Search engine marketing (SEM) is a powerful way to reach potential customers, but it can be tricky to execute.
You need to know what’s working so that you can optimize your efforts for the best results and make the most of your (and your client’s investment) in SEM.
The good news is that there is a lot of data available: from Google Analytics (GA), Google Search Console (GSC), and from third-party tools such as SEMrush.
The bad news is that it can be tough to know where to start, what data to collect, and how to turn it into actionable insights.
So how do you make sense of this information?
This article is designed to help you master SEM reporting by providing an overview of SEM, what goes into an outstanding SEM report, and the KPIs you should be tracking.
We’ll also discuss how to put it all together in a format that will impress your boss or clients.
Search engine marketing is the process of promoting your business through search engine results pages (SERPs).
Done right, SEM can propel your business to the top of SERPs, helping you attract more website visitors, leads, and customers.
SEM encompasses a wide range of marketing strategies and tactics, but it can be broken down into two main types: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and PSA (Paid Search Advertising).
Some marketers think that paid ads are the only form of SEM, while others consider SEO to be a form of SEM.
The truth is that both are correct: you need both SEO and paid ads to be successful in today’s cutthroat digital landscape.
Let’s take a closer look at each in the next section.
SEM, SEO, and PPC are cornerstones of digital marketing, but they’re often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion.
Understanding the history behind the terms make it easier to differentiate between the three:
Around 2001, one of the most prominent leaders of the search industry, Danny Sullivan, coined the term “search engine marketing” and began using it to cover both paid and organic search engine marketing initiatives.
In other words, SEM was historically used as an umbrella term for any digital marketing tactic that dealt with search engines like Google.
Like most digital marketing terms, the meaning of SEM has evolved to become more specific over time.
In the past decade or so, “SEM” has come to refer almost exclusively to paid search marketing or PPC, while “SEO” has become the preferred term for organic search marketing.
So what’s the difference between PPC and SEO? Here’s a quick breakdown:
PPC is a form of advertising in which businesses bid on keywords that they believe potential customers are searching for.
The business that wins the auction pays the search engine a fee every time its ad is clicked.
PPC is an effective way to drive traffic to your website, but it can be costly if you don’t know what you’re doing.
That’s why it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of how PPC works before you launch a campaign.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website and its content to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs).
The goal of SEO is to earn “free” or “organic” traffic from Google and other search engines by ranking as high as possible for relevant keywords.
To do this, you need to understand how Google’s algorithms work and what factors influence your ranking.
SEO can be time-consuming, but it’s one of the most effective long-term digital marketing strategies.
And, unlike PPC, once you rank for a keyword, you don’t have to keep paying Google to stay there.
A practical way to think of PPC and SEO is that they’re complementary, not competing, strategies.
Now that we’ve cleared up the confusion around SEM, SEO, and PPC, let’s move on to the nitty-gritty of SEM reporting.
SEM reporting is the process of generating and analyzing data to assess the performance of your SEM campaigns and, specifically, your paid search marketing efforts.
It’s basically a snapshot of your SEM efforts, broken down by channel and segmented by data points like traffic source, keywords or ad group.
It can also include information about how well those channels performed across different metrics, such as conversion rates or cost per click (CPC).
Search engine marketing reports should answer questions such as:
Depending on your strategy, your reports may also include various search engine reporting data from Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other regional search engines like Baidu and Yandex.
The ultimate goal of SEM reporting is to generate insights that will help you optimize your paid ad campaigns and improve your ROI.
To do this, you need to know the basic elements of website SEM reports, which we’ll cover next.
Your SEM report should always begin with a statement of your defined goals and objectives.
This will ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page and understands what you’re trying to achieve with your SEM campaigns.
It also contextualizes the data in your report and gives it meaning.
The more specific your objectives are, the easier it will be to measure your progress and identify areas for improvement.
Some examples are:
Once you’ve defined your objectives, it’s time to start building the report itself.
Most SEM reports will include the following essential KPIs:
Impressions are the number of times your ad has been shown to potential customers.
In other words, how many times was it served in response to submitted search queries?
The more impressions you get, the more likely your ads will be clicked on and ultimately drive revenue.
It’s also very important to track impressions over time, as they will give you an idea of how well your campaigns are performing.
In addition, impression data can help you make better decisions about bidding strategy:
They also help you understand other KPIs, such as CTR and conversion rate:
Either way, impressions help you identify where some tweaks might be needed so that you can improve your ad’s performance across the board.
Clickthrough rate (CTR) is a key performance indicator that measures the number of clicks on an ad or landing page compared to the number of impressions served.
CTR is expressed as a percentage and is one of the most important metrics for evaluating the performance of paid search campaigns.
A high clickthrough rate means you’re serving ads that are relevant to your audience and are engaging enough to get them to click through to your website.
A low clickthrough rate means that your ads may not be relevant or that they aren’t interesting enough to encourage clicks.
There are many other ways to look at this metric in terms of insights:
How does CTR vary over time? If you see a sudden drop in CTR, don’t panic immediately. Instead, try to identify the cause. It could be something as simple as a change in the seasonality of your product.
The Cost per Conversion KPI shows how much you are spending to get a conversion (e.g., a sale, lead, download, etc.).
It’s one of the most important KPIs for SEM because it helps you understand whether your ads are actually bringing in revenue or just burning money.
To calculate cost per conversion, you need to divide total ad spend by the total number of conversions. For instance, if you spent $10,000 on an ad campaign and got 40 conversions, then your cost per conversion would be $250.
The higher the cost, the less efficient your campaign is at generating conversions.
Ideally, you want to keep your CTC as low as possible while still maintaining a healthy ROI.
There are a few things you can do to lower your CTC. Here are some of them:
Make sure to look at your CPC rate not in isolation but in conjunction with other important SEM KPIs like conversion rate and ROI.
Otherwise, you might make rash decisions like slashing your CPC in half, which could actually result in a higher CTC if your conversion rate plummets as well.
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) is one of the most misunderstood yet essential metrics in paid search.
The term “return on ad spend” refers to the amount of revenue generated by an ad campaign divided by the amount spent on that ad campaign. In other words, it’s how much you make per dollar spent on ads.
This KPI gives you insight into how profitable your ad campaigns are — and how much money you’re spending to generate revenue.
If you’re spending $10 for every $1 you make back, you’ll want to change up your strategy ASAP because you’re losing money.
On the other hand, if you’re generating $10 for every $1 you spend, you’re doing great!
But ROAS isn’t just about making sure your campaigns are profitable.
It also shows whether your ads are getting enough impressions and clicks to be effective at all.
As an example, if your ROAS is low, but your impression count is high, this means that people aren’t seeing or clicking on enough of your ads to generate a positive ROI for you — which means there’s room for improvement in your targeting or messaging strategy.
Quality score is a SEM metric that helps advertisers measure the quality of their keyword list, and it’s a key inclusion in your SEM report.
In general, a high quality score means that your keywords are more relevant to the user’s query, which makes them more likely to convert. Conversely, a low quality score means that your keywords don’t match up well with users’ queries, which means they aren’t likely to convert.
It’s important to note that you can’t control your quality score — it’s determined by how well your keyword list matches up with users’ queries, and there’s not much you can do about it except try different variations of your ads until you find the ones that yield better results.
However, analyzing your quality scores over time will give you insight into how effective your ad copy is at matching user expectations.
These are all crucial metrics for your SEM report, but that’s also a lot of numbers that can be difficult to keep track of, let alone interpret.
That’s why the most effective SEM reports are presented visually – through charts, graphs, color-coded tables, and other data visualizations.
You can do that manually, but it’s not the most efficient way to do things. Manual data entry is also prone to errors, which can skew your results.
A better solution is to use a reporting tool like Reporting Ninja that automatically pulls in your SEM data. You can then select from the pre-built templates or customize your own template to get the exact data visualizations you need in minutes instead of hours or days.
Using Reporting Ninja’s Google Ads Reporting tool, you can manipulate your Google Ads data to display the information most important to you.
To generate your report, simply connect your Google Ads account to your Reporting Ninja account to get started.
Once you’ve connected your accounts, select the template you want to use or customize your own for each client or campaign.
Other features of Reporting Ninja’s Google Ads Reporting tool include the ability to do the following:
This makes it easy to consolidate all your advertising data into one place for easy analysis and comparison.
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Generating relevant, detailed, and actionable SEM reports is an essential skill for any digital marketer.
The good news is that it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as you might think – especially if you use a SEM reporting tool like Reporting Ninja.
Try Reporting Ninja free for 14 days and start creating beautiful, professional SEM reports that will impress your clients and help you get the results you need.
Search Engine Marketing helps you to reach potential customers – but executing it can be hard. Discover everything you need to know here.