The Small Business Owners Guide To Search Engine Marketing

Published: August 10, 2019
Author: Martin William Harvey

Chapter 1: What is Search Engine Marketing?
Chapter 2: SEM vs SEO
Chapter 3: Google Ads Bidding Strategies, Networks and Goals
Chapter 4: How does Search Engine Marketing work?
Chapter 5: Who can help me with Search Engine Marketing?
Chapter 6: Search Engine Marketing of the Future

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What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the strategy and process behind attracting a particular customer type to a specific web page (commonly referred to as a landing page) through search engine paid advertising efforts.

The most common type of SEM is Google Ads (previously Google AdWords). With over 4 million companies using the platform, Google Ads is the most used advertising platform in world, beating Facebook by almost 2 million advertisers. Other platforms include, Bing Advertising (which combines both Bing and Yahoo search engines), and DuckDuckGo.

In this article, we will mainly focus on the Google Ads platform since it is the most used and the most beneficial to small businesses in general. With that said, Bing Advertising and DuckDuckGo do offer advantages to those businesses targeting customers in a specific market. For example, due to DuckDuckGo’s privacy features, advertising on the platform would benefit businesses with customers older than 50, but wouldn’t benefit businesses only focused on advertising to millennials. This is because, those older than 50 generally place a higher priority on privacy than their millennial counterparts and in result are more likely to use a search engine like DuckDuckGo.

Search Engine Marketing is just part of the Pay-Per-Click marketing category but it is used to generate revenue to millions of businesses large and small – simply because it works. In 2018, Google reported that the average conversion value of a campaign was worth at least twice the price they paid for the click. Search Engine Marketing also benefits advertisers by allowing a range of budget options and flexible customizable advertising strategies that can be experimented and tested on a variety of markets.

In this guide we will discuss how Search Engine Marketing can (if done correctly) grow your business, the in-depth bidding strategies, networks and goals Google Ads offers and ways we can help you grow your business through Search Engine Marketing.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is similar to Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Both are strategies designed to result in business profit and both are aimed at attracting users to visit a website from a search engine. However, SEM is a strategy that attracts a certain customer type to a particular landing page through paid advertisements, while SEO accomplishes the same through non-paid advertisements.

So, if utilizing SEO doesn’t require payment to achieve the same results, why pay for SEM? The answer is simple, SEM such as Google Ads, is instant advertising that drives immediate results while SEO can take 12 to 18 months to earn the top spot in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). To read more about Search Engine Optimization and the 205 factors Google uses to rank web pages click here.

A balanced marketing strategy will have goals for both SEO and SEM, because as the website’s SEO improves the budget for SEM can be decreased without loss of traffic and profit.

Google Ads Bidding Strategies, Networks and Goals

Search Engine Marketing runs on an auction-based system to allow advertisers to compete for an unlimited number of keywords and phrases. There are several types of bid strategies that an advertiser can use on Google Ads that fall into three category types (Smart Bidding, Clicks, Impressions). Bidding strategies include:

  1. Target Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPA) – With this strategy, the advertiser sets a max acquisition goal or target conversion goal. Google then uses machine learning to get the most conversions at or below the conversion goal.
  2. Target Return-On-Ad-Spend (ROAS) – With Target ROAS, the advertiser’s goal is to gain a certain amount of conversions for the budget. For example, if the advertiser wanted to make $2 in profit for every $1 spent, then Google uses automated bidding to reach this goal. Target ROAS is a Smart Bidding strategy.
  3. Maximize Conversions – This strategy doesn’t use a specific target when optimizing bids, instead it assumes the advertiser wants to use the entire allocated budget. Based on this assumption, Google uses Smart Bidding and machine learning to gain the maximum amount of conversions for the advertiser’s budget.
  4. Enhanced Cost-Per-Click (ECPC) – If the advertisers goal is to get the most clicks on the ad, then ECPC allows for optimized bidding. ECPC is a Smart Bidding strategy that automatically adjusts manual keyword bids based on if the user is more or less likely to make a conversion.
  5. Maximize Clicks – This is a Click strategy and it is the simplest way to bid for clicks using the Google Ads platform (notice we said “simplest” not “smartest”). This strategy works by optimizing keyword bids based on the advertiser’s budget to maximize ad clicks.
  6. Manual CPC Bidding – Manual bidding is a Click strategy that allows the advertiser to manage the maximum CPC of each keyword themselves without optimization by Google. This strategy should only be used if the advertiser has a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
  7. Target Search Page Location – If the goal is for people to see the ad, then Target Search Page Location (an Impression strategy) is a viable strategy. For advertisers competing for highly-competitive keywords then using this strategy Google will bid based on the advertiser’s ability to rank #1. Before using this strategy, the advertiser should make sure the quality score of each ad is maximized.
  8. Target Outranking Share – This Impression strategy benefits advertisers whose goal it is to have their ad appear higher than a particular competitor. This strategy only allows you to choose one domain to outrank and is best used when advertising on the Search Network only.
  9. Cost-Per-Thousand-Impressions (CPM) – This Impression strategy allows the advertiser to pay per thousand impressions rather than per conversion or click. This strategy can be used on the Search, Display and YouTube network.
  10. Cost-Per-Thousand-Viewable-Impressions (vCPM) – vCPM is not available on Search Network Only campaigns, however its main purpose is to increase brand awareness. For advertisers who are not necessarily focused on immediate clicks or conversions, this Impression campaign is great strategy for remarketing and brand awareness marketing strategies.

The bidding strategies above can be used individually, however many successful Strategic Marketing plans use a combination of bidding strategies. Some strategies above are limited to the type of network the advertiser is advertising on. The types of networks Google Ads provides are:

  1. Search Network – The Search Network is a group of “search-related” websites such as Google.com where text ads can appear. The most common types of ads that appear on the Search Network are text, dynamic ads, call-only ads and shopping ads.
  2. Display Network – The Display network is a combination of 2 million Google partner sites that help businesses find the right audience for their product and maximize revenue. Common types of ads on the Google Display Network are image ads, video ads, responsive display ads, and Gmail ads.
  3. Shopping Network – For eCommerce websites, the Google Shopping Network is a way of getting products in front of consumers when they search Google. To use the Shopping Network, the advertiser much have a Google Merchant Account.
  4. Video Network – The Video Network is a combination of YouTube advertising and the Google Display Network. Common Video Network ads include In-Stream Ads, Video Discovery Ads, Outstream Ads, Non-Skippable In-Stream Ads, and Bumper Ads.
  5. App Network – For advertisers trying to increase mobile app sales, the Google App Network provides a combination of Google Search, Google Play, YouTube and Google Display Network. These ads are optimized for instant installs.

It is critical that the advertiser creates a complete Strategic Marketing plan before choosing a single or combination of the networks above. Choose the wrong network or choosing the wrong combination of networks can make or break the outcome of your strategy.

In addition to Bidding Strategies and Networks, Google also allows advertisers to consider several goals when implementing a strategy. These include:

  • Sales
  • Leads
  • Website Traffic
  • Product & Brand Consideration
  • Brand Awareness & Reach
  • App Promotions

Depending on the Business Strategy, Bidding Strategy, Network and Goal, Google uses machine learning to reach and exceed the goals of the advertiser. With that said, it is important to note that Google is a for-profit company with millions of dollars’ worth of investment in advertisers and how they spend their money. Google will often times ‘recommend’ certain strategies or ‘recommend’ changes to campaigns. It is important to understand that these recommendations do not always have the business at heart and sometimes are recommended so the advertiser will spend more money.

This is a critical concept to understand and increases the importance of working with a company that is not only seasoned in Google Ads, but is also certified in their platform and understands what recommendations are in the best interests of the client and their business.

How Does Search Engine Marketing Work?

Search Engine Marketing runs on an auction-based system to allow advertisers to compete for an unlimited number of keywords and phrases. As discussed, advertisers have endless options when it comes to strategy, however Google’s system of delivering ads remains the same. In this section we will discuss the process of Google’s instantaneous on-demand auction that occurs every time a user inputs a search query into the Google search engine. We will also discuss how advertisers retarget customers across several platforms to increase conversion rates.

The Google Auction

The Google Auction is an instantaneous process that takes place behind-the-scenes every time a user enters a search query into the Google search engine. Unlike SEO, which is dependent on a long-term content and authority building strategy, Google Ads uses relatively few factors when determining which paid ads to show and what order to show multiple paid ads in.

Before we look at the process, first let’s discuss the factors Google takes into consideration when determining which paid ads to show and in what order. Google uses two major factors – Max Bid and Quality Score.

Max Bid is based on the maximum bid the advertiser gave Google in the Google Ads campaign. The Quality Score is a little more complicated and more importantly cannot be bought. Quality Score is based on a scale of 1-10 and is made up of three components:

  • Ad Click-Thru-Rates (CTR) – the CTR of an individual ad is determined by taking the number of clicks dived-by the number of impressions. The average CTR for an ad can be different depending on the industry (see our chart below to find yours). If your ad’s CTR is lower than your competitors, then your Quality Score goes down.
  • Landing Page Experience – The Landing Page Experience is not clearly defined by Google; however, we can assume that they take several SEO factors into consideration when determining how well your landing page is performing. These include bounce rate, mobile friendly test and page load speed. If the landing page is considered not mobile friendly, slow or has a high bounce rate, Google could decrease the ads overall Quality Score.
  • Ad Relevance – Ad Relevance is determined by how relevant the ad is to the keyword it is bidding for. For example, an ad bidding for the term “jet ski” should have some indication of the term “jet ski” in the ad. If the ad is not relevant to the keyword it is bidding for, then the Quality Score decreases.

Once an ad has a Quality Score and a Max Bid that has been approved in the Google Ads campaign, the auction can begin.

Once the user has entered a search query in the Google search engine, Google goes to work not only determining which paid ads to show and what order to show them in, but also how much each advertiser pays based on the strategy they are using and the value of their Quality Score.

For example, let’s assume a user enters the search query “dentists near me that take delta dental insurance”. This is a pretty specific request by the user and in addition to finding the best organic search results, Google also has to find paid ads that also meet the requirements of the user’s request.

First, Google finds all ads that qualify for this search query by locating the user’s approximate location based on the computers IP address or mobile signal. Only advertisers that target the location of the user will be filtered into the Google Auction.

Next, Google takes the Max Bid multiplied by the Quality Score to determine the ad rank (seen example auction below). Finally, to determine the cost of each ad (assuming they are using the CPC method), Google takes the Ad Rank of the ad that appears below you and divides it by your Quality Score adding an extra $0.01 for commission.

As you can see from the example above, Google rewards advertisers with higher Quality Scores with higher ads rank, even if the Max Bid is lower than the competition. At the same time, an advertiser that has a high Max Bid, but low-Quality Score will pay sometimes twice as much as the advertiser with a high-Quality Score and low Max Bid even if the advertiser is ranking in 3rd or 4th place.

This is why we always recommend working with a certified company that understands the Google Ads platform when choosing to use Search Engine Marketing to grow a business. It is clear to see that by working with a professional, time and money can be saved in the long-term.

Google Display Network

The Google Display Network is commonly used for remarketing and brand awareness purposes. By linking Google Ads to Google Analytics, the possibilities for remarketing are truly endless. Based on goals set up in Google Analytics, advertisers can remarket to people who browsed their website from social media, organic search, referral traffic or even paid search. They can determine which exact ad the user will see and approximately when they will see it. Advertisers can target by language, demographic, location, device used and even browser used when browsing the website.

When a user visits a website, a discreet “cookie” is placed on the user’s browser. This allows Google to track the user as they explore products, read blogs or fill out forms. This also allows Google to let the advertiser know if the user created a Conversion or reached a desired Goal.

When the user leaves the website, Google (through Google Analytics or Google Ads) determines if the user needs to be remarketed to based on how the advertiser set up the strategy and campaign. If the user falls into a remarketing category, then the user will see an ad from an hour to 90 days after they initially visited the website based on the advertiser’s campaign settings.

Remarketing, like the Google Auction, requires a Google Ads professional and a strategy to truly see a return-on-investment. We recommend working with a certified Google Ads professional when running remarketing campaigns.

Who Can Help Me With Search Engine Marketing?

Although Google boasts that business owners can manage their own Google Ads account (which is technically true), we do not recommend it. Business owners that manage their own Google Ads accounts tend to spend more money and achieve less business growth over time.

We recommend working with a Certified Google Ads Professional or Company that understands the advanced inner-workings of the Google Ads platform. Google recommends advertisers hold several certifications including:

  • Google Digital Sales Certification
  • Google Ads Display Certification
  • Google Ads Mobile Certification
  • Google Ads Search Certification
  • Google Ads Video Certification
  • Google Ads Shopping Certification
  • Google YouTube Certification

Altogether that is 61 hours of training to earn the Google Certifications above, and those certified are required to recertify ever year for proficiency. At White Whale Web Design, we take these certifications seriously and we currently have all of the certifications above including seven others than ensure we are equipped to create some of the best strategies and marketing plans for our clients.

Before partnering with a professional of company, ask them if they have the certifications above to ensure they have the most up-to-date information that comes with the Google Ads platform.

Search Engine Marketing of the Future

In 2019, Google introduced nine massive changes to the Google Ads platform to help advertisers further engage with audiences around the world. The changes include:

  1. Discovery Ads – Google introduced Google Discover in 2018 as a news feed for users, now Google is allowing advertisers to get in on the action.
  2. Gallery Ads – Gallery Ads are similar to Facebook ads in the sense that they are image heavy including 4 to 8 images with a 70-character tagline for each image and up to 3 headlines. Great for advertisers that have high quality images.
  3. Smart Bidding – This is something we discussed earlier in this article. Smart Bidding allows machine learning to optimize bidding.
  4. YouTube Bumper Ads – Google has now created a way for videos of less than 90 seconds to be automatically turned into YouTube ads. This is a great feature for small businesses with limited resources.
  5. Custom Audiences – Custom Audiences is the combination of the previous Affinity and Intent Audiences. This allows advertisers to target users based on their specific interest in a product or service.
  6. Audience Expansion Tool – This tool takes the audiences that have been saved in Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts and uses that information to find others that have not been introduced to the brand yet.
  7. Google Shopping – Google Shopping got a major face lift. The new design makes it easier for customers to find the products they need and increases engagement rates for businesses.
  8. Google Shopping Showcase Ads – With the new design, Google Shopping Showcase Ads allow users to purchase products while also be introduced to similar products from the same business.
  9. Local Campaigns – Local Campaigns are perfect for small businesses with brick-and-mortar locations. Local Campaigns are semi-automated and have the ability to increase the business brand awareness on a local level (much like Facebook Boosting).