The Changing SEMblance of Search Engine Marketing

You may not know it, but the online marketing and advertising industry is in the midst of its largest shift to-date, driven almost entirely by the rising popularity of the mobile consumer. For this reason, search engine marketers are faced with a new and unique set of obstacles and challenges – centered on optimizing the web experience for the mobile consumer.

“I can order pizza on Twitter,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman enthusiastically explains in one of Domino’s most recent TV advertising campaigns. To follow, Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria orders pizza right from her Smart TV, and Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland orders directly using an SMS-text message. Other companies use these advertising spots to drive app downloads or to attract a social media following, as you’ve probably observed from fast food companies and online apparel retailers. Both the amount of advertisements and the means by which we see them are in a constant state of change – but the trend is clear: Reach out to the mobile user or fade away.

Corey 1To bring this trend further into focus, mobile ad spend will account for 51.9% of total digital spending in 2015, signaling the demise of traditional desktop advertising, according to a September study from eMarketer. By 2017, digital marketing is projected to outspend TV advertising, driven largely by mobile ad spend, which is projected to capture just short of 70% of digital marketing space by 2019. While these statistics signal job security and opportunity for search engine marketers like me in the future, more importantly, they emphasize the central role we play in driving results for our clients whose customers live in an increasingly digitally-dominated world. Guess what? Google already knows.

When I arrived at Google Headquarters in California earlier this month, I was aware I would be among the brightest marketing minds at the center of the Internet universe. Sprawling over an incredible 3.1 million square feet of office space, the “Googleplex” employs over 11,000 people in the Bay Area and is a marvel of modern architecture – just as one would expect. The employees, dressed in everything from fedoras to Converse, seemed just as lost in the euphoric aura the campus exudes as I was. Against a backdrop straight out of a National Geographic magazine, brightly colored bicycles, open outdoor seating spaces, sand volleyball courts, and whimsical sculptures dotted the landscape. On the inside, Google touted designated napping areas, baristas, drawers and drawers full of snacks, and a college campus-style dining room which offered worldly food incomparable to anything I’ve eaten in Iowa. Oh, and did I mention the weather? I probably just shouldn’t. That’s enough “California dreaming” at my desk for the moment, let’s get back to digital marketing.

The entire purpose of our trip to Google was to attend a “Google AdWords Onboarding Bootcamp.” The primary objectives of this bootcamp were focused on the ability to easily identify our clients’ marketing objectives and key performance indicators, make sense of and communicate the results of our efforts to our clients and superiors, identify and troubleshoot campaign hiccups with pinpoint accuracy, and evolve our existing marketing strategies to remain relevant and profitable in an increasingly mobile world.

Corey 2Our time in the two-day training was spent participating in a number of interactive and engaging activities. Among the most memorable, the first activity forced us to explain a Google buzzword (quality score, for example) as if we were explaining it to our grandmothers. While SEMs typically do not operate much in a client-facing role, this activity reinforced our understanding of fundamental Google AdWords concepts. In the second activity that day, we were asked how to execute the best search engine marketing practices for our respective, assigned business. For “Local Larry’s Law Firm,” our group was able to determine that “driving calls,” as opposed to “focusing online sales,” or “driving in-store” sales would be our primary marketing objective. In determining how to best achieve that objective, we sought out mobile bid adjustments, call-only ads, call adjustments, and ad scheduling.

On the second day of bootcamp, we focused a bit more on optimization strategies for client campaigns, especially in terms of enhancing the mobile user experience. One of the most important optimization strategies lies in achieving continuity between your search terms, keywords, ad text, and landing page experience – strengthening these areas not only enhances your cost-per-click, but also provides you with more meaningful leads. Structuring your campaigns and ad groups on a more granular and product or location-specific level also has been shown to improve campaign performance. Further, refining your targeting, both in terms of geography and audience, can play a crucial role in providing high-quality leads when poorly performing groups and locations are excluded. The utilization of the appropriate type of extension on your ads plays a crucial role in providing the customer with location, contact, and special promotion information about your business. Additionally, in the event that you obtain or have an existing client who has not built a particularly-friendly mobile site, call extensions and call-only campaigns can be a vital tool in driving phone calls. Fun fact: Online users reported that the top reason they leave a mobile site is due to a difficult user-experience (slow loading speed, hard to navigate, etc.) In order to ensure your clients aren’t leaving you for your competition, optimizing and revisiting your mobile strategy is key.

Corey 3In terms of mobile user experience, Google rattled off a number of staggering statistics which only serve to emphasize the important role mobile plays in the future of SEM. In noting that the average American checks his or her phone more than 150 times per day, spends five hours online, and use smartphones more often than not to research an upcoming purchase, the presenters at the Google mobile seminar energetically highlighted mobile trends and usage. Visiting the site can provide you with more detailed information about mobile, desktop, and multi-device consumer trends, and can be a helpful tool in demonstrating the value of a search engine marketing campaign to a prospective or skeptical client. To further emphasize my point, I reference the statistic that mobile search queries containing the phrase “near me” have doubled in number between 2014 and 2015. Do you get it yet?

Too often, clients become hyper-focused on specific metrics of campaign performance without understanding which key performance indicators denote successful performance, including but not limited to conversions and calls, and even those as minute as ad rank and impression share percentage. At Google, we learned how to designate value to each of the various types of campaigns by understanding that each customer in the online market is in a different step of the buying process, and while a click or impression may not derive the same amount of value as a conversion or call, these types of metrics should be viewed as a valuable “part of the consumer journey.” Different types of search engine marketing campaigns are created to meet their own set of analogous objectives, all with the overarching goal of calculating and/or influencing the customer’s next move. In considering the steps a consumer may pursue prior to purchasing a car, understanding the three-tiered marketing funnel is beneficial for not only search engine marketers, but their superiors and clients as well.

What I’ve had the chance to learn in my short time as a search engine marketer is that this industry is highly vulnerable to change and in order to ensure we’re meeting our clients’ demands, it’s important we are always seeking new ways to improve and evolve for our clients; because, after all, “We love it when you succeed.”


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