SEM in Ecommerce: Everything You Need to Know

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of the best ways to kickstart your online store’s sales. If you get the targeting and auctioning right, it can also be a (almost) “set it and forget it” process that makes your company money.

But there are a lot of things you need to do right to win at SEM.

The world of PPC and Search Ads is getting more and more competitive each day. To navigate it properly, you need a good understanding of what SEM is, and what it takes to convert with paid SERP (Search Engine Results Page) entries.

What Is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing is “a form of Internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages primarily through paid advertising.”

Any Google search will throw up results that aren’t organic and are accompanied by the word ‘ad’. The owners of these pages and products pay for their spot at the top of the results page.

But there are a lot of corks spinning in the background of a paid position on the SERP.

To do this, you’ll need to set-up a Google Ads account, create your ads and targeting, and then roll out the campaign. The whole process is a bit more complicated, but that’s the gist of it.

And if you do it right, you can create the right mix of bids, landing pages, and ad copy to be featured at the top of the SERP for the keywords your clients are interested in.

If you sell marketing courses, you’ll of course try to land on the page listed above. If you sell jewellery, you’ll target keywords like “silver necklace” or “diamond earrings”.

Before we continue with our article, we want to mention that this piece will mostly be focused on SEM on Google. Google dominates the search engine world, its market share exceeding 90%. That’s why we’ll be focused on how to do SEM on Google. This is also important to keep in mind if you do any other further research on SEM — most resources mainly talk about Google.

Other search engines might still be useful. For example, Bing is a good search engine to use if your target audience is over 55 years old, because that’s the bulk of Bing users. But for most businesses, Google is the way to go.

Outsourcing SEM — A Good Idea?

When you sign-up for a Google Ads account, the onboarding process makes it seem like it’s extremely easy to run successful ads. While using the software itself doesn’t have a steep learning curve, running successful ads is difficult. There are a ton of variables you need to take into account. Moreover, if you’re in a competitive niche, you’ll be up against stores with professional teams of PPC (Pay per Click) specialists that take care of SEM.

So outsourcing SEM can be a good idea, if you want to ensure a successful campaign from the get-go. However, it can be a bit more expensive, so if you’re bootstrapping you’ll need to learn how to do it yourself.

The Initial Set-up For SEM

Before you create ads and optimize your campaign for conversions, you must set everything up in Google Ads, Google Analytics, and your own backend.

Start by signing up on all platforms. Create a Google Analytics and Google Ads account, and connect your Analytics account to your site. Up next, make sure the buy buttons on your store are tied to a conversion goal in Analytics. You’ll be able to set-up conversion goals in Google Ads too, but having it set-up in Analytics helps you get a better overview of your traffic sources, and how well they perform. You can also create other goals, like people signing up for your newsletter.

After that, create your Ads account. In the Ads interface, use the Keyword Planner to see which keywords are used by your audience to browse for your products. This is a very important step that you’ll use to create your ad copy, and sometimes even modify your site content, so make sure you scour the Keyword Planner suggestions for potential keywords.

Create Your Ads and Ad Groups

After you set-up your accounts, create ad groups for your different products, or product categories. It’s important to keep ad groups diverse, so you can analyze and optimize the ones that work best.

For the ads themselves, focus on writing copy that both contains the keyword you’re targeting, and is engaging and catchy for your potential customers. As of writing this article, the SERP doesn’t have images or videos to grab people’s attention, so you’re relying on the text itself to make a good impression and convince people to visit your site.

Formulate Your Targeting

Once the ads and ad groups are created, you’ll need to hone down who you’re targeting with your campaign. Google Ads has a lot of criteria by which you can target individuals, including:

  • Location

And a lot of other details by which you can narrow down who you want to see your ads.

First, you should get the basics out of the way. If you only ship to specific countries, limit the ad delivery to those countries. This is also a good time to consider what language your audience speaks. You can target ads based on the language users have set as their default in the browser.

After you get the basics out of the way, browse through the Google Ads interests and behaviours, and tick the ones that fit your audience. Remember not to just add interests and criteria at random, but rather to narrow down after each criteria you set. This will ensure you have a highly specific audience, based on what you know about your target audience.

Set Your Bids

When you first create a campaign, you’ll be asked to set a daily budget for it. We recommend a budget of at least a few hundreds of dollars a month, as anything less is not likely to help you reach the top spot. Moreover, anything less doesn’t give the Google Ads algorithm enough user interaction to adapt who it shows your ads to.

But going further than that, you should adapt individual bids for keywords and locations based on where the competition spends more, and based on your previous conversions. If a specific city from your country converts best, make sure you bid more for showing ads to those users.

And To Wrap It Up

Remember that Google Ads, and SEM in general, are all about adapting to the market and what customers need. You can find the right targeting, message, and bids, and you can set them and forget about the campaign for a while. But at some point, your competitors will try to surpass you on the SERP, which is why any SEM campaign needs to be constantly analyzed and optimized.

See what works for your campaign, and spend more in those areas. Identify the ads, locations, or keywords that aren’t performing as well, and either change them or delete them altogether.

Success in SEM doesn’t come overnight. Rather, it’s an ongoing process. And we hope this article helped you get started.

I’m Philip J. Keezer, president and founder of management consulting firm Grindstone Capital. Dedicated to hard work, learning, positivity and accountability.