Are you leveraging search engine marketing (SEM) to up the ante on how well your business performs in Google and other search engines?

Many companies believe they’re engaging in SEM, but they’re only using search engine optimization (SEO) tactics. Discover the difference, learn why SEM is critical to success, and make note of some tips for launching your own SEM campaigns.

What Is SEM?
Search engine marketing is the process of getting your business more exposure in search results through paid advertisements. This contrasts with SEO, which involves optimizing your site and online presence rank higher in organic search listings.

Organic search results are the “free” results. These are the sites Google (or any other search engine) deems to be most applicable to a person’s query.

SEM is more concerned with paid search results—paid listings that appear atop search results and are identified as ads. SEM might also include text-based or image-based ads (or product listings) that appear somewhere on a search results page.

Note that search engines still have relevancy and quality requirements for SEM. You aren’t guaranteed ad placement. You bid for it, and the amount you’re willing to pay per click (plus the quality/relevancy of your ad and on-site content) determine whether your ad shows up on the page.

Why Is SEM Important for Funeral Homes?
SEM gets you in front of consumers interested in your services even when organic SEO doesn’t. Plus, because SEM is based heavily on paid advertising, you can specifically target ads to searchers who are in a decision-making moment. For funeral homes, that means ensuring your company appears in search results for families in need or when someone is considering preplanning.

Consider these statistics to understand the value of SEM for funeral homes:
• Eighty-nine percent of customers start any buying decision by conducting research via search engines, and more than 35 percent of people looking for products start specifically with Google.

• Sixty-seven percent of any purchasing journey now occurs online, which means the majority of interaction is digital.

• Those searches don’t last long; individuals decide which site to click on in less than a minute, so good page placement is often worth spending money on.

Tips for SEM that Works
But it’s not enough to throw money at digital ads randomly. Succeeding with funeral home SEM requires tactical and analytical marketing chops. Research and knowledge of your target audience becomes a foundation for viable ad campaigns and groups when you follow these SEM tips:

1. Define your audience (or audiences).
One of the biggest benefits of SEM is the ability to target search ads to your audience or segments of your audience. But to do that properly, you must understand who your audience is.

Take time to define various sections of your consumer base, including demographics, how they might search, and what reason they would have to engage with your content or company.

For example, older adults might be looking to preplan their final arrangements to remove this burden from their families, younger adults might be helping their parents preplan, and families might be searching because they have immediate needs.

2. Conduct keyword research.
Discover what keywords and phrases people are using to find death care services now. Keyword research you completed six months ago might not be valid anymore, and your gut reaction on how people are searching could be wrong.

Use some of the free tools below to gather information such as how many searches use certain keywords, how competitive those keywords are, and suggestions for other keywords to target.

• Google Ads Keyword Planner is built into the Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) dashboard, letting you research, analyze, and store keyword data in the same place you launch ads from. Keyword Planner also provides suggested ad bid amounts for specific keywords, helping you prioritize phrases for your ad campaigns.

• SEMRush is a robust free tool that lets you conduct site audits, view a list of suggested keywords, and understand what keywords your competitors are targeting.

• Keywordtool.Io lets you view keyword information across multiple channels, including Bing, Google, Google Ads, and social platforms such as Instagram or Twitter, so you can plan multichannel ad campaigns.

3. Understand search intent.
Once you have a list of key phrases, divide it by search intent. Search intent is the reason someone types into the search bar to begin with. For example, someone might search because they’re interested in making a purchase or talking to someone about services. Someone else might search simply to garner new information.

Dividing keywords into intent groups is important for two reasons:

• Some keywords don’t have commercial intent strong enough to support ads, so Google doesn’t even show them. For example, a search for “what is cremation” doesn’t typically return any advertisements, because that’s an information-seeking query. You wouldn’t want to bid on this key phrase for ad purposes.

In contrast, searches for “cost of cremation,” “cremation providers,” and “cremation urn” all bring up advertisements because these queries have more commercial intent.

• Certain keywords are more likely to be used by people in various audience subsections or different stages of the buying journey. Sifting keywords into these subsections lets you target ad campaigns (and the associated on-site content) to specific needs. The ad content that converts someone in need is different from ad content to entice someone who is just starting to consider preplanning.

4. Take a comprehensive approach to ad placement.
Finally, remember that your ad isn’t the final sales tool. The purpose of search ads is to show up at the right time for the user and persuade them to click on your link. A comprehensive approach to search engine marketing for funeral homes ensures that you have high-quality landing pages and other on-site content to back your ads.

The formula tends to be data-backed, keyword-rich targeted advertising plus high-quality, relevant content with strong calls to action equals conversion. For funeral homes, conversions mean people signing up to find out more or calling to make an appointment for preplanning or immediate need services. FBA

Welton Hong is the founder and marketing director of Ring Ring Marketing (, which specializes in helping funeral homes convert leads from online directly to the phone line. Welton also is a speaker at funeral home conferences and the author of Making Your Phone Ring with Internet Marketing for Funeral Homes. Reach him by email at [email protected] or call toll-free at 888.383-2848.