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A guide to SEM for small businesses

By Steve Adams Content Strategist January 7th, 2019

An Introduction

Search Engine Marketing: a necessary online advertising tool for businesses of any size. When consumers are performing a search for a product or service you offer, your business needs to be there on the first page and ideally at the top. If you don’t appear as the first search result organically from a good long-term SEO strategy, you can still be number one with SEM. You probably knew that already though as you did click on a link to an SEM guide, indicating that you are familiar with the acronym and likely have at least a broad idea of the concept.  Getting your business on the first page of a search means that consumers with strong purchase intent are likely to click through to your website. And when they go to your website they are more likely to buy, sign up, call, or as we say in the marketing biz: convert.  SEM is not something you can fumble your way through. You need to at least a basic understanding of how to run an SEM campaign to drive conversions. The following will help you get started.

Find your keywords

Step 1: 

Come up with a list of keywords that are relevant to your business. Let’s say you run a dog walking service. Here are some potential keywords you can use: dog walking, dog walk, canine walking service. 

Step 2:

Use a keyword tool to verify which keywords you should use. With a tool such as the Google Keyword Planner, you can see how many people are searching for the keywords you chose and also, how many other advertisers are competing for those keywords. Ideally, you should use keywords that are searched a lot but aren’t as competitive. This basic strategy will keep the cost of each ad low and ought to bring in more conversions.  

Match Types

Match Types determine how much wiggle room you have for your keywords to match with a search. Do you want exact matches only or very broad matches? Below or the options you can choose from.

Exact match

This keyword enters an auction when the exact word(s) are searched by a user. 

Phrase match

The exact phrase (sequence of words) is searched. The words entered before and after don’t matter. 

Broad match

Anything relevant to your keywords triggers a bid on your behalf. 

Broad match modify

The order of keywords doesn’t matter as long as you have the ‘+’ sign in front of your words. 

Negative Keywords 

Choose related keywords that would bring in searches that don’t suit your business. For the dog walking business, you would not want people searching for a dog kennel to activate one of your ads. You would add the keyword, dog kennel, to your list of negative keywords to avoid wasting money on a non-relevant search. 

Grouping your keywords

Here is the standard model of an efficient grouping of keywords: Ad Campaign – should focus on similar products or services Ad group – ads with similar keywords and potentially just one product with multiple variants. Ad – A specific ad. 

Landing pages

Your landing page is the URL your ad will take the user to. Typically, these pages feature a strong call to action, varying from a Buy Now button to a web form. It is very important to align the content on this page with the content of the ads that link to the landing page. For example, if you offer a 10% discount on your dog walking services in your ad, then both dog walking and the discount should be addressed on your landing page. Aligning the content like this leads to increased conversions and contributes to a better quality score.

Quality Score?

Your bid isn’t the only factor that leads to an auction victory. The quality of the ad is very important and we’re not talking about how nice the ad looks or whether its produced locally with the finest ingredients. Quality refers to what google deems is relevant to the keywords you have chosen. If you used the keywords, ‘dog whisperer’ for your dog walking ads, your quality score might be on the low end.  Your quality score is out of ten, and if you simply multiply your bid by the quality score, you get the total score that is used to compete in an auction. Confused? Let’s map this out in a crisp visual:


Your score (bid/quality score) is what determines your AdRank, which determines the position your ad is placed in a search. If your AdRank is two then your ad will appear second in the search. 

Types of Search Ads (Google)

Text Ads

A headline and description at the top of a google search. 

Responsive Search Ads (New) 

Google chooses the best combination of headline and description to use in your ad based on performance.

Dynamics Search Ads (New)

Google builds your ad from a description and landing page. 


Don’t forget to add an extension that gives users more information about your offering and improves your ad viewability.  

Final suggestions

That should be enough to get you started. Be sure to A/B test your ads in order to find the best keywords, ads, and landing page combinations. Put more money behind your better performing ads and make changes to the weak ones.  If SEM seems like a bit much for you to handle currently, Go offers a managed service where our team of Search experts runs your campaigns for you. They can also create Social Media, Display, and Retargeting campaigns in addition to Search. If a managed service is what you need, fill out the form below and one of our customer service reps will contact you with more information. If you just want more information about the service, go here.

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