Search Engine Marketing used to sound like evil dark magic to me till I met Eric Tonk, the demand generation ninja at Druva. I wanted to test out a new positioning for my product, and Eric suggested that we run some quick google ads to gauge demand. He offered to coach me on how to quickly get started. I don’t regret taking him up on that offer. There are a lot of details on what went on after that, and how our campaign performed. I’ll skip all of that and come to what I learnt about search engine marketing from a product manager’s perspective.

My goal was to see whether a product positioning that I was proposing resonates with potential customers. I had already interviewed some of them and I wanted a second opinion. Also, our hypothesis was that people clicking on search ads were farther down in the buying cycle than my interview base was.

The following was our plan:

Determine what keywords to target

Guessing the right keyword is like getting inside the head of the customer. The exercise is a surreal experience (I’m not kidding!). Eric was very particular that we get this part right.

The interviews gave us a good start. We researched the Pay Per Click (PPC) strategy of similar products, using tools like SEMRush, and SpyFu to dig deeper into what others could be paying for. These tools are not very accurate but gave us an idea of the trend. Consistent large investments indicated keywords which were working. We verified it further with Google Keywords tool. Finally, we clubbed similar keywords into logical groups, which could be treated similarly.

e.g. Keywords for security conscious customer, Keywords for collaboration focused customers.

Come up with ad text for the keyword groups

By the end of this exercise I understood empthathy a bit better. Our ad copy had to catch the attention of the person looking for that information. The goal was to make them click. Longtail keywords represented specific interest and we showed them ads with specific keywords. More generic key words meant a broader audience, and the goal was to cut down clicks from the irrelevant group.

For the keyword, “Enterprise file sharing with activity trails”, we showed an ad which mirrored some of the key words. e.g. “Enterprise File Sharing – Be always in control with detailed user activity trail”

For the keyword, “file sharing”, we had to eliminate clicks from audience looking for generic consumer file sharing products. e.g. ”Secure Enterprise File Sharing”

After running these ads for a couple of weeks, we got a decent idea of the demand. It was not statistically significant but coupled with the interviews I had conducted before, it gave me a good sense.

SEM is far more complex than this but this noob’s guide was a revelation for me. I’d love to hear about your experience.