Business tips

How should you spend your SEM budget in 2016?

A recent change to Google’s search results pages brings new challenges for small businesses. Here’s how to adapt your search marketing strategy for the best results.

Getting the best exposure on Google is a delicate art. Strong organic rankings and strategic paid ads work together to get your business in front of the right audience, with a complex range of factors determining your success.

In February this year, Google confirmed it was rolling out a change that will shake up the search marketing strategies of businesses around the world. Ads will no longer be shown on the right side of desktop search results – they will only appear at the top and bottom of the page. For some searches, there may also be up to four ads at the top of the listings, rather than the usual two or three.

Dim Nedanovski of Melbourne digital agency LeapFrogger says that overall, this change will make paid search more competitive. “The thinking from Google’s perspective is probably both commercially and user-experience driven,” he says. “By removing the right-side ads, search ads now completely blend in with organic results. It appears very native and may impact search ads’ overall click-through rates.

“It also means Google is now only auctioning three to four premium positions in its SERP (search engine results page) inventory, making its search ads more expensive as advertisers will aim to get in to those top spots.”

Getting the most out of your SEM

For small businesses, effective ad placement will still depend on your goals and who your audience is. However, the change brings a few additional challenges that savvy business owners will need to consider.

“We’ve seen an increase in cost per click already, but this has been manageable. It may become more expensive again in the coming six months or so if more advertisers are drawn to SEM,” Nedanovski says.

“We can also expect an increase in bidding for long-tail keywords, as advanced advertisers will look for opportunities to lessen their eCPA (effective cost per action).”

To get the best results, Nedanovski suggests the following:

Stay in the game. “Be patient in the short term – invest a little bit more and for a little bit longer. You may find coming back to paid search if you drop off for a little while a much more expensive exercise.”

Use data analytics. “Make sure you are getting insights so you can further improve your business results and ad buying efficiency. Choose to work with agencies that have the capacity to work on your campaigns on a daily basis with a capability for data analytics. Focus and insights will be a huge differentiator.”

Keeping your organic ranking strong

Marco Rosano of Soul Digital Agency says it will be increasingly important for small businesses to consider the balance between their paid and organic search marketing efforts.

“This change will probably lead to more opportunity for paid results to steal the users’ attention away from the organic listings,” he says.

“Click-through rates for the top organic spots will likely decrease, with additional paid results providing more options to users and occupying more physical real estate on the page.

“A business with a strong organic presence that doesn’t already advertise via Google PPC (pay-per-click) may now be more encouraged to do so to compensate for the clicks lost.”

But that’s not to say small businesses should forget about organic rankings and put all their efforts into paid search. Strong organic placement is as essential as ever, Rosano says.

“I still believe organic listings will receive the majority of traffic from the SERPs, so high visibility for brand and relevant non-brand terms is fundamental for any business.

“To do this you need to do a lot of things really well, but it starts with strategy, UX (User Experience) design, and exceptional web development.”

For any business Rosano advises focusing first on a strong UX foundation, and building up from there.

“UX focuses on how a user feels when interacting with a website. Making subtle changes to your site can yield tremendous results by increasing engagement.

“Increasing engagement will then increase performance of all other marketing channels, including SEO and PPC.”

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