Is SEM An Effective Growth Channel For Startups?

campaign creators pypeCEaJeZY unsplash 2
campaign creators pypeCEaJeZY unsplash 2

Search engine marketing (SEM) is an excellent channel for startups. It allows you to get in front of your target audience and help you drive targeted, high-quality traffic to your website. But it’s not as simple as just choosing an SEM agency that promises to get you on the first page of Google’s search results.

You’re going to waste your budget and be disappointed with the results. There are a lot of things you need to look at before hiring the agency, like the number of years they have been around, their experience, how many clients they serve, how transparent they are with their results, their ranking methodology (Black Hat vs. White Hat), and what kind of guarantees do they have.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of digital marketing. It encompasses all the activities you take to increase your visibility on search engines.

Source: Marketing Channels

The most common form of SEM is search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of changing or improving your website to appear higher in search engine results. The closer your website is to the top of the page, the more likely people will see it when they search for a related keyword.

SEM can help you grow your business because people use search engines every day. It’s one of the most common digital activities, with Google alone getting over 3.5 billion searches per day. And if you run an online business, customers will use search engines to find you and learn about your products or services.

The other main form of SEM is pay-per-click advertising (PPC). PPC advertising consists of ads on a search engine results page when someone searches for a specific term. Advertisers bid on the keywords they want their ads to show up for and pay every time someone clicks on their ad. This can be a more effective way to generate traffic than SEO, but it’s also more expensive.

How is SEM an effective growth channel for startups?

SEM (search engine marketing) is a strategy that can help increase a startup’s exposure to potential customers. If a startup implements SEM, it will reach more people in a shorter amount of time. This can be very helpful in getting awareness and generating leads.

Source: SEM 

First, they need to set up an account with Google AdWords. Then they need to choose the right keywords and write compelling ads. Next, they need to split test their ads and optimize them for conversions. Finally, they need to monitor their campaign daily to make adjustments where needed.

This strategy can yield excellent results for startups and generate exposure from non-paid sources like organic search if done correctly.

SEM allows small startup teams to go toe-to-toe with large, established companies and their larger budgets by leveraging the power of data. This ability to target particular people with precision is why SEM is one of the most effective marketing channels available.

5 Tactics to use SEM for startup growth

SEM can be an effective growth channel for startups that have figured out their business model and scale-up. If you have the budget and adhere to the guidelines below, SEM can be a quick way to get your startup off the ground.

Source: SEM: An effective growth channel

1) Picking the right platform

It’s easy to get caught up in maximizing your reach and running ads on every platform out there. But trying to dominate too many platforms can lead to burnout and low conversion rates.

If you want a campaign to take off, it’s essential that you identify which platform has the best potential to drive conversions and deliver a high ROI.

For example, while Facebook ads may be perfect for building brand awareness and growing a community, it might not be the best place to run ads if you have a product that requires users to provide payment information.

Instead of tackling every platform at once, focus on running effective campaigns on one or two platforms before moving on to others.

2) Determining your Target Audience

As a starting point, think about the type of audience you need to reach. For example, although Google is the prominent search engine, Baidu is the largest in China and Yandex in Russia.

You may also find that people use social media or other channels to search for products. As such, it’s worth looking at all of your options — including platforms like Facebook Ads — to find the best fit.

A startup’s target audience can be just about anyone. You may have a product or service that appeals to men and women from ages 18-55. You could sell your products to both individuals and businesses. However, to be successful with SEM, you must narrow down your target audience to focus on specific keywords and geographic areas that are most likely to convert into paying customers or clients.

The more you know about them, the better chance you’ll have of speaking their language in ads and landing pages and getting them to click on your ad instead of others’. For example, if your audience consists of young mothers who are often short on time, then you’ll want to make sure that your ad copy speaks directly to their problem — e.g., “3 easy ways to eat healthier.”

3) Testing Ad Formats

Startups need to experiment with ad formats to identify what works best. For example, many small businesses try different ads to find the best one. Some may use image ads while others may opt for text-based ads; some may even choose video ads.

You can test different ad formats to see which ones work best for your business goals. For example, if you want more brand awareness, video ads would be more suited to you than text ads.

If you want more conversions, then text ads are better than other formats as they have higher click-through rates and higher conversion rates.

Testing your ad formats is a great way to determine which ones are most effective for different audiences. Responsive ads may work well on Facebook, while eye-catching image ads might perform better on YouTube or Instagram.

4) Optimizing Campaigns

The first step toward a successful SEM campaign is to optimize your existing campaigns.

Without aligning ad copy, keywords and landing pages, you’re essentially throwing money into a garbage can. If you don’t know what works, you need to run tests to find out.

First, take an inventory of all the keywords that drive conversions. Then analyze the cost per conversion for each keyword and determine its profitability.

 There are several ways to optimize campaigns like:

  1. Ad creative testing – change ad copy, images, and CTAs to increase CTR, conversions and reduce CPCs. This can also entail A/B testing between images and video ads to determine better performance.
  2. Keyword matching type – ensure that your keywords are listed as broad match, exact match or phrase match so that you only pay for the clicks you want.
  3. Single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) – create an ad group for each keyword you’re bidding on instead of grouping multiple keywords into one ad group. This allows for more targeted ads and better quality scores.

5) Choosing ideal ad copy and landing pages

Copywriting is an art form. It takes time and practice to get good at it. But even if you’re starting, there are a few rules of thumb you can use to make your ads more effective:

  1. Use keywords in your ad copy. If someone is searching for “yellow widgets”, don’t make them click on an ad with the headline “blue widgets”. Give them what they want! They will thank you by clicking your ad instead of your competitor’s.
  2. Use numbers and adjectives in the headline. This has been shown to increase the click-through rates on ads by 25%.
  3. Use a call to action at the end of the ad copy. Tell people what they should do next — buy now, sign up today, get started here, etc.


SEM can be a very valuable and effective channel for startups. It’s often a good idea for startups to begin with this channel, as it can be helpful in terms of both brand building and lead generation. However, like all marketing channels, it requires dedicated attention and ongoing management.


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