SEM 101 – Best Practices

If you’ve decided to allocate some of your marketing dollars to SEM, and you find yourself setting up your first campaign, it can be hard to know where to start. We’ve broken down some best SEM practices for you here:


In choosing keywords for any campaign it is important to first come up with a long, comprehensive list of potential terms – the bigger the better, you’ll whittle it down later. This list should be based on the landing page that your ads will link to. Your list should include both head terms (i.e. broader terms likely to bring in more search volume) and long-tail keyword phrases (i.e. terms used for the purpose of getting your ads in front of a highly targeted audience). To ensure your list is as comprehensive as possible, keep in mind the 4 types of keyword terms:

+ Generic Terms – Keywords that describe your product
+ Related Terms – Terms that don’t directly apply to your business that your audience may search for
+ Brand Terms – Keywords containing your brand or business name
+ Competitor Terms – Terms that include brands and names of competitors


This is exactly what it sounds like – identifying search terms that involve a particular location. Local search terms will draw the most engaged and appropriate audience to your site and store location. Be sure to include terms that relate to your street address, neighborhood, and town. Additionally, you can segment your traffic by income level. Make a list of all the places in your area likely to bring profitable customers by type and category. You can manually select each area via Google’s location settings. Pro Tip: ensure your location targeting settings are set at “people in my targeted location” to prevent leakage. You can also tier your bids by income bracket, giving you the ability to target the income classes(s) that are most profitable to your business.


Now you have a huge list of keywords. More than you can possibly bid on. So, it’s time to start narrowing it down. But how do you determine which keywords to keep and which to toss? By figuring out how relevant a search term is to a searcher’s intent. There are two things to keep in mind when weighing a term’s relevance:

+ Likelihood of Purchase – If your industry includes strong brands, then search traffic stemming from
competitor terms may not be relevant enough to include. For example: someone searching for “Nike shoes”
is probably not interested in purchasing a pair of Pumas.
+ Position in Buying Cycle – Consider where in the buying cycle users are. Someone searching for a specific
brand and product (ex. “Nike Reax Run 5”) is likely far closer to making a purchase than someone using a
broader search query (ex. “Great running shoes”). Depending upon the type of content on your landing
pages, you want to target terms that indicate a certain point in the buyer’s journey. If you’re linking your ad
to a piece of content called “Top 5 Features of a Great Running Shoe”, then you’ll want to target users early
in the cycle and bid on more general terms. If your ad links to a product-specific landing page, you’ll want to
target customers further down the sales funnel and ready to make a purchase.


Negative keywords are terms and phrases that you do not want your ads to show for. By including them in your campaign, you’re able to prevent Google from wasting your budget on these irrelevant terms. As your campaign runs, periodically check on your search query reports. If any terms appear that are not a good fit for your campaign, you can add them to your Negative Keywords List at any time.


At this point, you’ll have a decent sized list of potential keywords and phrases that reflect your business, your customers’ searches, and the content of your landing page. Now comes the time to consider your competition for these same keywords and how much you’ll need to spend to actually show up for them. Find out exactly who is bidding on the keywords you want, the amount they’re spending, and their average CPC (Cost Per Click). With this information, you can eliminate overly competitive and high-cost keywords from your list.


The good news about all the steps listed above? You don’t have to do them by yourself. There are a wealth of high value tools available for your use. Some of which include:

+ Google Keyword Planner – Available in Adwords, this tools allows you to see historical stats on any key
word. Benefit from using the Keyword Planner by gathering info on how a keyword might perform, what
competitive bids look like, and recommended budgets.
+ Google Insights for Search – A tool that gives you access to a spectrum of data to help you make future
trend predictions, and turn your insights into actionable steps.
+ HubSpot’s Keyword Grader – This “grader” condenses all of the data into one easy number. The “grade” or
“difficulty score” is based on a number of metrics and scored between 0 and 100.
+ SEM Rush – A competitor research tool designed to provide you with your competitor’s keywords and their
ranking. Available in a free version, as well as a more comprehensive paid version.

Still need a little help with your paid search? Contact the experts at Shift today!