Why Is Everyone Talking About SEM?

It’s finally Sunday and you know what that means.. and no I’m not talking about football. It’s time to curl up on the couch with your hot cocoa and catch up on your favorite HBO series.

If you’ve missed newest dystopian drama about cowboys and robots, it’s time to hop on board. Westworld has made quite an entrance as one of the most visually stunning HBO shows to date.

Wondering what in the world Westworld has to do with SEM? We’ll get there shortly.


HBO is known for unconventional advertising strategies that lure in millions of viewers each week. From True Blood’s red fountains to Game of Thrones newspaper spreads, HBO is constantly stepping outside of the box.

However, HBO recognizes that a blend of these tactics and digital strategies are the best way to reach its audience. Paid search has become one of the cornerstones for many of the hit television dramas. We’re going to take a look at how they have built SEM into its digital strategy.

Last week we discussed the importance of organic search and how unpaid natural rankings are the fundamentals of SEO. We learned that SEO is one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site. However, we’re still missing a piece of the pie: paid search.

Search engine marketing (SEM) includes both organic search engine optimization and paid search strategies. Hubspot found that 70% of people click on the organic results while only 30% are likely to click on the paid links. If I can get the majority of my clicks through organic, why bother?

Well, that’s a great question. I wondered the same thing until I learned how much time it takes to build your SEO. Paid search is a great option if you’re not ranking well in the organic search alone.

We talked about how 94% of users don’t make it past the first page of search results.

Paid search is a way to guarantee that you’ll make it higher up in results.

On search engine results pages (SERP), you can pay for your URL to appear in certain sections of the results. One of the main benefits of the paid search is that you can move your website up to the top of the page which increases visibility.

Paid search not only gives you the ability to increase visibility, it also is highly targeted, metric-driven, and quantifiable. With these paid ads, you have the option to target geographic regions, segment your audience, and increase brand exposure. If this isn’t enough to convince you, check out Hubspot’s examples of effective paid searchcampaigns.

There are three main components of paid search campaigns – keywords, ads, and landing pages. Paid search is about managing, matching, and optimizing these three things to get the best results.

For those of you that are just getting started, here are some do’s and don’ts of SEM.

A/B Testing & Landing Pages

One of the best ways to find the balance between your ads and landing pages is to do A/B testing. Splitting your traffic between two different pages tells you which landing page has the best response from your audience. That way you can test the pages to see which version gives you a higher conversion rate.

Let’s take a look at Westworld for an example. While I may be biased because the brilliant cinematography and epic plot line, I must say the landing page is pretty darn cool. Take a look for yourself.


The paid ad on Google leads directly to this interactive landing page. Of course HBO did A/B testing to make sure their audience responded well to the content. If you’re going to bother to pay for people to see your page, make sure its content that will make the landing stick.

Test Keywords

Design your keywords while thinking about your buyer persona. What kinds of words will they search? What kind of language do they use?

Finding the balance between broad and narrow is extremely important for your SEM. Setting your keywords to exact match allows you to target very specific audiences but your target is also defined very narrowly which limits your reach.

Although clever, the “vampire insurance” keywords may be too specific to capture a strong audience. HBO’s paid ad for True Blood brought users directly to the site to watch past episodes or subscribe to the fan base.

Start with a broad match with opens up a wide range of traffic. But make sure to monitor and track quality and not just quantity. You don’t want to continue to pay for irrelevant keywords. Check your Search Terms report to see which keywords convert well.

Google provides a quality score which is determined by an algorithm to see how connected your content is to your keywords. This provides an optimal user experience and helps you determine which keywords are most cost-efficient for your business.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

Rather than paying just for you ads to be shown in the search (CPM cost per thousand impressions), paying per click is the most cost effective way to reap the benefits. CPM means that your ad might be displayed 100,000 times but you might only receive 1 click.

PPC let’s you take matters into your own hands and pay only for users that actual click on the link. Overall, this will give you a better ROI because it’s you are only paying for visitors that are further down the marketing funnel.

Don’t Blow Through Your Budget

Even though it’s temping, don’t spend money every time someone clicks on your ad. Set a budget that will be spread out throughout the day. Especially if you have highly relevant or popular keywords, it’s easy to blow through your budget.

If you dictate how much money Google can spend on ad placements per day, Google won’t exceed those amounts. Daily budget caps can allow you to slowly begin measure success and lead quality. This gives you the chance to try out different strategies before you invest a lot of money.

Avoid Wasting Space

Another important step of paid search is optimizing your ad copy. Search engines such as Google and Bing offer an extremely limited number of characters for your ads which means you need to make every word count.

Google allows only 25 characters for the title and 37 characters for the display (URL). It also has two descriptions per ad: one informs the viewers of what the content is about and the second is typically a call to action.

Even though it’s a different website, this ad is promoting HBO’s new show Westworld. You can see that it provides a brief description of what you can find on the website while including a call-to-action.

Don’t Replace

One thing to keep in mind is that SEM isn’t a replacement for anything, it’s a compliment. HBO’s paid search strategy wouldn’t be nearly as effective if they took away the organic search or other digital strategies.

Widespread coverage in the search engines results drives more traffic. Many marketers recommend doing paid as well as SEO. This allows you to push your competition further down the page while getting yours closer to the top.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of SEM, you can keep your eyes out for ways to increase your search engine traffic. If you’re looking more information to kickstart your paid search, Hubspot offers a simple introduction.

HBO has gained its loyal fanbase by incorporating paid search to get more users to their pages and ultimately create more conversions. Not only does this technique work for larger businesses such as HBO, it’s also a great way to gain exposure for smaller start ups.

Stay tuned for more specifics on how to implement these strategies with Google AdWords.

Your marketing guru,


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