85 percent of retail businesses report search engine marketing as their best tactic to acquire new consumers.
However, search engine marketing (SEM) is not the same as traditional SEO – even though they both operate on search engines and specifically target consumers through strategic keywords. Therefore, it requires a very different approach than its counterpart to achieve meaningful results.
SEO is the marathon. SEM is the sprint.
DesignRush sat down with Jim Flint, CEO and Founder of Local Search Group Digital Marketing, to learn how SEM is impacting business in 2019, how to build successful search engine marketing campaigns, how to increase revenue through SEM and much, much more!
DesignRush: Why is SEM so important for modern businesses?
Jim Flint: SEM is the “now” part of any “now” business. Society, in general, is not into delayed gratification as much as they are into instant understanding. Google and by extension SEM feeds that “instant on” aspect of today’s society.
Consumers are driven by smartphones. And the research out there tells us that if you aren’t providing good content to consumers in three seconds or less, you’re losing them.
The attention span of a goldfish is 8 seconds, but humans are down to 6 seconds – maybe less – and I think it’s due to smartphones. Users are constantly scrolling their Facebook feeds and searching the Internet for the latest and greatest information.
DR: What qualities ensure a successful SEM campaign?
JF: Relevance first, followed by Speed and then Intent. Intent is a big driver of successful SEM campaigns. We like to say, "There’s not a cent that’s spent without intent."
Capitalizing on intent is where Google separates itself.
Being relevant after the click is another big piece of the puzzle. Successful SEM ad campaigns aren’t so much built on whether or not you can write good ad copy, but whether or not you are taking your target audience to the information that they are expecting to see.
For example, consider a consumer that wants to compare a Camry and an Accord. You might be selling an Accord, but they are trying to understand the differences. So, don’t just take them to a landing page selling Accords – take them to content that outlines the differences between the two products.
DR: Are there any particular industries or types of businesses that benefit the most from SEM?
JF: Typically, the industries that benefit the most from SEM are those that have dynamic inventory that they’re looking to turn quickly.
For example, automotive industry dealers typically like to turn cars within 60 days. So, they need visibility quickly and want to target the person who will buy the car today.
Most of Local Search Group’s clients are big-ticket clients – automotive, furniture, RVs – who are looking for people who are in a buying mindset. Those people are actively searching for which cars they want to drive, what insurance plan they want, and so on – and we want to connect with them at their moments of truth. Moments like when they decide what to buy and just as importantly where to buy.
DR: How does SEM help to increase revenue?
JF: Essentially, you can increase revenue with SEM because you should expect a return on investment. At Local Search Group, we measure the cost per sale and work to drive that cost down for our clients.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you drive the overall ad spend itself down – you just make the ad spend more efficient.
For instance, if last month it took us on average $300 in ad spend to secure a sale, and we can drive that down to $275 or $250 per unit, we’re headed in the right direction because then you can ultimately sell more items at a better ratio.
We can also improve ROI by ensuring each ad has relevance. We’re able to deliver relevant ads that the target demographic cares about, which makes them more successful as well in Google’s eyes.
It is the ultimate win-win-win for consumers, retailers and agencies.
I know “www” is supposed to be the "world wide web," but I like to think win-win-win. How can we create a “win” for everyone?
DR: What promises to be the next evolutions in Search Engine Marketing?
JF: There are two major transformations going on right now in search. One is in voice search, with Alexa and Google Home. In fact, what you say is going to become as important – or nearly as important– as what you search. Facebook announced they are moving into this space as well.
Another evolution for us is the ability to track in-store conversions. Because people carry their smartphones almost everywhere they go, we can now see if people saw our ad, clicked on our ad, and then whether or not they visited the showroom.
This real-world application is what everyone has been looking for, too. In today’s business, it is certainly compelling.
DR: Which platforms do you believe are the most effective at driving in-store conversions?
JF: Google and Facebook are the best. They have the best data and we’ve known it for a while.
The geography side of the consumer information has been available since the late ‘90s when we had Nokia phones. The towers pinged the cell phones to transmit the signals. More recently we’re realizing the power that comes from developing models that consider geography and search histories in terms of how consumers make shopping versus buying decisions.
With this access to information, we can provide the right message to the right people at the right time. Some people may opt out of it, but others may want those timely messages presented to them.
DR: What tactics work well at driving those in-store conversions?
JF: The tactics that work best connect the consumers’ online experience to their instore experience.
For example, we serve carousel ads that people want to see based on their online shopping behavior. We are also taking the initiative to move people from the ad platform—say Facebook--to the website. It doesn't make good business sense to drive people in the other direction from your retailer website to Facebook. Yet, we see it all the time.
Ultimately, we want to bring people from Facebook to the website and then to the brick and mortar store. We use data and its predictive power to do so. Our analytical mindset helps us do this. We study different ratios and break thru to the next level of understanding through measurement.
Specifically, we review appearance ratios for in-store visits with our clients to understand how many people actually arrived in the facility after viewing an ad. This information can help retailers be more efficient in-store by bringing them better consumers. Additionally, it helps us be more efficient by identifying which creative sets are driving better outcomes.
Finally, we check personnel levels and ad spend levels and triangulate those to make sure that a business has enough employee power to process the foot traffic that our campaigns deliver. Believe it or not, we actually tell companies not to advertise if they don’t have the proper personnel levels that are required to close an in-store conversion.
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DR: What additional forms of marketing work well with SEM to provide even better results?
JF: Because the right landing page is key to a conversion, Local Search Group provides custom content and videos that provide the exact information users expect to see.
This works particularly well on Facebook and YouTube. We look at the information we need to serve to assist consumers further down the sales funnel. We take responsibility for what happens after the click seriously. It’s critically important.
For example, we have a college graduate purchase program that we do that matches the color of the ad with the university that the user is most likely to follow based on online behaviors. Then after the click, we have details on the specific program.
Our job is to create “meant-to-be moments.”
DR: Are there any other digital marketing strategies that SEM is moving towards?
JF: We are also looking into pushing our industries towards digital retailing, asking questions such as, how are automotive retailers going to transact online?
The idea is driven by brands like Amazon and Door Dash, where people have items dropped at their house. Those nuances will influence how major industries like automotive evolve.
DR: What are some unexpected search engine best practices that will help businesses improve in-store conversions?
JF: For me, it always blows me away when I look at Google Analytics and see that Google ad campaigns aimed at local businesses are driving traffic from outside the country or outside the state – regions that don’t actually benefit the business in terms of in-store conversions or transactions.
Google’s default settings may not be right for your business, so brands and retailers should look to eliminate advertising waste by making sure ad spend is not being served up in foreign countries or areas that have no potential for value.
Even if, by narrowing your location parameters, you’re reducing your reach from 100 to 50 or even 15, you should do it because those 50 or 15 are going to be meaningful potential customers that are that much more likely to make a purchase.
Plus, people like to shop local! We named our company Local Search Group, and believe that we focused on local search way before local search became cool.
Because Local has always been our area of expertise, we know how to make adjustments. We work in a very dynamic environment and collaborate with clients to increase exposure based on conversion data.
DR: Are there any core strategies that can improve local search engine marketing efforts?
JF: Impression share bidding is becoming more and more important because it sets the standard for clients. For example, it’s critical to know how much a business will show up in a defined geography when people search for their business name?
If you don’t understand and drive that key metric, you become vulnerable to competitors that can come in and steal a sale from you in your back yard.
SEM has a breathing-like flow – it expands and contracts, and sales and ad budgets should move accordingly. For instance, when there’s more demand, we want to spend more money. Then, we moderate the campaign in conjunction with demand. The days of “set it and forget it” are long gone.
DR: What are some other ways brands can use search engines to market their businesses outside of traditional SEM?
JF: I think one of the biggest ways is with well-written, feature-oriented press releases.
A good example of this was the grand opening of a car dealership with a client. A press release was a great way to highlight the location and pop to the top of search results. It helps our business, too. When we were ranked as one of the nation’s Top 25 Agencies for Marketing Strategies in 2019 it opened doors for us.
Consumers like to know when things are new, and strategic press releases that include good imagery can highlight new moments and create interest at both traditional and social media levels.
DR: Anything else to add?
JF: We go deep to understand Google.
For instance, I recently spent three days training with Google with my team in Austin. We work to perpetually upgrade our understanding because that’s what Google and Facebook are doing, too.
When Local Search was founded, we decided to be the top 5% of something or we weren’t going to do it. Accordingly, we’re now one of the Top 10 Agencies in Houston.
Google is so data-heavy, and our strategies are very data-focused. This approach works for our clients. In turn, our success is really their success.
We will continue to evolve for our clients through Google and Facebook in video, mobile and geography as those companies move to continue to make advances. Voice search isn’t too far away from being an advertising platform and we can’t wait. As we look forward, there’s still so much excitement in front of us, it’s hard not to be excited about what the future holds.
Plus, businesses that are looking for help building a successful SEM strategy can reach Jim Flint at local search group directly at [email protected] (for pressing matters, they can text him at 713-410-1466).