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Every small business needs to use different tools to gather data and make decisions. Unfortunately, there are hundreds and hundreds of SEM tools out there (many of which are very unhelpful), so it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

Sr. Product Marketing Manager of Marin Software Kye Mou started talking about SEM tools in his presentation at SES San Francisco with the idea that preparation is key. Even if you have the tools in front of you, you need to know what you’re look for and how you’re going to use them successfully. This will help you determine which tools are best based on your goals.

 SEM Tips and Tools to Help You Be Successful

Being prepared is difficult without the help of at least some SEM tools, so below are a few that Mou finds stand out from the rest.

Keyword Research: Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends

These are the top two tools that can help you find keywords that might work. You should list out your objectives first for both organic and paid, and then use the first tool to get some keyword ideas and negative keyword list. Once you’ve done that, you can compare search terms, view related top searches, view related rising searches, and better understand keyword interest within a category with the Google Trends tool.

Competitor Analysis: MixRank, SpyFu

SpyFu is used for viewing top paid and organic competitors. When you use this and MixRank together in addition to the keyword tools listed above, you can really begin to create a list of direct competitors and those that play on the side. Below is a screenshot of SpyFu as well as a screenshot of MixRank from the presentation.



Common Challenges


Mou did not list any reporting tools, but did explain some of the problems and solutions business owners deal with when it comes to reporting.

Some of the challenges with reporting include multiple publishers, a large amount of data, custom categories, recurring reports, and cross-channel interactions. Try to find a single interface that brings all of this data together across major publishers as well as automates recurring analyses. In simple terms, it’s important you’re not using a large number of tools for reporting. Mou’s company reported a 40 percent time savings with VistaPrint by making some of these changes.

A/B Testing

Calculating statistical data might be difficult if you aren’t used to it.

Continuous testing and calculating statistics is time consuming, and this can be a challenge for many.  The solution here is to set custom KPI goals, use a single interface if possible, identify your top call to action, and segment creative performance by test type and geography. Mou actually found that by taking these challenges and solutions, a few of his clients saw a 50 percent time savings, and one client even saw a 150 percent increase in conversions.

Bid Optimization

The challenges you deal with here focus around manual bid calculations, and multi-click conversions.

Other challenges include reactive big calculations and even multi-event conversions. If you’re dealing with these problems when it comes to bid optimization, Mou says you should try to build “what-if” scenarios and assign value to conversion events and across clicks. Below are two screenshots, the first illustrating the problem and the second the solution.



What About Your Budget?

Mou’s advice was to stick with free tools until your business outgrows them (which might be different than how most feel about SEO tools).

In the end, it’s important to really think outside the box when it comes to keyword research. You want to dig deeper and offer something different to your readers while still keeping a close eye on your competition and what they are doing to be creative. Segmentation and scale is critical to effective reporting and you should always be testing. Make these few simple changes and you’re off to a good start when it comes to SEM success!

You can learn more from Kyle Mou by following his company on Twitter @MarinSofware.

Amanda DiSilvestro gives small business and entrepreneurs SEO advice ranging from keyword density to recovering from Panda and Penguin updates. She writes for the nationally recognized SEO firm that offers online marketing services to a wide range of companies across the country.