Tag Archives: SEM

Written by Caroline Cox on Jun 2, 2022

Search engine marketing and paid social have their place in your marketing strategy — but it can be tough to know how and when to leverage each.

Here you’ll learn:

  • Key differences and similarities between SEM and SMM
  • When to use search engine marketing
  • Common social media marketing goals
  • Best practices for both marketing types

Digital marketing is all about connecting with people by going to where they spend time online via their computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Two of the most popular online spaces? No surprise here: Search engines and social media.

That’s why both social media marketing (SMM) and search engine marketing (SEM) are integral to most modern-day advertising strategies. 

They allow you to reach as many people as possible while collecting valuable information for further lead generation, conversion, and retention efforts.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and similarities between SEM and SMM.

man looking at smartphone

Your website is your digital first impression and online HQ. (Image: Unsplash)

What’s the difference between SEM and SMM?

Search engine marketing generally encompasses paid search or PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns. Some people also include search engine optimization tactics like content marketing as well, since search engine optimization (SEO) is also all about search engines.

Social media marketing can refer to both organic (free) and paid social efforts, such as promoted posts or social media ads.

While different tactics, search engine marketing and social media marketing have plenty in common. Their key similarities include:

  • Versatility  Both provide options for paid and organic marketing (paid search ads + SEO in SEM, paid social ads + social media optimization in SMM)
  • Reach – They give you an opportunity to reach a wide target audience (4.3 billion people use Google worldwide, while 3.6 billion people use social media)
  • Budget – While social media marketing doesn’t necessarily need to cost money, if you want them to reach maximum success, it requires some budget
  • Efforts  Both can bring about seriously impressive ROI if leveraged properly

On the other hand, a few important differences between SMM and SEM include:

  • Personalization – Social media marketing provides more opportunities to interact directly with the audience, which can help foster loyalty and trust
  • Costs – Social ads usually cost less than paid search ads (though ROI still depends on the quality of your strategy)
  • Goals – social media is more often about awareness building, while paid search is generally aimed at traffic and conversions
  • Choices Different audience segments have different social media app preferences, while most people leverage Google or Bing as their search engine (though there are others, of course).

When to use SEM

Your website is your digital first impression and online HQ. 

It’s where you want people to land, regardless of how they found you. So it’s imperative to keep it in tip-top shape, regardless of the marketing techniques you use. 

SEO

Paid ads and SEO go hand in hand. The latter helps get you more visibility in organic results, helps more people find you, and adds legitimacy to your online persona.

The higher your website ranks, the more credibility you achieve, both from your audience and in the eyes of the search engine.

SEO takes time to build, and it alone may not be able to get you to the top of page 1 search results, but it’s a necessary part of a well-rounded digital marketing plan.

PPC

PPC can not only help you shoot to the top of the search engine results page (SERP), but it allows you to target specific audiences to boot.

When you want to achieve quick results and bring more traffic to your website, PPC works best.

Paid search metrics are often very straightforward and easy to analyze. Plus, PPC tools can help you plan your budget, see what works and what doesn’t within minutes, and change your strategy in real-time

Overall, SEM best practices include:

  • Create high-quality content based on your audience’s pain points.
  • Target keywords depending on your budget (small budget = keywords with buying intent, larger budget = keywords for all stages of the buyer’s journey).
  • Choose the type of paid ads offered by search engines wisely since the CPC depends on it.
  • Build detailed buyer personas to base both SEO and PPC strategies on.

Bottom line: Use SEM when you need to drive traffic, increase exposure, gain credibility, and leverage specific targeting.

person looking at paid social on a tablet

PPC and SEO go together like peanut butter and jelly. The same can be said for SEM and SMM. (Image: Pexels)

When to leverage SMM

While it’s possible to achieve results without social media marketing, these popular apps can help you reach a wider audience without blowing your budget.

Unlike a search engine, social media ads usually reach people who aren’t seeking something out. Rather, they’re probably just scrolling through their feeds.

That’s why social media ads are perfect for companies looking to build their brand, grow their following, and increase awareness.

Another reason to use SMM is to get to know your audience. Creating business profiles gets you access to metrics and helpful info about your posts and followers. In turn, this data can improve your understanding of your buyer persona.

What’s more, social media ads provide stellar targeting options. Since platform users share information about themselves willingly, they’re much easier to segment. 

The best practices for SMM include:

  • Choose the best platform for your efforts (aka the ones your audience is most active on)
  • Prioritize the visual element, whether it’s an image or video
  • Ensure your profiles are fully filled out, accurate, and consistent
  • Post content regularly
  • Conduct A/B tests with your social ads

Bottom line: Social media marketing is a great tactic for building brand awareness, refining your buyer personas, and letting your brand’s personality shine.

The takeaway

We’ve talked before about how PPC and SEO go together like peanut butter and jelly. The same can be said for SEM and SMM.

To beat the competition, it’s wise to take advantage of all the resources and methods at your disposal — that includes search engines and social media marketing.

Struggling to get your digital marketing plan in shape? We can help.

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 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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Jun 11, 2021

SEM 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 Sam Yadegar on Jan 4, 2021

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

Here you’ll learn:

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

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

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

Below, we offer some ways to do just that.

1. Keep Google’s novelties in mind

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

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

Mobile-first indexing

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

Core Web Vitals

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

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

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

Third-party cookie phase-out

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

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

hawksem: sem campaigns 2020 article

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

2. Get familiar with Google Analytics 4

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

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

3. Beef up your educational content

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

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

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

4. Explore paid social advertising

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

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

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

hawksem: sem campaign article 2021

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

5. Reevaluate your SEM campaign budget

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

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

6. Keep a handle on security

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

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

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

The takeaway

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

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

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

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

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

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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