Pay-Per-Click Campaigns (PPC) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

“I think the search engines are the new equivalent of publishing: an enabler of information.” – James Dyson


Very broadly put, SEM is a way of serving adverts to potential customers online. These adverts can meet or create customer demand for a product or service.

Think of ‘Demand Meeting’ adverts as the digital equivalent of potential customers approaching a salesperson and telling them what they are shopping for – a potential customer searches on Google for tennis shoes and adverts for tennis shoes are shown.

The ‘Demand Creation’ adverts, on the other hand, are a salesperson approaching potential customers – A potential customer is browsing a blog on tennis and an advert for tennis shoes is shown.

Advertising Networks

On a search engine advertising platform such as Google AdWords, you can find a few different options for the form you pick to advertise your business. Firstly you have to pick which ‘network’ you want your adverts to show on. The options on Google are:

  • The Search Network – Shows your text adverts on a Google search engine results page  (Meeting Demand)
  • The Display Network – Shows your text, image or video adverts on a collection of websites, YouTube & in Gmail inboxes (Creating Demand)

These networks offer different benefits and are better suited to different marketing objectives, types of products and services, budgets etc.

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Search Network Adverts

On the Search Network, you have the option to create a ‘Search Campaign’ or a ‘Shopping Campaign’. The main differences are: a Search Campaign contains Keywords & text Adverts, created by an advertiser, that look similar to the organic results; whereas a Shopping Campaign contains a ‘product feed’ which Google uses to create a shopping advert composed of an image, price, and title, which is targeted automatically using information provided in the product feed.

For any business that sells products, a Shopping Campaign is a good choice. But for businesses selling services, you will have to stick to a Search Campaign.

Display Network Adverts

The Display Network can show either text, image or video adverts across over a million websites and smartphone apps including YouTube and Gmail. Your options for campaigns that will reach users on the Display network are: a Display Campaign, this will reach the websites & apps through text, image, or video ads; or a Video Campaign, this serves video adverts to YouTube and various other websites and apps.

Display & YouTube Campaigns require a lot more content creation than a Search or Shopping Campaign. Though, there are options in a Display Campaign to use text adverts, which have the highest potential reach, and also to create image adverts from templates provided by Google. You can end up with a decent looking image advert without the need for a designer this way.

Preparing to create a Campaign

When you have decided on which campaign(s) best suit your business, the next step is to carry out some research on where your target audience can be reached within the network of choice. This step varies depending on your campaign type.

Search Campaign Preparation

For a Search Campaign you will need to carry out the following:

  • Keyword Research
  • Location Targeting

Shopping Campaign Preparation

For a Shopping Campaign you will need to carry out the following:

  • Product Feed Optimisation
  • Location Targeting

Display Campaign Preparation

For a Display Campaign you will need to carry out the following:

  • Audience Research
  • Location Targeting

Video Campaign Preparation

For a Video Campaign you will need to carry out the following:

  • Audience Research
  • Location Targeting

Keyword research

To start some Keyword research you will need to think of a few ways you might search for your own business. For example, if you sell tennis shoes, “buy tennis shoes” would be a good keyword to start with.

Once you have covered a few ways you might search for your business, you then can take these keywords and put them into Google’s Keyword Planner or a third party alternative.

When using the Google Keyword Planner, it is recommended to carry out keyword research on one product or service at a time unless they are very closely related e.g. blue tennis shoes and red tennis shoes are okay together but tennis shoes and tennis coaching service are not.

There are other techniques that can help with Keyword discovery such as using Google’s related searches in combination with the Keyword planner.

Audience research

Most of the work here comes from your definition of an ideal customer. Every business should have an idea of their ideal customer and should have considered their customer profile.

Once you have your ideal customer described in as many ways as you can, you can start to map their qualities to the targeting options available.

You can target your adverts in a few different ways on the display network.

Keywords

Similar to the keywords used in search campaigns, though these keywords will try to match to other keywords on websites.

Placements

If you have a website or list of websites that you want to include, you can add their URLs as placements and adverts will be able to participate in auctions on those websites.

Topics

You can target adverts based on the topic of the websites you wish to include in the targeting. So for tennis shoes, you might choose “Tennis Equipment” as a topic to place adverts on websites with that topic.

Interests

Google also puts its users into categories based on their interests. In the Affinity audience categories “Tennis Enthusiasts” would be a good interest to target for tennis shoes.

There is a second set of categories of interest targeting as well, these are called “In-market audiences”. The difference is that Google thinks people in these audiences are actively researching and looking to buy products or services in these categories. Sometimes there isn’t a category exactly relevant for your business. In the case of the Tennis shoes example, a good call would be to target the “Tennis Enthusiasts” Affinity audience as well as the “Sporting Goods” In-market audience to get a more relevant target audience and reduce wasted spend.

Remarketing

One targeting option you will always want to have is Remarketing, which will enable you to serve adverts to people who have already been introduced to your business in some way.

This is done through the use of a tracking code installed on your website which will allow you to set up “remarketing lists” or alternatively by uploading email lists into Google. Once you have a remarketing list set up you can tailor adverts to that list and get a better response. For example, someone who has visited your website and added some tennis shoes to the basket but didn’t finish the checkout could be served with an advert reminding them to finish their purchase, you could even offer a discount for extra enticement in case it wasn’t just time they are short of. You don’t have to tailor adverts to this list, you could serve the same advert to remind people of your product that they might have been distracted from the first time or use it as a defence against competition and make the investment you have made in that person, so far, not go to waste.

Location Targeting

The locations you choose to show your adverts will depend on what type of business you are, your budget and your target market.

If you are a local business with a website, you might want to keep your location targeting local too. If you have a limited budget, then you might want to find out which areas are more lucrative for you and start with those first. If your target market is university students then you might want to target areas around universities.

Product Feed Optimisation

A product feed is a spreadsheet of products used to create shopping adverts. It contains information about the product broken down into columns, some of which are required before your adverts will be approved and ready to run. You can find the list of columns here: https://support.google.com/merchants/answer/7052112?hl=en-GB.

Most of the optimisation is done on the titles, descriptions and product images. In the title, your main goal is to try to tell the searcher what they need to know without the need to click into the product. The image needs to be clean, clear and it is best practice to change stock images to stand out, as there might be 10 other businesses with the same product appearing in that search. The description can be an expansion of the title so that it includes a bit more information about the product, but it doesn’t show on Google’s results page alongside the title and image, so it doesn’t require the same treatment.

For a Shopping Campaign, you will need a well-optimised product feed and that will be all the preparation you need.

Campaign Monitoring and Optimisation

The next steps after launching your campaign are to monitor the results and use the data gathered to make decisions on optimisations. Different campaigns have different needs, as such you will be monitoring different metrics on Search Campaigns compared to Display Campaigns and making changes and updating at different frequencies and for different reasons on each too. We will be providing a brief guide on campaign optimisation soon – subscribe to our mailing list to be informed once it’s published.  Also, see our glossary on PPC language to help your understanding more.

Search Engine Marketing is a technical, complicated and ever-changing environment.  Take expert advice and support to make sure your campaigns are optimised and providing value for money.

Blunt thinking on Search Engine Marketing from Yorkshire Powerhouse

Guides within this section

PPC Glossary

Guide:Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Glossary

Quality Score

Guide:What is ‘Quality Score’ on a pay-per-click campaign

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