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Search engine marketing 101

Example of SEM keyword ad

From the desk of a data storyteller: Part II

Since beginning my internship with PartnersCreative, I keep getting asked what I do at the agency. My typical response of, “I help monitor and optimize SEM campaigns,” is often met with a blank expression. When “What is SEM?” follows my statement I now respond, “Those little blocks of text labeled ‘ad’ that appear at the top and sometimes bottom of a Google search results page.” A look of “Aha!” then typically surfaces on my conversation counterpart’s face. Quite succinct and quite effective.

This is generally enough to convey the idea of SEM and begin a conversation. But (of course!) there is actually much more going on behind the scenes to make those few lines of text appear when and where they do. Stay with me to go beyond my short verbal definition and learn the purpose of SEM campaigns and the general structure use.

At its core, search engine marketing, also known as “paid search advertising,” attempts to match an audience seeking information on how to resolve a problem with an advertiser offering a potentially relevant solution.

The ads appear alongside organic or nonpaid search results in order to appear more natural to the viewer and directly promote a product or service. Should viewers click the ad, they are taken to the advertiser’s website — preferably to the exact page they are interested in based on the ad. Once they arrive at the website, they often are presented with an option(s) to complete some form of conversion (buy, subscribe, download a white paper, etc.). Tracking these conversions or user activity helps the advertiser determine the efficacy of its SEM campaign.

When a marketer / advertiser engages in SEM through Google AdWords, the marketer essentially bids on ad location on a search engine’s results page based on a set budget dollar and keywords selection. The advertiser selects these keywords based on its belief that these terms represent both the product or service promoted and the terms potential customers are likely to enter into a search query. (In other words, keywords are best guesses at how you would type in your search question. And, some keywords are more expensive than others.)

These keywords are collected into ad groups based on their subjects and the ads that will display. An important factor is that any keyword in a particular ad group can cause any ad in that group to be displayed. This makes condensing ad groups to only relevant terms especially important as an ad promoting a sale on ladies’ high heels is likely not well received by someone searching Google for baseball cleats — it would be best if that consumer saw an ad promoting sports shoes.

Furthermore, each different ad group can lead to a different page on the advertiser’s website and can contain different sets of ads. So, when keywords are appropriately aligned among ad groups the ads for high heels lead to the advertiser’s webpage specific to women’s shoes while the sports shoe ads go to the advertiser’s webpage specific to sports cleats, or at least to athletic shoes and equipment.

The campaign is the level above ad groups. (Advertiser > campaign(s) > ad groups > keyword groups > keywords.) All active AdWords accounts have at least one campaign but sometimes more based on factors such as geographic targeting. At this point in AdWords’ development, the targeted geographic location can differ between campaigns within an advertiser’s account but not between ad groups in a single campaign.

Many settings within AdWords are determined at campaign level, such as the daily budget of how much the advertiser will spend on the SEM campaign, targeted geographic locations, and the dates and times within each day that the ads run. Oh, budget — when enough users click on the ads to max out the advertiser-set daily budget, the browser stops posting the ads until the next day’s cycle.

All of these parts work together — with a touch of Google magic — to determine if and then where, an SEM ad appears on a search engine’s results page. For that reason, how an SEM campaign is structured remains vital in determining campaign performance.

Stay tuned, more information on SEM to come.