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Published on February 5th, 2013 | by Barney Garcia

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SEM Crib Notes for Beginners

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of online marketing that’s extremely important in gaining visibility for your website, yet there are so many terms to remember, you may forget your own name. Luckily, no one’s being graded here and using our SEM crib notes is 100% A-okay.

But first thing’s first;  Let’s start with a quick pop quiz!

Question #1: How does Search Engine Marketing promote your brand’s website?
Answer: Search engine results pages! (also known as SERPs).

Question #2: How does your website show up higher in search engine results?
Answer: By optimizing your website and using paid search.

That wasn’t so bad was it? However, if you’re scratching your head, no worries, you’re still doing ace. Here’s a bit more of a break down: SEM is the umbrella term that covers both Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which involves writing and continually tweaking your website content to achieve higher rankings in search engine results, and Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, which focuses on paid or sponsored advertisements.

So now that we’ve got the basics, let’s dive into the depths of SEM terms and definitions, open book allowed!

Basic Paid Search Terms

Query/Search Query – Refers to the keyword or keyword phrase a searcher enters into a search field, which initiates a search and results in a search engine result page with paid listings. This query will be relevant to your offering.

SERP – Refers to the search engine results pages that populate after the search has been entered.

Keyword – This is the word or phrase that someone enters into a search engine to bring up relevant results. The premise of PPC marketing is that you, the advertiser, will bid on relevant keywords to your business that you want your ad to show when a user searches for that matching keyword.

Ad – The ad is what a searcher sees after entering a keyword into a search engine. In PPC, these ads are usually text format, and include a Title, Description and Display URL. Ads can appear at the top of the page, above the natural or organic listings on a search engine results page, or and on down the right side of the page.

Ad Copy – The ad copy refers to the main text portion of a clickable search or context-served ad. The copy should describe and entice your audience with your offering, service or Call to Action.

Ad Title – This refers to the first line of text displayed in a clickable search or context-served ad. Ad Titles are also known as the Ad Headline, which is used to entice the searcher to click on your paid advertisement.

Display URL – This is the web page URL that a searcher sees in a pay per click text ad and appears as the last line in the ad. It’s generally a simplified path for the actual Destination URL, which isn’t visible to the searcher, but directs them to your desired landing page.

Landing Page/Destination Page – The web page searcher lands on after clicking on your ad. Generally, the purpose of a landing page is to provide the searcher with highly relevant information related to their search , n an effort to get the searcher to convert and complete a desired action. This page also serves as a way to track your conversions.

Bid – This is the maximum amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay each time a searcher clicks on their ad. This is similar to an auction, in which the advertiser with the highest bid will have their advertisement shown when a relevant search is submitted. Bid prices vary widely depending keyword popularity as well as on competition from other advertisers.

Here’s an example:

SEM Crib Notes

Pricing Terms

PPC – Pay Per Click – A model in which you, the advertiser, pays on a “per click” basis of their advertisement, versus on a CPM or impression model basis. PPC is the most common form of paid SEM.

CPC – Cost Per Click – the price you paid for a click on your ad.

CPM – Cost Per Impression – Price you paid for your ad to show 1,0000 times. Not used so much in PPC marketing but much more common in display marketing.

CPA – Cost Per Acquisition – How much an acquisition or a Conversion (sale, sign up, download) costs you.

Performance Terms

Now that you’re set up and familiar with the basic terms and pricing models, its time to see how your ads are performing. Below are terms related to the performance of your paid search ads:

Impressions – When a search engine shows your ad to an online user.

Clicks – When a user clicks on your ad and visits your website.

CTR – Click through Rate – Refers to the number of times your ad is clicked divided by the amount of times it was shown. For example, if your ad is shown 100 times and was clicked on 3 times (3/100=.03) your CTR would be 3%. The higher your CTR is, the better your ad is performing.

Conversion – Refers to a completed specific action or interaction you want the user to take, like a purchase, sign up, download, etc.

Conversion Rate – This refers to the number of visitors who convert (take a desired action on your site) after clicking through your ad, divided by the total number of click-throughs to your site for that ad. For example, if an ad brings in 100 click-throughs and 7 of the 100 clicks resulted in a conversion, then the conversion rate is 7% (7/ 100 = 0.07). Higher conversion rates generally translate into more successful PPC campaigns with a better Return on Investment (ROI).

Quality score: This is a score assigned by search engines that calculates an ad’s click-through-rate, analyzing the relevance of the landing page, and considers other factors used to determine the quality of a site. Quality score is important because ads with higher quality scores are generally placed higher on a page results (higher rank means more visibility) at a lower bid. Some of these determining factors include historical keyword performance, the quality of an ad’s landing page, and other undisclosed attributes. All major search engines use some form of quality score in their search algorithm.

Rank – This is the position in which your ad shows on the search engine results pages. For example, if you rank at position #1, you’re the first listed paid or sponsored ad on the first page. If you’re in position #8, it’s likely that your ad appears on the second page of search results. Rank and position affect your click-through rates and, ultimately, conversion rates for your landing pages.

Phew! That covers it. We told you there were a lot of terms! But with these SEM crib notes in hand, your pay per click marketing efforts will be honor-society worthy.

Sources for terms include: Search Engine Watch, SEMPo, and SEOBook

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About the Author

Barney Garcia

Barney Garcia is a Paid Media Marketing Manager for VerticalResponse.



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