Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Every year LUMA Partners, a unique investment banking firm that lives in the digital media world, releases several different LUMAscapes. These provide an infographic look at the landscape for a given digital area. There are LUMAscapes for digital display advertising, digital search advertising, mobile and video.

As most Medicare marketers are in the nascent stages of both search and display, let’s take a look at the LUMAscapes for each, beginning with search.

According to Pew Research Center, 76% of older (leading-edge) Boomers (ages 60–69) use the Internet daily. Even the Silent generation (ages 70–87) now has an adoption rate of 61% who use the Internet. And when we look at the younger (trailing-edge) Boomers (ages 51–59), we see the handwriting on the wall for the future of Medicare marketing—with only 17% of this group not using the Internet daily.

Search involves more than just Google AdWords™, as you can see from this very busy infographic. It begins with the agencies at the upper left corner (disclaimer: KERN Health is an Omnicom Group agency) and progresses to those agencies that specialize in search, such as KERN Health’s media partner, ConvergeDirect.

In between, you’ll see the inclusion of SEM tools such as Google AdWords™; SEO (search engine optimization) tools like Moz; analytics for both search and web, including Google Analytics™, to all of the various search engines, such as Google™, Bing® and Yahoo!®, and search retargeting, verification and search networks.

Skipping the elementary basics of SEM, which marketers are generally familiar with, let’s take a deeper dive into what different SEM variations are available to Medicare marketers. Fundamental keyword selection strategy will not be covered here, which is itself the subject of many books.

Medicare marketers are familiar with and have experience and historic benchmarks to reference regarding their selection of keyword search terms. Basic search advertising is usually done on the largest platform, which is Google AdWords™. Google™ has an excellent educational section on the AdWords site, which can be found here.

The following technologically driven tactics are usually used together, and not as isolated tactics, as a campaign can include many of these tactics integrated to achieve the strategic vision.


Best-practice digital marketers don’t view SEO and SEM as an either/or asset, since experienced and successful digital marketers know they must have strategies for both SEO and SEM in place to achieve success. Ensuring that the website and landing pages are search engine friendly (can easily be crawled and indexed by search engines) is essential to the success of any SEM program. Having a SEO strategy supported by a SEO-driven content strategy lifts the effectiveness of both SEO and SEM short term and long term.

SEO continues to be a “cat and mouse” game; as Google™ changes algorithms, SEO experts change tactics to exploit the new algorithm. If you’d like to learn more about SEO, there are some excellent books on Amazon that cover the subject in detail.

Today, there is a variety of targeting tactics available to the modern search engine marketer beyond demographics. Savvy SEM strategists must constantly keep themselves current with new technological changes to fully leverage the latest best-practice tactics.

The tactics listed here are usually used together, not just individually, as a campaign can integrate many of them to achieve the strategic vision. As Medicare marketers have just begun to scratch the surface on what targeting tactics are available, here are today’s modern SEM targeting tactics.

SEM Targeting Tactics for Medicare Marketers


Brand Keywords
Campaigns can be run for both branded and nonbranded search terms, depending on campaign emphasis. Brand keywords are obviously keywords that include the brand. People searching for brands have high intent on finding the brand that they’re searching for and, therefore, provide marketers with a high or good ROAS (Return on Ad Spend). Many organizations have branded their products so that they are able to make people aware of their brand right when they’re searching.

Targeted Nonbrand Keywords
Conversely to brand keyword searches, targeted nonbrand keywords are designed for searchers with less intent than brand searchers, and generally provide a lower or lesser ROAS. Many organizations measure branded and nonbranded keyword searches separately, since the level of intent for each of these searches is decidedly different.

Conquesting is generally considered an aggressive marketing strategy by a company targeting a competitor’s brand name, product names or marketing slogans. Perhaps the most famous occurrence of conquesting came during the 2011 Super Bowl, when Volkswagen ran their famous commercial “The Force.” In that spot, a kid dressed as Darth Vader starts his dad’s VW with what he believed was the power of the Force. Turns out it was really dad with a remote start button. Chevrolet saw the commercial, and according to this USA Today article: “A team of Chevrolet marketers went into action, paying for links to Chevy’s Super Bowl ads to appear as a top result when people Googled phrases such as Darth Vader. As a result, Chevrolet’s ads got 55 million views online in the four days following the Super Bowl—far above expectations.”

Targeted Ad Copy
As you might imagine, targeting keywords within an ad or landing page copy is another tactic marketers use to return relevant searches to those seeking a product or service rather than a brand. For Medicare marketers, phrases such as Part D Prescription Drug Plan or Medicare Advantage HMO are common phrases used within the ad copy and can be used as keywords for targeted ad copy.

Targeted Devices
Medicare marketers can leverage device targeting to reach their best prospective customers on any device. Controlling when, where and on what device your ads appear enables flexible targeting options, as you can combine device targeting with other attributes such as location, day, time and demographics. And, you can tailor a specific mobile campaign to only target smartphones of one or more manufacturers. By testing device targeting, marketers are able to understand which devices their best-performing prospective customers are using and can increase ROAS significantly by targeting those specific devices combined with other top-performing attributes. This is especially critical for Medicare marketers as leading-edge Boomers age in to eligibility.

Contextual CPC (Cost Per Click)
Where and when a marketer’s digital advertisements are placed is as critical, or more critical, than the message, the offer or the creative. Imagine a brilliant ad with a fabulous offer pasted onto a billboard in an isolated desert town with no traffic driving by. The outdoor board will not be effective. The same is true for digital advertising, including search. Medicare search engine marketing must be planned by thoroughly understanding the digital media consumption behavior and habits of the Medicare audience. Vendors offer context-based, algorithm-based placement of searches to ensure that the ad being placed appears in front of an interested audience who is receptive to the offer.

Using contextual CPC also enables search engine retargeting, which is a newer technology that dynamically inserts the searcher’s own keyword queries into your ad copy as the user continues to browse other sites, and all this activity is trackable and attributable through the vendor’s analytics reports. There are vendors that allow for CPC contextual traffic specifically targeted to the health vertical. They each have a collection of sites focused on insurance. Some of the benefits of contextual CPC include the allowance for CPC traffic similar to search, but at a lower cost, since users only see an ad if they meet the selected criteria, such as demographic, geographic or other selectable attributes. Read more about contextual targeting for Google AdWords™ here.

There are several vendors that allow for CPC contextual traffic specifically targeted to a collection of sites focused on Medicare insurance.

Daypart Targeting
Daypart targeting allows Medicare marketers to reach the audience by the time and day of the week when ads are most likely to be seen, based on the media consumption and behavior patterns of the audience. Dialing in the best times of day that the Medicare audience is most likely to be searching for search terms enables marketers to increase ROAS by maximizing the allocated budget for the most impact. Here is another opportunity to test and learn what days and what times of day your prospective audience is most likely going to be searching for Medicare information or assistance so that you can optimize your spend and maximize results. And while many Medicare marketers are using Google AdWords™, some may be unaware that daypart targeting is an option. Learn more about Google AdWords™ custom scheduling here.

RLSA (Remarketing Lists for Search Ads)
According to Google™, remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) “is a feature that lets you customize your search ads campaign for people who have previously visited your site, and tailor your bids and ads to these visitors when they’re searching on Google.” Why might Medicare marketers be interested in this capability? Well, in order to maximize the effectiveness of a smaller digital search budget, having your search engine marketing only return PPC ads to people who have already shown an interest by visiting your site is an excellent way to squeeze every working dollar out of your digital budget. When someone visits your Medicare site, they are most likely interested in your Medicare offerings. When that person continues to search for other Medicare plans, your search engine marketing ad comes up first—and there is a better likelihood that the searcher may be swayed into revisiting your site and reconsidering your offer.

Geo-targeting and geo-fencing are terms that are often misunderstood and misused by marketers, so let’s address the difference while defining them. Geo-targeting is the targeting of prospective members within a specified geographical territory, such as a DMA that meets other targeting criteria like demographic or psychographic selected attributes. For Medicare marketers, geo-targeting is an important aspect of every SEM campaign, including testing different tactics such as messaging, formats and keywords to different geographical locations. Bidding for search terms within broad geographical locations such as ZIP codes, cities, counties or states is going to be much more efficient and effective for driving higher ROAS.

Geo-fencing involves drawing a virtual DMA using either a device’s GPS, home or business’s IP address as the centralized origination point and targets prospects within the radius selected from those origination points. Utilizing geo-fencing will enable you to show ads to EVERYONE within a selected area, usually within a much tighter location radius than can be used with geo-targeting. Medicare marketers can use this capability to target areas with high concentrations of Boomers or seniors, such as large retirement communities, to gain efficiency, drive down investments and increase response. Geo-fencing does not provide marketers with the ability to serve up push notifications on apps to those within the geo-fence radius, although many marketers mistakenly believe that it does.

SEM for Medicare Marketers
Knowing what tools are in the toolbox and having expert knowledge of those tools are essential for any master carpenter. Even the novice must survey the toolbox before attempting to build a project, and the same is true for Medicare marketing strategists.

10-Stage Buyer's Journey

There are 10 stages in the modern buyer’s journey: Distraction, Recognize Need, Search for Solutions, Seek Vendor Solutions, Evaluate Solutions, Justify Solutions, Social Research, Cost Analysis, Purchase and Evaluate Decision.

While the journey stages of the AEP “Switcher” and the “Age-In” prospects are similar, they may have very different needs and concerns when shopping for Medicare. The final messaging for each segment must speak to each audience’s specific needs and wants.

No matter the audience, something is likely to distract or interrupt a Medicare shopper (1), which acts as a catalyst for considering either their current Medicare coverage (Switcher) or that they are nearing the age where they will have to face a choice regarding Medicare by the time they turn 65 (Age-In). Maybe it was something they heard from a friend or family member, or perhaps they saw a commercial for Medicare on television or online.

Once they have recognized that they have a need (2), both audiences are likely to search for solutions (3) and begin to look for specific vendor solutions (4).

They will evaluate those solutions (5) and perhaps will need to justify those solutions to their spouse, children or friends (6), and they or their support group will conduct social research (7) during each stage of their journey.

How much does it cost per month, or what is the total cost of the policy, including deductibles? These questions are answered within the cost analysis (8) leg of the journey, and the decision to make a purchase (9) is made. Then the important evaluation of the decision (10) occurs, which is increasingly more important, as many post their evaluation online for others to see.

Understanding and mapping the Medicare buyer’s journey will enable organizations to determine which tactics are best for early-stage, middle-stage and late-stage funnel searchers. Testing different messaging, positioning and tactical execution, along with landing page versions, is best practice and will allow your marketing to evolve into an optimized program providing great ROAS.