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SEM China: 5 Steps for Better Results

August 26, 2016 |   Allen Qu

Building a Plan for SEM in China

Getting to know Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is essential for any business. It helps to cement your brand and reach a wider audience. In China SEM is the key to helping businesses break into that flourishing market.

SEM and SEO are used to raise your business profile. SEM refers to paid advertising opportunities in search engines focusing on keyword bidding and advertisement affiliations. SEO, while similar, relates to unpaid opportunities available to an organisation. It is best to work on both SEM and SEO simultaneously.

Steps to increase a SEM ranking

There are five clear steps for better results:

1. Define your overall marketing goal and put strategies into place

All companies are different – what will work for one company may not necessarily work for another. Therefore, every business needs a unique marketing strategy to complement the business focus. These strategies take into account things like marketing, positioning, customers, competition and industry. Your individual goals and strategies will determine your marketing methodology. Knowing who your customers are is also an important part of the early defining stages.

2. Analyse keywords and other relevant data

Keywords are a significant factor in seeking out China search engine marketing opportunities. Be specific to target your client base. Know exactly what words they are going to type when they are looking for your product. Put yourself in their shoes. Compare competitors, historical data such as page views, cost per click and conversion, current trends and any other information available to you. If you are new to China SEM, keyword research is vital at this stage because it helps you come to understand the marketplace and customary word usage. Pay particular attention to negative-match-type keywords that are irrelevant to your conversion. These should be excluded from your campaign at the outset.

3. Finalise your SEM plan

Now is the time to put the finishing touches on your SEM plan. This again will depend on many factors such as your budget, goals, and Chinese search engine strategy. Finalise your keywords, plan your marketing channels and set up systems to examine the engagement and results.

4. Execute and monitor your plans

This step is where it all comes together. It is launch time. Monitor the real time statistics of your SEM China campaign to see what is working. The best part about SEM marketing is you can tweak it to get it just right. Perhaps a particular time or a certain keyword works better.

5. SEM Optimisation

Once you have some clear data, you can start to track and assess trends. This will help with future campaigns and budgets so you can, in turn, reach more people without having to pay unnecessarily high rates. Often niche keywords work better than overly generalised ones but experimentation and time will give you clarity and results. Meanwhile you still need some generic keywords in order to achieve the optimal balance between the number of clicks therefore conversions and the cost. Furthermore, the assessment goes beyond only the keywords. You also need to analyse the extensive dimensions such as search engine platform (Baidu, Sogou,, Shenma), account structure, content and creative, operation process, etc. in order to achieve better performance. In principle, we recommend analysing SEM data by weekly, monthly, quarterly basis in order to make adjustment and improvement in execution in a more timely manner.

Understanding CTR and CPC

As you delve into the subject more, you will come across two very significant terms: Click Through Rate (CTR) and Cost Per Click (CPC). 

Click Through Rate (CTR)

From an SEM point of view, you are trying to achieve a high click through rate; but what if the opposite occurs? There are two different situations which may be occurring for you.

1. High exposure and low click through rate

This means that many people are viewing your advertisements, but no one is clicking through to your website. Why? Perhaps the keywords are not relevant or don’t meet the needs of the client. In this case, go back to step 2 and select better keywords for your organisation. Or this could be because the creative displayed in search result page is not attractive enough so people are not enticed to click.  Then you need to revise the creative to make it more call-to-action.

2. Low exposure and low click through rates

You may have to change and broaden your keywords, as well as most likely increase your budget to maximise your reach. It may mean a higher budget, seeking more opportunities for promotion or better keywords. Perhaps you don’t know your customers as well as you thought you did? Go back to step 1 and repeat the entire process.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

Your CPC is affected in part by two things: the scoring of your keywords and ranking.

1. Quality score of the key words

You will learn as you delve into the process that keywords have scores attached. High-quality scores will help you achieve a lower cost per click. Search engines love relevance. Therefore, the more relevant your keywords are to search engine queries, the better for your organisation. While keyword scores vary based on location, networks and search queries, one thing will always be the same – the higher your score, the lower your cost.

2. Ranking

For the most part, ranking comes with a price. The higher the price, the better position. But sometimes this can even be done on a limited budget. It will ultimately come down to your choice of keywords and the landing pages attached. Practice will indeed make perfect. You can read more about Baidu SEO optimisation to help you improve rankings in China.

SEO and SEM are not subjects to be mastered overnight. Companies can spend thousands of dollars and still not fully understand their efforts. Don’t be afraid to play around with it. This is one huge learning curve you will wish to master in the long term.

SEM China will sometimes confuse you but there is plenty of scope to test your assumptions along with your keywords so you eventually come up with a winning combination.

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