There’s a lot of advice out there about what good search engine marketing (SEM) looks like. But even if you’re doing a lot of things right, you may be making some major SEM faux pas as well.

Here are 7 things to avoid when tackling SEM for your local business.

1. Lacking Focus

One of the biggest strengths of a good SEM campaign is a focused message. Chances are you started with one, specific campaign in mind – maybe a particular product you wanted to promote or a special promotion you intended to run. What’s great about getting hyper-specific in your SEM marketing is that the targeting is better, and those who click through are likely pretty qualified leads for your business. But knowing where to go after that is just as critical.

If you’re not fulfilling the promise your ad made when someone clicks through, shame on you. We’re not saying you did this on purpose – you’re not a monster, after all. The most common misstep here is pairing specific ads to more generic or all-purpose web pages or landing pages. Unfortunately, if someone clicks through an ad looking to cash in on a particular offer (free shipping, for example) and arrives at a page where that offer is hard to find (“Where’s the free shipping?”), you likely just tossed your opportunity to convert right out the window.

There are a couple ways to fix this common issue:
  1. Make offer-specific landing pages. Yes, this is more work than directing all of your traffic to one, generic landing page. But if it converts more leads, it’ll be well worth your effort.
  2. Some local businesses aren’t scaled up enough to worry about landing pages outside of your website. That’s okay. If you’re directing your SEM clicks to your website, dedicate a page or a place on your home page where you feature any promotions you’re currently running. Make it really easy for these leads to find what they’re after.

2. Being Mean to Mobile Devices

According to Search Engine Watch, search ads on desktop still attract more impressions and conversions than those on mobile. However, in 2016, clicks and spend via smartphones rose 13% and 11%, respectively, from the prior year. Mobile also makes up 88% (or more) of all “near me” searches online.

What’s that mean for you? People are looking for businesses like yours and clicking through their ads via mobile. So wherever you’re sending folks, make sure it’s mobile-friendly. That means it needs to load quickly and look good on smartphones and tablets.

Some tips:
  • Use less text.
  • Arrange your images such that they appear in full on mobile devices.
  • Make navigation simple and easy to use.
  • Make any buttons or forms fat-finger-friendly, taking into account mobile user clumsiness.

3. Ignoring the Competition’s SEM Work

When choosing your keywords and setting a budget for your SEM ad spend, you’ll do yourself a major disservice by ignoring the competition.

There are a couple ways to improve your SEM strategy by taking a look at your competitors. The first is using market data as a benchmark to analyze your own SEM metrics. There are tools out there (like Adthena) that allow you to see how you compare to industry averages for metrics like cost per click (CPC) and others.

Another way to use the competition to your benefit is to watch what they’re advertising, and see how it compares to your messaging. Are they touting a service you can do better? Are they targeting keywords you hadn’t thought to try? Instead of straight-up copying the competition, find ways to tweak what they’re doing so they work better for your business.

4. Getting Greedy with “Broad Match” Functionality

Google AdWords offers a default functionality called “broad match.” With broad match, you can choose one keyword and allow Google to show your ads on searches that are similar to your keyword of choice. On Google’s website, they show the following example. If your keyword of choice is “low-carb diet plan,” and it’s set to broad match, your ads might show for any number of other searches Google deems relevant or related.

In the example above, broad match was likely effective, even helpful.

However, getting greedy or even lazy and relying solely on broad matches for your keywords can also damage your SEM effectiveness. Even if your ads are popping up thanks to the broad match setting, searchers may be unlikely in some cases to click through. And if they do click through, perhaps because they’re expecting something slightly different, they’re wasting your ad dollars. As a result, you won’t know which search terms led to the qualified, worthwhile clicks and which led to the less-than-ideal traffic.

5. Overlooking Local Search Terms

According to Search Engine Land:

60% of consumers have used local information in ads.

More specifically:
  • 67% of smartphone users want ads customized via city and ZIP code, and 61% want ads customized to their immediate surroundings.
  • 61% use the address or phone number in the ad.
  • 68% use the “Get Directions” or “Call” buttons.

For you, the advertiser, that means including local information in your ads is likely to make consumers and local searchers very, very happy. Happy people click ads.

Pro tip: AdWords pulls your contact information from your Google My Business settings, so make sure it’s set up exactly how you want it to appear in your ads.

6. Being Lazy and Ignoring Negative Keywords

Negative keywords come in handy in a couple big ways:

  • They help you avoid showing up for alternate, incorrect meanings of a word you want to rank for.
  • They help you avoid showing up for related, but not relevant to your business, search terms.

Here’s a quick example, with puppies…because who doesn’t love puppies?!

Let’s say you run a pit bull rescue. You’d likely want to set up “Pitbull” as a negative keyword, so you don’t appear in searches for the popular rapper. Similarly, if your business also rescues other terrier breeds, but not Yorkshire terriers, you’ll want to set up negative keywords for any breeds you don’t accommodate.

The best way to find these negative keywords is to actually do a quick search for the keyword (or keywords) you want to rank for. Anything that ranks highly but isn’t even closely related to your business would likely make a decent negative keyword.

7. Becoming Complacent with “OK” Numbers

Chances are you won’t enjoy peak performance right off the bat. But for many local businesses with limited budget for SEM, you may think having a limited budget means you have to settle for “so-so” performance.

If you’re planning a new campaign, start by kicking up your budget a notch in the beginning (knowing you can scale it back later). This will help you drive enough traffic initially to track your conversions and make any necessary tweaks early on. Once you start doing well, set your sights on doing even better. (Looking for tips on writing stellar ad copy? Look here.)

Pro tip: Don’t adjust your approach too quickly. Give your campaigns at least a couple weeks to see how they’re performing.