15. Setting up SEM Strategy

Search engine marketing is a custom approach to website promotion, as each business has to adapt the online promotion strategy according to its needs, budget, resources, possibilities, competitors, etc. All of these are factors that influence the process of developing SEM strategy, as those are unique characteristics of the company in question. There is no universal strategy that can be copied and used with several companies, as the factors influencing the strategy will determine the success of the strategy. 

Therefore, if you see a strategy that has been applied on another company with lots of success, it does not mean that the same strategy will produce the same results if used by your company. You need to be aware that each situation in unique and different conditions will result in different outcomes, regardless the fact that the same process was used.

Despite the fact that each SEM strategy is different and conditioned by the company’s need, budget and resources, there are steps that are universal when it comes to developing your own strategy. Thus, you should avoid implementing a strategy developed by someone else, but you should rather follow the steps in order to develop your own approach based on your own business. This kind of approach is the only one that can lead to success.

1) Establish a plan

Planning is an initial stage of each process, as it helps you determine where you are and where you want to be. Therefore, planning should always be the first part of developing a strategy, regardless if that is SEM strategy or any other strategy, such as SMM strategy or email marketing strategy.

You should start by defining where you are. Try answering some of these questions:

  • Do you have a website?
  • If yes, how many visits do you have on the website?
  • Do you sell online?
  • Do you currently use any other type of promotion?
  • Do you have any prior experience with SEM?
  • If yes, do you have any data that would be useful (such as the list of keywords)?

All of these and other similar questions are meant to present a clear picture of where you are in terms of search engine marketing. After you have finished defining where you are, focus on where you want to be. This will be your plan, to create a strategy that will lead you where you want to be. Some of the questions to help you:

  • How do you want to improve your website?
  • Do you want to increase sales / visits on your website?
  • Do you want to promote new product(s)?
  • Do you want to expand the influence of your brand?

Plan is a general idea on where you want to be headed. This is a sort of a roadmap you wish to follow in order to achieve your goals. Planning is the initial stage but it should be influenced by other steps of developing SEM strategy, as you want to create a plan that is realistic, and that can be achieved based on the current situation.

2) Highlight the goals

Once you have set up the plan or the roadmap of where you want to take your business, you need to highlight the goals. Goals are the tasks you want to achieve with your strategy, and they can be short-term or long-term. What you need to have in mind, when highlighting the goals you want to accomplish, is the following:

Realistic goals

Your goals have to be realistic and based on the overall plan you have developed. They need to be plausible, based on your company’s assets, needs and type of business, as otherwise, you are at risk of all your efforts being in vain. If you do not set up realistic goals, you might as well just give up your marketing strategy completely, as you will not be able to achieve the goals you have set for yourself, and the strategy is going to fail.

Realistic also means that you are being objective when it comes to setting up the goals. Instead focusing on your desires and dreams, focus on what you have and how to use that to improve your business and go ahead. You need to impartially observe your current situation, regardless if this is something you like or dislike, and consider how to improve it. This kind of approach will help you stay on track and be objective when highlighting the goals.

Measurable goals

The second important characteristic of goals is that you have to set up measurable goals. This is important for the analysis of the efficiency of the marketing strategy, as it helps you evaluate whether and to which extend you have been able to achieve the goals you have set up.

For example, “I want to improve sales” is not a good goal. It may be realistic and objective, as you will eventually improve the sales through your search engine marketing strategy, but it cannot be measured, and thus it prevents you from calculating ROI. You will not be able to compare the assets you have invested into the strategy with the results, and therefore, you will not know whether the strategy is in fact profitable.

If you want a goal to be both realistic and measurable, you need to add some sort of quantifier to the goal we have mentioned above. For example, “I want to improve sales by 20%”. This way, you will calculate the sales after the marketing campaign, and you will see if the sales are in fact increased by 20%. Furthermore, you will be able to calculate how much it costs to achieve this increase, as this will equal to the investment used in the implementation of search engine marketing strategy.

3) Determine the available and necessary resources

This part of developing a successful strategy is very important, as you have to be aware of the amount of resources you are able to invest into this strategy. The resources include time you will need to spend implementing the strategy, as well as the budget you will need to assign to paid advertising or for hiring a person who will be in charge of the implementation of the marketing strategy.

Once you know how much you can invest, you are ready to assign the resources necessary for your strategy to succeed. Being aware of the exact investment will make it much easier for you to analyze the success of the strategy by analyzing ROI.

You should make a list of all the resources that are available on one side, and the amount of resources needed to implement the strategy on the other side.

4) Analyze the market and competitors

The next step is to analyze the situation on the market. You have to research the demand and supply on the market, you have to analyze the situation in the search engine result pages, and you have to be aware who your competitors are. All of this will help you establish a plan that will have much more chances of succeeding as it will start with a realistic picture of the current situation.

Analysis will also help you refine your approach if necessary, as you will see which kind of approach was more successful with your competitors. The results will also help with customizing the search engine ads and choosing the keywords, as you want to be unique and original, in order to be distinctive from your competitors.

Here are some points to address during this step:

  • Are you a local or a global business?
  • What is your target audience?
  • How do you expect to reach your target audience?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What kind of marketing are your competitors using?
  • Which keywords do you plan on using?
  • Are those keywords competitive?

4) Choose the media

Up to here, you have pretty much developed a plan for your strategy, and now it is time you developed a plan to approach the potential customers. There are different platforms where you can reach and establish relationship with the potential customers, and those include:

  • Website
  • Blog
  • Search engine ads

Since search engine marketing includes paid advertising (search engine ads) and organic positioning, you achieve with your website or blog, the best idea is to combine these three when creating a strategy to reach potential customers, as this ways you leverage the media at hand in order to maximize the potential reach.

Although paid and organic reach are different types of SEM and they do require different approach and strategy, if you want to leverage both, you should create a strategy that combines the two approaches and exploits the benefits of both paid and organic reach.

5) Choose the tools

Now that you have identified your goals and the approach you are going to use, it is time to choose the tools you will be using to implement and monitor the strategy. Therefore, we will divide the tools into two phases:

Implementation phase

This is the phase where you basically apply everything you have been planning from the beginning, in the way you have chosen. Regardless if you work on paid or organic reach, there are the tools you will need to use to conduct certain tasks and to ensure the efficiency of the strategy.

Here are some of the tools you will be needing at this phase:

  • Advertising program to create ads (Google AdWords or Bing Ads)


  • CMS (Content Management System) to host your website or blog (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc.)
  • Additional plug-ins or features on your website, to help you optimize your website

Monitoring phase

This phase should start simultaneously with the implementation phase, as the best way to improve and quickly fix your strategy is to do it as soon as you notice that it does not provide desired results. You will probably need at least a month of applying search engine marketing strategy before you can be sure that the data you obtain are reliable, so that you can compare them with predictions and plan.

In order to make sure that you have enough data to analyze in this phase, you need tools to help you track the statistics of organic and paid reach.

Here are the tools you should consider using for this purpose:

  • Advertising program to analyze the performance of the ads (Google AdWords or Bing Ads)
  • Analytics program to analyze the performance of your website (Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, website statistics, etc.)
  • Trackable links (Bitly, Google URL shortener, etc.) to monitor the click through rate from different sources, such as social media, in order to determine how those influence your website’s performance

You should be aware that there are a lot more tools you could use, and the choice mainly depends on you, as you should choose the tools you are comfortable with, regardless if those are free or paid tools.

Once you have finished all of the steps above you are ready to start your search engine marketing strategy. Following these steps ensures that you in fact can set up and conduct a strategy that will ultimately result in lots of benefits to your business, regardless if your goal is to increase sales, work on branding, increase the number of subscribers on your mailing list, etc.

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