Any good account manager knows that the world of search engine marketing (SEM) changes so quickly — with betas and trends and bugs and new releases popping up every week — that maintaining account performance is tough to balance with keeping up with what’s new.
Well, zoom up a couple of levels, and it’s a similar story for chief marketing officers. Today’s SEM landscape is vastly different than it was even a year ago — its place in the industry, its interaction with other channels, its inter-platform capabilities, and its engagement across devices have all been evolving at a fairly dizzying pace of late.
1. Today’s Funnel Is Longer And More Complex
Gone are the days of thinking of SEM as the very bottom of the purchase funnel. Today, you can use SEM for awareness, consideration, purchasing — and nurturing, amplification, recalling, upselling, reselling, and so on.
The metric many CMOs are using as a foundation for SEM campaigns is lifetime value (LTV); from there, they establish budget, reach, and CPA goals.
Before you read any further, make sure you’re open to the idea of SEM as much more than a channel for capturing conversions.
2. Not All Funnels Are Created Equal
Speaking of funnels, they can vary pretty significantly depending on the device you’re targeting. Desktop funnels? You know about those; they usually end in a purchase, with an eye towards good user experience and a high lifetime value.
But what about mobile funnels? They can take a few different forms, for sure. They can lead to a sale or form fill, like traditional desktop channels.
But given that user behavior and intent is different on mobile devices, the funnel can also lead to softer conversions – click for directions to a local store; click to call; email subscriptions; free trials; and so on — that don’t result in instant revenue but indisputably bring the user closer to purchase.
Not only that, but mobile is playing better and better with desktop. Smart marketers are finding ways to bridge the two experiences to both push the user to convert on desktop and to track interactions across devices (the better for measuring value).
3. Remarketing Pays Off At Almost Every Level Of The Funnel
AdWords alone has a slew of remarketing (Google-speak for retargeting) options: RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads), Search Companion remarketing, Similar Users remarketing, Dynamic remarketing, YouTube remarketing, Google Analytics remarketing, etc.
The upshot is that remarketing goes way, way beyond following users around with creepy ads nudging them to buy that product they just viewed.
You can use AdWords remarketing to exclude past converters, keep users engaged even in the earliest consideration phases, open up targeting to broad keywords you couldn’t otherwise afford, and — of course — re-engage past purchasers to encourage cross-sells, accessories, and multiple purchases, all of which increase LTV.
4. Online And Offline Work Together Better Than Ever
Brands advertising in more traditional channels (TV, radio, direct mail) can maximize the effect of those campaigns by integrating SEM.
Those offline channels feed SEM campaigns pretty directly; TV, radio, and direct-mail campaigns raise awareness, resulting in higher brand search.
SEMs need to be able to both capitalize on the increased traffic and keep the message consistent (using taglines and trademarks in ad copy is a great way to solidify branding across those channels). And more and more people are “showrooming” — visiting a store, looking at products in person, then searching online for the best possible price.
Advertisers can include in-store coupons in SEM ads and/or include online coupon codes in direct-mail campaigns, making it much easier to track user behavior and fine-tune attribution.
As far as SEM encouraging offline action, that’s pretty straightforward as well. Use location extensions to drive foot traffic to local stores and call extensions to drive inbound calls. (You can even use in-store Google Shopping ads to highlight the inventory in a particular local store.)
5. SEM Is Your Ultimate Testing Sandbox
SEM is a highly controllable, highly customizable channel. Because you can silo traffic and isolate targets for specific tests in a stable environment, it’s the perfect laboratory for testing things like:
- New pricing plans
- New design
A couple of tips on testing: Don’t look to prove your argument (mistakes are as directional as successes); and make sure you’re gathering enough data to accurately identify trends. Depending on your testing budget, you may want to involve a third party (we prefer Optimizely) to set up quick, precise iterations.
6. You Don’t Have To Spend Thousands To Benefit From Attribution
We recently aired a webinar on attribution that polled the audience on reasons they haven’t adopted attribution more widely. The most popular answers: It’s too complex and expensive to get much of a foothold, and it’s hard to know where to start.
As you work to tie in SEM with other channels — or even just to figure out the value of your SEM touchpoints across devices — remember this: The only actions you will take as a result of attribution data are to reallocate budget across channels, or to turn certain channels on or off.
Think of it like that, and realize that you only need your attribution to be good enough to make smart decisions on those two fronts. Use proxies (Estimated Total Conversions in AdWords is a good start), set up some basic links between campaigns in your Google Analytics, and you should have enough information to see where bigger changes should be made.
Can you get more granular than that? Absolutely, and we recommend it in many instances. But don’t bypass the basics and stall out because the advanced options are too complex.
7. SEM Can Be Used For Branding … Sort Of
It’s always been true that SEM isn’t the right channel to build brand awareness; if users don’t know your brand, they’re not going to search for it by name.
That’s not to say that SEM isn’t good for branding, though. It’s actually one of the most effective ways to protect your brand’s reputation. Control the SERPs and guard against competition and make very sure your messaging aligns with your brand, and the SEM experience for your brand will be a positive one.
On the flip side, remember that any message you don’t control is potentially damaging. If you use affiliates, monitor them very closely, and consider crowding out brands whose message may override yours (“Save Money. Live Better” is definitely not associated with the Apple brand).
So … want to go out and spend all of your marketing budget on SEM? We’re definitely not recommending that here. Rather, take stock of all the capabilities of today’s SEM landscape, and consider where and how you’d like your SEM to engage your users and the message and goals you’d like to hit.