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6 SEM Best Practices Growth Marketers Need To Master

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6 SEM Best Practices Growth Marketers Need To Master

Growth marketing and growth hacking are terms you hear loosely thrown around.

There are even job titles and functions that specialize in “growth hacking.”

But, what does growth marketing actually mean?

Simply put, growth marketing is finding and driving the right customers to your business. These are the people who are most likely to purchase from your brand – whether they’re at the top of the funnel or the bottom of the funnel.

So, what’s the key to growth marketing in today’s world?

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Three words: search engine marketing (SEM).

Not to be confused with just PPC or SEO, search marketing has proven time and time again to produce successful results.

SEM is not a short-term effort: it’s an ongoing strategy to drive more qualified customers to conversion in the long term.

Below are six best practices for winning at SEM in today’s market.

1. Deliver Value Across The Decision Journey

As the behavior of your fragmented customers evolves, your growth marketing plan should as well.

Who are the customers behind all those clicks?

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Research from Microsoft Ads allows us to better understand the five distinct stages of purchase intent all customers share:

  • Awareness: Getting background information and buying landscape to become a more informed researcher.
  • Consideration: Exploring buying guides, recommendations, and products that meet basic criteria. Comparing a handful of products that meet the customer’s criteria, including ratings, reviews, features, and cost.
  • Conversion: Finding where to buy, then seeing pricing and promotions, availability, and local stores – eventually making a purchase.
  • Maintain: While already having a relationship with a brand, they may come across products or services in different areas that you provide.
  • Expand: The user is a satisfied customer and leaves reviews for your business, word of mouth to peers, etc. These people then go into the Awareness stage.

2. Align Your Campaign & Business Goals

Search can impact, and help you measure, your business goals.

Be sure to align your SEM strategy with your campaign objectives:

  • Brand awareness and perception: Bid competitively on your non-brand, brand, and competitors’ keywords. Non-brand searches are the key to starting a journey: 69% of brand ad clicks are influenced by a non-brand search query. Searchers were 30% likelier to conduct a branded search after being exposed to a brand ad on a generic search query or a competitor’s branded query.
  • Win new customers: Consumers rely on search to inform purchase decisions. SEM can help with every stage of the decision process.
  • Drive sales: Search’s strength is driving conversions. It outperforms other marketing channels across devices in conversion rates.
  • Enter new markets: The ubiquity of search allows you to activate a cross-border marketing strategy that drives foot traffic with Location Extensions, gets more phone calls with Call Extensions, and increases ad clicks with Sitelink Extensions.

3. Expand Your Marketing Funnel

As our constant companion, search is no longer just a product – it’s a behavior.

We turn to search at all times and in all places, whether on our desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Understanding how people search at different points on their purchase journeys opens the door to engaging your brand with this new audience.

Having become an engine of insights, search now delivers influence throughout the five buying stages (awareness, consideration, conversion, maintain, and expand).

SEM also reinforces your conversion funnel and unifies disparate marketing activities.

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4. Take Audience Targeting To The Next Level

Right-time, right-place engagement alone is no longer enough to compel potential customers.

You need to reach as many unique searchers as possible utilizing audience targeting.

Step 1: Build richer buyer personas that consider these factors:

  • Behavioral: Past behaviors are useful for understanding consumers’ interests and their likelihood to purchase. To better measure user behavior, analyze activities across websites, searches, and content.
  • Demographic: Buying preferences are influenced by elementary but important factors that include age, gender, and location.
  • Contextual: Consumers often search at the moment. Analyzing where, when, and how they search can provide useful content for creating more impactful ad campaigns.

Step 2: Choose keywords that align with the key stages and mindsets of your target customers:

  • Awareness: Keywords such as “What is” and “Benefits of” work best at this stage.
  • Consideration: Keywords such as “Buying guide” and “Models” work best at this stage.
  • Conversion: Keywords such as “Where” and “Coupon” work best at this stage.
  • Maintain: Keywords such as “Support” and “Experience” work best at this stage.
  • Experience: Keywords such as “Reviews” work best at this stage.

5. Lift Other Investments With Paid Search

Optimize your search efforts by combining organic search with a paid SEM strategy.

  • Search and social: Customers who click your paid search and social ads are likelier to buy and spend more. Strengthen your keyword coverage to get more impressions, and tailor your bidding strategy for commercial-related PPC campaigns.
  • Search and TV: Search volume spikes for days after a commercial airs. In a Catalyst Digital study, search volume spiked over 30% vs. the same day and times when a commercial did not run.
  • Search and display: Running search and display simultaneously can allow you to make the best decision on which channel drives the best results, which may be both according to Investis Digital.
  • Search and other channels: When Microsoft Ads is alone in the purchase path, purchases have a 27% higher order average order value than purchases not including Microsoft Ads, which also generate value when paired with other channels.

6. Fight & Win The Battle For Paid Search Budget Share

SEM still competes with other channels for a share of your marketing budget.

So, bring along hard data that connects the dots between search engine marketing and business benefits.

Your budget share battle plan involves three elements:

Pick The Right Metrics To Measure SEM Impact

Metrics provide an easy way to see what is and isn’t working.

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Your team can test, change, and optimize your brand’s SEM strategy for better results.

Focus your reporting by identifying and tracking key performance indicators that reflect your business goals:

  • Acquiring new customers.
  • Driving foot traffic.
  • Getting more phone calls.
  • Increasing ad clicks.
  • Building your brand trust.
  • Expanding cross-border strategy.

Separate SEM Impacts From Other Channels

Know which channels drive your marketing results.

Each sale is the culmination of a series of marketing touches that may involve several channels over the course of days, weeks, or even months.

Attribution gets quite complex at times, so if you can prove campaigns with paid search delivers ROI and bottom-line results, you’ll unlock more budget and further optimize search performance.

If you are still looking at conversions through a last-click attribution model, you could be vastly underestimating how other channels and tactics contribute to the overall success.

Apply The Same Process To Allocate Budget Between Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

This last piece falls into place when you analyze the paid click share and query that each SEM option represents within your industry.

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You’ll not only get your business in front of a large audience, but you’ll also be confident that your paid ads will lead to clicks.

Conclusion

SEM is the backbone of today’s marketing mix and is crucial for growth marketing.

An expansion of channel availability, and multiple devices per user, can create a more fragmented customer journey.

One of the biggest challenges is getting the right message to the right customer, at the right time, on the right device.

In addition to these challenges, arguably the biggest challenge is measuring the success due to user-privacy limitations.

You no longer can afford to put all of your marketing dollars into one search ad network. If you want to grow your marketing, you must enlist other channels to expand your addressable market.

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Follow the best practices outlined here to maximize the reach, impact, and value of your paid search campaigns with bottom-line results.

Utilizing these best practices will equip you when trying to obtain marketing resources or budgets.

More Resources:


Featured Image: suphakit73/Shutterstock



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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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Featured Image:Ismael Juan/Shutterstock

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