Working in SEM can feel like an uphill battle.

You think you’ve got it all figured out one week, then the next week the numbers show you something totally different.

Too often when working with clients on SEM, I see them being reactionary.  They wait until they see something over a 30 day period, react to it, make the change, and repeat the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a numbers guy.

I believe in the numbers more than I believe in any friend I’ve ever had. But it’s not always about the numbers.

There are plenty of things you can do to continuously optimize your SEM campaigns without having to wait for specific keyword data.

1. Pay Attention To Quality Score 

Search engine marketing is about maximizing opportunity.

You’ve got a fixed budget and you want as many shots at quality leads as possible. Too often marketers ignore one of the biggest factors in determining how many clicks you’re able to get – the quality score.

google adwords quality score

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The quality score is a 1-10 ranking of how relevant your keyword is to the ad text and landing page you send the user to.

Because Google only wants the most relevant results for their user, they reward those with a higher quality score.

A higher quality score means you’ll pay less per click. Paying less means you now have more room in your budget to fit more clicks.

BAM. I just gave you more leads without having to increase your budget.

One of the keys to a good quality score is strong campaign organization.

Make sure every keyword in an adgroup is relevant to the ad text and your landing page copy. Get as specific as possible.

Don’t put a landing page about running shoes in the same adgroup as a landing page for dress shoes. These are two entirely different audiences and your quality score will suffer.

Keep it simple. Keep it specific. Keep track.

2. Use local keyword phrases

When it comes to online marketing it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about just how much information is out there that you’re trying to compete with.

This is especially true if you’re in a competitive market.

There are a lot of brands out there and a lot of customers that you’re all fighting over. When you’re starting to feel that sinking feeling that you can’t reach them all or that your competitors are stealing customers away from you, it’s time to recenter your efforts and think a little smaller.

It’s time to think local.

Whether you have a brick and mortar business or you’re 100% online, people are still interested in supporting local businesses.

Most users know that when they choose a local business they’re more likely to get better customer service, have a more personalized experience, and a number of other benefits.

So instead of trying to market to the entire globe, focus on the people in your backyard first.

It also helps to know what keywords and phrases local users are searching for. Software tools like Moz, pictured below, allow you to track and monitor local rankings.

moz keyword tool

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You might find that the users close to you are interested in one aspect of your business (and they might be a much larger user base), while non-local users are searching for something completely separate.

Instead of spending your time catering to non-local users that only make up a small subset of your user base, information like this will help you market to the users that matter to you.

3.  Bid on your brand name

When you advertise with Google AdWords, you put bids in for ad space.

That’s how Google decides what ad or link to put into a given space, and you’re able to choose what things you bid on.

For example, if you just want people to visit your website, you can use cost-per-click bidding where you only pay when your ad gets clicked on.

Now, many people think it’s a waste to put bids on your own brand name. Most users searching for you will just see your link come up organically and they’ll click on it, right?

Well, if you’re in a super competitive market, and especially if you have a generic word in your brand name, even if a user searches your brand name, your website might not be the first that comes up.

Sucks, right?

callrail

 

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For example, this search for CallRail lists the actual brand in the second spot, even though it’s a search for the business name.

They’re being superseded by another brand with the same generic keyword (“call”) in it’s name. Bidding on their own brand name would put them in the #1 spot for both organic and paid results in this search.

More SERP space. More clickability. More conversions.

A study by Bing found that brands which show up in both organic and paid results see 90% total yield rate with about half of their clicks coming in from that paid space.

When there was no paid ad space in a result, the competitors got about five times as many clicks as when that brand was in the ad space. So, bidding on your brand name to have it in the top result helps your click rate, even with that little ad symbol next to it.

Need even more reason to bid on your own brand? Doing so doesn’t end up costing you much. Here’s an example from 3qdigital.com:

3qdigital

In this example the cost per click (DKK0.09) is low, just about 2 cents, to get in the top position where they received more than 11,000 conversions.

Even if they might have seen most of those users anyway through organic results, it’s not much of an investment just to ensure that they don’t lose any of those users to another search result.

Many of the top-converting brands use this strategy. Here’s an example from the headphone brand, JayBird.

When I search for “Jaybird headphones,” a branded keyword, here’s what I get:

jaybird headphones

 

Jaybird has bid on their own brand name, which gives them both the top paid spot and the top organic spot.

In a super competitive market, like headphone sales, having both spots is essential for eking out more conversions.

4. Think about your users and their intent when creating keywords and ads

Search engines and ads are likely your main ways of bringing in new users, outside of things like word of mouth. But if those ads don’t find their way to an interested audience, or is your website doesn’t come up in the first page of search results, there’s clearly a disconnect there that’s preventing conversions.

When it comes to choosing keywords, the phrases that you think are relevant to your content may be completely different than the words your users will search for to try to find you.

This isn’t about informational terms as much as it is targeted intentional terms.

By intentional, I mean this:  What a user is looking for when they conduct a search query.

Intent is the reason behind the terms.

Elsewhere, I’ve discussed the importance of determining user intent to improve conversions. Here, however, I want to stress its importance in SEM.

So how do you predict what keywords someone is going to search for and how do you use those words in your content?

Put yourself in your user’s shoes. Come up with some ideas, phrases, and words that your ideal user might search for to get to your site.

One shortcut is to use a tool like SEMrush. SEMrush shows you the keywords other websites use (as well as the keywords associated with your site right now). Just search a domain and you’ll get a look at what keywords users are using to find your site, plus it will show you which websites you’re competing with in search results.

Here’s what I get when I search my domain, JeremySaid.com.

jeremysaid ahrefs

The value here is that I can see the keywords that are already driving site visits. Then, I can determine what intent

All of this information should start to help you paint a picture of your typical user.

It shows you what questions they’re coming to you with, what keywords they’re searching for, and what they’re really interested in.

That should help you frame your content to better suit the needs users are coming to you with. The faster you’re able to bring a user to your site and show them the information they’re looking for, the better chance you have of holding their attention.

In other words, you’re skyrocketing conversions.

The same goes for when you’re creating ads: knowing what keywords your users are looking for will help you address their needs.

An ad that meets intent is 100% relevant to the user and inspires them to take action.

If users are finding your site where you sell accessories by searching “discount shoes,” for example, you can guess that an ad about your shoe sales will appeal to users more than an ad for the line of wallets you sell.

Making informed decisions like that is especially helpful if you don’t have the budget to create multiple ads and test which ones perform best — spend your time on the messaging you know will work.

If you do have the resources to run multiple ads this information will still be helpful when choosing what variations to run.

5. Avoid using informational phrases

Not all keywords are equal, just like how not all users are the same.

Some users are finding your site just to compare or browse, while some users come to you to make a purchase or request more information (you probably want more of the latter).

Those different users are likely finding you through different types of keywords.

The users that aren’t turning into the conversions you want, the ones who are just coming to your site to compare and not make a purchase, are likely using informational phrases to find you.

Notice how the typical marketing funnel begins with informational keyword searches.

search intent funnel

Sure, you’re happy to take all the TOFU visitors you can get.

But should you be targeting these users with expensive SEM bidding?

No.

Informational phrases are easy to spot.

They often include words such as “where” or “how.” When you see what keywords people are using to find you, you might find that a lot of the phrases include those informational words.

And, like I’ve experienced, you might be tempted to use them more in order to increase that user traffic even more. But again, those users probably aren’t the ones who are turning into conversions or brining you revenue.

The keywords you most want to use to gain conversions are keywords with commercial intent.

These are the keywords that are going to translate to actual customers. Determining what your commercial keywords are can be a little tricky since it kind of depends on your type of business, but you can try searching certain keywords and comparing the search results that come up.

If you find that your business would be right at home among the results, that’s probably a good commercial keyword for you. Also, if a keyword brings up ads with it, that tells you that other businesses are willing to pay for it, so if it’s relevant to your business and your customer base then it’s probably worth using.

buying cycle

Going back to the funnel model, different keywords work better for different sections of the funnel.

 

More specific keywords are going to appeal to users that are closer to conversion, while broad keywords are going to be more likely to simply raise awareness for your site.

 

Again, all of these groups are important, but if you find that you’re losing people around a certain step in the conversion process you’ll probably want to focus your keyword efforts to that area.

Conclusion

The ultimate goal in search engine marketing is a conversion (whatever that means for your specific goals).

If you’re trying to market to the entire world wide web, you’re probably not reaching your ideal customers, and any conversions you’re getting are probably just from dumb luck.

I’m fine with dumb luck. But we as marketers don’t operate from dumb luck alone.

We have tools, data, and intelligence at our disposal.

To market smart, you want to know who you’re targeting and use tactics that will connect with them.

That could mean targeting people local to your area, or targeting users that are more likely to make a purchase instead of users who are just using informational phrases.

Putting yourself in those target users’ shoes and knowing what phrases they’re already searching for to find you should help you focus in on the ads and keywords you want to put your time and money into.