How to Use Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Effectively

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Written By Robert Dunford
I am a Marketing Consulting in the Great Toronto Area with over 25 years experience in building and implementing marketing plans for small business.
How to Use Search Engine Marketing Effectively

Getting started with digital marketing can be intimidating. There are so many forms of it and so many ways to go about it – you need to think about social media, search marketing, and content marketing, and perhaps you’re not even sure what the differences among all of those are.

One thing is for sure: you want your website to be useful, and you want it to show up in search results when people search for relevant keywords. If your website isn’t appearing in search engine results pages (SERPs) – or maybe it is, but on the second or the third page (positions 11-30) chances are that your website traffic is low.

SEM – search engine marketing – is key to driving more traffic to your website, ranking high in search engine results, and growing your business.

Figuring out the ins and outs of SEM campaigns and putting together the plan for your business is not easy. There’s the question of how much money you can spend, whether you wish to implement SEO and/or paid advertising, what other forms of marketing to focus on, and more.

To ease your way through this, here are the main steps you need to consider to be successful in your search engine marketing campaign.

Website Audit

Before you start with changing your website content and building your paid search advertising plan, you first need to perform a website audit. This is a process where you dig deep into your existing site (if you have one) and find what works on it and what doesn’t. Use web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, to guide you to pages that users love to visit and those that are not as effective in captivating your target audiences.

With a comprehensive website audit, you will know where you stand and just how much work needs to be done on your site before it’s optimized to attract visitors and retain them. 

Plan Out a Strategy

To plan out a search engine marketing strategy that will be the best for your business, take some time to consider the following questions:

  • How soon do I want/need results?
  • How big is my budget?
  • What does success look like for my business?

These will help you decide between SEO and pay per click (PPC ads) and how much you can count on both to breathe life into your business.

Search engine optimization, SEO, is a less expensive process in the long term, that will yield more consistent results over time. However, if you want an immediate effect, PPC advertisements are a better choice. From the standpoint of search engine marketers, if you can afford both, that would be ideal.

Find Relevant Keywords

Whether you’re only going to do SEO or are also investing in paid search, you need to perform keyword research beforehand. This is the process of finding keyword phrases that are relevant to your business. In other words, identifying the words and phrases people use to search for what your business offers.

Keyword research is done a little differently for SEO and PPC.

When you’re looking up paid ad keywords, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one group of keywords. If you own a bakery, you can have one group of keywords for delicious, sweet pastries and another one for healthier, gluten-free choices. These will be separate ads that will target different audiences who can find what they’re looking for in your bakery.

When selecting keywords for a paid ad, you can also exclude certain keywords. These are called negative keywords. They aren’t phrases with a negative meaning; they are just irrelevant to your business. For example, if you’re selling dry pasta, you wouldn’t want to include “pasta recipes”  if this is not what visitors will find on your website. Relevance is crucial here.

SEO target keywords will be embedded in your content, not in the ads. Familiarize yourself with the concept of long-tail keywords, how to find them, and validate them by using research tools such as Google Trends.

Be thorough in your keyword research, as this is the foundation of every SEM campaign!

Optimize Your Website

Once you have your SEO keywords, the next step is optimizing your site by using them. Create content that naturally includes these keywords (avoid nonsense keyword stuffing!) and that is useful for your visitors. Help them understand something or offer practical advice on a topic that troubles them.

Describe your products using as many of the keywords as possible but, again, in a meaningful, logical way.

The reason search engine optimization, SEO, should come first is that you need quality content to keep your visitors. If they click on a paid search advertisement and don’t find what they’re looking for, they will bounce back pretty quickly. This isn’t good for your metrics and definitely won’t grow your business, so make sure your content is top-notch.

Also, don’t forget to include a simple, appealing web design!

Turn To Paid Search

When you finally have a fully optimized site that you think will satisfy your visitors and preferably draw attention to your product or service, it’s time to turn to PPC management and look into ad auctions.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to just find your ad keywords. To successfully advertise for those keywords, you need to go through an auction process and bid for them. Search engines like Google and Bing let you choose the maximum bid you are willing to pay for a click on an ad featuring specific keywords.

Google Ads and Bing Ads also consider how much your ads and your landing pages relate to the search by assigning a quality score to them.

Google and Bing judge the quality score based on ad relevance, clickthrough rate (how many times people click on your ad compared to how many times they see it), and landing page experience, meaning whether or not your landing page is what the user is looking for.

Additional Internet Campaigns

To give it your all in search engine marketing, you can also opt for some of the following methods for improving your search result rankings:

  • Writing a blog on your site – generating fresh SEO content that people want to see brings in more organic traffic
  • Social media promotion – contributes to your ranking by increasing link popularity and possibly driving viral traffic
  • Search-optimized press releases – newsworthy content from your company could be a good way to inspire other writers (and users) to talk about your business


A lot of time, effort, and money go into planning and executing a successful SEM campaign.

If you wish to see instant results and quickly draw in a lot of people, then you need to research ad keywords and develop a PPC ad campaign. If you want that initial wave of potential customers to stay on your site and even purchase your product, you need to provide them with great user experience and the exact content they want by using SEO.

Finally, you mustn’t forget about other types of digital marketing and content creation that will help your SEO and boost your rankings.

You can choose to structure an SEM campaign on your own, but you can also turn to a professional who will save you a ton of time and utilize their experience to optimize your content and ads for you. If you’d like some assistance in coming up with the best plan for your business, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Rob Dunford is a Marketing Consultant in the Great Toronto Area with over 25 years of experience in implementing marketing plans for small businesses.

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