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May 1

Should Higher Ed Marketers use Search Engine Marketing in their Digital Marketing Strategy?


It’s easy to see why for-profit companies would want to invest in search engine marketing. But what is it, and should higher education marketers invest institutional time and resources into it?

In my last post, we covered the subject of search engine optimization (SEO) for higher education marketers. But there’s more to getting people to find you online than organic search results through SEO. There’s also the paid route of Pay Per Click advertising such as Google Adwords or Bing Ads.

Both paid and unpaid tactics to get your brand visible to search engine users all come under the umbrella of what’s known as search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing (SEM) or “search marketing” is the science and art of getting traffic and visibility for your brand in search engine results through paid and unpaid means.

Higher education marketers should spend the time getting familiar with the terms and strategies of search engine marketing because it’s one of the most effective ways to promote your school. It’s one of the most effective simply because it makes your brand one of the potential answers – or THE answer – to the web user’s question.

Having the answers to their questions increases your brand authority, boosting the chances that they’ll come to you in the future with more questions.

But by far the most beneficial result you get from an improved search engine marketing strategy is higher quality leads.

Traffic coming from other sources are likely to be “tire-kickers” who got there because they saw something flashy or a friend recommended it. However, traffic you get from a search engine result arrived on your site because they were intentionally looking for information they believe your brand is most suited to answer.

To sum it up so far, search engine marketing uses paid advertising with AdWords or Bing Ads, article submissions, advertising, and making sure SEO has been done.

A few quick words of advice on SEM:

  1. A keyword analysis is performed for both SEO and SEM, but not necessarily at the same time.
  2. Since best practices keep evolving in the world of search marketing, strategies for organic SEO and paid SEM need to be monitored and updated frequently.
  3. Your SEM strategy should be dynamic as you react to the changes that big search engines like Google and Bing introduce.

A Cautionary Tale

Because we’re introducing a lot of technical terms in this post, this word of clarification might be helpful: In some contexts, the term SEM is used exclusively to mean pay-per-click advertising, particularly in the commercial advertising and marketing communities which have a vested interest in this narrow definition.

But such usage excludes the wider search marketing community that is engaged in other forms of SEM such as search engine optimization and search retargeting.

Remember, a properly executed search engine marketing strategy should incorporate both paid (PPC) and non-paid (SEO) tactics to get your site listed high in the results page. So be aware of those with something to gain who talk in terms of only paid search marketing.

Another part of SEM is social media marketing (SMM).

Social media marketing is marketing that leverages the unique aspects of social media to reach and influence your target audience with your brand message.

I’m a big proponent of establishing a vibrant social media marketing strategy. You must approach your institution’s social media strategy with all the intentionality and planning that you put into your other marketing ventures.

Due to its casual, relationship-based nature, it’s tempting to approach social media for your organization just as casually. But approaching your social media marketing this way leads to painfully low returns on your social media investment (ROI). You’ve got to have a plan and work it faithfully over time to succeed.

That’s one reason why another field has been opening up to harness all of these different marketing specialties and corral them towards the marketing goals of the institution.

Search Engine Marketing Management

Search engine marketing management (SEMM) focuses on managing the strategies, activities, and ROI of an organization’s digital marketing efforts. SEMM is largely concerned with the high-level concern of “Is our digital marketing working to get us visible and in touch with our target audience?”

SEMM also integrates organic SEO and pay per click advertising. For example, some of the attention is placed on the web page layout design and how content and information is displayed to the website visitor.

Search engine marketing managers will often perform the following activities on a marketing team:

  • Target Marketing Analysis
  • Competitor Analysis
  • Keyword Data Research and Ad Creation
  • Bid Budget Suggestions
  • Landing Page Optimization
  • Weekly Tracking and Reporting
  • Ad Optimization and Adjustment
  • Day-to-Day Tracking and Analysis

Search engine marketing too often gets kicked to the curb because it’s not nearly as cool or visual as other forms of marketing and it’s more technical in nature.

But for your digital marketing investment to bring you the returns you’re looking for, you need to strengthen your search engine marketing strategy.

Good digital marketing begins with understanding the questions your audience is asking and answering those questions. But search engine marketing is the tool that will get your answers in front of them.

Think your site could do better on SEM, SEO, or SMM? Contact us today and ask about our website/SEO auditing service.

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