We all know that search engines make crack sales teams, converting high percentages of leads in a cost-effective manner. But search engine marketing (SEM) can be an exacting science, so how can marketers best identify the right keywords and really get under the skin of consumers’ searching habits?

A recent survey by Coremetrics highlighted exactly how great a challenge SEM can be. The survey found that 31% of marketing professionals see SEM as the most important skill in their current role and 60% feel that SEM skills have become more important over the past two years. But, 41% feel their SEM skills are in need of improvement.

Given the rapid pace of change in search, it’s not surprising that almost half of marketers are struggling to master search engine marketing. Accustomed to using their instinct and creative skills, marketing professionals now have to act as ‘consumer behavioral analysts’, understanding the psychology of online shoppers and wading through volumes of analytical data to identify what will help retailers get the most bang for their buck.

However, despite the flux, there are three constant guiding principles that should set any search marketing campaign on the right track.


Today, choosing the keywords that will trigger the greatest response at the lowest cost per click means being as specific and insightful as possible. Time and time again, it’s been proven that generic keywords are expensive and deliver limited return on investment. To find the specific keywords that will work for your marketing program, try some of the following techniques:

  • Select keywords that tie into your brand—they will generate the highest conversion rates. By the same token, it pays to monitor for infringements of your trademarks on search engines since this will keep down the cost of trademark-related keywords.
  • Think niche — By conducting on-site search, natural search and custom SQL queries, you can identify terms related to your site that might surprise you. Niche terms that relate to specific products you are uniquely known for, for example, can deliver a high yield. This effective use of the ‘longtail of search’ can pay dividends in the long run.
  • Timing counts—some keywords may be more valuable to you at certain times of the year because of seasonal purchasing habits or related industry events. For example, a car part retailer might be willing to bid more on selected keywords during the car show season between March and September. These seasonal variations should inform your bid optimization strategy.
  • Be diligent about removing negative keywords—analysis should pinpoint the keywords that are driving traffic to your site but failing to result in sales because visitors have been misdirected.


Dovetailing with other marketing programs can significantly boost the impact of your SEM efforts. For example, a coffee company working with Coremetrics’ search marketing services team wanted to use search to drive customers towards its loyalty program. Specific keywords were found to be entered by regular buyers so these were used to trigger sponsored links with copy that encouraged customers to sign up for recurring deliveries.

The same company coordinated its SEM program with high profile public relations successes. When the company was featured on a national talk show, sponsored links were created so that viewers looking for the coffee brand online after the broadcast were easily directed to the firm’s site.

In this example, the result was a 310 percent increase in revenue and a 38% cost reduction. Integrating SEM with other marketing initiatives clearly delivered a significant return.


A successful SEM program requires a continuous cycle of evaluation and adjustment. SEM is a rapidly evolving science. New technologies and online services are emerging daily. Take, for example, the concept of video search. While a copywriter would argue that there’s nothing more creatively taxing than trying to fit an entire brand message and call to action into ten words in a plain text box, new video search capabilities on sites such as Google create a whole new range of opportunities for marketers to flex their creative muscles. Evaluating these techniques with pilot campaigns and assessing their viability through careful analytics should be a key part of any progressive marketer’s SEM campaign.


Today, we’ve only scratched the surface of what SEM can do. As new technologies evolve and marketers gain an ever-greater insight into their own online customers’ preferences, we can expect SEM to deliver an even more significant impact to the bottom line. But to do this successfully requires a constant process of skills acquisition. No wonder search marketers are daunted by the challenge—but the rewards should make it worthwhile.

By John Squire, Chief Strategy Officer, Coremetrics