Digital Marketing for Skeptics

Lesson #4

How well does SEM work?

Welcome to Lesson #4.  So maybe it’s hard to attract people to your website with organic searches.  Let’s explore Google Ads and see how they help.

One Thing to do Right Now – Take 5 Minutes

Spend your five minutes doing some online searching.  Think about words or phrases your customers might use to find your business or one like yours.  Type them in and see what comes up.  How many ads are on the first page?  What companies are on the first page?  Where are you?  Try a bunch of keywords to see what you find and where your business is located. 


You can listen to Lesson 4 by clicking the play button to the left of the audio player here, or read the content below.


Things to think about from Lesson #4:

  • How much searching have you done using the search terms you think your customers might use? 
  • Do you keep track of any keywords you’ve used in the past to fine-tune your pay-per-click success? 
  • What is your budget for Google Ads and is it something you can keep going continuously?

Digital Marketing for Skeptics

Lesson 4 – How well does SEM work?

Hi there, and welcome to “How well does digital marketing work? Focus on SEM.”  This is the fourth lesson in the series, so hopefully you have already listened to the first three.

As always, I am Kelly Berry, your resident skeptic.

In the last lesson, we talked about SEO, or search engine optimization.  Let’s build on that a bit in this lesson to find additional ways to drive people to your website.

In this lesson we’re going to talk about SEM, or search engine marketing.  How can you make the most of your small business budget to increase the odds that your customers can find you online?

Are you paying for Google Ads now?

Let’s start with where you are right now for SEM.  Do you pay for any Google Ads?  Do you track your website activity with Google Analytics?  Do you know where the people looking at your website are coming from? 

For example, I know that the majority of my website views come through Linked In.  And I also know that about 90% of those looking at my website are doing so on a desktop rather than a mobile phone.  And – about 80% of those viewing my website are new visitors rather than returning visitors.  That information can help me make decisions about what to pay for to increase my website visitors. 

If you can track down similar information on your own website, it can help you map out a strategy for you to increase your visibility, either with SEO or SEM. 

Let’s Review the Search Page

Now let’s focus a bit more on the paid search and pay-per-click advertising.  Or more specifically, let’s talk about SERPs.  SERP stands for search engine results page.  That’s the screen you see when you do a Google search.  Typically, there are ads right on the top, and also on the right.  There might be some videos or images showing up depending on your search. If you’re asking a question, there is likely an actual answer, along with some similar questions with pull-down answers.  If you are asking about a location, then there is likely a map with local businesses that match your search highlighted.

The ads that appear on the top are paid results from businesses that are bidding on keywords through Google Ads.  The more money you pay, the higher you end up on the SERP. 

In the last lesson, we established that about two-thirds of the time someone does a Google search, they get the information they need right from Google and don’t ever click on any links to leave that Google search page.  This is considered a no-click search.  So how can we increase your odds of either being the answer for that Google search or getting them to actually click through to your website?

Where do you show up online?

First, do some testing.  Type in some of the keywords you think your customers might use, and see what comes up.  How many ads are there before the organic search results show up?  The more ads, the more expensive those keywords and the less likely your website will be selected.

And does your search result in a quick answer right on the top of the search?  If so, then people searching online aren’t likely to keep searching – those are the “no-click searches” that make up so much of any online search these days.

Take note of what shows up when you do some test searching.  Are there other keywords that are showing up on the SERP?  Consider the “People also ask…” section and how many ads are on the page.  What can you learn from all of that information?


The truth is, neither SEO or SEM offers a “quick fix” to get people to find you online. 

SEO may not cost money as far as paying per click, but it does cost time in building up content and getting traffic to your website to build up all the data points that Google is looking for to determine that you deserve to show up on that first page. 

And SEM might work faster if you can find the right keywords, but that is a never-ending search and one where you are constantly competing with others for the same keywords. 

Even then, a successful keyword is driving someone to your website, but that doesn’t mean that they will become your customer.  And if you stop paying for Google Ads, your website may just disappear onto page 2, 3 or beyond again, where it will be harder for people to find you.

It can help if you pay for what’s called “long tail keywords”.  These are typically phrases that are a bit longer in length, somewhat more specific.  And that means that there is less competition for these keywords, but also fewer people searching for them.  However the people who ARE searching for them might be a better fit than those searching more general terms.  So the chance of people clicking on your website could be higher.

But still, remember that even if you do PAY for ads on Google, potential customers will click on your website less than 2% of the time on average.  And, according to Ahrefs, over 90 percent of all keywords get 10 or fewer searches per month.

After all that information, are you becoming a skeptic along with me?  How do small businesses navigate the online marketing world when it seems like so much is stacked against us?

In the next lesson, we’ll talk about some alternative ways to help your customers find you – or to help you find them.