Highlights from our SEM for Startups Event

As a follow up to our recent guide for startups on how to leverage SEM, last week Growth Pilots hosted an event in partnership with Google on SEM and user acquisition featuring speakers from Google, Greylock VC, Kissmetrics, HomeLight and Primer.

 A diverse audience, insightful speakers, and a lively panel discussion made for a great event, and we wanted to share some highlights with those who couldn’t attend.

The Growth Pilots SEM Framework

At Growth Pilots our mission to help companies succeed with their performance marketing channels. While we can only work with a limited number of companies, we are big believers in sharing our knowledge and tactics with the broader startup and marketing ecosystem to help others succeed with their customer acquisition efforts.

The event began with a workshop sharing Growth Pilots’ comprehensive approach to SEM. This workshop was intended to help startups avoid common pitfalls, build a smart and competitive strategy, and achieve efficiency and scale using SEM.

SEM Intro Presentation

The SEM workshop was a deep dive into SEM strategy that included both high-level concepts and granular tactics. Here are some of the takeaways from the workshop:

Trust your intuition to seed keyword lists. One of the big challenges for many companies is figuring out what keywords to put into their account. You know your product and customer best, so that’s the best place to start. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to expand from the initial list. From there, you can try third party tools like SEMRush or Spyfu to see what your competitors are bidding on.

Bucket keywords by intent. Put as much budget as you can towards keywords that are high intent to get the lowest-hanging conversions.

Use different match types for different purposes. Use broad match modified to discover what search terms convert, and build out exact match keywords based on converting search terms discovered in the search term report.

Structure campaigns based on keyword themes, match type, and geography. Organizing your campaigns this way makes it possible to segment your account so that you can efficiently bid and allocate budget based on what’s performing best.

Focus on user experience to improve your Quality Score. Make sure the ad you serve for each keyword is relevant to a user’s search term and actually includes the keyword within the ad. Similarly, make sure the corresponding landing page is in alignment with the keyword and the ad, creating a seamless user experience from end to end. This will help you achieve a high Quality Score.


The Customer Acquisition Panel

After our SEM workshop, we hosted a great lineup of panelists for a fascinating discussion about SEM and user acquisition from different perspectives in the startup world.

Panel on User Acquisition at Google

The discussion covered a lot of different topics and was full of valuable insights for startups. Here are some takeaways from the panel that stood out:

Josh Elman from Greylock VC“We see startups using agencies all the time for SEM, we encourage it. Finding really good agencies that dive in and roll up their sleeves is really important.”  – Josh Elman, Greylock VC.

During the panel, Josh discussed how there are always stories behind data, and pointed out that understanding those underlying stories is what’s most important. For Josh, just because information is anecdotal doesn’t make it worthless, and he often says “the plural of anecdote is data.” He advised startups not to fool themselves with “blended numbers” and to make sure they understood what was really going on behind the data.

Hiten Shah of Kissmetrics“These days you can choose tools that allow you to track the whole funnel, which means you can know your LTV with some granularity. On the mobile side, for startups, one of the upcoming tools is Amplitude. On desktop, Google Analytics is still pretty good.”- Hiten Shah, Kissmetrics founder.

Hiten emphasized that setting up effective and detailed tracking to get a good understanding of metrics like LTV is really important. Without good tracking for as much of the funnel as possible, it’s all for nothing. Hiten advised startups to “use a spreadsheet early”  to keep meticulous track of things in an organized way right from the start.

Homelight COO Sumant Sridharan

“Start with 20 growth projects. Invest in them all and see what works. At the end you’ll be left with perhaps a couple viable channels.” – Sumant Sridharan, Homelight COO.

Sumant is a big advocate of relying on more than one channel for revenue, warning against depending solely on paid acquisition. He admonished startups that “for raising money, you need to show revenue from other channels”. He also made the point that SEM is for demand capture. It has limited use for new markets (e.g. ride sharing) that have low search volume early on. 

Kamo Asatryan, co-founder and CEO of Primer

“Your product starts with the first marketing message that users see. Wherever they’re going in your funnel, make sure to meet their expectations.” – Kamo Asatryan, founder of Primer.

Kamo is a strong believer in close integration of product and marketing. For him, allowing a chasm to arise between the two is a mistake that companies can’t afford. This has implications for SEM, because big companies that spend a lot of money on SEM often have very separate product and marketing departments, so that very specific, targeted ads often lead to very generic landing page experiences.

Bickey Russell, Google's Head of Agency Development

“Constantly get on the phone and speak to your customers.” – Bickey Russell, Google’s Head of Agency Development.

Bickey explained that getting qualitative feedback straight from the customers is important in ensuring that the basics of a product are sound. He advised startups to get the basics right “before you even go in with SEM” and make sure your site isn’t a leaky bucket before you start driving traffic to it. 


Stay tuned for more

We had a great time hosting the SEM for Startups event in partnership with Google. We plan on hosting events more regularly in the future. To get notified about future events and paid acquisition marketing insights from Growth Pilots, subscribe to our updates below.