Tag Archives: search engine marketing

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Sep 13 , 2022

Search engine marketing is a pillar of online marketing today — and understanding how it works is the key to digital success.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The difference between SEM & SEO
  • How changing Google algorithms affect SEM
  • The essential elements of SEM on Google (and other search engines)
  • Actionable tips for running a top-tier search engine marketing campaign

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a kind of online marketing designed to boost your website’s appearance in the search engine results pages, or SERPs. It’s generally considered one side of the search engine coin and a counterpart to the organic methods of search engine optimization (SEO).

Let’s get back to basics and break down all the ins and outs of search engine marketing.

What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

As mentioned above, SEO and SEM are both forms of marketing aimed at enhancing your site’s visibility on the SERPs, but they operate differently.

We consider SEO as a category under the SEM umbrella, since both involve search engines. The primary dividing factor is simple: money. 

SEO is organic

An SEO strategy is understanding how a search engine analyzes and ranks websites. (Usually, “search engine” means Google, but of course there are others like Bing that are worth exploring.) 

You then make changes to your website, publish new content, and generally improve your site to encourage the algorithms to increase your rankings. Instead of paying to rank, you’re investing time into web pages hoping they will perform well organically.

Keyword Placement

Image: Wordstream

Outside of SEO, SEM is paid

Search engine marketing strategies other than SEO are all about paid search marketing and pay-per-click (PPC). Paid ad campaigns are much faster to start with and see results, but they can be challenging to fine-tune, scale, and ensure that you’re making the biggest splash you can with your budget. 

Even ranking #1 or #0 in the search results may not be enough to get your share of the incoming clicks because paid search advertising appears above the best organic results. 

Google Ads Results Example

Thus, even when you’re already ranking highly for organic results, it often pays to put some money into your search ads to secure another result at the top.

The average Google search lasts less than a minute. People have an idea of what they want to find, browse the top few results, and click one that looks promising. If you’re ranking too far down the page, you won’t get more than a small share of those clicks.

With the prevalence of PPC ads and how ads take up positions above organic results, even a #1 organic result may not get as many clicks as the third-ranking ad on the page.

SEM also helps prevent traffic poaching. If a potential customer searches for your brand or product, the top organic result will be your website.

But what happens if a competitor pays for ads using that keyword? They may rank higher on the page via a PPC ad than for your brand name. This can use that position to poach potential website traffic from your audience. SEM can help minimize or even prevent this from happening.

How SEM works

SEM relies on the ad system that powers ads on your search results. The vast majority of the time, this means Google Ads.

Google Ads determine the ads that appear in Google Search and Google products like Google Shopping, Maps, and YouTube. However, SEM isn’t necessarily limited to just Google. 

Any search engine that offers ads in its results has an ad system you can use. These ad networks can include other search engines like Bing Ads, social media ads, and also search engines like Amazon.

How SEM Works

Mechanically, SEM works on a keyword basis. You perform keyword research, choose a keyword or a group of relevant keywords, a match type, and various parameters to expand or limit your ad’s audience. Whenever someone searches for a keyword that fits your parameters, Google runs an ad auction in the background. 

Your bidding rules and budget limits determine how much you bid, and the auction results determine which people running ads get which positions for that query.

There’s a lot of nuance to this, including questions to ask like:

  • Which keywords do you choose?
  • What match types do you choose?
  • What bids should you make?
  • Which bidding and optimization types should you use?
  • What additional targeting parameters should you use?

Learning all of this and tailoring it to each ad campaign is what SEM is all about.

The 6 keys to effective SEM

Effective SEM requires knowledge of several critical aspects of paid marketing. Let’s dive in.

Campaign Types

1. Campaign types

Google Ads has eight different campaign types.

Depending on your audience, industry, and goals, you may not need most of them for your digital marketing strategy.

  • Search: Ads that display in your Google search results
  • Display: These can appear in search results, on websites, and in Gmail
  • Video: YouTube video ads
  • Discover: Ads on YouTube post-videos, sidebars, and other locations, as well as the mobile Discover queue and Gmail ads
  • App: These are mobile ads that appear in mobile SERPs, as well as Google Play, YouTube, Discover, and the display network
  • Shopping: Ads that are displayed in Google Shopping and Gmail
  • Local: These are visible on Google Maps, the display network, and YouTube
  • Performance Max: This is a mixture of the above, with additional tools to manage it

Picking the right campaign type determines your ad’s performance. This includes what kind of copy you need to produce, what targeting can work best, and even where your audience is likely to come from.

2. Keywords

Keywords are the foundation of every ad. The keyword determines what kinds of queries the ad will display. The most important part of SEM is picking and analyzing the right keywords, bar none. Choosing the wrong search terms wastes money and leaves you with ineffective ads.

Keywords have various essential metrics (recorded and implied) that you must understand to use successfully. Recorded metrics include the CPA (cost per action) or CPC (cost per click) for the search query, the search volume, competition, and other metrics, depending on the tools you use. Implied metrics are things like search intent.

Keywords in Google Ads

Search intent is paramount.

It’s not enough to know what a user is searching for. You need to understand why the user is searching for it.

Search intent allows you to provide ad copy that resonates with the searcher and encourages them to click on your ad over the others on display. A properly aligned and compelling ad in #3 will perform better than a less effective ad in #1.

3. Quality Score

Quality Score is an important metric for your Google Ads campaigns and keyword groups. 

It’s a measurement and analysis of multiple factors, including:

  •  Your overall click-through rate or CTR (and the estimated click-through rate of ads you’re building)
  • Keyword relevance to its ad group
  • Landing page quality and relevance
  • Ad text relevance
  • Historic performance on your ads account

Quality Score and CPC

Combining this information, Google estimates how well-composed your ads are, their user experience and relevance, and how likely people are to click on them. Then, Google gives you a score based on that estimate.

This score itself does not directly impact your ad performance; instead, it reflects factors that do. Nevertheless, it’s critical to do what you can to maintain a good quality score.

4. Targeting

While keywords choose the broad audience you can reach with your ads, audience targeting options narrow that audience by focusing your ads on specific sub-sections of that group. Ad targeting on Google is among the most robust of any system short of Facebook, which isn’t relevant to SEM.

Ad Targeting

Choosing targeting options to narrow your ad audience helps improve your ad performance and relevance, resulting in better click rates, conversion rates, and a better quality score. 

Targeting options include various audience segments and broad qualities shared by that group of people. These include lifestyle choices, habits, interests, life events, and others.

5. Ad elements

For SEM, each ad displayed looks more or less like an organic search result. The ad will have:

  • A large and blue title operates as a headline to attract attention
  • A display URL showing the user what domain they’ll eventually land on (this URL may be different from the actual URL and does not show tracking parameters and other data)
  • A description, equivalent to a webpage’s meta description, as your general ad copy

Other ads may have images, videos, or ad extensions like a phone number attached to them as well. A considerable part of SEM is creating and testing various ad elements to find the most compelling way to reach your audience.

Ad Element

Every part of your ads can be tested and improved upon over time. A huge part of managing a successful marketing campaign is iterative testing and implementing improved designs. Tools like our own ConversionIQ can provide this insight.

6. Budget and Bidding

Google Ads offers a variety of bidding strategies, from manual control to automatic optimization.

Picking the right marketing strategy helps ensure you spend your budget in the most effective way possible. How much money should you put into it?

Budget and Bidding

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to SEM costs. According to Forbes, a ballpark estimate can range anywhere from $500 to $10,000 per month, depending on your needs and budget.

The brilliant part of SEM is that, when done effectively, every dollar invested results in more than a dollar’s worth of value to your company. Successful reinvestment allows you to expand your SEM budget to the point of equilibrium.

 

How to start a successful SEM campaign

SEM is complex and potentially expensive, but it’s a very doable task. You just need to lay the correct groundwork, take your time, and regularly test and monitor your ads.

Start by defining your objective. What’s the goal of your advertising? Do you want to build brand awareness, generate leads for your sales team, convert interested users into customers, promote a sale, or something else?

Knowing your objective allows you to refine your copy and target to reach the people most likely to complete that objective.

How to Start a Successful SEM Campaign

Next, start to define your targeting. Identify keywords that align with your objectives, with the right search intent behind them. Pick an effective match type and build a list of negative keywords to exclude. Choose targeting options and a bidding strategy to most effectively reach that audience for the least amount of money. Set budget caps to avoid running over.

Create your ad copy next. Your title, description, extensions, and URL are all critical as visible aspects of your ad. Depending on your display type and campaign type, you may also need to produce videos or images to accompany your copy. This copy can be tested and optimized over time using split testing and other tools.

Next, set up tracking. Google Analytics helps you track the performance of your ads, but additional tracking via custom goals and conversion actions, UTM parameters, and other attributes can also be relevant. Google even allows you to track phone calls, e-commerce sales, and in-store visits with the right conversion tracking setup.

Once this is configured and ready, you can submit it for approval, where it will go live once it is approved.

Once your ad is live, you can embark on a cycle of analyzing, optimizing, understanding, and improving your ads.

All the while, your organic techniques like SEO help boost other aspects of your marketing to encourage effective SEM.

working on a search engine marketing campaign

The takeaway

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: SEM is a constantly-evolving strategy. That means it requires ongoing work to do successfully. Market trends, interests, keywords, offers, and more affect SEM. It can’t be set and forgotten – you must run it on an ongoing basis if you want to see the best results.

If you’d rather keep your marketing in-house, you can use a wide range of professional tools to help you identify and optimize every aspect of SEM. Tools like Semrush, Wordstream, and SpyFu are all great.

If you don’t have the time, team or bandwidth to manage all the search engine marketing aspects on your own, the best thing to do is to contract a top-tier company to do it for you. As one of the industry-leading SEM companies, that’s what we do. If you’re interested, feel free to drop us a line.

You can also check out ConversionIQ, our enterprise-grade SEM improvement platform. It makes managing thousands of ads easy, with full-funnel attribution and powerful insights on your best and worst performers. If you’re interested, you can book a demo with us (or just say hello!) to see how we can improve your ROI, lead quality, and spending decisions.

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 Sep 9 , 2022

SEM is constantly evolving. Follow these industry expert blogs to keep up — and get ahead.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A who’s-who list of the best SEM blogs in the business
  • Access to the best tutorials, case studies, and reports in the industry
  • Less frequently recommended blogs with valuable insights
  • Enough content to keep you busy for the rest of your career

Search engine marketing (SEM) is complex.

And a lot of the information necessary for success is intentionally hidden deep within algorithms and behind the scenes of search engine companies.

Luckily, SEM experts are hard at work each day testing theories, watching for updates big and small, and building a body of knowledge to educate the masses on best practices in the world of search engine marketing.

Here, we’ve highlighted of the 20 best search engine marketing blogs out there to improve your SEM skills, stay up to date on top industry news, and more.

1: HawkSEM

Hey, you’re already here — and you trust us enough to consider our recommendations. Why not read our expert insights, too?

HawkSEM Blog

 

A little about us: We’re a digital marketing agency specializing in broad-scale, integrated marketing campaigns.

We pride ourselves on keeping up with the cutting edge of SEM, PPC, and other digital marketing arenas. Whether it’s news, a deep dive into a specific technique, or novel insights you can’t find anywhere else, we have you covered.

2: PPC Hero

The Hero Blog is one of the all-time greats in pay-per-click marketing. They post new content on a near-daily basis, and it’s often some of the most exciting marketing content you can find.

PPC Hero Blog

Their content creation generally falls into three categories:

  • Deep dives into specific marketing strategies
  • Case studies of particular kinds of marketing
  • Coverage of the latest news in search engine marketing

If you haven’t heard of them, check them out and follow their updates.

3: Wordstream

Wordstream is one of the largest and most well-respected digital marketing agencies out there.

One of their central claims to fame are their impressive free tools, like their keyword tool — but that’s not why we’re recommending them today.

Wordstream Blog

The Wordstream blog is an unending series of valuable tutorials, listicles, and actionable reports.

When they publish a guide with “the top 10 ways to optimize Google Ads,” you know they’ll tell you exactly how to implement all ten (and that those optimizations will work!).

Where else can you get that level of consistently valuable advice? Other than the other blogs on this list, that is.

4: HubSpot

As one of the biggest and best marketing companies in the business, HubSpot is practically a household name among business owners and C-suite professionals.

Whether it’s in-depth tutorials, broad industry coverage, or discussion of advanced B2B online marketing strategies, there’s something for everyone in one of their five different blogs.

HubSpot Blog

You can pick a HubSpot blog to follow or follow all five through the central directory. They also co-produce an annual report, the State of Marketing report, that serves as a landmark industry survey every year.

Honestly, you can spend weeks of your life doing nothing but reading their blog.

5: Search Engine Land

Search Engine Land is a hub for authoritative content produced by dozens of the best and brightest in internet marketing.

They’re one of the best sources for marketing news with information from top names like Barry Schwartz and Bruce Clay.

Search Engine Land Blog

This site has everything if you want the latest industry news, a deep dive into a specific SEO strategy, or just compilations of actionable PPC tips.

6: Moz

Moz is one of the best in the biz, which means two things:

First, they have a massive index of information they can use to draw unique data and compile some of the best case studies you can get online.

Moz Blog

Second, they attract some of the biggest names in inbound marketing to write for the Moz blog. Their author roster is packed with some of the most brilliant minds in search marketing.

From global SEM to local SEO, they cover everything you could want and offer a wide range of tools to help you take advantage of their insight and advice.

7: Ahrefs

Many people think of Ahrefs as a link analysis SEO tool, but they’re so much more.

Sure, in many ways, it is primarily an SEO blog and focuses on link building and keyword research instead of PPC. But even that can be extremely helpful for small businesses and massive corporations alike.

Ahrefs Blog

In addition to providing one of the best research tools in the industry, they have some incredible insights throughout their blog.

They’re up there with Moz in terms of having access to a massive amount of data for case studies and deep dives, and their tutorials are top-notch. They also have a healthy number of posts on paid marketing.

8: Neil Patel

Spending more than a few weeks in marketing without seeing Neil’s smiling face somewhere is impossible.

He’s among the most prolific marketing experts, and his blog reflects his deep knowledge of a massive array of PPC and content strategies, all of which he’ll happily explain to you in great detail.

Neil Patel Blog

On top of that, he frequently publishes guest contributions from other experts while posting on a good proportion of the other sites on this list and elsewhere. Lastly, he has a podcast called “Marketing School” on Spotify that we highly recommend.

We guess you could say he’s “kind of a big deal” in marketing.

9: Search Engine Journal

Of all of the search engine-focused sites on this list, SEJ is probably the most popular.

They have a variety of experts on their roster, as well as a constant stream of content from guest-posting thought leaders. Their coverage includes everything from tutorials to industry news to reports and studies and even the occasional white paper.

You can also follow their webinars which generally air a few times per month.

SEJ Blog

By following their blog, you can keep a finger on the pulse of the marketing industry and always have something insightful to read.

10: Backlinko

Brian Dean is up there with Neil Patel as one of the all-time greats in marketing.

He doesn’t publish on his blog very often — and he’s frequently updating old posts — but every single article on his site is solid platinum.

Backlinko Blog

Some of the best resources, cited by every other blog on this list, come from Brian’s marketing topics in the first place.

The only downside is since every post is such a high-quality and long-form article, there are comparatively few of them.

11: Copyblogger

Writing compelling blog posts is one of the essential parts of modern marketing. The Copyblogger is a site 100% focused on copywriting, landing pages, and ad optimization.

Copyblogger Blog

Whether you’re training a staff of writers or you’re a writer looking to become an expert, their advice will guide you on your way. Of course, there are plenty of content marketing tips and actionable insights to boot.

12: Search Engine Watch

Search Engine Watch is one of the oldest publications still active regarding digital marketing and SEM.

They’ve been active since 1997 and, throughout the years, have been identified as one of the best marketing blogs and called a “must-read” blog by authorities like Matt Cutts.

Search Engine Watch Blog

While they don’t publish new content daily, each post is authoritative and valuable.

13: Bing

Google search may have 90% of the search market share and is one of the largest ad networks in the world, but they aren’t the only player in the industry. Bing — that is, Microsoft — has plenty of skin in the game.

Microsoft Bing Blog

The Bing search engine marketing blog covers a lot of generically helpful advice, of course, but they also offer specific data-driven insights into Bing and Microsoft ads and other marketing strategies. You might be surprised at the level of value you can get out of their blog.

14: Semrush

Semrush is undoubtedly one of the most valuable B2C and B2B marketing tools for SEM research and management available today.

It stands to reason that the people responsible for making it have a deep knowledge of SEM, and you’d be right to assume as much.

Semrush Blog

Every blog post they publish is detailed instructions on completing relevant, useful tasks, from identifying and tracking KPIs to improving search rankings to beginner’s guides for starting a new venture.

There’s something for everyone somewhere in their blog, and every post is worth reading, even most of the older ones.

15: Search Engine Roundtable

Search Engine Roundtable started as an aggregator blog meant to curate and report on the best and most exciting threads on SEM forums and other communities. They still do that, but they do so much more these days.

They have daily recaps and roundups of fascinating discussions, reporting from industry SEO experts, and a wide range of possible topics to cover.

Search Engine Roundtable

It’s worth noting that they sacrifice deep dives in favor of more fast-paced curation, which means other blogs have better insight. There’s also a lot of crossover between SERoundtable and a few others on this list.

16: Convince and Convert

The Convince and Convert Marketing Insights blog is a top-tier blog with in-depth information on all forms of modern digital marketing, from influencer marketing and word-of-mouth to large-scale customer experience, social media, conversion rate optimization, e-commerce, and search engine marketing.

Convince and Convert Blog

Throughout the blog, you can find everything from broad, general strategizing to deep-dive tutorials into specific techniques.

Plus, they frequently post guest-written content by industry thought leaders. And they were named the world’s #1 content marketing blog by the Content Marketing Institute.

17: BG Theory

Brad Geddes is one of the original experts and has been a top-tier source of knowledge for nearly 25 years. He probably knows more about Google Ads than most experts, including those working for Google.

BG Theory Blog

He doesn’t post very often on his blog — just a couple of times a year — but every post is gold.

18: Buffer

Buffer is primarily a social media marketing company, but they have several publications, including one focused on engineering and development and one focused on marketing trends and stories.

Buffer Blog

The real reason to follow Buffer, though, is their case studies.

Whether it’s a close examination of a specific online business and its strategies, or a broad, industry-wide case study, Buffer produces some of the best data and reporting in the industry. If nothing else, regularly browsing their case studies can give you a ton of actionable information.

19: Various Subreddits

You may need some sifting to find the best content, but some great communities are available on Reddit (also known as “subreddits”).

Reddit is more of a forum than a blog, but as one of the most popular communities online, they have a variety of niche-focused expert communities where some of the best discussion takes place.

Subreddit Example

Consider checking out subreddits like r/PPCr/SEOr/Marketing, r/BigSEO, and r/TechSEO. It’s common to see big names on there and even Google Employees like John Mueller who use Reddit daily.

20: Google

What better source of information can you ask for than the people who make the rules? Google’s official blog (blog.google) covers many topics, but we’re specifically looking at the Google Ads & Commerce Blog.

Official Google Blog

While they aren’t going to give you any growth hacks or insider tips, the blog is an excellent way to be first to know about new tools, changes, and techniques endorsed by Google.

The takeaway

Staying on top of an industry as ever-changing at SEM is no easy feat.

Luckily, there’s a wealth of knowledge readily available from the best minds in the industry. And when you learn from the best, you too can succeed in your own SEM ventures.

The Takeaway

Meanwhile, if keeping up with these search engine marketing blogs feels like a big ask, that’s fine too!

Not everyone needs to be an expert in everything. That’s why we offer free consultations. Drop us a line to chat about what we can do for you.

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 Aug 22 , 2022

There’s never a bad time to reevaluate your search engine marketing plan.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What Google has in store for search in 2022 and beyond
  • Which new tools could enhance your SEM
  • The latest standout SEM trends
  • Tips for SEM success

The search engine marketing (SEM) landscape continues to change faster than you can flip calendar pages. From algorithm updates to the eventual sunsetting of third-party cookies, the industry is ever-evolving.

Because of that, it’s almost always a good idea to take stock of your SEM program — its strengths, weaknesses, and what new frontiers can be explored.

Whether you’ve already exceeded your 2022 goals or are working to make it happen before year’s end, this is a great time to make sure you’re strategies are poised for SEM success.

Below, we offer some ways to do just that.

1. Stay on top of the latest Google news

We already know Google rolls out dozens of updates each year. These updates vary in their impact and reach, and the search engine doesn’t always make it crystal-clear exactly how the changes will affect websites.

That’s why, when they do give people a heads up, it’s worth noting. Some recent changes Google has announced include:

A move toward better “information literacy”

In the past few years, misinformation has seemingly exploded online. Between people spreading articles they haven’t actually read and scammers posing as “experts,” it can be hard to decipher what is and isn’t credible information.

Google Fellow and Vice President of Search Pandu Nayak recently penned an article for Google’s blog outlining the steps its team is taking to combat misinformation and ensure their users get served accurate, high-quality search results.

This includes using their latest AI-powered Multitask Unified Model (MUM) to help determine what’s deserving of a featured snippet spot on the search engine results page (SERP). 

Additionally, Nayak says they’re working to:

  • Expand content advisories for information gaps
  • Expand its “About this result” to more places
  • Educate people about misinformation

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 the end of 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. 

Now, Google has pushed things back to 2024, giving marketers a bit more time to pivot.

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

Pro tip: With third-party cookies on their way out, learning how to leverage first-party data successfully is more important than ever. 

person looking into an alley in the daytime through eyeglasses

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

With Google planning to discontinue Universal Analytics in summer 2023, exploring this new opportunity as soon as possible can help you gain a competitive edge and streamline your SEM campaigns.

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 2022, 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 SEM success in the future.

4. Explore paid social advertising

The popularity of social media continues to rise, as more apps and features continue to roll out on a regular basis. 

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 and counting.

Because of this, 2022 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, TikTok, Twitter, and Pinterest

Hand holding a light bulb for SEM success idea

Technical SEO is one of the more neglected SEO elements — it’s also one of the most crucial. (Image: Rawpixel)

5. Reevaluate your SEM spend

With a potential recession looming, some people are tightening up their budgets. As a result, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your PPC campaign budget to make sure you’re spending wisely and on the right marketing tactics.

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 your technical SEO top notch

Search engine marketing isn’t all about paid search. Search engine optimization (SEO) is also key to SEM success, since both hinge on search engines.

SEO is a long game with results that often take more time to see than PPC efforts. But making sure that your SEO program is thorough and high-quality can keep you climbing up the organic rankings and growing your audience as a result.

Technical SEO is one of the more neglected SEO elements — it’s also one of the most crucial. Technical SEO is the term for the technical aspects of your site, such as your site architecture, metadata, and Schema markup, that search engines crawl to understand your site’s content.

An audit is the more thorough way to analyze your technical SEO. But if you want to take a quick glance at your current status, look at website elements such as:

  • Structured data
  • Site security
  • Page speed
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Site architecture
  • Navigation
  • Internal links
  • URL structures
  • Metadata 

The takeaway

In digital marketing, as in life, it seems like the only constant is change.

But it’s also true that you can create campaigns with human-focused messages and initiatives that are set up to stand the test of time.

No matter what search engines throw our way this year and the next, these insights can help you craft strategies set up to see impressive results and SEM success.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 12 , 2022

Search engine marketing (SEM) is all about maximizing your reach and presence in the online spaces where people go to find answers. Here’s how SEM can help your brand shine.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What defines search engine marketing
  • Why SEM is crucial to a digital marketing plan
  • Expert tips for building an SEM strategy
  • Common SEM mistakes to avoid

“Search engines have become one of the most powerful tools on the internet and an essential part of our daily lives,” as Statista reports. Not only that, but nearly one-third of global web traffic is generated via online search usage.

If you’re a modern-day marketer or business owner, the impact of search engine platforms (such as Google and Bing, though there are others) cannot be ignored.

But since search engine marketing is ever-changing and evolving, it can be heard to know whether the tactics you’re using are truly measuring up. 

Don’t worry: We’ve laid out everything you need to know to build and maintain a successful SEM plan.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is all about taking the search algorithm into account when creating things like campaigns, blog posts, and other search engine-related initiatives. 

SEM stands for search engine marketing.

While some marketers use SEM as shorthand for PPC (pay-per-click or paid social), SEO can also fall under this umbrella. 

After all, a search engine’s goal is to serve up the most helpful, accurate, and credible answers to a user’s query, whether through paid or organic results. By understanding what the algorithm deems important, you can cater your ads and content to achieve better visibility.

And it’s not just about Google, though it’s the most popular of the search engines. Other non-Google search engines worth exploring include Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Baidu.

view from the back of a person using google on a laptop

Search engine optimization can help you rise through the organic results ranks and be seen as both a credible solution and an industry thought leader. (Image: Unsplash)

How SEM can help you reach your marketing goals

The main way search engine marketing can help you reach your digital marketing goals is by connecting you with your target audience.

Sure, you could have a stellar product or service, but if no one knows about it, you’re not going to see the return on investment (ROI) you want. Not only that, but not leveraging SEM leaves you open to being lapped by the competition.

Paid search SEM can help you hit the top spots on search engine results page (SERP) so those searching for what you offer can connect with you. 

Meanwhile, SEO tactics are set up to stand the test of time (and resist algorithm shakeups that often happen when updates roll out). Search engine optimization can help you rise through the organic results ranks and be seen as both a credible solution and an industry thought leader.

How to get started with search engine marketing

Overwhelmed about where to begin with your SEM program? It’s probably easier to get started than you think.

First things first, it has to be said that partnering with an SEM agency is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to embark on your SEM journey.

That’s because you’ll be working with experts who know how to allocate budgets wisely, what best practices lead to success, and what your audience responds to best. 

Either way, to get started, it’s a good idea to conduct keyword research. This can help inform both your PPC and SEO efforts, since this is how you’ll discover what terms and phrases your audience uses to find your products or services.

Some helpful keyword research tools include:

  • Semrush
  • Ahrefs
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Moz
  • AnswerThePublic

Once you have your keywords, you can start creating ads and organic content around these topics.

To start setting up paid search ads on Google, go ahead and set up a Google Ads account if you haven’t already. The platform will then walk you through the steps you need to take to create your first paid search campaign.

Pro tip: If you’ve got existing campaigns or content, you might want to start things off by conducting an SEM audit. This will give you helpful context when it comes to how you’re currently showing up in search results.

man conducting a seminar

The way you measure paid search will be slightly different than how you measure SEO, but they both come together to make up your overall SEM performance. (Image: Rawpixel)

SEM best practices from the experts

Since SEM is one of the most popular digital marketing tactics around, there are many schools of thought when it comes to the best approach.

Luckily, we’ve been in this game a long time. As such, we’ve got years of experience seeing what works and what falls flat on search engines. 

A few SEM best practices we recommend are:

  • Keep an eye on new search engine offerings (such as new ad formats and SERP features)
  • Stay on top of algorithm updates that could affect your performance
  • Explore Google Analytics 4 (slated to replace Universal Analytics in summer 2023)
  • Focus on creating educational content and avoid black-hat SEO tactics (such as keyword stuffing)
  • Make sure your ideal client personal is fully fleshed out so you can target properly
  • Monitor analytics resulgarly so you can invest more in what works
  • Have a consistent voice, tone, and look to your landing pages, ads, and SEO content
  • Focus on the value for the potential customer at each funnel stage
  • Check to make sure your website is speedy, mobile-friendly, and takes Core Web Vitals into consideration

Dealing with SEM competitors

Unless your offering is so unique that no other company can compare (in which case, congrats!), then you likely have competitors vying for your audience.

Competition is often a natural part of growing and running a successful business. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to keep yours at the top of the game.

Keeping an eye on what the competition is doing can help you understand how others are approaching your audience when it comes to marketing. Conducting a competitor analysis for SEO and PPC can give you a clearer picture of the tactics they’re using.

It’s also worth noting that, yes, competitors can use your brand name in their Google ads, as long as it’s not deceptive and your brand name isn’t trademarked. (The same goes for Bing.)

The latest SEM stats

Let’s look at the facts. These are a few SEM stats and figures:

  • More than half of marketers say keyword rankings and organic traffic are the top ways they measure the success of their SEO strategies. (HubSpot)
  • 46% of companies that had highly successful content marketing increased their paid content promotional budget in 2021. (Semrush)
  • Businesses typically earn $2 for every $1 spent on Google Ads. (Google Economic Impact)
  • 45% of small businesses use PPC advertising. (Small Business Trends)
  • 59% of shoppers surveyed say they use Google to research a purchase they plan to make in-store or online. (Think with Google)
  • Search advertising spending is expected to grow to $132 billion worldwide by the end of 2022. (Statista)
  • Search marketing makes up 42% of digital marketing spending overall. (eMarketer)

How to measure SEM success

The way you measure paid search will be slightly different than how you measure SEO, but they both come together to make up your overall SEM performance.

It helps to create goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. This way, you’ll have an easier time gauging whether or not a tactic was successful. 

Common key performance indicators (KPIs) for PPC include:

  • Clickthrough rate
  • Cost per click
  • Cost per conversion
  • Quality Score
  • Conversion rate

For SEO success, you can use a tool like Google Analytics or Semrush to view things like backlinks, keywords you rank for, and how you’ve risen through the SERP ranks, along with how much traffic you’re bringing to your website and how.

person using a tablet

Search engine marketing is the heart of a well-rounded digital strategy. (Image: Rawpixel)

What to avoid when building SEM campaigns

Experience has shown us that the most effective SEM programs require a hands-on, human-first approach, rather than relying too heavily on automation tools. But because we’re human, sometimes mistakes happen.

Digital marketing requires regular optimizing and tweaking as tools, industries, and audiences evolve. The good news: When you know what red flags to look out for, you can better avoid them.

Common SEM mistakes include:

  • Not testing landing page forms
  • Having sluggish site speed
  • Failing to optimize for mobile
  • Making headlines and ad copy an afterthought
  • Not testing your campaign elements
  • Not promoting your content marketing
  • Neglecting technical SEO practices
  • Focusing more on search engines than people
  • Not leveraging negative keywords
  • Not using lead scoring

How PPC and SEO help each other

It may seem like paid search and SEO efforts work in silos. But, the truth is, they can enhance one another to achieve results greater than the sum of their parts.

You can bring paid search and SEO efforts together by:

  • Testing new keywords
  • Retargeting visitors
  • Cross-analyzing data
  • Using ads to test content marketing material
  • Learning more about your target audience

Want more? Get the latest SEM tips for real estate, healthcare, startups, insurance, banks, higher education, and financial services

The takeaway

We’ve covered a lot here *exhale.* But the bottom line is: Search engine marketing is the heart of a well-rounded digital strategy. 

Search engines are where people go for answers. And with how much we’re living our lives online these days, it can be the make-or-break factor that determines your company’s success.

By leveraging these platforms through the proper strategies, you can better connect with potential customers, grow your reach, educate your audience, and become an industry leader.

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 Caroline Cox on Feb 23 , 2022

Let’s dive into what lead scoring is, how it works, and the ways it benefits your digital marketing program. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • What lead scoring is
  • How it can benefit your pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns
  • Tips to set up lead scoring
  • How it can improve paid search ROI

For most marketing initiatives, it takes a mix of time and multiple steps to achieve real results. 

But it’s also true that the less time it takes to start seeing success, the better and more quickly you can optimize and improve. 

That’s where lead scoring comes in. Essentially, lead scoring is the process of grading leads to gauge their potential value for your business by assigning them scores based on a variety of factors.

Think of lead scoring like filters in a dating app — except for potential customers rather than a partner. Why waste time chasing leads that aren’t right for you? 

Proper lead scoring allows you to filter your leads, find the best ones with the most potential, and focus your energy where it’s most likely to pay off.

For B2B and lead generation search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns in particular, experienced industry pros will tell you it’s crucial to know the value of the leads being generated. Plus, when you’re dealing with a high volume of leads, manually sorting through them can be time-consuming.

HawkSEM blog: PPC lead scoring

It’s key to be thoughtful about your sales funnel and the actions leads take that qualify them. (Image via Unsplash)

How does lead scoring work?

A lead scoring system assigns values to leads and then ranks them against one another. For this process, you can give scores based on various attributes and actions. 

This allows you to focus on leads that will generate the maximum revenue for your business with the least amount of effort — and in less time.

Scoring leads helps you better understand how certain keywords impact your conversions and, ultimately, the success of your PPC campaign overall. It works by assigning points based on actions a prospect takes, such as requesting a consultation or downloading a piece of content. 

Once a lead achieves a certain score, they can be considered a “hot lead.” From there, they can be routed to sales to nurture them down the sales funnel.

Simply put by BigCommerce, “the top benefits of companies that use lead scoring are a more measurable return on investment (ROI), an increased conversion rate, and higher sales productivity and effectiveness.”

How do I set up lead scoring?

Getting more than a couple of leads per week? Then it’s probably best to leverage a tool like Google Analytics to help you track keyword conversions. 

You or your marketing agency can connect this application to your customer relationship management (CRM) tool or marketing automation platform (MAP). This will allow you to begin scoring leads based on behaviors and actions the new contact or prospect has taken.

As Salesforce explains, improper setup can result in “poor conversion rates and sales funnel dropouts, or customers who stop considering your company for the product or service they want to buy.” That’s why it’s key to be thoughtful about your sales funnel and the actions leads take that qualify them.

Companies with access to a large amount of lead data can explore predictive lead scoring. This process uses algorithms to comb through past customer data and current lead data to find patterns. 

Traditional lead scoring can be more subjective, since your team lists the criteria they think are relevant and a point system to rank them. Predictive lead scoring, on the other hand, is data-driven and can find patterns that may otherwise be overlooked.

What factors should be taken into account with lead scoring?

It may be a process of trial and error to figure out the best lead scoring type, model, and metrics for your business. One of the best practices to improve lead quality is to consider different score thresholds for different products or services if you offer a variety.

You also may want to add negative score options to easily disqualify people like existing customers or job-seekers. Generally, good leads will fit three basic criteria.

Main criteria for good or “hot” leads:

  • Match your target audience or ideal customer persona
  • Show interest in your product or service
  • Be qualified to purchase

Furthermore, there are many ways to gauge each criterion.

Ideal customer persona match

Every business should develop a good understanding of their target audience. 

To start, find similarities between your current customers and ask them questions about themselves to find trends. This information can help you create your ideal client persona.

Helpful demographic data could include:

  • Age range
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Marital status
  • Parental status
  • Job title
  • Income
  • Household size

You may also want to include product or service-specific metrics. For example, a toy company might target parents. However, parents of children in college probably aren’t a good fit. 

Interest

A potential customer may signal buyer intent or interest in a number of different ways. Interest indicators might look like:

  • Multiple site visits
  • Longer time spent on a page
  • Scrolling down to the bottom of a page
  • Visiting multiple pages
  • Downloading a resource
  • Contacting your team
  • Requesting more information
  • Requesting a demo
  • Providing their email address
person typing on a laptop

Implementing lead scoring using up-to-date best practices can be an effective way to have your sales and marketing teams working together better and more efficiently. (Image via Unsplash)

Additional lead scoring tips

Get granular

You can get more granular by weighing things like different pages and pieces of content differently. For example, a case study, white paper, or service page may be worth more points than an evergreen guide or your homepage.

Every indicator can be broken down into more specific criteria for more accurate scoring. For example, multiple site visits are good. 

However, multiple visits within the same week is clearly a better indicator of serious interest than visiting once a year three years in a row. A lead can be given a higher score the closer together their visits are.

Plus, not all pages are created equally. If someone visits a toy company’s site to read a blog post about early childhood development stages, they may not be showing interest in their products, just that specific topic. 

Reading a blog post about the best gift to get a 1-year-old baby, on the other hand, is a great indicator of interest in buying a product. Leads can be scored differently depending on page relevance.

Remember, not all indicators are good

You can also have positive and negative scoring. A perfect example is joining your email list. 

Leads on your email list can get points just for joining. However, every email they open can also be worth points with the number of emails opened in a row raising their score even higher. Meanwhile, each lead that doesn’t open an email can earn negative points with each unopened email in a row lowering their score further.

Which emails they open can also help. Using the toy company example again, if a lead only opens emails on tangential topics, like childhood behavior, never opening product-specific emails, that could strongly indicate a lack of purchase interest. 

Clearly, scoring actions too broadly — like giving points for page visits without considering the page type, dwell time, and actions on-page — can easily lead to falsely inflated scores.

How does lead scoring create a more ROI-driven PPC strategy?

An ROI-driven PPC strategy is one that has been developed to produce revenue. By being strategic and iterating based on what’s working and what’s not, you can be poised for serious results.

Along with scoring leads, other important elements of launching an ROI-driven PPC strategy include:

  • Doing customer research
  • Writing strong ads
  • Creating optimized landing pages
  • Having eye-catching CTAs
  • Leveraging ad extensions
  • Targeting revenue-producing keywords
  • Having consistent messaging from ad copy to landing page
  • Tracking metrics

Does lead scoring make sense for longer sales cycles?

We know that a longer sales cycle means it can take a longer time to see results. Lead scoring is still important for these campaign types because you need to understand each lead’s value along the sales cycle.

This falls under the low-hanging fruit theory of easy wins. By scoring leads, you’ll know which prospects are closer to a sale and which are further away. This info will help you better prioritize where to put your efforts as the cycle moves along.

How often should I revisit my lead scoring metrics?

Scoring leads is a great way to ensure your sales and marketing teams are aligned. With that in mind, it’s a good idea for marketing team members to periodically check in with the sales department to see which types of leads are closing most often. 

This will ensure that the lead scoring parameters you have in place are as accurate as possible. You want to have enough time to accrue significant data that you can analyze properly, so aiming to do one of these check-ins a few times a year is usually sufficient. 

The takeaway

Forget hot leads falling through the cracks or wasting time following up on unqualified or uninterested prospects. 

Implementing lead scoring using up-to-date best practices can be an effective way to have your sales and marketing teams working together better and more efficiently. 

While it may take some tweaking to find the exact right method of lead scoring for your business, the time and investment are sure to be worth it once you see more leads becoming closed deals.  

This post has been updated and was originally published in August 2014.

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 Caroline Cox on Jul 6 , 2021

Know what to look for in an SEM specialist — and how to determine if they’re right for you.

Here you’ll find:

  • Characteristics an ideal SEM specialist should have
  • Questions to ask a potential specialist
  • Tips for selecting the right candidates
  • Expert insights from industry pros

You’ve asked around, browsed reviews, and narrowed down your list of candidates. Now, how can you figure out which search engine marketing (SEM) specialist is right for you?

Since SEM is an integral part of any solid digital marketing strategy, the demand for top-notch experts is high. This demand means that choosing the right person for the job can potentially be overwhelming.

Let’s go over a few common traits to look for in an ideal (or nearly so) SEM expert for your company.

hawksem: sem specialist

Even though specialists may not be writing on their own, they must have a good understanding of what top-notch content is and how it works. (Image via Rawpixel)

1. Experience in your niche

Sure, it’s obvious that an SEM specialist must be experienced. But what’s the best way to determine if their experience is a match for your particular company? 

Experienced specialists understand that each business needs its own unique approach to SEM. That means no two strategies will be exactly alike. While most qualified SEM experts can set up a strategy for a variety of niches, the process is much faster if they’ve worked with businesses similar to yours in the past.

Questions to ask:

2. A history of reliability and trustworthiness

Search engine marketing isn’t an exact science — there’s an art to it as well. That’s why an experienced SEM specialist probably won’t offer you any guarantees. And if a candidate promises to get your website to the top pages of organic search engine results in a week or even a month? That’s a red flag.

A trustworthy SEM expert probably won’t give you exact dates, either. Instead, they’re more likely to lay out the rough scope of work that needs to be done to achieve results in the nearest future.

Questions to ask:

  • How long will it take you to get my website on the first page of Google? (Trick question!)
  • Were you able to get your previous clients’ websites to the first page of Google?
  • How much approximate traffic can I get in one week/month/year?

Pro tip: Generally, SEM campaigns take at least three months to start showing solid results.

3. An understanding of what makes quality content

Content marketing is an integral part of SEM efforts. Even though specialists may not be writing on their own, they should have a good understanding of what top-notch content is and how it works.

Even if they haven’t worked in your specific industry before, the pillars of good content (and how to source content ideas) are more or less the same.

Questions to ask:

  • Do you offer content writing services?
  • Can I see successful content pieces you created for previous clients?

4. Plenty of flexibility

Search engine marketing plans can be highly volatile. What works perfectly today could blow up in your face tomorrow (thanks, ever-changing algorithm!). 

Unless you follow the latest trends and adjust to new requirements on the go, it’s impossible to stay ahead of the competition. Experienced SEM specialists know how important it is to pivot. That’s why they prioritize staying on top of the latest and greatest industry updates and news.

Questions to ask:

  • What are your thoughts on the latest Google algorithm update?
  • What are some recent PPC trends you’re particularly interested in or excited about?

5. Stellar organization skills and practices

An SEM specialist’s work is never done. Once you launch a campaign, it’s all about monitoring, analyzing, and optimizing.

Without knowing how to judge, prioritize, and delegate, an SEM expert can’t survive. That’s why you want someone who knows how to think creatively and make independent decisions.

Questions to ask:

  • How many other experts do you work with on SEM accounts?
  • How often do you submit reports on results?
  • Will there be a person designated specifically to work on my project?
hawksem: find an sem specialist

An SEM specialist should have technical knowledge to come up with high-quality SEO and PPC strategies. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Excellent communication skills

Communication skills are one of the top traits you should be evaluating when hiring an SEM specialist. After all, these experts often have to work with many other strategists, such as search engine optimization (SEO) experts, content managers, designers, and more. 

Being able to stay on the same page and keep team members in the loop is imperative to running successful campaigns. A lack of communication can lead to misaligned expectations (or worse — wasted ad spend with no results to show for it). 

If you aren’t happy with a candidate’s communication skills during an interview, they’re not likely going to improve once you partner with them.

Questions to ask:

  • How would you describe your communication style?
  • What are your top methods for staying in touch with a client?
  • How do you report a mistake?

7. Well-rounded technical knowledge

An SEM specialist should have technical knowledge to come up with high-quality SEO and PPC strategies. They should know the ins and outs of Google Ads and related platforms that help launch campaigns, offer insight, and provide data.

Speaking of SEM technicalities, you want to find someone who can handle multiple mediums (such as Google, Microsoft Ads, and AdRoll), and understands where your industry generally performs best.

Questions to ask:

  • What platforms do you use when conducting SEM?
  • Do you know JavaScript?
  • How do you create or obtain graphics and imagery?

8. Passion for the field

The best SEM experts are passionate about their job. When you’re asking questions about their plans for your company or previous clients, look for passion or excitement in their voices.

Search engine marketing is a hands-on process. Without passion and inspiration, it’s often tough to achieve desirable results.

Questions to ask:

  • What attracted you to the SEM field?
  • Which are your favorite SEM tools?
  • What was the most amazing breakthrough you ever achieved with SEM?

9. A dose of curiosity

To stay on top of their game, it helps for SEM experts to be curious and ready to ask questions during the interview process. SEM is a joint effort. If the specialist doesn’t ask the right questions, you may be harder to gauge if they’re actually a good fit.

Your potential SEM partner should be curious about the way your company works to be able to brainstorm creative ways to improve it.

Question to ask:

  • What questions do you have for me?

The takeaway

With so many SEM candidates vying for your attention, it can be tough to choose the perfect partner. By focusing on their behavior and asking insightful questions, you’ll be in a position to pinpoint the ideal search engine marketing specialist after a couple of interviews.

Now that you know what to look for, an efficient partnership could be right around the corner.

This post 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 Jun 11 , 2021

SEM performance audits can reveal strengths and weaknesses in your campaigns, how you stack up against competitors, and more.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The steps to conducting an SEM audit
  • Why conducting SEM audits is a good idea
  • What to do with your audit’s findings
  • Expert tips when it comes to SEM audits

Here on the Hawk blog, we often talk about SEO and PPC (pay-per-click or paid search) as separate strategies. The term “search engine marketing,” or SEM, encompasses both. And, if you ask us, each of these pieces is crucial to building a proper marketing plan.

Our experience tells us that, to be on the front page of Google, you have to have an all-encompassing strategy. Some brands rely only on SEO, then have their organic results pushed down the page in favor of things like rich snippets. Some focus only on PPC then experience a leaky lead pipeline when their stellar ads direct to sub-par websites. 

Audits serve as a time when you zoom out and take a good, hard look at your strategy as a whole. Whereas PPC audits and SEO audits look at those individual programs, an SEM audit offers a holistic view of how you’re showing up on search engine results (so not in places like display ads or on YouTube).

Of course, you want your ads to make sense, be consistent, and stand out from competitors. You also want to make sure things like your branding and local SEO are aligned as well.

Let’s walk through the steps it takes to conduct a proper SEM audit — and learn why it could be the key to your campaign’s success.

two people prepping for an sem audit

You may think you know who your competitors are, but your in-person competitors may be different from online rivals. (Image via Unsplash)

Why conduct an SEM audit?

Your online presence and visibility on the search engine results page (SERP) is a customer’s potential first impression. It’s good to know what you look like to others online. Not only that, but customer preferences can change almost as often as algorithms do. What keywords worked for you in the past may not work as well now, either from competition or your audience’s changing needs.

It’s important to understand things like the related search types that Google is putting you under for paid search and SEO. After all, you could be showing up for unrelated searches because of content on your site or keywords you’re unintentionally ranking for.

An SEM audit can reveal which keywords are performing well and not-so well. Digging into your performance will help you determine how efficient your budget is and where you might be able to improve in terms of cutting costs, increasing leads, and more.

This audit can also tell you a lot about your competition. You may think you know who your competitors are, but your in-person competitors may be different from online rivals.

How to conduct an SEM audit

Now that we’ve covered all the reasons why SEM audits are a good idea, here are the steps to conduct the actual audit.

1. Search for your brand online

To start your audit process, searching for your brand via search engines like Google and Bing is a good first step. Does your Google My Business page show up, for instance? Is it thorough, accurate and legitimate looking?

2. Check out the other SERP features 

From there, you can check out other SERP features like rich data snippets, the “people also ask” section, and which reviews pop up, if any. Basically, you want to see what searchers see when they look for your company online.

3. Search for relevant keywords 

After you’ve done that, it’s wise to search for the keywords that are relevant to your business. Enter some search terms you think your business would or should show up for. (Not sure where to begin? Use a tool like SEMrush or Google Keyword Planner to get some ideas.)

4. Optimize your paid search ads

On the backend, you also want to make sure certain terms are negated. For example, a lot of accounts’ brand campaigns will show up in the results for searches like “[company name],” plus the words “login” or “portal.” This means current customers are searching for your brand and then clicking your ads, which you want to avoid.

5. Create a checklist for future SEM audits

It may help to come up with an audit checklist. This can help you recreate the audit process down the line and make sure your audit is thorough. This checklist can include things like:

  • Current campaign settings
  • High-performing keywords
  • The names of your top competitors (so you can compare performance)
  • Your PPC and SEO goals
  • Which reports to leverage (such as the Search Terms report in Google Analytics)
  • Data around device placements
two professional women discussing sem audits

Conducting an SEM audit is a great way to take a step back and look at how your digital marketing program is tracking. (Image via Unsplash)

Pro tip: Make sure your branded searches are protected as best as possible. Whether you’re showing at the top of the page organically or paying for branded ads, if someone Googles you, make sure you have your best “foot” forward.

What to do after your SEM audit is complete

So, you’ve done the legwork of auditing your SEM — now what? Once you’ve gathered the data, it’s time to take action.

It’s wise to start with the quick fixes, if there are any. These could be things like metatags that need editing, page titles that are misspelled, or a Google My Business page that needs to be optimized. Basically, think about what Google wants and what you look like to others. From there, make sure you’re doing what you can to show up for the right terms.

If you need to share your findings with a client or other team members, distill everything down into key takeaways. That way, you can create action items that are supported by the data. Should campaign names be changed to be more consistent? Should content be updated or rerouted? Are there keywords you could be trying harder to rank for? 

Your audit findings can serve as proof points behind campaign changes. This is particularly helpful if you need approval or buy-in from higher ups in your organization.

Pro tip: We suggest conducting a full-scale audit every six months to 12 months, depending on your bandwidth. Outside of audits, try to look at search terms, ad copy, and A/B test results on a monthly basis. Google is regularly changing its algorithm, so Google your top keywords to stay up to speed with your competitors and see which strategies are most successful.

The takeaway

Conducting SEM audits is a great way to take a step back and look at how your digital marketing program is tracking. You may be surprised to find which keywords are bringing in the most leads or discover a new opportunity to take advantage of via your SEO tactics.

No matter what you end up finding, taking the time to examine your strategies will help you better optimize your tactics, manage your budget, and feel confident that you’re headed in the right direction.

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 Sep 4 , 2020

Paid search marketing for financial services can be a highly effective ROI driver — use it to build brand recognition and boost conversions quickly.

Here, you’ll find:

  • The regulations around financial services paid search marketing
  • Best practices for your paid search ads
  • The latest targeting updates
  • Why display ads are also worth exploring

Financial services encompass everything from credit unions, banks, and insurance to credit-card companies, financial technology (FinTech), and investment funds. But even though everyone should be thinking about at least some of these topics regularly, especially these days, not everyone does.

This makes it a challenge for financial services (or FinServ) marketers looking to attract new customers. Luckily, paid search or pay-per-click ads can give your digital marketing a boost by helping you build brand recognition, attract leads quickly, and drive conversions for your finance-based services. Below, we highlight 13 tips to help you develop top-notch search marketing strategies in the finance industry.

1. Understand the regulations

Financial products and services are highly regulated industries. This is why Google suggests that, when creating ads, you make sure to comply with local, state and national regulations. This may include specific disclosures that provide transparency to the product or services highlighted by the ad. Google and other search engines may also require specific information within the ad for it to be approved, such as:

  • Disclosure of associated fees
  • Contact information and physical location
  • Links for implied third-party endorsement or accreditation

Personal loan advertising must also contain info about the quality, fees, features, benefits, and risks associated with the product. The idea is that these disclosures provide valuable information to help consumers make informed decisions. When creating an ad, make sure your content contains:

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
  • Minimum and maximum repayment period
  • An example representing the total cost of the loan, including applicable fees
PPC for financial services

Whether you’re experienced in PPC or are new to paid search, starting slowly can help ensure you get the most efficient results possible. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Know the financial products Google won’t accept

Google doesn’t allow advertisers to promote a variety of financial products, including:

  • Short-term loans (loans that require full repayment within 60 days)
  • High APR personal loans
  • Trading binary options or similar products
  • Complex speculative financial products
  • Credit repair services

Advertising for loan modifications, debt services, and cryptocurrencies is allowed, but there are strict rules. If you’re planning PPC for financial services in these areas, review the guidelines carefully. Luckily, if your ad is not approved, Google provides guidance for what you can do to fix the issues.

3. Start paid search marketing slowly

Whether you’re experienced in PPC or are new to paid search, starting slowly can help ensure you get the most efficient results possible.

Start with one to three campaigns and a core group of four to ten keywords, then measure the results after a few weeks or so. You’ll see where your budget is being spent most effectively so you can cut the underperforming ads, continue to iterate, and put more effort towards what’s working.

4. Prepare for higher cost per click (CPC)

Financial keywords are competitive. When it comes to digital marketing for financial services, this often translates into a higher cost than for other industries. 

Focus keywords in your niche rather than the industry as a whole to help attract the most qualified leads, and leverage negative keywords when it makes sense to weed out unqualified leads.

5. Know your audience targeting options

If your company has physical locations in a few areas, tightly focused search engine marketing can help you make the most of your budget. In addition to targeting by geographic location, you were once able to can take advantage of other demographic options such as age, gender, household income, and more.

However, as of October 2020, Google will no longer allow housing, employment, and credit-related ads to target based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code in the U.S. or Canada. This applies to credit cards, loans including home loans, car loans, appliance loans, and short-term loans.

The more specific you are, the easier it will be to find your ideal target audience. For example, if you want to attract management-level consumers, use income levels, which should still be permitted. This can help you find the clients that want your products in a sea of those who aren’t the right fit for one reason or another.

6. Create original copy

To stand out from the crowd in the financial services industry, you’ve got to get creative. By writing unique copy that features offers and benefits, you can increase click-through rates (CTR) and attract the right consumers. 

For example, if you’re developing PPC for credit unions, credit cards or banking institutions, you may want to promote offerings like no annual fees or 24/7 customer service. If your campaign revolves around insurance company products, what perks or savings can you offer? Create a call to action (CTA) that stands out, catches the consumer’s eye, and inspires them to click.

7. Customize landing pages

If your ad simply goes to your company’s homepage, your campaign isn’t primed to convert. Keep conversion rates high by making sure the link on your ad goes to an optimized landing page that has the matching content.

The messaging across ads and landing pages should be consistent, relevant, and highlight the value to the consumer. From there, you can customize it based on the keywords and ad groups to encourage further interaction. The most effective landing pages feature an attention-grabbing headline, proof points, and an easy form. 

Pro tip: It’s a good idea for your landing page’s H1 (main headline) and H2 (subheadline) text to either match or resonate with top keywords you’re aiming to rank for. This alignment can help with quality score and engagement.

Paid Search Marketing for Financial Services: 13 Tips from an SEM Agency

Types of display ads include static, animated, interactive, video, and expanding. (Image via Unsplash)

8. Leverage display advertising

Sure, the requirements for advertising may be strict. But millions of consumers need financial products — from help with tax preparation, retirement, and home equity loans to auto insurance and basic banking accounts.

Display advertising offers several options to improve engagement and boost conversion rates:

  • Behavioral
  • Contextual
  • Geographical
  • Site-specific

Types of display ads include static, animated, interactive, video, and expanding.

Display ad best practices

The marketing strategy for an insurance company, banking institution, or financial products group must have the right mix of elements to be successful (no surprise there). Here are a few proven best practices to consider when creating your campaigns:

  • Go local: Localize your ad to make your interactions more relevant. Use familiar local terms and graphics to increase messaging and conversion rates.
  • Make it actionable: Consider adding a call to action (CTA) message or button to the banner itself to help inspire people to click for more. 
  • Add a focused hero image: If your product benefits a particular audience, use images that resonate with that specific consumer. For example, a happy young family in a yard for first-time homeowners may resonate better than a generic stock image of a wallet.
  • Build trust: Fear and uncertainty are common emotions associated with financial decision-making. Keep the message simple and repeat it, since most consumers need to see an ad several times before they believe it, without fear-mongering. Add any certificates or recognized local customers to establish trust.
  • Combine search marketing with display: Display ads increase brand recognition. As more consumers become aware of your product, they’ll search for it as they move through their decision-making process. As the search numbers increase, your search engine ranking improves, which can result in more sales.

9. Be aware of competitor positioning

Who are your top competitors? What features do they highlight? Research them so you can be ready to outdo them with your product’s value proposition benefits.

Consumers often comparison shop, so they’ll be looking for how you’re similar to competitors and what makes you different.

10. Make it a user-friendly experience

Keep your message simple and make it easy for consumers to understand what to do next. Use a quick form that lets them speed through the process, whether the desired action is downloading content, registering an account, or completing a request.

Minimizing the number of steps and removing unnecessary fields has been shown to increase conversions significantly. You can even test a short multi-page form that first asks a fun or simple question, followed by a page that asks for the required info.

11. Test, adjust, and test again

Take your PPC insurance, loan, or banking campaign’s search marketing results to the next level by testing individual components. Start by auditing keywords for funding value, rather than for leads or conversions, to help you score the highest return on investment.

Next, look at the segment breakdown for tablet, mobile and desktop to see which ads perform best. You may find that it makes sense to run some ads only for mobile and others only for tablets or desktops.

A/B testing can illuminate which ad elements resonate most with your audience. You can test things like the images, headlines, and ad copy by running two ads simultaneously. Just make sure you only test one element per A/B test so you can accurately pinpoint results.

12. Consider lead scoring

All leads are not created equal. Because of this, it’s a good idea to align your sales and marketing goals by using lead scoring. This method prioritizes leads, allowing you to respond quickly to people most interested in your products and increase the conversion rate. It assigns points to contacts so you know which leads require ongoing communication and which should be fast-tracked.

The most effective systems use a variety of attributes including but not limited to:

  • Demographics
  • Keywords
  • Clicks
  • Website visits

13. Add retargeting to your ads

Retargeting (also called remarketing) can be a highly effective method for increasing conversions. It encourages consumers to return to your website and complete an action they may have started but not finished, such as filling out a form or completing an order.

However, there are rules that may limit how much you can do in this area, so take some time to research the requirements in your niche to find out if it’s worth it for your company.

The takeaway

When people are seeking out financial services, they’re often in the midst of making their decision, so timing is critical. You have a short time frame to attract and convert prospects to customers.

Paid search marketing can jumpstart your efforts and show results quickly, which can help you tighten the focus of your messaging and improve ROI.

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

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 Jun 1 , 2020

Check off these boxes to ensure your paid search marketing strategies are on the right track for your software as a service (SaaS) brand.

We’re calling it now: “pivot” is the theme of business in 2020. That goes for digital marketing, too. Across industries, customer needs and wants are changing. If you haven’t revisited your strategy playbook, now’s the time.

Luckily, SaaS teams are often more familiar with ever-changing goal posts than most. Whether B2B or B2C, SaaS products and platforms play a huge role across many industries, from finance to project planning and everything in between.

As your SaaS company adapts its marketing strategies to the changing times, there are a few key areas to focus on to make your paid search campaigns more effective. As one of the most effective digital marketing tactics in terms of ROI, this strategy can help ensure your SaaS company is set up to forge ahead. Here are some expert insights for how to do it right.

1. Aim for the right type of lead volume

Of course, there’s a drastic difference between increasing your SaaS lead count and attracting high-quality leads. If more people are clicking on your ad but there’s no increase in on-site conversions — or, ultimately, sales — you know adjustments need to be made. (This is especially crucial because you’re paying for each click.)

Sometimes, aligning yourself with well-known clients or customers can encourage higher caliber prospects to jump on board. Consider using recognizable industry names from your portfolio of happy customers in ads or on landing pages. This, paired with any industry awards, certifications or accolades, can boost your credibility and authority in the industry. 

2. Focus on the facts

As a SaaS company, successful sales often rely on how effectively you demonstrate the value of your product — and how it stands out from your competition. When you know the challenges faced by your prospective clients, you can cater your ads and content to the product features that will be most relevant to their needs.

Showing metrics is also a good way to prove your offering’s worth. It’s one thing to say you can save a company money, for example. It’s quite another to say you can potentially save them at least $50,000 — and have the data to back it up.

3. Know how to properly use LTV

Too many SaaS marketing agencies focus on lead volume. But especially with the longer sales cycles that tend to come with SaaS, it’s crucial to be calculating lifetime value (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. This is why lead scoring, as we’ve mentioned before, is crucial for a strong SaaS marketing strategy.

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 LTV. 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 LTV, your goal should always be to create clients for life. Because it costs money to acquire new clients, 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.

Understanding this 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 many times before deciding to make a purchase, but that type of client can be more lucrative in the long run. 

Pro tip: Investing in remarketing is a great way to keep your brand top of mind with those who are already aware of your business but maybe weren’t yet ready to buy the last time they interacted with your site. 

10 Tips SaaS Companies Need to Know About Paid Search Marketing

Using charts, diagrams and grids can allow you to clearly display how you’re different from your competition. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Consider your landing page your lifeline

A landing page is where a user ends up after clicking your paid search ad. This page needs to present the purpose and products of your company clearly and convincingly. It should give viewers a reason to take an action, whether that’s downloading a piece of content or filling out a form. 

One way to create landing pages that offer a wow factor is to use impressive numbers and statistics as proof points. Think of it as walking the walk — not just talking the talk. For example, stating that you can save clients up to 50% or cut their customer service calls in half (and even offering a past customer example) is more convincing than saying your product “utilizes the latest technology.”

Along with potentially incorporating metrics, visual aids can be effective at drawing attention to the desired call to action (CTA). Using charts, diagrams and grids can allow you to more clearly display how you’re different from your competition in terms of:

  • Cost
  • Features and benefits
  • Contract or subscription type
  • Results

You can also mention specifics, like cost per user and “freemium” models. This helps attract clients’ attention and makes it easier for someone to familiarize themselves with your offerings before making a full-on purchase decision.

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to target your competitors and their keywords with your SaaS paid search. This helps increase your exposure and gives you a chance to highlight what sets you apart from the rest, whether it’s a certain feature or a special offer.

6. Study your ideal client and current clients

If your search marketing strategy isn’t working as well as you’d hoped, you may have misread what matters to your target audience. Especially for technical and niche business, 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 (like event planning software for businesses vs. ticketed event platforms). It can be helpful to go back through and make some of the following changes:

  • Adjust display times
  • Switch up keywords
  • Use more compelling ad copy
  • Tailor by language and location
  • Add negative keywords to your paid search 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, it’s key to pick your placements carefully and make sure they’re on relevant sites.

7. Leverage 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 goes for SaaS. Going after more relevant, long-tail keywords not only targets those with higher intent, but it also snags those who are potentially in the “research” stage of the funnel, which can be just as valuable.

ten-tips-saas-companies

Offering educational content shows clients and prospects that you genuinely want to help them solve problems and illustrates that you’re a thought leader. (Image via Unsplash)

8. Aim to educate

While you’re certainly aware of the benefits your products and services offer, you have to assume prospective clients aren’t. That’s why educating your audience should be a big focus in your digital marketing strategy. You can do this through leveraging content like:

  • Demos
  • Video tutorials
  • White papers
  • Case studies

Offering educational content not only shows your clients and prospects that you genuinely want to help them solve problems, but it illustrates that you’re a thought leader in your space as well. You can offer this content via your paid search ad or on the landing page to get interested leads clicking around your site. 

9. Stay true to your brand

Using a variety of simultaneous campaigns and platforms is often a strong approach, since most viewers don’t become clients after one touchpoint or interaction. But even though you’re using different ad channels, your message and mission should be consistent across all of them.

Analyzing your data through Google Analytics or your CRM can highlight typical user patterns. This lets you focus your efforts on the best channels to increase ad effectiveness. When you know your standard user goes from an ad click to remarketing to white paper to a YouTube video before converting, you can budget better.

10. Look beyond Google Ads

There’s no denying that, by and large, Google is the top search engine around. But that doesn’t mean others, like Microsoft’s Bing, are worth ignoring. In fact, Microsoft Advertising makes it easy to export your Google Ads campaigns to their platform. 

Not only that, but you could see better results with a lower average cost per click (CPC). Depending on your target audience, you may even find less competition on the Microsoft Ad platform, which includes those searching on the Bing, Yahoo, and AOL platforms.

The takeaway

As you talk through your paid search 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. 

For example, you may achieve a lower CPC when you push content downloads and assets and then follow up with an email or retargeting instead of focusing solely on free trials and demos. 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.

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

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 May 6 , 2020

As with any partnership, finding the right SEM agency for your brand takes patience and preparation.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Key questions to ask potential agencies
  • How to determine which one is right for your business
  • Ways to align expectations and communication
  • Red flags to look out for during the process

Whether you’re just starting out with search engine marketing (SEM) or have a successful program that’s just too much to manage on your own, partnering with an agency can be a great solution. But that doesn’t mean the process is simple.

As a marketer, you know how important search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and similar marketing tactics are, and doing these things properly can mean huge growth for your business. But SEM is a specific niche within digital marketing, and bringing in experts who know their stuff is key to achieving the growth you desire. 

So, how do you know what to look for in an SEM agency? Let’s break it down.

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

Create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Clearly define your goals

The first thing you need to do is create some clear, actionable goals you’d like to reach. When you begin working with an agency, they’ll want to get a clear picture of what you’d like to achieve through SEM. Having this information ready to go from the start will ensure you’re prepared, on the same page, and can hit the ground running.

After all, if you don’t thoroughly understand your own business’s goals, then you might not be able to get the most out of the relationship you want to form with the agency. 

Think about your current SEM strategies, and ask yourself or your team questions such as:

  • What parts have been successful, and what parts haven’t been working so well?
  • Do you want to improve your ability to drive organic traffic from qualified keywords on search engines like Google? 
  • Do you want to increase your return on investment from online marketing as a whole or just PPC ads? 
  • Would you like to improve your ROI while increasing certain metrics or KPIs by a certain percentage?

These goals can be improved by making them even more specific. 

2. Do your research

It’s not enough to just pick the first SEM agency that comes up in a Google search. Instead, create a shortlist of agencies that seem to align with your goals and have experience in your particular industry. 

From there, you can dive deeply into any information you can find out about the company. Check out their website, read reviews and customer testimonials, look at examples from their portfolio, and see if they offer any references you can contact. Being able to chat with past clients can offer insight into the way the agency functions and what you can expect when working with them. 

Other things to look for include how many years of experience they have, case studies, and sample reports. If any bad reviews exist online, did the review receive a response? No agency is perfect, but they should be able to use less-than-perfect customer experiences as a learning tool. 

In this research, you should also be able to find out if they’ve worked with companies in your industry before. This is key, because if they have, then they’ll already have a bit of background and knowledge of what worked best for other businesses in your field. 

Successful SEM and PPC advertising strategies can differ widely between industries, so it’s a bonus if an agency has a lot of experience with companies similar to yours. The learning curve will be shorter and you’ll be able to see results quickly when you work with people who already know a lot about your industry. 

3. See how well you “click”

You want to form a long-lasting, productive relationship with the SEM agency you choose. That’s why it’s important that you feel a connection right from the start. Take time to interview each of the agencies on your shortlist. Ask questions about their process, learn about the team you’d be working with, and see if their values and mentality match with yours.  

This is also a great time to look for transparency. If you feel like they’re withholding any information or shying away from certain questions or topics, this might be a red flag that they may not be completely upfront or honest. 

Regardless of how they answer your questions, if something doesn’t feel right, go with your gut. The agency should be happy to tell you about their process, totally clear about pricing, and eager to point you to references who can give you even more insight. 

Remember: Search engine marketing is an ongoing process. You’re looking for an agency that you trust from the first time you interact with them. You’ll likely be working together for a long time, and you want to feel comfortable handing over your account or platform information. 

Does it seem like they’re communicative, friendly, and willing to listen to your input? You can also ask how often they plan to conduct meetings, phone calls or check-ins, and how open they are to revising strategies that don’t seem to be working well. 

HawkSEM: Find the right SEM agency

The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision. (Image via Rawpixel)

4. Discuss deliverables

Another important question: How will the agency show you that their efforts are paying off? Lots of the metrics they’ll be dealing with are easy to track and measure, so find out how often they’ll be providing you with reports and what these reports will include. 

You can ask for the prospective agency to provide a sample report. You can also ask questions like:

  • How does your agency measure things like brand awareness? 
  • How does your agency weigh traffic coming from different sources? 
  • What attribution models does your agency use?
  • Does your agency use different attribution models in different circumstances? 
  • How do you measure ROI?

Communication and regular reporting are important for establishing a strong two-way relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and expect direct answers.

5. Break down the specifics

By now, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of which agency you’d like to work with, but there are few things to hash out before you make a final decision. For one, be sure that the agency’s services are within your budget. 

Successful SEM isn’t a one-off “set it and forget it” project. Ask how they handle ongoing maintenance of your strategies. Will you be working with an account manager or communicating with an entire team? Ask how many employees they have and where they’re based. How much experience do the team members who will be handling your project have? The more information you can get from the agency, the more sure you can be of your final decision.

The takeaway

Hiring an SEM agency can help you take your digital marketing strategy to the next level, and choosing the right agency can make all the difference. 

By following these steps, you can feel confident that you’ve got the tools you need to make the right choice.

Looking for an SEM agency that checks all these boxes and more? You’ve come to the right place.

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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Facebook Audience Targeting: What You Need to Know

Here's how to use Facebook audience targeting to connect with potential and current customers seamlessly and directly on the popular social platform....

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