• 7 Questions to Ask Your SEM Firm (to sound like an expert!)


It’s no secret that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) can be an effective digital marketing tool. The effectiveness and the ROI of a well-managed SEM campaign is substantial, and can strengthen when you bring in an SEM firm or expert.

Think about it: the day-to-day optimizations and campaign adjustments can be time consuming. With an outsourced pro, you can spend your time actually running your business, not worrying about Google AdWords and the Yahoo Bing Network.

However, while you may want to bring in another company to help steer the wheel, it’s important to ask the right questions to make sure you’re staying on track.

Here are some conversation points and questions to help ensure your campaign runs smoothly and reaches its absolute maximum potential. Our goal? To have you talking – and sounding – like a true SEM expert.

1.) What is our keyword research process?

Your SEM firm probably uses the keyword planner and diagnosis tools provided by Google, but how are they building out the keyword list for your campaign? What goes into their selection process from the data Google makes available?

It can be helpful to ask for a full keyword list to review prior to actually going live. This confirms a few things: understanding how extensive your list is, and what sort of keyword match types you have incorporated. Here is a quick cheat-sheet on match types:

      • Phrase Match: Your ad shows when someone searches for your exact keyword or your exact keyword with additional words before or after it. By targeting “women’s hats”, your ad will show up for the phrase “buy women’s hats.”
      • Exact Match: Appear only when someone searches for your exact keyword, without any other terms in the search. By targeting [women’s hats], your ad will ONLY show up for the phrase “women’s hats” and not for “buy women’s hats.”
      • Broad Match: Your ad may show if a search term contains your keyword terms in any order, and possibly along with other terms. Your ads can also show for close variations of your keywords. By targeting “women’s hats,” your ad could show up for “women’s hats”, “buy ladies hats”, “womens caps”, etc.

The idea is to select a keyword list that brings the most qualified traffic to your website. Are all of your services included? Does the list include typos? Understanding your keyword research also brings us to our next question…

2) What are we using for negative keywords?

Negative keywords are a way to identify keywords or phrases that you do NOT want your ad to show up for. Incorporating negatives helps eliminate unqualified and unrelated traffic, and ensures you are targeting only the most relevant users and traffic.

For example, if you are an HVAC company, it makes sense to build a list of “heating” and “air conditioning” keywords. However, because your company provides residential HVAC installation and repair, you want to make sure your SEM expert includes all “auto” and “vehicle” HVAC terms as negatives so you don’t waste your budget on searches you can’t service.

3) How should we be measuring success?

There are a significant amount of metrics that surround SEM campaigns, so it’s important to work with your SEM team to determine what makes the most sense for you to help measure “success”. Clicks, impressions, and click-through rate are the most common data points that teams look at, but determining the ROI may take you deeper into the analysis.

Phone call tracking can be an effective tool, especially for measuring lead generation and new business. You can also ask your SEM team about conversion and e-commerce tracking – if applicable – so you can directly attribute sales (or email captures, or newsletter signups) to your campaign.

Understand the tracking and analysis available to your team to help direct you towards a more transparent campaign.

4) What is our ad scheduling?

Ad scheduling, or ad delivery, is an important component of any SEM campaign. Understanding the difference in ad delivery methods – and which strategy aligns best with your campaign – helps determine how long your budget lasts, and in turn, when and how your ad serves impressions.

Your ad scheduling strategy can fall into two buckets: “standard” or “accelerated” delivery – and the main difference is how quickly your ads are shown.

For standard delivery, the AdWords platform evenly distributes your daily budget across the entire day. This means that while you may not see your ad every time you look for it, you will receive impressions in the morning, afternoon, and evening. This is also known as “day-parting.” For accelerated delivery, your ads show at the top of the morning and display more frequently until your budget is up. This could mean a busy morning, but if you exhaust your daily budget, you’re done until the next day.

Both strategies have their benefits, but this is definitely something worth discussing with your SEM firm to determine a course of action.

5) Where are we linking?

Yes, keywords and ad copy are important, but the landing page(s) themselves will have more influence on conversions and campaign performance. Where do your ads click through to? Where are we directing traffic? If you have service- or product-specific ad groups (think “Residential”, “Commercial”, etc.), you will want to ask your firm if you are currently deep linking the campaign.

Deep links are destination URL’s (also known as “landing pages” or “click-throughs”) that go beyond your homepage. Deep links bring your users directly to the dedicated page that aligns with the subject of that ad.

Your deep links can be critical as they bring users immediately to the specific information they searched for. This can improve engagement as well as convert them into a customer with more efficiency than your homepage may have.

6) Are we bidding on brand names? Competitors?

You know your business better than anyone, including variations of your company name and, more importantly, your competitors. Your ability to identify other advertisers in your space can be an advantageous tool in your arsenal for SEM. If you are in a digitally competitive industry, you can incorporate your brand name and competitors’ names into your keyword strategy.

This can (obviously) be beneficial in a number of different ways. For one, you can place your ad – and your stronger call-to-action – above your competitor’s organic result. Also, clicks for these terms are typically cheaper than the more general industry terms. By bidding on your competitors’ names, you can boost your results (and gain a competitive edge) for a fraction of your SEM budget.

7) Can we sync up with my Google Analytics?

First off, if you are not using Google Analytics on your website – you should! Analytics help provide key metrics and web traffic data of your website to help determine site health, site effectiveness, and user behavior. You can also link this Analytics data directly to your SEM campaign.

Making this connection between Analytics and AdWords – which can be done easily through your SEM team – helps attribute lead generation to your campaign as well as benchmark user activity. How does the engagement of SEM-referred traffic contrast to your organic site visitors?

Clicks and click-through rate are key metrics in SEM, but what are the users doing on your site once they click? How does the bounce rate, time-on-site and pages-per-visit stand up to the rest of your site traffic?

It’s important not to feel pressured to run your own SEM campaign. Similar to car tune-ups, there is a reason why experts exist to change your oil, replace your filter, and top off your fluids. You feel more comfortable with an expert handling and managing unfamiliar processes to make sure they’re done properly and take the hassle off your hands.

With that said, once you bring in an SEM team for your business, follow these tips – and ask these questions – to both sound like an expert and ensure your campaign is fully optimized.

ThriveHive combines easy-to-use tools and expert guidance to help businesses stand out and get found online. Learn more about our guided marketing and advertising solutions here.

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