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SEO + SEM Hypothetical: UMN.edu

By Snap Agency April 4, 2016

What happens when you combine a massive brand with a complete (hypothetical) SEO + SEM strategy? Ultimately this is an exercise for us at Snap Agency and a demonstration of our tactical strengths (although we would love it if the University of Minnesota wanted us to do this for them). There is a great search presence to work with here already, but let’s get started making it even better.


How do SEM and SEO work together?

Beyond the fact that the two end up on the same page quite often, there are several reasons the two are meant to be with each other.

SEM and SEO strategies should be executed simultaneously to reap the long-term benefits of organic traffic while using SEM to fill in keyword gaps where organic ranking is lower

When you’re reviewing organic rankings in Search Console, Google Analytics, or some other tool, and planning content with the goal of increasing rankings, there is a key element being missed here. Utilizing Spyfu we see 15,419 keywords that the University of Minnesota ranks for, but they have an organic ranking between 11–15. These keywords would be expected to eventually make it to the first page by promoting them more in content, but for right now they are doing very little to generate traffic. Examples of these would be

  • financial mathematics: 5.4K searches/month
  • biosystems engineering: 2.4K searches/month
  • journalism school: 590 searches/month

Being aware of these rankings is important if the U of M wants to improve its organic ranking, and developing a content calendar around these keywords to create relevant information and begin to rank higher will be crucial; but incorporating Google AdWords ads that target these lower-ranking keywords will bring in traffic immediately while waiting for organic traffic to catch up. Google is also seemingly making it more difficult on companies that don’t use Google AdWords. According to a recent Search Engine Land article on the subject, the recent changes to SERPs (search engine result pages) create some instances on mobile where no organic listings appear above the fold.


How do we turn organic keywords into SEM campaigns?

If you’re new to Google AdWords, or have used it in the past but stopped running campaigns because organic traffic created enough volume, it’s easy to be less than enthusiastic about starting. The simplicity of what we are hoping to achieve here, however, makes it very palatable. By having a very specific set of keywords (yes, it’s over 15,000, but the U of M ranks for over 140,000 keywords) instead of focusing on every possible search that could be bringing traffic to your site, you begin to make campaign creation more manageable. Importing the keywords rather than entering them all manually will be a life-saver; this is where keyword research tools become incredibly useful because we can export keywords.

After creating a campaign and importing all the keywords, the bid strategy still needs to be created and we need to develop a plan to manage these keywords. The simplest way to take these keywords we already rank for and turn them into keywords that will capture searches is to leave them as broad match keywords. In our first week of running ads, the focus should be less on getting clicks and more on collecting data.

We have over 15,000 keywords, and giving them a low bid that ranks them in the ad position 4–5 range will ensure we are not spending a lot of money, but by getting impressions, our Search Terms report in Google AdWords will begin to collect specific searches that users are making that trigger our keywords. At this point we should create a second campaign with a higher budget and begin adding these searches as phrase and exact match searches with 1–3 ad position ranking.

We use this SEM strategy because it’s a very helpful guide to look at organic keywords you rank for, but those rankings are there because of a decision your internal team made and are not necessarily indicative of exactly how users in your target audience search


Continuing your SEO and SEM strategy

The University of Minnesota has a large keyword base, especially when compared with other local schools; however, there are still keywords that schools like Carleton College and Augsburg rank for that the U of M doesn’t. Finding these keywords and creating content around them (and using SEM to show ads for them) will expand their search audience even further out than it already is.

The extensive list of keywords ranking in the 11–15 range should be combed through to find specific keywords worth the most to the school to determine where the content focus for the next six months could be—developing blogs and landing pages around financial mathematics would be a great first step. Promoting those pages and blogs through SEM, sponsored content, and paid social ads is where the University of Minnesota can go from a major player to a potential educational juggernaut. The ball is in your court University of Minnesota: Start seeking digital growth and see what can happen.