If you’ve ever searched for ways to ensure that your clients and prospects find your firm in their online searches, you’ve likely come across the phrase search engine marketing (SEM). In a nutshell, SEM includes various methods for improving the chances that your firm will be included in search engine (read: Google) results. Think of it this way: if Google’s job is to find the best answer to searchers’ questions, SEM’s job is to help Google pick your firm as a high-ranking answer. It sounds like a no-brainer, but is SEM right for your firm? As with any decision that will affect your bottom line, there is a lot to consider before making the investment.
Tell your brand story with help from the Commonwealth Marketing team. Download our free brochure to learn more.
How Does SEM Work?
To make an informed decision on whether SEM is right for your firm, you first need to understand some of its key components.
Keywords. There are two main categories of keywords:
- Branded keywords are tied to your firm (e.g., firm name and advisor name). Because they are specific to you and your business, branded keywords are those for which you will consistently be a top search result.
- Nonbranded keywords are harder to rank on (i.e., where your site appears within the search results for a particular keyword). They include keywords common to many financial advisory practices, like financial planning for executive stock plans or help to retire in one year. To evaluate the nonbranded keyword opportunity, try doing a search using the specific terms where you’d like your firm’s name to appear on the first page of Google. That way, you can size up the keyword competition.
Natural search. You may know that search engine optimization (SEO) can help your company’s website appear on the first page of natural search results (i.e., any result without “ad” next to it). Google uses an algorithm to look at its search index and instantaneously deliver the best-possible search results. Ongoing maintenance to your site can help with SEO, but SEO is a long-range game. Blogs can be an effective strategy here. If blogging is something your firm does or would like to do, keep in mind that a best practice is to pick one topic and write about it in different ways, periodically, among other topics. It’s improbable that you will rank on the first page for all topics you blog about—but it’s possible for some topics as you gain credibility.
Paid search (or Google Ads). Here, text ads are placed for specific keywords, and you should see quick results. Paid search is controlled by factors you can influence directly, such as your ad, your website landing page experience, and the keywords you bid on (i.e., how much you’re willing to pay whenever a customer searches on that keyword and clicks your ad). When it comes to paid search, there are four things to keep in mind:
- Ensure that your paid search meets the searcher’s expectations. The user experience isn’t just about the ad. It’s also about what happens when the user clicks on it. For example, searchers should land on a webpage that addresses what they are looking for, not a homepage that doesn’t meet their needs. Wherever they land (e.g., an internal webpage or a landing page that relates to the paid search keyword), be sure it includes a clear call to action. For instance, you could have them request a free consultation, sign up to stay in touch with your newsletter, or provide an email address to receive a relevant e-guide.
- Tie your paid search to your financial success. In other words, you should calculate how much an action (e.g., a free consultation or a prospect’s email address) means to you. To help determine your budget, you’ll also need to research the cost of keywords and what your competitors are spending.
- Build a negative keywords list. In addition to the keywords you target, you’ll want to have a robust list of negative keywords to avoid. These are terms that will prevent your ad from being displayed for particular words or phrases that are not relevant to your business—and they are very important when it comes to maximizing your budget.
- Focus on keyword quality score. Every keyword has a quality score, ranging from 1 to 10 (from low to high). The score plays into Google’s algorithm to help it determine cost and placement. Your keyword’s score may be affected by several indicators, such as how relevant your ad is to your landing page or the ad’s click-through rates from Google search results.
Local search. If you want your firm to show up in searches focused on your city or state, Google needs to know where you are! So, your firm name, address, and phone number should be on your website footer. You might even take it a step further by writing for a local news outlet or a community site like Patch and linking to your site within the article.
One important note here: Google offers a local business directory called Google My Business (GMB). GMB allows recommendations, and there is no way to turn off this feature. As such, you may not be allowed to list your firm through GMB for compliance reasons.
Should You Hire an SEM Vendor?
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with SEM’s key concepts, it’s time to evaluate whether it’s worth the investment for your business. Before paying an agency or freelancer to help with SEM, be sure to take the following steps:
Evaluate your marketing priorities. There may be other priorities that should be addressed before diving into SEM. For example, do you need to update your website or logo to better project you and your firm?
Pinpoint the services you need. Be wary of vendor proposals that lack specifics. Services you might look for include technical audits and fixes, on-page optimization (e.g., title tags, keyword use), content creation, and link building.
Use metrics to measure success. SEM success is measured via specific metrics on which keywords, ads, and webpages provide the most value. Ask your vendor to give recommendations for improvement, as well as a breakdown of what SEM testing will be performed.
Assess your website. Your website should tell your brand story, act as a conduit for your audience to easily engage with your brand, build credibility and trust with your audience, and have a clear call to action in order to lead and motivate prospects to take the next step toward becoming clients. Without a strong brand story and clear brand differentiation, your website won’t be effective. Bottom line? If you don’t have a solid brand web experience in place, spending money on search results might be premature.
So, Is SEM Right for Your Firm?
SEM is much like a puzzle or game, where there are endless options for helping you stand out from the crowd. By understanding the SEM essentials and then planning your marketing goals and budget accordingly, you will be well positioned to find the SEM strategy that works for you.
Have you found success in using SEM for your firm? Did you use an outside vendor to help in your SEM efforts? Please share your thoughts with us below!