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Search-Engine Marketing (SEM) for Mediators

Sponsored Search and Natural Search

Search engines provide two types of search results: sponsored and natural. Appearance among the sponsored search results is dictated by advertisers’ willing to pay to be included among those results, though an advertiser’s account is only debited if a user clicks on the ad (a payment model known as pay-per-click). Sponsored results usually appear in a shaded area above the natural search results. They may also appear in a column to the right of the natural search results.

Appearance among natural search results, in contrast, is free. But it’s not guaranteed. You can’t buy your way into the natural results. A web site only gets included among the top natural search results if the search engine’s algorithm deems that site is highly relevant to the user’s search term. In this way, the natural search results reflect a ranking of sites from most relevant (near the top of the first page) to least relevant (buried where no one will ever find them, below dozens, thousands, or even millions of other site listings).

To explore sponsored and natural search results, fire up your browser and search on Google for “family mediators in berkeley”. (Berkeley is a small town across the bay from my San Francisco office.) Ideally, my own mediation web site would rank first or near the top of the natural search results for this search term. But, as the screen shot below indicates, I’m out of luck. Google doesn’t rank my site so highly for this search term. If my practice were focused on family mediation in the Berkeley area, I’d be well advised to make changes to my site through search-engine optimization (SEO) to improve its ranking in the natural search results for that term.

Sponsored Search Screen Shot

However, I’m happy with my site’s visibility for other terms more important to my practice such as “divorce mediators san francisco” and “divorce mediation san jose,” where I typically rank first or second in the natural search results of every major search engine. And given that no site will rank at or near the top of the natural results for every relevant search term, I’ve decided to place an ad among Google’s sponsored search results to appear when users type in the search term “family mediators in berkeley”. You can see my sponsored search ad below. When a user clicks on it, he/she is taken directly to my web site at

Mediation - SF Bay Area
The best way to resolve conflict.
Convenient locations in SF Bay Area
San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, CA

Targeted Advertising

Search engine providers like Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft (Bing) have two huge advantages over TV networks, newspapers, and other traditional media. They know the precise interest of every user, and they can instantaneously link each user to the web sites of advertisers who serve that interest.

To illustrate, when a user types the search term “philadelphia custody mediator” into a search engine, the search engine knows this user is interested right now in custody mediators in Philadelphia. In addition to displaying natural search results for this search term, the search engine can also display some sponsored search ads of advertisers who want to be listed among the sponsored search results for that search. This display of sponsored results is called search-engine marketing (SEM) or targeted advertising because the ads are targeted to each user according to the interest expressed through the search term he/she typed into the search engine.

Newspapers and TV networks can’t offer targeted advertising. They have no way to determine the interests of each reader or viewer. Even if they could, they have no way to deliver targeted ads because their media (newspapers and TV shows) are mass-produced products — unlike a search engine’s results page, which is custom-manufactured for each user’s particular search term. And even if newspapers and TV networks could deliver targeted ads, they have no way of directly connecting readers and viewers to advertisers. The most they can do is encourage their advertisers to include a telephone number, street address, or web address in the ad in the hope that readers or viewers take note and later contact the advertiser.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why bother with SEM? Shouldn’t I just focus on SEO?

A. Achieving top rankings in the natural search results for relevant search terms is the goal of every web site. But even sites optimized for maximum natural search visibility won’t achieve top rankings for all relevant search terms. An optimized site may also need time (typically a few months) before it appears in the natural search results.

Whether as an interim solution or as a long-term strategy of search-engine marketing in combination with search-engine optimization, sponsored search will bolster your site’s presence among search results for relevant search terms whenever your site has low natural search rankings or no search engine visibility whatsoever.

Q. What’s involved with search-engine marketing?

A. SEM is a multistep operation involving: (i) selection of search terms (also known as keywords) for which an ad should appear, (ii) setting a daily budget and dollar amounts for a click on each ad, (iii) creation of winning ads (you’ll likely want more than one), (iv) match types (i.e. the rules that trigger whether your ad should appear if a user doesn’t type an exact match to one of your keywords), and (v) geotargeting and demographic criteria (control over where, when, and to whom your ad appears).

Q. Can I do it myself?

A. Creating effective search marketing campaigns is a sizable undertaking that requires attention to detail and, once built, regular maintenance. A badly built and maintained campaign will waste money like a leaky faucet as users who aren’t necessarily good prospects click on your sponsored search ads, costing you a buck or two each time … drip, drip, drip. That said, you don’t need to be an engineer or a programmer to do SEM. Plenty of people in private practice set up their own pay-per-click campaigns.

SEM Consulting

Three levels of consulting services are available:

Level 1: Advisory. After a half-hour or one-hour telephone consultation or videoconference in which I will advise on campaign strategy and tactics and/or walk you through recommended SEM platform(s), you then design, implement, and maintain your own SEM campaign(s).

Level 2: Assistive. In addition to the consultation of Level 1, I provide suggested keyword lists, pay-per-click bidding guidance, match types, ad copy, and geotargeting criteria. You then implement and maintain the campaign.

Level 3: Full Service. For this hands-off option, you need do nothing except authorize a maximum allowable expenditure per day (e.g. $3 per day) and provide a credit card number to be debited in your campaign(s). I do everything else.

Please contact me to discuss your needs.

Welcome to Mediation

Welcome to Mediation

Actionable intelligence for a career in mediation

from professional mediator

Actionable intelligence for a career in mediation

from professional mediator