Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

What is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the practice of buying ads on search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, etc.) or websites that are part of their advertising network (Google Display, Amazon Ads, etc.).

There are 3 main types of ad purchases:

  1. Keywords on search engines (Search)
  2. Display banners on websites (Display)
  3. Video ads on YouTube

1. Buying keywords on search engines (Search)

Purchasing keywords is a way to ensure your brand, product or service is present on search engines.

Typically, they show up as text ads, similar to organic search results, where the cost is determined by the clicks obtained (cost per click, or CPC).

Keywords can also appear directly on Google Maps, which is sometimes displayed in local searches (for “pizza restaurant Old Montreal,” for example).

Finally, you can purchase keywords to appear as shopping-type ads,which display products and their prices directly in search engines. This type of campaign can be highly effective e-commerce sites.

How to appear in the first search results

When you make a query on a search engine, the first results at the top of the page are usually ads (paid results) and this placement is highly coveted.

Percentage of clicks on the first page of search results

At least 75 percent of clicks happen on the first page of search results! Around 33 percent of these clicks will be on the first ranking in the organic results, 15 percent on the second and 9 percent on the third. Talk about a prized position!

No matter how much hard work you put into SEO to improve your search engine ranking, paid results often appear far ahead of organic results. To stand out from the competition, a combined SEM-SEO approach is key. Your competitors will always get better visibility if they buy paid advertising and you don’t.

To claim that prime position, you need to buy keywords. These keywords are determined during the initial strategic planning stage, when we use specialized keyword analysis tools to identify the best SEM opportunities.

Things to think about when creating a list of keywords

The top two criteria to consider are search volume and competition.

What are you trying to achieve? A high search volume with as little competition as possible. We call this an SEM opportunity.

What you don’t necessarily want? The highest volume.

Why? If the competition is too high, it’s best to focus your efforts on keywords that can lead to better performance.

It’s hard to land a position on the first page of results for a generic search like “coat” when you’re competing with major brands like Amazon or even popular local companies like Simons. In this case, it’s better to invest in more precise keywords like “winter coat vegan fabric.” It will generate less volume but also less competition, which translates into much higher conversion potential.

2. Purchasing banners on websites (Display)

Online display advertising is a tool that allows you to present banners, animated visuals (motion design) or videos on websites and other web platforms.

How does it work? We buy a specific placement on one or more websites where your target audience spends time. We target based on the following criteria:

  • Audience
  • Subject of the website
  • Placement
  • Geographic location
  • Demographics
  • Etc.

We call this a programmatic approach.

What does programmatic mean?

In display advertising, the programmatic determines which ad will be shown to who and in which location on the site. The choice is based on a myriad of automatically evaluated criteria.

You know those ads that follow you everywhere online? That’s programmatic retargeting at work! The mechanics are simple. A person goes to a website to buy a winter coat. They add it to their cart but leave the site without completing the purchase. When this happens, we can tell the out-of-home network to retarget that person and offer them a 20 percent discount on their purchase. We call this remarketing.

Since programmatic retargeting is highly precise and performed in real time, we can optimize the advertising budget to obtain a better return on investment with this type of campaign. The key is optimization, and that’s where we come in! ;-).

3. Purchasing ads on YouTube (videos)

YouTube is a prime channel to boost your brand’s notoriety. It is the preferred social network of Canadians (84 percent), and 80 percent of consumers watch videos on YouTube before purchasing a product. With this advertising approach, brands generally only pay for video views.

Similar to out-of-home advertising, YouTube ads can be targeted by:

  • Subject (type of video)
  • Precise online location (specific channel)
  • Geographic location
  • Demographics

The format of the video depends on the type of advertising you’re going for.

  • bumper ads are short ads (6 seconds max.) that users can’t skip. These ads can be played before, during or after other videos. Their short format makes them an effective tool for users who mainly use mobile devices.
  • Non-skippableads are played at the start, middle or end of a video playback. They can last up to 15 seconds and must be viewed before the selected video can be played.
  • Non-skippable ads hat can be turned off also play at the beginning, middle or end of a video. The user can deactivate this type of ad for up to 30 seconds after five seconds of viewing.

Why do you need it?

Don’t pop up on the first page of search results? Can’t find your ad on the website you want?

SEM is all about being seen by the right people, at the right place and at the right time.

When it comes to getting noticed where it counts, several factors come into play.

We don’t have an infinite number of places to display ads online. And if two brands are targeting the same audience, which one wins out?

The answer is based on the law of supply and demand, which is managed by a bidding system that determines who displays what and where. To simplify this complex bidding system, we use the following equation:

Ad location = bid placed x site quality score

To win big, you need both a good bid and a high quality score. For example, a website that has a higher quality score can win with a lower bid than its competitor. That’s why organic search engine optimization (SEO) is so important. And that’s why we always recommend our clients perform an SEO audit (SEO analysis) of the website before launching SEM campaigns.

How to stand out on the web

Building an integrated online presence that sets you apart from the competition takes:

  1. An SEO strategy
  2. An SEM advertising strategy
  3. A social networking strategy

When it comes to succeeding on search engines and with visual banner ads, determining the right bid is a must. If the bid is too low, your ad could end up on less relevant sites so they never reach your target audience. Since targeting criteria is pretty much infinite, it takes a team of specialists to think about, configure and optimize the campaign to deliver the expected results.

Where to start?

As with any marketing strategy, the first step is to figure out which type of marketing is most effective for you. If you have a limited budget, for example, you can focus your investment on buying keywords and display banners to get more conversions in the short term. We always analyze consumer buying behaviour to determine which approach will generate the best return on investment based on the web marketing budget.

If you already have campaigns underway, we start with an SEM audit. We analyze existing results to identify winning opportunities.

If you don’t already have a campaign in place, we determine the objectives, budget, target audiences, display platforms, types of campaigns and keywords to use for search engine ads. We select the most relevant keywords based on opportunities and search trends. Then we design the ads with our creative team and schedule the campaigns.

Launching campaigns online is just the beginning. We track the results on a regular basis to optimize each and every one of them. We invest more budget on the best performing campaigns and modify the content, dropping those that don’t deliver the expected results. We monitor, measure and analyze each campaign to generate the best return on investment.

Wait, you can advertise on Amazon?

While Google is still the kingpin of search engines, Amazon is gaining ground every day.