2020 core update.) 

    Here are three planned Google updates that could have a significant impact on your marketing tactics and budget in 2021:

    Mobile-first indexing

    In March 2021, Google will fully switch to mobile-first indexing. This means that the search engine will look primarily at the information from the mobile version of your website when determining ranking. If you haven’t taken the steps to ensure your site is as mobile-friendly as possible, let this be the push you need to do so.

    Core Web Vitals

    In May 2021, Google will put new emphasis on page experience through the implementation of Core Web Vitals. With this rollout, some parameters will become significant ranking signals, such as:

    • Page loading time – loading time must be under 2.5 seconds.
    • Interactivity – the website should respond to the user’s actions in under 100 milliseconds.
    • Visual stability – the website should maintain a cumulative layout shift of less than 0.1.

    Core Web Vitals means marketers will need to pay special attention to improving user experience (UX) on websites to match Google’s requirements. (However, because UX is already a priority for most brands, this shouldn’t be too big of a change-up.)

    Third-party cookie phase-out

    In January 2020, Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies (which have been used in marketing to track, monitor and analyze a site visitor’s behavior) on Chrome by 2022. It’s a move to quell growing online privacy concerns, with cookies slated to be replaced by “browser-based tools and techniques aimed at balancing personalization and privacy,” according to Marketing Land. 

    This could affect your marketing strategies if you leverage advanced retargeting or remarketing tactics. The good news is that you have an entire year to learn how to pivot from relying on third-party cookies.

    hawksem: sem campaigns 2020 article

    As far as content types go, you can’t get much better than articles and other materials that aim to educate your audience. (Image via Unsplash)

    2. Get familiar with Google Analytics 4

    Google is constantly perfecting its tools. One prime example of this is its new and improved analysis platform, Google Analytics 4. Launched in October 2020, this machine learning-driven program can help you get more nuanced insights into customers’ behavior.

    New features also include the ability to track users across different platforms, improve audience segmentation in Google Ads, and much more. Exploring this new opportunity as soon as possible can help you gain a competitive edge and streamline your 2021 SEM campaign.

    3. Beef up your educational content

    As far as content types go, you can’t get much better than articles and other materials that aim to educate your audience. People love this kind of content because it provides a service and (ideally) helps them solve a problem or glean new information without having to make a purchase. 

    With millions of people changing up their employment status in 2020, the need for educational content is on the rise. In fact, consumers are 131% more likely to buy a product after reading educational content, according to a recent study.

    This content is a great incentive to include on a landing page in exchange for a user’s contact info. The time and money you invest in the educational content right now can bring impressive results in the future.

    4. Explore paid social advertising

    When the pandemic moved millions of people to fully working, shopping, and seeking entertainment online in 2020, the number of active users across social media platforms increased dramatically.

    The proof is in the data. Instagram now has over 1 billion monthly active users (that’s up from 500 million in 2019). Meanwhile, TikTok has more than 650 million monthly active users (up from 500 million in 2019).

    Because of this, 2021 could be a great time to invest in paid social strategies. Social media ads are generally more affordable than other digital ad types, making them a smart diversification tactic. Depending on where your target audience is most active, you could explore ads on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest

    hawksem: sem campaign article 2021

    Right now, many people are rethinking their values, habits, and where they invest their time. (Image via Rawpixel)

    5. Reevaluate your SEM campaign budget

    Since the demand for products shifted more towards essential goods in 2020, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your PPC campaign budget as things go on the upswing. 

    A good plan of action: Single out the highest performing ads and keywords, then channel more of your PPC budget to support them. To pace your campaign spend better, you may consider such settings as lifetime spend or monthly spend limits instead of daily budgets.

    6. Keep a handle on security

    A crisis can create fertile ground for all kinds of fraudulent activity. Criminals across the globe create malware and use names of famous brands to offer fake discounts while phishing for sensitive information. 

    Almost 200,000 coronavirus-related cyber-attacks occurred every week in 2020. Protect your information (and that of your customer’s) with tactics like:

    • Monitoring your log files for crawl errors to reveal if spambots are trying to access your website
    • Implementing Single Sign-On (SSO) technology for user authentication
    • Checking to see if the website is secured with a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate
    • Reviewing all your SEO add-ons and plugins for security, stability, and updates

    The takeaway

    There’s no arguing that 2020 was a chaotic year across the globe. But amid a crisis, there are almost always lessons to be learned. 

    The last year taught many of us new aspects of flexibility, adaptability, and survival. In 2021, the pandemic is still likely to affect some of your marketing efforts. Thankfully, this time, you can be much more prepared. By thoughtfully preparing now, you can streamline your 2021 SEM campaigns for whatever comes next. 

    This article has been updated and was originally published in June 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.

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    Written by Caroline Cox on Dec 14 , 2020

    Is a competitor showing up for your company name on the SERP? Here’s what to do.

    Here, you’ll find:

    • What happens when you see a competitor using your name in a Google ad
    • Advice for dealing with competitors using your name
    • What to know about competitors bidding on your brand name
    • Expert insights on trying this tactic yourself

    Seeing your competitor’s brand name on the search engine results page (SERP) is never a great feeling. But an even worse feeling? When they’re showing after someone searches for your company’s name.

    So, are companies allowed to use other company’s names in their paid search ads? What about as keywords for bidding? Lisa McElwain, an SEM manager here at HawkSEM, helps answer these questions and more below.

    Can a competitor use my brand name in their ad?

    The rules around company names and trademarks can be confusing. Let’s break it down. 

    The basic answer is: yes. Brands can use your brand name in their Google ads, as long as the name isn’t trademarked and the way they’re using it can’t be deemed “deceptive.” (Deception tactics include things like the company impersonating your brand.)

    If your company’s name is trademarked, that may be a different story. Often, bigger companies trademark their names. If this is the case, then they’re the exclusive owners. Per Google guidelines, no other brands can use that name in their ad copy. 

    An exception to this rule is if the company using it is a legitimate reseller, such as Zappos creating an ad for Nike sneakers. 

    competitor brand name bidding on the SERP

    An example of what it looks like when one brand bids on another’s name. (via Google)

    What are the rules about competitors bidding on my brand name?

    Competitors can buy your brand name as a keyword, even if it’s trademarked. By using your brand name as a keyword, their ad could potentially show up on the SERP when someone is searching for your specific company. 

    Unfortunately, you can’t do much of anything about the competitor using your brand name or trademarks as a keyword. However, there are things you can do to remain competitive. For starters, ensure you’re bidding on your own brand name. This way, competitors aren’t stealing any extra traffic that should be going to you. This also allows you to take up more real estate in the SERPs if you’re showing a paid ad and appearing in the organic results. 

    If a competitor is bidding on your brand name and you aren’t? Then their ad will show above your organic result, which isn’t what you want. You can also bid on their brand name — more on that below.

    Pro tip: If you have an existing amicable relationship with a competitor, you could consider contacting them for a truce and agree to not bid on each other’s terms. There’s no guarantee they’ll agree, but if you’re worried about your budget, it’s worth a shot!

    Why would a competitor bid on my company’s brand name?

    The main reason companies bid on another’s brand name is to try to steal traffic away from the competition. They want to target those who are looking for a product or service like theirs. 

    This is especially the case in areas where the product or service is not as well known, so people aren’t searching for the services as much. This leaves few options for keywords, so brands bid on their competitors. 

    brand name bidding

    Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. (Image via Rawpixel)

    How do I choose which competitor brand names to bid on, if any?

    If you’re going to try bidding on a competitor’s name, we advise making sure you’re picking the right competitors to bid on (or that your agency has picked the right ones, if you’re not doing your own marketing). 

    There’s not much point in bidding on brands that aren’t stealing business away from you, such as big-name brands with significantly more offerings. 

    You’ll also want to tailor the ad copy to differentiate your brand from that particular competitor. One way to do this is by highlighting your unique selling propositions. For instance, if that particular competitor brand has a similar but more expensive product or service, highlight your brand as being the more affordable option.

    Have more questions about paid search or Google Ads? You’ve come to the right place.

    What should I do if I think a competitor is bending or breaking the rules around leveraging my brand?

    Before you get heated, it’s important to realize that they might not actually be bidding on your brand. If your brand is “Sunrise Senior Living,” for example, the company could simply be bidding on “senior living.” That’s what will match in Google’s algorithm — not necessarily the “Sunrise” part. 

    Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do unless they’re using your trademarked term in their ad copy. If they are, you can submit a trademark complaint to Google. Aside from deciding to bid on their brand in return, another way to fight back would be to conduct keyword research (using tools like SpyFu or SEMrush) on what other keywords they’re using for search marketing efforts. 

    In extreme cases, you could consider sending the company a cease and desist letter, though this will likely come at a cost and not guarantee the outcome you want.

    semrush pricing SERP

    Just because a competitor is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. (Image via Google)

    Should I bid on my competitor’s brand name?

    There’s no hard-and-fast answer to this. However, experience tells us that bidding on a competitor’s brand name shouldn’t be a top priority in your paid search strategy. If you have other keywords that are working well, it’s a better use of your ad spend to allocate your marketing budget toward those. 

    If you have an excess budget, then you could try bidding on their brand as a keyword. We don’t suggest using another brand in your ad copy.

    How can I use competitors bidding on my brand to my advantage?

    If your products or services are similar enough, this could give you ideas for things to try on your own search marketing efforts. 

    It’s also worth noting that, just because a competitor is bidding on certain keywords, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” keywords. If a keyword doesn’t seem right to bid on for your business, don’t do it! (And maybe even add them to your campaign as negative keywords.) 

    Consider reviewing their ad copy or strategy and taking inventory of what you uncover. How does yours compare? This is a great time to reflect on your own advertising efforts. Are you  taking full advantage of Google’s ad offerings like ad extensions and sitelink extensions (if appropriate)? Ask yourself: If you were a consumer, would you click on your ad?

    Pro tip: If you decide to bid on competitor terms, avoid using dynamic keyword insertion. This is a feature that involves the searched keyword auto-populating as an ad’s headline. This will cause your competitor’s name to show up in your ad. It could be deemed deceptive, even if it’s unintentional.

    The takeaway

    We find that, in general, bidding on your competitor’s brand is typically not a great idea. You could also get lower quality scores for those keywords. That’s because Google can see you’re not the brand whose name you’re bidding on. Plus, it’ll likely cost you more to bid on those branded keywords because the brand isn’t your own.

    In the long run, it’ll be better for your marketing plan to focus on your unique products or services, make sure user experience is top-notch, and use ads to highlight your selling propositions that make you stand out.

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline Cox

    Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

    Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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