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 in order to capture clients in their second home: the Internet. Today, we will explain Search Engine Marketing from beginners’ perspective.
In other words, this means no complicated or fancy Marketing words that will make your head shake!
Search Engine Marketing vs Search Engine Optimization
We all know Google. You know what they say – if something is not on Google, it doesn’t exist. And if you can’t find it on the first pages of the search engine, it doesn’t exist either. 🙂
Of course, I am just kidding. However, what you have to understand it hat Google is a really powerful tool for bringing traffic to your website. And yes, I am conscious that the concept of Search Engine Marketing is applicable to all search engines; but today, the focus will be exclusively on Google.
So, what exactly is Search Engine Marketing?
As I briefly mentioned in my previous post SEO for Beginners, there are two ways to appear on the first pages of Google. One is completely free, and the other one is paid. Let’s see the differences:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is the free way.
So, let’s say that you go to Google and type in “guinea pigs”:
The results that appear without the word “Ad” next to them are the majority of Google’s results. They are also called organic. This means that these pages have been ranked on the top of Google’s search results page because the search engine thinks that they will be the most helpful to you.
You see, the key takeaway is that none of these pages paid absolutely anything to be there. Of course, they probably invested time and even some money to write this content. But they didn’t pay for Google to position them there.
In this case, Google considers that I typed “guinea pigs” because I am looking to learn more about them. So, it took me to a Wikipedia page with information about guinea pigs.
Positioning your content for free
To position on the first pages of Google, you need to do what is called Search Engine Optimization. In other words, it means optimizing your content in a way that Google understands what your content is about.
And not only that, but you need to convince the search engine that your content is more helpful than other results for a specific search.
This process is a long-term commitment and it doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take up to 6 months for well-established websites, and even more for new websites!
You can learn more about optimizing for SEO in this article, but the process generally revolves around two main things:
- Creating a good quality website that provides extremely helpful and relevant content to your audience;
- Getting other websites to talk about you and link to your content.
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.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Fortunately, if you don’t have 6-9 months to wait for your content to give fruit, you can still show up first on Google. And this can happen in the matter of minutes! Yes, you guessed it – the secret is Search Engine Marketing.
Simply put, Search Engine Marketing is advertising on Google with a text ad:
It allows you to place ads among the search results through a bidding system (we will go into more detail in a couple of minutes). This way, if I search for “flights to Sofia”, companies that offer flights to Sofia can pay to show up as a search result so I an purchase the ticket from them.
Compared to SEO, SEM is a short-term way to position higher on a search engine. It is much faster, but you will have to sacrifice some money for it. Well, you wouldn’t think that advertising would be for free, right? 🙂
Search Engine Marketing is an extremely effective tool for getting results with your advertising campaigns. The reason why is because you can show up in the exact moment in which a user is looking to buy something. So, he is actually predisposed to seeing ads.
In comparison, social media ads show up when someone just wants to look at pictures of cats. Or to look funny memes. Aka, at a moment when the user is not at all interested in looking at ads that pop up from everywhere.
The same thing happens with the banner ads that you see everywhere:
You just don’t want to look at them while you are trying to simply watch a video or read an article.
Okay, good! So I just need to chose 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 who are interested in the content of your website. Yes, it’s a long-term process and takes some time to achieve, but it can bring you a lot of high-quality traffic. You can later use this traffic to offer them more content and keep them engaged with your business.
SEM, on another hand, “captures” users who are looking to buy a product like yours at the exact moment of the search. With Search Engine Marketing, you can reach people who are willing to learn more about your best offers.
In other words, you should be working on both strategies to bring a high-volume, high-quality traffic to your website.
Awesome! Now that we clarified that, let’s move on the basics of SEM. 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):
The 3 Steps of the Search Process
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 fit for you.
Investing in a new computer is a lot of money, so it’s time to do some research. And who knows everything about computers? That’s right – Google! Well, maybe not literally, but it shows you the content of people who do know a lot about computers.
So you sit down in front of your current laptop and go to google.com. Here, a few things happen. Depending on how specific you are about what you are looking for, your search process might take up to 3 steps:
Step 1: 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”.
Of course, Google returns you some results. Probably some articles with useful information, or even some shops that sell laptops, such as in the example below:
The problem is, if you only type the word “laptops”, Google has no idea what exactly are you looking for. Do you want to buy a laptop? Maybe you want to sell your old one? Or you are just curious about the latest laptop models with no intention of buying?
The opportunities are endless, so the search engine shows you the results it believes will fit you the best. Maybe it will get your intentions right, maybe it won’t.
If Google doesn’t get your intentions of purchasing a laptop, you decide to refine your search. So, you go to step 2:
Step 2: 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.
The word that you used for your search was too generic, and you need something more specific.
For this reason, you decide to try again with another search.
You are looking for a good, affordable gaming laptop, so you decide to type in “best gaming laptops”. Maybe you even know that you want to buy it from Amazon, so you type “gaming laptop amazon”:
Longer, more refined keywords are called mid-tail keywords. They usually consist of a combination of 2-4 words, depending on the search and the industry. Because they are more specific, they help Google understand your search better.
Now, Google knows that you actually have an intention to purchase. So, it discards other possible results such as learning more about laptops or selling your old laptop, because they are no longer relevant.
Every beginner that wants to dominate Search Engine Marketing should remember one essential word that Google’s search results revolve around: relevance.
It simply means that the algorithm wants to show you the results that are most relevant to your search. Aka the ones that give you the best possible answer for your search. This way, you can quickly find what you are looking for.
Now, let’s say that you read through all the results that Google gave you about “best gaming laptops”, and now you know exactly what laptop you want. Here is when Step 3 comes:
Step 3: Long-tail keywords
At this step, you are getting closer to your next dream computer!
Now that you’ve been reading through multiple articles, you are starting to make up your mind about a specific laptop brand. Let’s say that you’ve decided on an HP. (I am sorry if HP is a bad computer for gaming, I actually have no idea about computers so I am making it up 🙂 )
However, 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. Here is where your search gets even more specific with keywords such as “hp envy 13 inch 8G RAM”, or “hp envy 13 AB002ns Intel”:
Keywords that are this long are called long-tail keywords. Because they are so specific, Google now knows exactly what ads will be the most suitable for your needs.
So, it shows you an ad result from a website where you can go and buy your HP Envy 13 laptop! This post is not sponsored by HP, I just like their laptops.
Wrapping it Up
Congratulations! After a bit more searching, you have finally found your dream computer.
So, you either run happily to the closest store, or buy it online while you are still in your 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.
Some people already know exactly what they want and directly go with long-tail keywords. However, in many cases you start with an idea, and you keep refining your search as you read more and more about it.
As we just saw with an example, we started from a generic search about laptops in general, and ended up looking for very specific models. Of course, people are different and might do their search differently, but this behaviour is very typical for the majority of users.
Knowing these patterns of user behaviour, we can use it to better understand Search Engine Marketing, and develop their Marketing strategy.
Search Engine Marketing from a company’s perspective
Now that we saw how Search Engine Marketing works for users, it is time to see it from a company’s perspective.
Let’s say that you are a company selling gaming laptops, and you want to do some advertising in order to attract more clients. So, you make some text ads to appear in Google search results (don’t worry, we will cover how to do this in detail later):
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.
Otherwise, if someone who just wants to see pictures of laptops clicks on your ad, it will cost you money. And it won’t bring you any revenue because he has no intention of purchasing in the near future.
But how do you filter them from the rest? How do you identify users with an intention to purchase from the ones without?
The answer is: keywords.
You see, your potential customers use keywords such as “best gaming laptops” or “best laptops for under $500” to find information and good offers.
By identifying the keywords that your target audience uses to show an intention to purchase, you can use them to make your ads show up when a user types in one or more of these keywords.
For example, 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 with 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 laptop from you.
Huh, you will say, this sounds complicated! How do I find out what keywords are the best to include in my ad?
I am glad you asked! Let’s find out:
Before you start making any ads on Google, you will need to make a proper keyword research.
This simply means that you will be researching the keywords that your target audience might use to look for products or services like yours. I say “might use” because after all, you can’t read people’s minds, and there isn’t a formula that works 100% every single time.
The keyword research itself is not complicated. Let’s see how it goes:
Step 1: Open a Keyword Research tool
First, you will need a keyword research tool. If you already have a Google Ads account, there is a tool that’s completely free to use called the Keyword Planner. If you don’t have an account yet, you can open any of these free keyword research tools.
Later on, you can always upgrade to a paid tool such as KWFinder.
Now that you have your tool open, it is time to do some research. In this example, we will see how I do it with the Keyword Planner; because it will probably be the tool that you will mostly use when starting with Google Ads.
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.
Step 2: Decide your keyword strategy
With your tool in front of you, start thinking from a customer’s perspective.
If I was a person looking for a new laptop, what keywords would I use? How would I search on Google? With this in mind, start typing the first keywords that come to your mind.
This step is important because you will need to find keywords that:
Are related to your business and products
For example, if you don’t sell gaming laptops, you don’t want your ads to show up for people looking for gaming laptops. After all, you will not be able to offer the product that the user is looking for, he is not going to be satisfied, and you are going to waste your money.
Have enough volume
You want keywords with enough monthly searches that people actually use to look for a product on Google.
Low to medium competition
If your budget is limited, you should strive for keywords with low to medium competition. Google Ads shows you the usual competition for a specific keyword in a specific country.
If the competition is too high, as in the example below, the cost of people clicking on your ad will probably be high as well:
Step 3: Building a Keyword List
Obviously, each company, services, sector and industry are very unique. For this reason, there isn’t a single magic formula or a recipe that will guarantee you the best keywords every time.
Which is fine! Trying out different keywords and seeing which ones work the best for you is a continuous optimization process. The important thing to remember is that you should avoid generic, short-tail keywords such as “laptops” or “cats”.
Unless you want to waste your money on people with no intention to purchase.
Now that you’ve decided which keywords seem the most suitable for your products, you can wrap them up into a list. There are many ways to do that.
I usually open an Excel file and group them by topic, product, or anything else that they might have in common. Once you’ve built your keyword list, you can add them to your Google search ads later.
You can click here to learn more about building a keyword list.
Search Engine Marketing with Google Ads
Google Ads is an online advertising platform 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.
Google Display Network
This network allows you to showcase products in rich media formats such as images and videos. With Google Display, you can show your ads on all websites that partner with Google, such as YouTube, Blogger, Forbes, and even Gmail. But there are thousands more!
However, the Google Display Network is a whole different topic that we are not going to cover today. If you want to learn more about it, click here.
Google Search Network
The Google Search Network allows you to set up text ads on Google via keywords, and get displayed on the top of search results.
As you can see below, the first result that appears when I type in “best hp offers” is an ad. However, the the second result is coming from Search Engine Optimization efforts, so it is not an ad.
Today, we are going to focus exclusively on the Search Network.
Starting with Google Search ads
Google Ads 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.
To give you a simplified example (although not quite realistic), imagine that your shop sells only HP, Dell, and Apple laptops. And you want to set up a campaign for each brand.
Obviously, you want to sell HP laptops to people looking for HP laptops, Dell to users searching for Dell, and so on.
To do what, you will make a specific campaign for each brand:
- HP campaign;
- Dell campaign;
- Apple campaign;
This way, you can insert all your HP-related keywords into your HP campaign. And of course, you will do the same for Dell and Apple.
In the Google Ads platform, your campaigns will look something like that:
Let’s say that you also sell HP tablets, ultrabooks, and gaming laptops.
In your HP campaign, you want to create three separate groups for each product. One group for Ultrabooks, one for Tablets, and one for Gaming laptops.
Now, you can associate a keyword such as “hp tablet” to the ad group “Tablets”, and the keyword “hp gaming laptop” to the ad group “Gaming”. This way, you make sure that your keywords are grouped in a way that you match the right audience with the right product.
Ideally, you should assign 5-20 keywords that best describe each product. Later on, you can remove some, modify others, and add new ones in the matter of seconds.
Remember the keyword list that we built? It is time to add it to your ad groups:
In this example, I am adding keywords related to HP gaming to the ad group Gaming.
So, the hierarchy will look something like this:
- Campaign: HP Laptops
- Ad Group: Gaming
- Keywords: hp gaming laptops, hp gaming computers, etc.
- Ad Group: Gaming
Obviously, this is just a very simplified example. I don’t even own a shop! 🙂
In reality, you will probably have many more campaigns and ad groups depending on your products and services. The idea is to group your keywords in a way that makes sense for your business. And of course, in a way that reaches the right audience with the right keywords.
We already explained the different types of keywords and how to make a keyword list.
However, it is also important to understand that there are different ways to assign keywords to your ads. These are specific rules that you give to Google to explain how and in what context you want your ads to show up.
Broad match is an option that allows your ad to show up for a specific keyword, but also variations of it, and other related topics.
Let’s take the word “laptops”. When a potential customer types in “laptops”, Google will show all the results that contain the keyword “laptop”, including synonyms and misspellings.
It can also show similar phrases, close variations of the keyword, and other related searches, such as “computers” or even “electronic devices”:
In my case, it even shows me result in Spanish although my keyword is in English!
This rule can be a little bit 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.
To place a keyword in a broad match, there is no specific rule, you just leave it as it is:
Broad modified match
This rule is almost the same as the 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 in front of the keyword:
The search results must include the phrase that you’ve assigned to your ad. For example, if your keyword is “best laptops” with a phrase match, Google can show results such as “best laptops in 2017″, or “tips on buying the best laptops“.
In other words, Google can show results with other words behind or in front of your keyword, but it must include the phrase somewhere in between.
To assign a phase match to a keyword, just add quotes (” “) around the term.
With this rule, Google will show only the search results that include the exact keyword and nothing else. It won’t have any other words in front of or behind it.
If you assigned the keyword “best laptops” to your ad in an exact match, Google will not show “best laptops in 2019”, as it includes more words that you’ve assigned to the ad. It will only show your ad when a user types the exact term “best laptops”.
To use this rule, just add brackets [ ] around the term, for example [best laptops].
This option allows you to exclude keywords that you don’t want to be associated with your ad.
For example, if you are selling an expensive high-end product such as an email software, you can exclude “free email software” from your keyword list. This way, when someone types in “free email software”, your ad won’t show up for it.
You can learn more about negative keywords and how to build your negative keyword list here.
In Google, you will be able to add negative keywords to an ad group from the tab next to Search Keywords:
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!
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; or if it considers that you are not likely to purchase from an ad.
Text ads are the most important component of your Search Engine Marketing.
After all, you can’t do much without them on Google!
I am sorry about the example is in Bulgarian, but the only account that I am currently running in English is strictly confidential. In any case, the image is just illustrational.
I highly recommend that you write at least 3 text ads to run at the same time. This way, you can test them and see which one performed the best. You should be constantly running different versions to improve your performance!
You should also include your main keyword and/or closely related keywords within the ad.
This way, you increase your chances of getting your ad clicked on. And for Google, that means that your ad is highly relevant for the user!
You also have a limited number of characters for your text ad. For expanded text ads, which are the most popular format at the moment, you have space for:
- A maximum of two descriptions with up to 90 characters each – in total, 180 characters;
- Up to three headlines, each with a maximum of 30 characters; in total, 90 characters;
Extensions are little snippets and links that provide additional information to the user.
They don’t take up the space that you have for your ads and headlines. They have their own space. However, just because you’ve configured them to show up doesn’t mean that they will.
Google decides when and which ad extensions will show up (if any) for every specific search.
You can learn more about ad extensions in my Complete Guide to Google Ads Extensions.
Basic terms for Search Engine Marketing
Before I explain how companies compete for their ads to show up on top, I need to explain some terms that you will stumble across on the way. Let’s decode them:
This is the number of times that 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.
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.
CTR (Click-through rate)
This is the ratio of clicks to 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 was looking for.
A conversion is counted 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.
Conversions are different for every business, so it is up to you to decide and configure what action do you want to count as a conversion.
CPL / CPA – (Cost per Lead/Cost per Action)
This term refers to the amount of money that you will pay as an advertiser when the user completes a goal on your website. Or performs any other specific action previously defined by you as a conversion.
Google’s Ad Bidding System
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!
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.
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 three factors:
- Maximum bid – the maximum amount that you are willing to pay per click;
- Quality score – your ad quality and relevance;
- Ad Extensions – the impact that your ad extensions have on the user;
By taking into account these three factors, Google decides the rank for every ad every time a user makes a search.
As we just mentioned, the maximum bid is the highest amount that you are willing to pay for a single click.
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, the quality of the ad of each company in the auction, and the impact of its extensions:
Image credit: verticalrail.com
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.
These are the things that you will need to take into account:
- 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 also recommend you to watch this video where the chief economist of Google Hal Varian explains us how the auctions happen.
A good quality ad consists of three components: expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience. You can find much more in detail how to increase quality score on Google ads here.
For now, let’s make a quick recap here:
Expected CTR (Click-through rate)
Google 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 combination of ads and keywords.
The Expected Click-through rate measures the likelihood for a user to click on your ad after seeing it for his search term. This likelihood will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- How well your keyword performed in the past;
- The type of device that the person is using;
- And the search terms that lead to your ad.
Ad relevance measures how relevant and useful your ad was for the user. During the real-time bidding, Google’s algorithms check which ads related the best to the search term of the user.
If the keyword associated with your ad matches closely the search term of the user, Google considers your ad as relevant. The search engine also takes into account any support keywords that are included in your ad and provide additional information about the topic:
A landing page is literally the page where the user ”lands” when he clicks 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.
You can learn more about how to improve your landing page and make it relevant to the user in my article 21 Ways to Reduce Bounce Rate.
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who arrive on your page after clicking on your ad, and leave without any interaction with your website. For Google, this means that your landing page wasn’t helpful for this user. So you definitely need to check the article to improve your bounce rate!
Together with Quality Score and Maximum bid, ad extensions are a another key component when Google decides your ad rank (aka your position on search results).
They can be really helpful to the user as they provide additional information about a specific search term. You can learn everything about ad extensions and their benefits here.
That was all for today! I hope you enjoyed my article on Search Engine Marketing, and I truly hope that it was helpful. It was a long one, so thank you for taking the time to read it!
Now that you’ve made your first steps with the theory behind Search Engine Marketing, it is time to put your knowledge into practice. And remember, your work doesn’t end with the initial configuration.
Search Engine Marketing, and any sort of Marketing in general, requires a constant observation and optimization of your ads’ performance. Don’t just let your ads do their own thing!
And of course, if you have any questions about it, I will be more than happy to help!
See you in the next one!