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3 More Helpful Tips for Optimizing your SEM Campaigns

SEM-Optimization-CampaignsThe previous post on this topic advised search engine marketers to bid on their own company name and branded terms, keep keyword lists clean and cross-pollinate SEO and SEM efforts. Here are three more tips for optimizing results from SEM programs such as Google AdWords.

1. Keep your content network clean. Used properly, content networks can add significantly to paid search lead generation. Though the click-through rate (CTR) is generally lower on content than on search, the cost per click is generally lower as well, and conversion rates are often quite respectable. The key, however, is to periodically check on the sites where your ad is appearing and exclude sites that are inappropriate, unproductive or spammy.

In Google AdWords, click Tools in the Campaign Management tab, then go to Site and Category Exclusion. First, click the Topics tab where you choose to preclude your ads from running on various kinds of sites such as those focused on sexually suggestive content or death and tragedy. Nest, click the Page Types tab where you can control the display of your ads on parked domains, forums and other types of sites.

Finally, you'll want to periodically look at the specific sites where your ads are running and selectively exclude sites where you don't want your ads to appear. Go to Reports...Create a New Report and run a Placement Performance report. Once the report is complete, sort it by Cost in descending order (to place the sites costing you the most money at the top of the list). Starting at the top of the list and working down, visit each website shown. When you come across a site where you don't want your ads showing, go back to Campaign Management...Tools...Site and Category Exclusion, and enter the URL in the box under Add Exclusions in the Sites tab. Be sure to save your work.

2. Establish a test schedule and stick to it. Set a testing schedule according to the volume of your campaign activity; test too often and you'll not only waste management time but also likely make decisions based on insufficient data. Test too infrequently and you'll end up wasting money.

How often should that be? Well, for example, I manage one campaign for a client with a niche product sold in a limited geographic area. Their AdWords budget is modest and produces only a few leads per month, but is very cost-effective. We test every three months; neither the budget, the management expense nor the campaign volume justify testing any more frequently.

On the other hand, a medium-volume b2b campaign may need to be checked and tweaked weekly, while a high-volume e-commerce site may test daily. The important point is to set an appropriate schedule for your program's volume, then stick to it in order to maintain efficient performance.

3. Understand the metrics and focus on ROI. Many small businesses throw a bunch of unrelated keywords into a single campaign and ad group, write one ad, and then send all traffic to their home page. Argh! Simply burning the money would be less time-consuming and almost as productive.

Keywords should be grouped logically into distinct ad groups, each with at least two different ads (for testing), with the ads pointed to a landing page with some type of conversion mechanism that can be tracked—either a purchase or, as is generally the case for b2b companies, a contact form offering some type of incentive for response (e.g., a product trial, podcast, video, white paper download or webinar registration).

Next, establish rules for when an action should be taken on a keyword, for example: 200 impressions without a click, or 100 clicks without a conversion. "Action" in this case may mean deleting underperforming keywords, or a less drastic action: rewriting ads (for low clicks) or landing pages (for low conversion rate) to better align with the keywords, adding negative keywords (one common example: ad groups should generally exclude the word "free" unless you really want to give something away), or tightening the match type for a keyword to phrase or exact match.

Ultimately, what you're looking for is keywords that produce leads below a certain cost point. For example, I have a product that sells for $400, and I don't want to pay more than 5% of that amount ($20) for a lead. So:
  • If a keyword produces leads that cost a lot more than $20, drop it.
  • If it produces leads that cost just a little more than $20, try adjusting the bid level down to get them under $20.
  • If a keyword produces leads at much less than $20—$5, for example—increase the bid to maximize the volume of these leads while keeping them with the target cost range.
Following these practices will help make Google AdWords a productive and cost-effective source of leads or sales rather than just a way to drive traffic of unknown quality.

Other recent posts on search engine marketing:
Best of 2008: Search Engine Marketing
Best of 2008: AdWords Tips and Tactics, Part 1
Best of 2008: SEM Landing Pages


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