Introduction to SEM for beginners #GoDigital

Money can’t buy everything…but it can buy you ad space on Google. As advertising on TV has become rather obsolete for catching up with millennials, companies have smartly moved towards Digital Marketing and advertising in order to capture clients in their second home: the Internet.

Today, we are going to talk about SEM or Search Engine Marketing, aka the paid way to appear on the first pages of Google.

As I very briefly mentioned in my previous post on SEO, there are two ways to appear among the first results on a search engine:

  • SEO – the free way. By creating a good quality website and getting people to talk about you in their own webpage, you can get a high ranking on Google without having to spend a single cent at all. Getting clients and traffic to your website for free sounds great, right? It does! But what’s the catch? The catch is that it doesn’t happen overnight – it is a long-term commitment, and you have to develop a sustainable Marketing strategy that covers all aspects of SEO. Search Engine Optimization is often referred as organic, because people are interested in your services and naturally come to your website without clicking on an ad.

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  • SEM – the paid way. If waiting for at least an year to start appearing on the first pages of Google is not your cup of tea, and you are okay with spending some money on advertising, this is the solution for you! Search Engine Marketing allows you to place ads on Google through a bidding system, but we will go into much more detail in a couple of minutes. For now, all you have to remember is that SEM is a short-term way to position higher on a search engine, but you will have to sacrifice some money to the god of the Internet, Google (just kidding, SEM is actually very effective!).

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Okay, great! So instead of focusing on both SEO and SEM, can I choose only one?

No! No, don’t do that. SEO and SEM actually complement each other, so unless you really don’t have any budget to spend on Google ads, in an ideal situation you should be doing both. SEO brings visitors interested in the content of your website, and SEM is in charge of those people who want to hear your best offers and discounts at the moment of searching.

In other words, try to get the best of both worlds in order to attract as many visitors as possible to your website.


Awesome! Now that we clarified that, let’s move on the basics of Search Engine Marketing. But before we dive deep into the more technical part of it, I think it’s important to understand how it works from the perspective of the user and the perspective of the company (the advertiser):

SEM from the user’s perspective

Let’s say that you are looking for a new computer, but you have no idea where to start from. You know some brands, maybe some models, but you are not sure whether Dell, HP, or MacBook will be the best one for you. So, its time to do some search. And who knows everything about computers? That’s right – Google! So you sit down in front of your current laptop and go to Here, a few things happen.

  • Short-tail keywords – at this point of your search, you have no idea which computer brands look more appealing to you, so you type in some generic, short-tail keywords, like “laptops” or “best computers”. Google returns you some results, probably some articles with useful information, or even some shops that sell laptops, such as in the example below:

best computers - sem - google search

  • Mid-tail keywords – Unfortunately, you decide that the information you received from Google doesn’t really help you decide which computer is the best for you. It was too generic, and you need something more specific. You need a light, not too expensive laptop to take with you to the University, so you decide to type in “best laptops for students” or “best laptops for under $500”, which are mid-tail keywords:

google results search engine

  • Long-tail keywords – you are getting closer to your next dream computer! Now that you have received more specific information that takes into account your personal needs (college student, price for under $500) by typing mid-tail keywords, you read through the articles and decide that HP will be your preferred brand. But you haven’t decided on the model yet, so you need to do some more search. At this point of the search process, you are deciding between various models and computer parameters, so you get even more specific with long-tail keywords such as “hp envy 13 inch 8G RAM”, or “hp envy 13 AB002ns Intel”:

google seo sem search engine results computers

Congratulations! After a bit more searching, you have finally found your next computer, so you run happily to the closest store, or buy it online while you are still in pajamas! And one additional achievement – you already know how the search process works! I am proud of you.

Generally, when people search on Google, they start with short-tail keywords, and build their way up to mid-tail and long-tail keywords. This is because as we read more and more information on the topic or product that interests us, we start making up our minds on what exactly is that we are looking for. As in the example that I just showed you, we started from researching on generic brands of computers, and ended up comparing very specific models. Of course, people are different and might do their search differently, but this is the most common behavior, and knowing well its patterns will be important on how we build our Marketing strategy.

SEM from the perspective of the company


Let’s say that you are a company selling computers, and you want to do some advertising in order to attract more clients. However, you don’t want all kinds of people clicking on your ad, because every time someone clicks on your ad, it costs you money. You want people that are looking to buy a computer to click on your ad. But how do you filter them from the rest? How can you know who exactly wants to buy a computer?

The answer is: keywords.

Because your potential customers use keywords such as “best laptop models” or “best laptops for under $500” to find information and interesting offers, you need to use the same or similar keywords to the ones that they are using. Why?

Because if I am looking for “best discounts on HP computers” and your shop happens to offer “the best discounts on HP computers”, my search term will match your keyword, and we will find each other. In other words, I will get exactly the discounts that I am looking for, and you will get a potential client who wants to buy a computer from you.

Huh, this sounds complicated! I cannot read people’s minds! How do I find out what keywords are the best to include in my ad?

No worries; it is not that complicated. Google AdWords, the platform that you will use to create and publish your ads on Google, provides you with a free tool called Keyword Planner that helps you research keywords, and find the best ones for your business. Additionally, there are many other tools out there such as KWFinder.


Keyword Planner allows you to research keywords, obtain ideas, and find the ones that best describe the purpose of your ad and the services that you offer. As a general rule, you want to strive for keywords that have a lot of average monthly searches and low competition. However, this can vary between sectors and industries.

What you need to remember is that you need to do a good keyword research before publishing your ad. Try to think from a customer’s perspective: “If I was a person looking for computers, what keywords would I use? How would I perform my search?“, and don’t forget to use the keyword tools that we already mentioned to support your research.

Obviously, each company, services, sector and industry are very specific, so there is not a unique and single answer – you need to try out different keywords and see which ones work the best for you. But, as I already explained in my previous post on SEO, try to get more specific with your keywords rather than going for generic ones.


Google AdWords

Google AdWords is an online advertising tool that lets you create ads and reach the right people at the right time, in the right place. It is made up of two networks: Google Search Network and Google Display Network – together, they make up around 80% of Digital Marketing.

  • Google Display Network – it accounts for around 30% of your Digital Marketing efforts, and it allows you to showcase products in rich media formats such as images and videos.

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With Google Display, you can show your ads on all websites that partner with Google, such as YouTube, Blogger, and even G-mail.

  • Google Search Network – it allows you to set up your advertising campaigns via keywords, and get displayed on the top of search results. As you can see below, the first result is an ad with the keyword “best hp offers”, and the second result is coming from SEO efforts, so it is not an ad.

google search network

Today, we are going to focus exclusively on the Search Network, because it accounts for more than 50% of your Digital Marketing efforts.

Google Search Network

Google AdWords allows you to create and publish text ads that will appear on the first pages of Google after a user has typed in the keywords that you have assigned to your ad.

Let’s go back to the computer shop example. Imagine that your shop sells only HP, Dell, and Apple computers, and you want to set up a campaign for each brand.

In this case HP, Dell, and Apple will be your ad campaigns, and the different categories for each brand will be your ad groups, such as tablets or ultrabooks. Of course, this is only an example, and you can decide for yourself how you want to categorize your services or products.

computer shop

To each specific ad group, such as Ultrabooks, Tablets or MacBook Air, you will assign ideally 5-20 keywords that best describe each product. Later on, you can remove some, modify others, and add new ones, but we are not going to enter into detail here – the goal is to get the general picture. After all, AdWords allows you to make changes to your campaigns in real time, so you can try different ads and see which ones work best.

After you have selected the keywords that best describe your product or service, you assign them to an ad. There are different ways to assign keywords:

  • Broad match – for example, “computers”. When a potential customer types in “computers”, Google will show all the results that contain the keyword “computer”, including synonyms and misspellings – however, it is dangerous because it is too generic, and you might attract the wrong people. After all, you want people who are interested in buying computers to click on your ad, not people who just want to read about computers.

Image result for computer icon

  • Broad modified match – it is almost the same as broad match, but excludes synonyms. So, if a user typed on Google “computers”, he will not receive results that contain the keyword “laptops”, as the search engine excludes synonyms. You assign a broad modified match by adding the (+) sign: +computers

Image result for computers icon

  • Phrase match – the search results must include the phrase that you’ve assigned to your ad. For example, if your keyword is “best laptops“, Google can show results including “best laptops in 2017″, or “tips on buying the best laptops“. Just add quotes (” “) around the term.

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  • Exact match – Google will show only the search results that include the exact keyword, without anything in front of it or behind it. If you assigned the keyword  “best laptops” to your ad, Google will not show “best laptops in 2017”, as it includes more words that you’ve assigned to the ad. Just add brackets [ ] around the term, such as [best laptops].

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  • Negative match – this option allows you to exclude keywords that you don’t want to be associated with your ad. Just add the minus sign (-) before the terms that you want to exclude.

You can make as many ads as you want, as many campaigns as you want, and as many ad groups as you want. You can assign one ad to a whole ad campaign, or ideally a different ad for each group – it is really all up to you. 

This is an example of an ad of the HP Store in Spain, and it appeared after I searched “HP laptops”:

HP ad

Before we move on to the next part, take into account these things:

  • The ads you will see after typing a keyword on Google will also be based on your previous searches and history, so you might see different ads than your friend who used the exact same keyword.
  • Google may not show any ads if it doesn’t consider it appropriate for the keyword that you used;

Basic terms for Search Engine Marketing 

After you start creating ads on Google, you will stumble across a few specific terms that might sound unfamiliar. Let’s decode them:

  • Impressions – the number of times your ad appeared on Google after someone typed in a specific keyword. In this example, I typed in ”keyword tool”, and two ads appeared – so each of them received 1 impression because of my Google search.

keyword tool

  • Clicks – one thing is to see an ad, and another one is to click on it. On the Google Search network, you only pay if someone clicks on your ad – if they saw it but didn’t click, you don’t have to pay.

Image result for click

  • CTR (Click-through rate) – the ratio of clicks/impressions. In other words, if your ad appeared 100 times, and only 10 people clicked on it, your CTR is 10%. The more people click on your ad, the better your CTR becomes – and the less you have to pay per click, because Google considers that your ad matches well with whatever the user is looking for.

Image result for cLICK THROUGH RATE

  • CPM (Cost per Thousand/Mil) – this is a metric that refers only to Google Display Network (you only pay per click on search, remember?). In other words, this is the amount of money that an advertiser is charged per 1000 impressions of his ad.

Image result for google display network

    • Conversion – when the user completes a specific goal on your website, such as downloading a pdf, subscribing to a newsletter, or filling in the registration form.
  • CPL / CPA – (Cost per Lead/Cost per Action) – the amount of money that the advertiser pay when the user completes a goal on the website, or performs a specific action previously defined by the advertiser.

How does Google decide which ads to show and on which position?

Have you noticed how incredibly fast is Google when showing you results? I just typed in the keyword ”adwords bidding”, and I received 476,000 results in 0.37 seconds!

adwords bidding

During these 0.37 seconds, there is a lot that happens behind the scenes that users don’t see. Let’s say that you are looking for cruises in Norway. You go to Google, type in ”cruises Norway”, and get your results almost immediately, in 0.58 seconds.

cruises norway adwords results

During these 0.58 seconds, Google managed to show me 4 different ads from 4 different companies. But how does Google decide which ads to show me, and in what order?

Every time you search for something and type in your keywords, Google runs an auction in order to decide the ads that will appear in the first search results. In this case, my keyword was ”cruises norway”, and because four companies have assigned this keyword to their ads, Google will make them compete between each other based on two factors:

  • Maximum bid – the maximum amount that you are willing to pay per click;
  • Quality score – your ad quality and relevance.

Because Google cares about showing users the highest quality ads for their search term (=keywords), the company willing to pay the highest price per click is not necessarily the one that will appear on the first result.

For this reason, Google decides in which order ads will appear on the first page by calculating the maximum bid and quality of the ad of each company in the auction:

Image result for max bid ad rank

If you are willing to pay a high price, but the quality of your ad is not good, your position will be worse. If your ad quality is amazing, but you are willing to spend much less than the others, your position will be worse as well. In other words, you have to find the balance between your maximum price per click and your ad quality.

What makes for a good quality ad?

A good quality ad consists of three components:

  • CTR (Click-through rate) – it allows users to vote with their clicks for the best ad. After all, they are the ones who decide which one of the ads delivers what they are looking for better than the others. The better your CTR, the better position you will get between the first results! If nobody clicks on your ad, try with a different version or keywords.

Image result for quality score components

    • Relevance – how well does the ad relates to the keywords? In other words, does the ad delivers exactly the information that the user looked for?
  • Landing page – a landing page is literally the page where the user ”landed” when he clicked on the ad. Was it helpful to the user? Did it deliver the information that he wanted to find? A good landing page provides useful and well-structured information, has a neat design, loads fast, and makes website navigation easy for the user.

Image result for landing page

We are almost finished with the basics of Search Engine Marketing! Before you go away, I recommend you to watch this video where the chief economist of Google Hal Varian explains us how the auctions happen. And just a couple of very important things before you go:

    • If your maximum bid was $5 dollars per click, but the advertiser below you will only pay a maximum of $2 dollars, you will not pay $5 dollars for a click. You will only pay just enough to beat the competitor below you.
    • Your ad rank will be your position on the first page (or second in some cases) of Google.
  • If your ad does not have a good quality according to Google, it may decide to not show it at all until you improve it.

I hope you find this post helpful!

See you in the next article, and thanks for reading!


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