Is SEM a part of your content marketing strategy? It should be
SEM, or search engine marketing, is the science of using paid advertising to increase your chance of ranking in key search terms. It’s a vital cog in the acronym-packed machine of digital marketing, and an extremely important ally to content marketing.
So that’s what we’re going to cover in today’s article. By the end of the piece we will have answered four vital questions (and then some):
- What is SEM?
- How much is it going to cost you?
- How does it fit into your content marketing strategy?
- What tools do you need?
Right. Let’s crack our knuckles and get stuck in.
Part 1: What is SEM?
As mentioned, SEM is where you pay to rank in search. It involves promoting key pages on your website through the use of services such as Google Ads in order for your name to appear at the top of relevant search engine results pages, or SERPs for short.
It’s not as easy as we’ve just made it sound, though. You’re going to have to do a lot of research and behind-the-scenes optimising in order to increase the cost-efficiency of your ads. Ranking in search is a tasty pie, and everyone else wants a slice too. This makes competition fierce.
Commonly used SEM platforms
The two most common paid search ad platforms are Google Ads and Bing Ads. In some areas, Yahoo is also popular.
However, in Australasia specifically, anyone other than Google may as well not exist. According to data from StatCounter, Google has approximately 95% market share in our region. Bing is the next-closest, although when we say ‘close’ we mean ‘distance between the Sun and Earth’ close. They have about 3.6% market share. Yahoo, third, has less than 1%. Well, technically DuckDuckGo is third, but the company syndicates its ads through Yahoo so we haven’t counted it here.
How do paid search ads work?
You ever been to an auction? Well, now you sort of know how SEM ads work.
When you create a new ad, you set a total budget and then how much money you wish to ‘bid’. This will commonly be charged on a per-click basis, which is why paid ads are often given the name PPC advertising, or ‘pay-per-click’.
The ad platform, using Google as our example, will then take this bidding information and compare it to the quality of your ad itself. Google will perceive your ad as being of higher quality if it is more relevant to the audience. Quality is then measured on a scale of one to 10, called the Relevance Score.
Quality and bid are used to rank ads against each other on the applicable SERPs.
So highest bidder wins?
If two ads are created equal, chances are yes – the highest bidder will win. But, if you spend a ton of money and your ad is of poor quality, someone who bids less may still outrank you. Having higher quality increases the cost-efficiency of your ads.
Ad quality and bid amount are used to rank ads against each other on their applicable SERPs.
To share a comparison from AdEspresso: If the average cost-per-click (CPC) of an ad marked with Relevance Score of 1 is between $0.90-$1.00, the average CPC of an ad marked with Relevance 10 is less than $0.10.
What is a ‘poor-quality’ ad?
Basically if the ad copy and landing page either don’t match each other or don’t suit the target audience, they may be given a low Relevance Score. So for example, if your ad copy offers one thing but your landing page offers another, Google will be like, “Uh uh, something isn’t right here,” and could mark you down.
How do I appear in the ‘relevant SERPs’?
Largely it’s a keywords game. Keywords and audience demographics. You’ll run your ad on a set of keywords that you feel are relevant to your advertised page, and then tell Google which users are the people you want to target.
Google will then use this data to figure out where best to serve your ad based on what people are searching. If other businesses are trying to go for the same keywords/users, your bid and quality score will help sort you.
SEM vs. SEO
It’s easy to confuse SEO and SEM, especially as, once upon a time, SEO and SEM were often considered part of the same acronym. However, these days there’s a distinct difference.
…the process of optimising a website and its content to rank highly in organic search. Basically, SEO helps Google crawl your website, understand it, and place it where it should be in search. It’s quite technical and takes a long time to get going, but can be cost effective over a long period of time.
SEO includes such strategies as:
- Incorporating keywords naturally into content.
- Optimising web page load speeds and formatting for mobile.
- Regularly releasing content.
- Strengthening your link profile.
Skipping many of those tactics by paying for results. It gets you a short-term traffic boost, but as soon as you turn off the ad, the traffic stops flowing.
SEM vs. content marketing
SEM is a totally different strategy to content marketing, but they should not be seen as opposing options. As we’ve alluded to above and will summarise below, they should be seen as allies.
SEM and content marketing may be different, but they should not be seen as opposing options - they are allies.
Content marketing is…
…the act of producing content of various types in order to educate, inform or entertain an audience. It is increasingly common that content marketing is used as an educational tool for businesses to build their authority in a specific area, becoming synonymous with that field and building trust with users. Content can also be used to buff SEO and brand awareness.
Content types include (but are very much not limited to):
- E-books and whitepapers.
- Graphics, such as infographics.
…your means to get that content out into the search world and yield short-term results.
How much does SEM cost?
You’ll hate this answer but … how long is a piece of string? Or in other words, what do you want to spend?
Your budget is entirely up to you. So long as you’ve optimised your keywords and audience, and produced a highly relevant ad, you’ll get at least some results no matter what you spend (they just might not be great). That said, we won’t leave you without at least some data to go off, so here we go:
Some Google Ads data
The average CPC across US-based industries on Google Ads is about $2.69, found Wordstream. The most expensive industries are legal and consumer services ($6.75 and $6.40 respectively), while the least expensive are e-commerce and advocacy ($1.16 and $1.43).
The average CPC across US-based industries on Google Ads is about $2.69.
The average conversion rate of these ads is about 3.75%, across industries. This is highest in the dating & personals and legal categories (9.64% and 6.98%), and lowest in advocacy and real estate (1.96% and 2.47%).
According to Wordstream, Australia is about 5% less expensive per-click than the US, and NZ is about 14% less.
- Key takeaway: If you can guess how many users you’d like to convert, you can extrapolate that to how many clicks you need and, thus, how high your budget will have to be for keywords in your industry.
So do I need SEM, SEO or content marketing?
It kinda sounds like SEM is your cheat sheet to results, right? Paying for short-term rankings instead of earning them over a period of time. Well, while this is definitely true, it’s not the whole picture.
SEO is your way to appear in organic search results, the links of which users are far more likely to click on – at a margin of 94% to 6% (6% here being ads), according to GroupM UK/Nielsen data. SEO is also more cost-effective over time.
- The final answer: Really, you need all three. Content forms your bedrock. SEO earns you long-term, passive traffic. SEM gives you a short-term boost on key campaigns..
Part 2: A list of useful SEM tools
Google Ads tools
In Australasia, Google Ads is going to be your primary source of paid traffic. There are three free Google tools that can help you when you’re using this platform:
- Keyword Planner: This tool gives you keyword ideas, helps you see search volumes for important terms and forecasts how certain words might perform in future.
- Google Ads Editor: Editor lets you edit your ads and make bulk changes – even offline.
- Google Analytics: Google Ads has its own data built in, but Google Analytics will help you go much deeper.
Additional strategic tools
- Ahrefs: Ahrefs analyses your competition and helps you understand why they rank so highly. It can report on their keywords, content and backlinks, and track competitors in real time.
- SEMrush: SEMrush has a number of useful SEM tools, including keyword research, competitor analysis, and more. It also has SEO, PR and social media functions to provide insight into other areas of your overall digital marketing strategy.
- Unbounce: For a little help building a good page for new users, try Unbounce. It has an easy-to-use drag-and-drop landing page building tool that even beginners should be able to pick up.
Part 3: Best types of content for SEM
PPC landing pages
This is a page where users land specifically to convert in some fashion. At the top of the marketing funnel they might want to download an informational guide; in the middle of the funnel they could be interested more in your specific services (and how they could help); and at the bottom of the funnel you’re capturing actual sales.
Your PPC landing page should have compelling copy that entices a clear goal, and smart navigation so the goal is achievable without hassle or confusion.
E-books or whitepapers
E-books and whitepapers are downloadable guides that pack a ton of useful information into a single PDF. Both should be put together by a graphic designer to improve professionalism and memorability.
E-books and whitepapers are downloadable guides that pack a ton of useful information into a single PDF.
These assets are critical in a lot of content strategies. They are excellent lead generators, and the sheer weight and helpfulness of them shines your business in a very authoritative light.
Infographics are like e-books and whitepapers except simplified. They are designed to pack an incredible amount of dense information into a digestible format, with limited text and heavy use of imagery. Basically, you want the reader to consume a lot of knowledge at just a glance.
One of the reasons infographics are so popular is they are an easy sell. The user gets the information they seek but doesn’t have to read 60 pages to get it.
Cornerstone content is the best of your website. These are your long-form blog articles that pack the most depth, answer the most questions and rank the highest on search. They have a heavy focus on education and not so much on sales, and form the anchor to your wider content strategy – you will write multiple spin-off pieces based on this cornerstone content, all of which link back to the main page (and Google loves itself some links).
Cornerstone content can also be in the form of landing pages.