Tips for Running an Effective SEM Campaign

I love search, but I don’t like every search ad out there.

You may find it surprising for a search practitioner like me to speak against the use of search ads in every single campaign. While I strongly agree that SEM is an excellent, cost-effective channel to drive awareness and capture demand, I feel heartache every time a marketer complains to me that their search campaigns fail to meet their campaign objectives or their search campaigns end up having a higher CPC or CPA than display ad or even offline campaigns.

In the past couple of years, search has successfully become a household name for every marketer. Every marketer believes that search has a role to play in their media plan and almost unanimously agrees to run search ads for every campaign. It has become a practice that no matter what their KPIs or goals are, paid search ads have to be there. The ease of placing search ads on search engines, coupled with the low cost of entry, make search the number one choice for advertisers of all sizes. However, not every marketer will holistically evaluate the role of search ads in each campaign.

If you remember the dot com boom era in late 1990s, display banner ads were the king. Pop-up, pop-under, interstitial ads… ads were everywhere when you visited a website. Every start-up was hoping to monetise their website traffic by placing as many ads as possible on their sites. Soon, the frenzy frizzled out because advertisers started noticing the ineffectiveness of some of their online ads. The reason couldn’t be simpler. Internet users did not want to be interrupted or distracted by ads that were not relevant to them. Shortly after the dot com bubble, the ad networks that survived were busy developing techniques to serve more relevant ads through demographic targeting, behavioural targeting, and contextual targeting. This new wave of targeting techniques helped improve the relevancy of display ads to end-users and led to the recent resurgence of display ads.

The biggest problem facing search advertisers nowadays is to identify the intent of each search. Unfortunately, for search ads, there is no demographic or behaviour targeting for advertisers to choose from, let alone targeting by intent. Search engines typically provide a number of targeting options including language, network, location, and ad scheduling. For mobile search ads, advertisers can target by devices and mobile carriers. The goal should be to create a search campaign, which filters out all the undesired ‘noise’ and maintain a favourable share of voice.

To help stay as relevant to the end users as possible, advertisers need to evaluate the state of mind when users perform searches. Using search ads to drive traffic to social media platforms may not be the most ideal approach. You are more likely to achieve your KPIs such as increasing video views or Facebook ‘likes’ by serving ads directly in the same platform as where the desired action takes place. Using search ads to acquire Facebook fans or drive YouTube video views will end up being a lot pricier than buying Facebook Social Ads or running YouTube Promoted Videos directly. Needless to say, users are less likely to consume social media or video content when there is a platform switch. Advertisers can get more direct results by using social ads to target users who are not yet their Facebook fans. Running YouTube Promoted Video ads to show videos in YouTube search results or through contextual targeting is another way to drive up video views in a more cost-effective way than search.

If running search ads can be effective in reaching your KPIs, you can still help filter out the ‘noise’. Advertisers can target the search intent by building a tight search campaign with the use of the negative keyword functions in search engines. Marketers should spend as much time developing their negative keyword list as the keywords that they want to buy. According to Google AdWords, negative keywords are a core component of a successful keyword list. Adding a negative keyword to your ad group or campaign means that your ads won’t show for searches containing that term. By filtering out unwanted impressions, negative keywords can help you reach the most appropriate prospects, improve your click-through-rate (CTR) and account quality score; thus reduce your cost-per-click (CPC), and increase your ROI. For example, if you are running a B2C retail campaign, you probably want to think about adding negative keywords such as ‘suppliers’ and ‘manufacturers’. Also, other commonly used negative keyword phrases including ‘Free’, ‘Bad’, ‘Fake’, ‘Poor’, etc.

In the example shown in Figure 1, it seems that the ad highlighted in yellow failed to properly include bedbugs as a negative keyword in its campaign. To make it worse, it utilises the dynamic keyword insertion in its ad copy. What ends up happening is that the ad is selling hotel rooms with bed bugs to Internet users!

Figure 1: Search Ads Without Negative Keywords

Figure 2 below shows other advertisers who fall victim of not implementing a proper negative keyword list.

Figure 2: Search Results of “Poor Smart TV”

Running a successful SEM campaign is more than buying keywords and setting bid prices. Before throwing search as a part of your media mix, you should objectively evaluate your campaign objectives, as well as allow ample time to properly develop your SEM campaign structure, targeting options, and your keyword list.

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