Google Adwords, Paid Search, Search Engine Marketing

Why SEM Is More Important Than You Think

The days are getting colder and the nights are getting longer, which means that ski season is approaching! I don’t know about you but I am super stoked for this season for two reasons; one, this year will mark 4 years since I started skiing and I finally feel like I am an intermediate skier, and two, I’ve heard rumors that we are supposed to get a lot of snow this year.

Today I was searching for new skis (I’ve kind of outgrown my other ones) and I noticed a few interesting things during the process.

I started off my search by googling, “womens skis.” As you can see the first four ads that appeared in this search are paid advertisements (these businesses invested in paid search).

Paid search, also known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, is the method of biding on keywords in order appear first in search engine page results (SEPRs).

Why do these businesses need to pay for ads?

Even though they don’t necessarily need paid search to appear high in SERPs, paid search comes in handy if a business is struggling to get high visibly in SERPs.

These paid ads are designed to target people who are going to click on the ad and perform a conversion, either by purchasing something or by completing a desired action.

To attract the right audience for their business, business’s select keywords then create specifically designed ads and landing pages for each of those keywords. Once a user clicks on the ad they will be directed to a landing page that goes into more detail about the ad/offer.

For example, in my search for “womens skis,” the first ad that appeared was for This is where the ad took me when I clicked on it:

This landing page is directly related to the keywords that I used in my search and it is related to the ad that was promoting.

The search engine will display the ads that businesses create to direct viewers to their site (like the one above), and the fee they pay will be based on either clicks or views of these ads.

Since I clicked on this ad, will have to pay a certain amount of money for it.

Google uses an auction style bidding system to charge businesses for certain keywords. In order to appear first for that keyword, each business has to bid against each other.

You should remember that what a business pays during the bidding process and what they pay-per-click are two different things. This excerpt from The Beginners Guide to Paid Search by Hubspot explains the difference well.

“Now, these (the bids) are not the prices you actually pay for each click. Instead, the lowest of these bids is used as the price for the least valuable (least visible) spot on the results page, and then each spot going up in value (more visible placements) is priced at an incremental dollar value higher (we’ll use a $.05 incremental bid for this example). So in this case, the top bidder ends up paying only $2.50 per click, even though they bid at $5.00.”

Aside from the bidding, Google uses a quality score algorithm to rank the paid ads. They do this in order to provide searchers with an optimal user experience. The quality score takes two components into account;

  • How closely the keyword relates to the ad
  • How closely the ad relates to the landing page content

Google scans landing pages to make sure that businesses are not just buying keywords and directing searchers to unrelated pages. (Basically, Google is protecting its reputation by sending people to relevant pages).

Now that you know have a little background information about how search engine marketing works. Here are a few do’s and don’ts of paid search.


Do Keyword Research: Paid search requires you to bid on keywords in order for your ad to appear in relevant searches. In order to get the best exposure, it is important to choose and bid on keywords that are the most relevant to your business. The best way to do this is by conducting keyword research. To do this, use a reporting system, like Google Analytics, to see which keywords are already driving people to your website. You can also use the Google Adwords Planner to help you choose keywords.

Do A/B Testing: Test to see exactly which keywords, ads and landing page combinations work best for converting a visitor into a lead. A/B testing allows you to create two versions of an ad and run then side-by-side. You can track the performance of both the ads and then keep whichever one performs the best. Knowing which combination is most successful will help you maximize your budget.

Do Create Engaging Ads: Design ads that will attract your target audience. Quality ad copy combined with well-researched keywords can ensure that the people clicking on your ads are genuinely interested in what you are offering.

Do Engage in Geo-Targeting: Geo-targeting limits the areas where your ad appears. You can do this by setting up a radius around your business or by entering in a specific location. This is an easy way to weed out irrelevant traffic.


Don’t Use Broad Keywords: Broad keywords come with a very high level of competition and will require you to spend more money on them during the bidding process. Since so many businesses use board keywords, it is very hard to have a successful SEM campaign built around those terms.

Don’t Direct People to Your Homepage: When a user clicks on your ad they are expecting to be taken to a page that is relevant to the ad or offer. If they are brought to a page that has nothing to do with the ad they are not likely stay on your page and you will end up paying for a click that didn’t end in a conversion. Your ad campaign should link to a landing page that was built for that specific keyword.

Don’t Only Do Paid Search: Paid search should not be a replacement for your current search engine optimization strategy, but should be used to compliment the other strategies that you have in place.

Don’t Try to Attract Everyone: Focus on attracting people that will be most likely to perform a conversion on your page. Since most paid search ads are pay-per-click, you may end up spending a lot of money on the ad without any of the benefits that you would receive from attracting the right audience.

Let’s look at an example of a company that has used paid search effectively.

I found this very interesting case study on one of my favorite outdoor clothing brands;Arc’teryx.

Arc’teryx produces very high quality clothing for outdoor activities and sports. The clothing performs extremely well under harsh conditions and is ideal for snow sports or winter hiking.

Looking to expand their business, Arc’teryx hired a company called Thrive Digital to improve its digital marketing. They focused on investing in their paid social, paid search and remarking campaigns.

Their goals were to optimize performance marketing channels, seek out new channels and audiences, and to support internal teams and organizational stakeholders on planning all digital marketing initiatives.

Here’s what happened; Arc’teryx’s paid revenue increased 4.3 times, new website visitors from paid increased 4.9 times and paid ROI increase by 29%. I would say that that was a pretty successful campaign.

Examples of their paid Social Ads:

Arc’teryx holds the first position in the paid ad section (they also hold the first position in the organic section). Aso, their products appear in the shopping section (this was a main focus in their campaign).

This ad is saying that it’ll take you to two places; one the Arc’teryx online store, and two, to the fall 2016 collection.

When you click on their ad it takes you to this page. This landing page corresponds directly with the ad because it shows you their fall 2016 collection and is also where you can make a purchase. It shows you exactly what you, as the visitor, were expecting to see.

Paid search is an important tool to have in your digital marketing toolbox and can be extremely beneficial for businesses who need help in increasing their search engine page results. Having good visibility is vital to attracting new visitors to your website and should be considered a must have addition to your SEM strategy.

Supplemental Articles:

What Is SEM & Paid Search Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing: What It Is & How to Do It Right

5 Key Metrics to Measure Success of Paid Search Campaigns


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