Search engine marketing is one of the most powerful ways to expand the presence of your business digitally. SEM strategies comprise two major channels – PPC ads and SEO – to help brands acquire higher ranking and visibility.
In this article, I will share the top eight tactics you should use in your search engine marketing campaigns to help your business dominate the digital landscape.
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What Is SEM vs SEO?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are both digital marketing strategies that aim to improve visibility and drive more traffic to websites through search engines, but they have significant differences in terms of their strategies, techniques and objectives.
Let’s take a quick look at each to make sure you’re clear on search engine marketing before moving on to SEM strategies.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
SEM is a form of digital marketing that involves promoting websites to increase their visibility in search engine results pages primarily through paid advertising.
This strategy often involves the use of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising models, such as Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Microsoft Ads (formerly Bing Ads).
With PPC, marketers bid on specific keywords that they believe their target audience uses when looking for their products or services online. Each time a user clicks on one of these advertisements, the marketer pays a fee. This is why it’s known as “pay-per-click”.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO, on the other hand, is a marketing strategy that involves improving a website’s visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.
SEO involves numerous strategies, techniques and tactics, such as using relevant keywords in your website’s content, optimizing meta tags, creating high-quality content and building quality backlinks from other reputable sites.
The goal of SEO is to make a website more attractive to search engines, so it ranks higher in the search results for relevant keywords and phrases. It can be divided into two main parts:
- On-page SEO: This involves optimizing individual pages of a website to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. It refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized.
- Off-page SEO: This refers to actions taken outside of your own website to impact your rankings within SERPs. This includes tactics like link building, social bookmarking and social media marketing.
SEM vs. SEO
In terms of differences, the main one is that:
- SEM is a paid strategy
- SEO is an organic strategy
- SEM can generate results more quickly because you’re paying for your site to appear in the sponsored results section of the SERP.
- SEO requires time and continuous effort to improve your site’s content, design, and backend structure to naturally rank higher in the SERPs.
Another difference is the scope of their strategies. SEM is broader and includes SEO tactics as part of its processes. That is:
All SEO is SEM, but not all SEM is SEO.
SEM includes both organic SEO results and paid ads, whereas SEO strictly involves organic search strategies and tactics.
In terms of similarities:
- Both aim to increase a website’s visibility in search engines to drive more traffic and increase the site’s exposure.
- Both rely heavily on keywords to drive traffic to websites.
- Both need to understand how users search and the phrases they use.
- Both require a solid understanding of how search engines work.
- Both aim to provide valuable content to the audience.
In general, most businesses should use a combination of SEM and SEO for their digital marketing strategy. SEM can deliver quick results and help a business get noticed while their SEO efforts are ramping up. Once the SEO strategy starts delivering results, you can reduce the dependency on paid ads.
Dive Deeper: What Is the Difference Between SEM and SEO?
8 SEM Strategies to Outperform the Competition
Now that you’re crystal clear on what specifically search engine marketing is, let’s move on to these eight powerful strategies.
SEM Strategy #1 – Conduct Thorough Keyword Research
Keyword research is a crucial part of search engine marketing because the right keywords help your potential audience find your business online.
Effective keyword research is necessary for both paid advertising and SEO. For example, if you are a law firm, first identify the specific areas your firm specializes in, such as personal injury, family law, criminal defense or immigration law. Now, tailor your keyword research to the firm’s specific practice areas.
Think about the terms that potential clients might use when searching for legal services. For a personal injury law firm, initial keywords could include “personal injury lawyer,” “car accident attorney,” “workplace injury law firm,” etc.
Also, legal agencies often serve clients within a specific geographic area. Incorporate location-specific keywords into your SEM keyword strategy to target local clients, such as “personal injury lawyer in [city]” or “divorce attorney [city].”
To expand and refine your initial keyword list, use keyword research tools like:
For instance, when I enter the keyword “personal injury lawyer” into the SE Ranking keyword research tool search bar, I get the following data:
As you can see from the above screenshot, SE Ranking returns a list of more than 4,000 keywords based on my target location (USA). I can see the search volume, the cost per click (CPC) for the Google Ads campaign, and the keyword difficulty score for the SEO campaign.
Accordingly, you should prepare two keyword sheets for search engine marketing: one for paid search marketing and one for SEO strategy. For SEO, try both short and long-tail keywords with commercial intent but having low difficulty scores, and for Google Ads, add keywords that have a commercial intent but low CPC.
SEM Strategy #2 – Perform Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis is another key part of every online marketing strategy. Performing competitor analysis for both SEO and PPC campaigns involves evaluating your competitors’ strategies, keywords and performance to gain insights and identify opportunities for digital marketing improvement.
Do comprehensive research to determine who your main competitors are in the SERPs for your target keywords.
Visit your competitors’ websites and assess their structure, design, user experience and content. Look for elements that make their websites rank well in search results. Identify the keywords your competitors are targeting.
I can easily do that with the help of SE Ranking. Click on the Competitor Research tab on the top and enter the domain you wish to analyze. The SEM tool will show you the amount of organic traffic and paid traffic the website has, along with the keywords that are bringing this traffic.
You should also look for their most successful content pieces, blog posts, guides and resources. Identify content gaps and opportunities that you can leverage.
Observe their messaging, calls-to-action, unique selling propositions, and use of ad extensions in different ad groups. Evaluate your competitors’ landing pages that correspond to their PPC advertising to pick the right keywords.
SEM Strategy #3 – Create a User-Friendly Website
Having a user-friendly website is vital to improving your website visibility in search engines. Google, Bing and other search platforms promote sites that offer an excellent user experience.
Here are some of the best search engine marketing tips to build a user-friendly website:
- Optimize Your Menu: Have a logical and easily clickable navigation menu that is easy to understand and navigate. Use breadcrumbs to help users find information effortlessly. Here is an example menu from Macy’s:
- Use Consistent Design: Keep your website design consistent because it should reflect the essence of your brand.
- Keep Your Design Responsive: Choose a mobile responsive theme that adapts to different screen sizes and devices, providing a seamless experience for users accessing your site from desktops, tablets or smartphones.
- Optimize Site Speed: Optimize your website’s loading speed and core web vitals score to provide a fast browsing experience to users. Compress images, minimize code and leverage caching techniques to reduce page load times.
- Don’t Use Images for Links: Use text instead of images for content and links because search engine crawlers don’t recognize text in images.
- Optimize Your Content: Structure your content with headings, subheadings, bullet points, and short paragraphs to make it easy for users to scan and grasp the main points. Use a legible font size and contrast between text and background.
- Use High-Quality Images and Videos: Incorporate high-quality images, videos and graphics to enhance the visual appeal of your website. Ensure that they are relevant to your content and properly optimized for fast loading.
- Create Persuasive Call-to-Action Buttons: Guide users through the desired actions by using clear and prominent CTAs. Make them visually distinct, use action-oriented language, and place them strategically on your web pages.
- Follow WCAG Technical Standards: Follow web accessibility guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
SEM Strategy #4 – Publish Quality Content
Content is one of the top elements of powerful search engine marketing strategies. Websites with high-quality and user-intent-specific content have a good chance of acquiring a good amount of organic traffic to their website.
Since you have already done SEM keyword research, now you should begin creating pages on your site for every unique keyword.
To begin creating your content strategy that aligns with your business goals and target audience. Define the topics, formats and publishing schedule that will best serve your audience and support your objectives.
Prepare original and unique content that stands out from competitors. Offer a fresh perspective, unique insights or innovative ideas to provide value to your audience.
Ensure that your content is detailed and covers every aspect of the topic. Here is a table from HubSpot that shows content length has a direct correlation with the amount of organic traffic a site acquires:
Ideally, your content length depends on your keyword, but in general:
Pages with a word count of over 2,000 receive the maximum traffic from the SERPs.
Research on Google to find the content that is ranking on top for your target query and note the content length of the top three pages. You should have more content on your page than the competitor.
Craft attention-grabbing headlines and introductions that captivate readers and encourage them to continue reading. Make it clear what value or benefit they will gain from engaging with your content.
The Content Row headline generator is an excellent tool to help you come up with persuasive headlines. It displays a score for every headline it generates. Just enter your keyword and use the headline with the highest score (provided it’s not been used by your competitors yet):
Make sure your content provides valuable information, insights or solutions to your audience’s problems, and enhance your content with visual elements such as images, infographics or videos.
Lastly, ensure that your content is free from grammatical errors, typos and inconsistencies. Proofread and edit your content before publishing to maintain professionalism and credibility.
Also, don’t forget to use calls-to-action that encourage readers to take action to increase the number of conversions.
SEM Strategy #5 – Master PPC Optimization
PPC marketing is an excellent strategy for acquiring leads. However, PPC is a risky search engine marketing strategy if you don’t know where to start, as it might consume all your budget in no time.
Hence, as a beginner, it is very necessary to set a daily budget cap before you begin running your Google Ads campaigns.
Here are some of the best Google Ads tactics to use in your search engine ad campaigns:
Implement Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)
Create a tailored ad account structure for each segment and implement RLSA to target users who have previously visited your website.
To add your remarketing list, go to Shared Library > Audiences, and then click the red +Remarketing List button:
Perform Device and Location Bid Adjustments
Analyze the performance of your ad campaign on different devices (desktop, mobile, tablet) and in different geographic regions or locations and adjust your bids accordingly.
Target Similar Audiences
Google Ads identifies users with characteristics similar to those of your existing customers or website visitors, enabling you to reach potential new customers who share common interests and behaviors.
Utilize In-market Audiences
Target users who are actively researching or showing purchase intent in a particular product or service category. This tactic allows you to focus your ads on users who are more likely to convert.
Utilize Dynamic Keyword Insertion (DKI)
Dynamically insert the search query into your ad copy. Here is an example of how Google changes the ad copy automatically in real time based on the user’s search query:
Improve Ad Quality Scores
Optimize your landing page copy to improve your ad quality score. Craft compelling and persuasive ad copy, use relevant keywords in your ad headlines and descriptions, and highlight unique selling points or benefits.
Create an Ad Schedule
Schedule your ads to appear during high-conversion periods, ensuring that your budget is allocated effectively. You can specify particular hours or days of the week when you want your ads to show.
Try Different Ad Extensions
Use a combination of ad extensions, such as sitelink extensions, call extensions, image extensions and structured snippets to increase ROAS (returns on ad spends). Here is an example of an image ad extension:
Dive Deeper: Google Ad Extensions: Everything You Need to Know
SEM Strategy #6 – Build Backlinks
Link building is another important search engine marketing tactic that should be a part of an effective SEO strategy. Links are one of the top ranking factors that Google and other search engines use to rank websites in organic search results.
One of the best methods to build links to your site is by using guest posting. With guest post link building, you find websites in your niche and approach them by sending an email asking to become a contributor. Once your application is approved, you submit content with a backlink to your website.
Apart from guest posting, there are several other genuine ways to create or earn backlinks to your website, such as:
Create High-Quality Content
Produce high-quality content that provides value, answers questions and addresses your audience’s needs. Your content should be original, informative, engaging and shareable. Excellent content will help bring audiences to your website, and they will naturally link to these pieces as a valuable resource.
Leverage Broken Link Building
Find broken links on relevant websites and offer your content as a replacement. Contact the website owner or webmaster, notify them about the broken link, and suggest your relevant content as an alternative.
You can easily find the number of broken links on any website using the Ahrefs broken link checker. Enter the domain, and this tool will show you a list of broken links:
Publish Influencer Interviews
Identify influencers in your niche and ask to interview them. Publish their interviews on your site, and it might generate valuable backlinks for your domain.
Share Your Content on Social Media Channels
Engage with your audience, participate in relevant discussions, and promote your content on social media to attract attention and potential backlinks.
Create Powerful Linkable Assets
Publish content or tools that naturally attract backlinks. Some examples are infographics, research studies, comprehensive guides or interactive tools. These assets are more likely to be shared and linked to by other websites.
SEM Strategy #7 – Optimize the On-Page Elements
Optimizing on-page elements is crucial for improving the performance and visibility of your website in search engine results.
Here are the top On-page SEO elements that you should optimize:
- Title and Description: Optimize your title and description by including relevant keywords and keeping it concise (around 60 characters for titles and 155 characters for descriptions). Meta tag optimizations help to improve click through rates and drive more traffic.
- Heading Tags: Use relevant heading tags to help users and search engines understand your content easily. You should use your primary keywords in headings and their LSI variants in subheadings.
- URL Structure: Create clean, descriptive URLs that include relevant keywords and are easy for users to read and remember.
- Images: Use descriptive file names and include relevant keywords in the alt tags to help search engines understand the image content.
- Content: Use your primary keyword in the opening para of your content and optimize your page with several instances of exact match keywords, their LSI variants, synonyms, and related keywords. Also, ensure your content is comprehensive and covers all the required information for the users.
- Internal Linking: Include internal links within your content to guide users to related pages on your website, improving navigation and SEO.
- Page Speed: Optimize your website performance by increasing page speed. For instance, you can use a content delivery network (CDN) to deliver static files faster to users around the world. You can check page speed using the Google Page Speed Insights tool, which lets you diagnose different performance issues.
- Website Responsiveness: Ensure your website is responsive and mobile-friendly to provide a seamless user experience across different devices.
SEM Strategy #8 – Practice A/B Testing
A/B testing is an excellent method to compare two or more variations of a webpage or element to determine the best version.
Before conducting A/B testing, you should define your test goals like, improving click-through rates, increasing conversions, reducing bounce rates, or any other key performance indicator (KPI) relevant to your website or business.
After you have determined your test element, develop multiple versions (at least two) of the element you want to test. Each version should have a distinct change, such as different wording, colors, sizes, or placement.
Divide your website traffic into different groups, ensuring that each group represents a statistically significant sample size. Launch your A/B test and let it run for a sufficient duration, and analyze the results based on predefined metrics.
Here is a pictorial representation of how A/B testing works:
After determining the winning variation, you can implement it on your website to generate more conversions than before.
Last Word on SEM Strategies that Work
Use the advanced strategies discussed in this article to run successful search engine marketing campaigns. By implementing these search engine promotion tactics, you will be able to expand the online presence of your brand, leading to more impressions, clicks, and conversions.