search engine

2021 SEM Best Practices

What secret ingredient does your search engine marketing (SEM) campaign need to succeed in 2021? It’s time to take stock once more and adjust to a new reality! For many, that means rethinking strategy based on the latest best practices and trends. 

But first, what is SEM? A strategy used to increase the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs), it’s essential for success in the digital space. After all, most purchases begin with an online search.

Your job is to get your business seen between that first search and the (hopefully) end purchase. At Stream Companies, we want to share with you our strategies to make that happen! In this article, you’ll learn about: 

  • The latest trends in SEM
  • Google search updates for 2021 and beyond
  • New tools to enhance your SEM

The future of search engine marketing is bright. We’ll show you how to harness Google search and make your business succeed in the online marketing space!

1) Keep an eye on Google’s algorithm updates

Google continues to roll out regularly scheduled updates to its algorithms, and it behooves every search engine marketer to pay close attention.

As recently as December 2020, for instance, Google rolled out a core update that had a major impact on the SEO community. In fact, many websites that were affected saw gains or declines of 10 to 100 percent (or more!) compared to their previous levels of organic search traffic.

And the main player in the search engine game isn’t finished yet—not by a long shot. These three upcoming Google updates will affect your search engine marketing strategy in 2021 and beyond:

Mobile-first indexing

You’ve probably heard about this one before, and that’s because the transition has been happening for a long time now. In March 2021, it reached completion as Google fully switched to mobile-first indexing. But what is that, exactly?

“Mobile-first” means the search engine will primarily (though not solely) consider the information from the mobile version of your website to determine ranking.

It makes sense. After all, more users are using mobile devices to perform searches than traditional desktop and laptop computers and have been for quite some time now. Why wouldn’t the ranking algorithm mirror real people?

If you want to outlast this latest change to Google’s ranking algorithm, make sure your website is as mobile-friendly as possible!

A cookieless future

Ever since Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies for its Chrome browser, web publishers, advertisers, and the businesses they serve have been scrambling for cookieless marketing solutions.

The move away from cookies has been informed by concerns about user privacy online. Google has been steadfast in its commitment to finding a better balance between privacy and personalization. 

Like mobile-first indexing, the transition to a cookieless world hasn’t come out of left field. This shift was set into motion years ago, as browsers like Safari (Apple) and FireFox led the way in eliminating support for third-party cookies.   

When will cookies be phased out by Google?

Google originally announced that the phase would be completed by early 2022. Now, it seems, the company has granted cookies a reprieve. They recently announced that third-party cookies will continue to be supported by Chrome until late 2023, nearly two years later than originally planned.

This is good news for companies who may need more time to test and integrate alternatives to cookie-based advertising. And while it may allow you time to breathe easier, it doesn’t lessen the need for cookieless solutions.

If you use advanced retargeting or remarketing tactics in your marketing campaigns, the coming cookieless future—even if delayed—will affect you.

2021 is the time to find a solution. We recommend FullThrottle ZeroGraph, the tracking and attribution solution that has never relied on aging tech like third-party cookies and mobile ad identifiers!

Core Web Vitals: The newest ranking factor

The updates keep on coming. In May 2021, Google rolled out Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics related to the user experience (UX) on websites.

Specifically, these metrics relate to the speed, responsiveness, and visual stability of the pages on your website as measured by:

  • Page loading time. Don’t leave users waiting. A page should load in under 2.5 seconds.
  • Interactivity. When a user clicks, something must happen. A page should respond to a user’s actions in under 100 milliseconds.
  • Visual stability. A page should maintain a cumulative layout shift (when a visible element on the page changes position or size and affects the position of the content around it) of less than 0.1.

2) More educational content, please!

There’s a time and place for traditional marketing tactics, but it usually isn’t in the content people search for and read on the internet.

People come to the internet for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems without having to buy something—at least, not right away! To master search engine marketing best practices in 2021, you need to know that.

You need to apply that to your content creation efforts, too! Such an idea is deeply embedded in the DNA of advertising. As British advertising tycoon David Ogilvy once wrote:

“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.”

So, tone down the hard sell. Use your content to educate and inform your readers on your product or service. You can even offer answers to relevant questions your audience may be searching online. People are more likely to trust your brand if they’re not being pushed into it. Trust is everything in this sphere!

At Stream, we produce 100% unique content—both visual and written—that delights Google and humans alike. Our experts use 2021’s best practices for search engine marketing to get your content seen by the most popular search engine’s algorithm.  

3) It’s time to be social

2020 kept a lot of people at home (and online) more than ever before. As a result, the number of active users on social media platforms went up—way, way up.

That makes all the most popular platforms even more effective at reaching your audience! Consider the numbers. As of April 2021:

  • Facebook had roughly 2.8 billion active users worldwide.
  • YouTube had roughly 2.3 billion active users worldwide.
  • Instagram had roughly 1.3 billion active users worldwide.

Even newer platforms have made a name for themselves. TikTok, for example, now boasts more than 700 million active users! But what does all this have to do with SEM best practices in 2021?

Social media activity, after all, is not a direct ranking factor for Google. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a link between social media and search engine optimization. To the contrary, the connection is strong!

If you share useful, educational content across social media and you have a large following, more people in your audience will share your posts with their friends and followers. This creates more backlinks to your site.

Backlinks do influence Google’s rankings. The act of driving more people to visit your website does, too. The savviest of social media marketers know the importance of these key ranking factors:

  • Direct website visits
  • Time on site
  • Pages per session
  • Bounce rate
  • Total backlinks

And here we circle back to the importance of quality content. Good, educational content will keep users on your website longer, entice them to visit more pages per session, and reduce the bounce rate.

If social media is the opener in your search engine marketing strategy, content is the headliner! Looks like there could be something to this integration thing….

4) The rise and rise of Amazon

When we talk 2021 trends in search engine marketing, Google is usually the first search engine to come to mind.

It has been the subject of most of this article—and fittingly so, as it dominates the search engine field. But it does have one major competitor that gets left out of the conversion, and that’s because we tend to forget it’s a search engine.

We’re talking, of course, about Amazon. In your mind, this Big Five information technology company—the world’s most valuable brand—is probably associated with eCommerce and retail. But it’s a search engine, too.

After all, customers go there to search for products. Amazon has recognized the opportunities this offers and has invested in a paid advertising business, just like Google and other more traditional search engines.

The benefits of advertising to your audience on Amazon can be immense. Remember, Amazon users have one of the highest purchase intents when searching for products on the site.

This makes sense: They are there to shop! And intervening with a relevant, well-timed ad at the time of purchase can be hugely profitable for advertisers.

Other platforms offer larger audiences, but the Amazon audience has a higher likelihood of conversion.

It’s sure to offer a better return on your SEM ad spend in 2021 and beyond, and you won’t want to leave that opportunity on the table.

Check out our Live Metal offering and discover the power to reach your Amazon audience with the latest in digital advertising techniques! With a three-pronged approach, you can run a more dynamic campaign through the Amazon network with:

  • Connected TV (CTV) Ads
  • Digital Display Ads
  • Digital Video Ads

5) A more customer-centric approach

Marketers use return on ad spend (ROAS) to measure the performance of their paid ad campaigns. It will continue to be an important metric, but other ways of judging success are coming to the forefront in 2021.

ROAS is a sound metric, but it’s also highly technical in nature. When you focus your attention on ROAS alone, you run the risk of short-term thinking in your search engine marketing.

Luckily, the new trend in SEM is a move toward the bigger picture with a customer-centered approach.

What this means is that, instead of focusing only on sales, emphasis will also be placed on customer lifetime value—the total worth to a business of a customer over the entirety of their relationship. Who are your most valuable customers?

Knowing this is the beginning of a focus on strategy over results. (And taking the time to hone the former will surely boost the latter.) It can help you identify which customers will fit into your pre-fabricated customer segments.

Then, you can market to them with the right message at the right time. That’s the basis of FullThrottle activ8, the customer retention tool we offer our clients.

It uses AI to segment customers in your database based on how your business can best serve them in the future. Use it to deliver more relevant marketing and save marketing dollars along the way. You’ll build customer loyalty and grow the lifetime value of the people you serve!

6) Leverage responsive search ads

Not every Google update poses a problem that must be solved by marketers. The company has launched a variety of marketing-friendly products through its online advertising platform, Google Ads.

Responsive search ads are among the latest. These ads let you enter a variety of headlines and descriptions—as many as 15 headlines and four descriptions at last count.

Over time, Google will automatically test different combinations and learn which ones perform the best. By optimizing ads to match users’ search terms, it may improve the performance of your search engine marketing campaigns.

Responsive search ads aren’t exactly new. They were first launched by Google in 2019, but 2021 may be their year as more marketers embrace these types of ads. They can help you:

  • Take the work out of testing your ads. The power of automation means you can devote less time testing different messages yourself.
  • Get more ad real estate. Google can test more options before finding the one that best meets your advertising needs.
  • Compete in more auctions. With so many headline and description combos possible, your ads will show up in more searches.

7) Refine your search keywords

You haven’t made it this far without understanding the importance of keyword research! The real question is, are you doing it effectively—and is there a way to do it more effectively?

Newsflash: There’s more to keyword research than simply finding the terms that people are searching. You need to refine your keywords, and we’ll walk you through what that involves.

Blacklist negative keywords  

There are endless combinations of words people can type or speak into an online search browser. However, only some of those combinations are relevant to your business. You need to identify the ones that are not: your negative keywords.

Continuously refine your negative keyword list by adding keywords that give you unwanted impressions (digital ad views). Keywords with click-through rates (CTRs; number of clicks your ad receives divided by the number of times it’s shown) of under 2% are generally considered underperforming.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. Comb through the search queries that cause your ad to display and, if you see phrases that are completely unrelated to your business, add them to your negative keyword list!

Let context determine content

As you build your negative keyword lists, think about the landing pages that your paid search ads are driving viewers to. What is the goal of these pages? Is it more informational or transactional?

If the purpose is transactional—you’re aiming to sell a product or service—you should add irrelevant informational qualifiers to your negative keyword list. The phrase “how to,” for example, is informational and may drive the wrong kind of traffic.

Long-tail keywords will also help you minimize irrelevant impressions and clicks. While long-tail keywords, especially in conjunction with “exact match” search parameters, will create fewer impressions, they’ll create more relevant ones—and that’s exactly the balance you’re looking for.

8) How well do you know Google Analytics?

You may be familiar with Google Analytics—or at any rate, your search engine marketing agency should be, especially in 2021. Keep in mind, though, that this popular web analytics platform isn’t staying static.

Google is constantly tinkering with its tools to make them more effective. Case in point: The company launched Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020, and the new-and-improved version offers even more valuable insight into user behavior.

So, with this platform’s fourth iteration, how can you approach marketing metrics more meaningfully?

Integrate deeply with Google Ads

GA4 is more deeply integrated with Google Ads, the online advertising platform developed by Google. This makes it easier than ever to use what you know to improve the ROI of your search engine marketing strategies.

You can use the data from GA4 to create custom audiences that are more relevant and helpful to your customers, wherever they choose to engage with your business.

See a more complete user journey

GA4 includes a new section known as Life Cycle, which offers reports on Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization, and Retention. It’s almost too perfect to be true, but these stages align precisely with the buyer’s journey.

With this feature, you can easily zoom in on various aspects of that journey and better understand where you should change strategy or direct more attention. You can see, for example, which types of content offer more value to your users (Acquisition and Engagement) as well as data on revenue and retention.

GA4 tracks the customer journey from start to finish! In other words, if a user first visits your website on their laptop, then checks out your inventory on their tablet, and finally purchases from their smartphone, you can piece that journey together.

Track with AI and machine learning

As mentioned earlier, a push for stricter privacy practices means it is becoming more and more difficult to track with third-party cookies. But because GA4 brings AI and machine learning to the table, it does not rely on cookies.

Time to bounce? No, time to engage

GA4 goes beyond reporting the bounce rate (the percentage of users that leave a page without any interaction). It offers data on user engagement—revolutionary!

With new and enhanced measurement events—say, video engagement or file downloads—you can see what users are doing on your website. Use this data as a way to evaluate whether your content is engaging enough to keep users on the page and moving toward a conversion event.

Let predictive metrics guide strategy

Imagine how useful it would be to predict which users are most likely to buy within the next month—and how much they are likely to spend.

You could use that information to target the right users and push them to buy! With predictive metrics introduced in GA4, this scenario leaves the realm of the hypothetical and becomes very real. The platform now includes:

  • Purchase probability. The chance that a user who has been active in the past 28 days will make a purchase in the next seven days.
  • Revenue probability. The expected revenue within the next 28 days from a user who has been active in the past 28 days.
  • Churn probability. The chance that a user who was active within the past seven days will be inactive over the course of the next seven days.

With these metrics, you can build more useful custom audiences, and in turn, more highly targeted ad campaigns. The power of prediction is in your hands!

Stream-line your SEM with our best practices

Have you set up your SEM strategy for success in 2021? At Stream Companies, we believe our fully integrated and tech-enabled ad agency can be a great partner to you—one with the know-how to implement the latest best practices.

Let our search engine marketing specialists show you how you can transform your site and digital strategies to earn more qualified retail traffic.

Reach out to our team for a complimentary audit of your website. Discover some simple changes you can make today to revolutionize your approach to search engine marketing!