You want to attract more customers and would love to pass more qualified leads to your sales team. You’ve dipped a toe into search engine marketing (SEM) but aren’t sure what to do to get results. You’re stuck and feel like you’re wasting money. Now what?

SEM can be a valuable platform to grow your business, but there’s a steep learning curve that can prevent you from realizing returns.

Using SEM effectively requires in-depth technical knowledge. Most business owners don’t have the time to learn all they need to know to use it confidently.

On average, businesses make $2 for every dollar they invest in its ads, Google has found. When used properly, it can be a powerful and profitable channel for your business. Then why isn’t my SEM campaign working? you ask.

Here are 5 mistakes you might be making with SEM:

Your budget isn’t big enough

How did you come up with your SEM budget? If you’re like most business owners, you probably are spending a small amount to try it out but can’t seem to get results. Setting a small budget over a long period may mean you can’t take full advantage of SEM. A small budget stops you from bidding on lucrative keywords. It limits your ability to test and adjust your campaigns. Worse yet, it doesn’t show you what you’re doing wrong, so you may end up wasting money because you don’t realize you need to change course.

Once you learn more about SEM, you can use your business goals to set a budget. You can consider how many new customers you’d like to bring in and figure out how much you should spend on SEM based on that number.

You’re using the wrong keywords

You probably know enough about SEM to know that keywords are important when trying to draw traffic to your website. However, you may not be seeing the whole picture. Using keywords goes beyond simply choosing the most popular words related to your industry. Keyword research means pulling data to compare widely used keywords with keywords that might be the most lucrative for you. You’ll need this insight to weigh the cost of relevant keywords against their potential to be successful.

As you explore SEM, you’ll realize how easy it is to make common errors when creating Google ads. Keywords affect how you build your campaigns, how you spend your budget and how you measure your results. It’s easy to overspend on the wrong keywords when you don’t understand how to evaluate them. Learning about short-tail and long-tail keywords, negative keywords, and types of matching can help you be more competitive while staying within your budget.

For example, a shoe store owner might want to try to compete for the keyword boots to help sell out winter inventory when she should target customers in her city searching for black women’s winter boots. This is likely a less expensive keyword phrase to bid on and more likely to attract customers who can shop in the store and want to buy winter boots.

You don’t have the expertise to create a robust SEM strategy

You may have a marketing plan and know the types of customers you want to target, but that doesn’t replace all the elements needed to create an SEM strategy. If you aren’t working with SEM every day, you probably don’t have the expertise needed to develop a strategy. Ideally, you have a good understanding before you begin to set goals, drive traffic and measure conversions.

Customers tend to move from awareness to engagement to conversion as they make decisions about what to buy. This is your sales funnel. There are more people at the top of the funnel (awareness) and fewer at the bottom (conversion) as they get closer to becoming a customer. Your marketing plan may not cover all the aspects of the sales funnel it should when it comes to building out your plan for SEM campaigns.

The shoe store owner mentioned above wants to be able to identify potential customers who need to learn about the store, those know about the store but don’t realize it carries winter boots and those who need winter boots this week because it snowed. Without this knowledge, it’s likely her SEM will suffer from poor campaign structure or lose out because she is sending people to the wrong web pages.

You’re not up to date on current trends

Best practices change frequently. Success relies on technical know-how that can change depending on SEM trends and updates across the different platforms. You’ll need to stay on top of these changes and test your campaigns as updates are rolled out. If your SEM campaigns aren’t working, it may be because you aren’t monitoring them to make necessary updates.

You can fix this. Find a few leaders in the space to follow, keep an eye on SEM blogs and resources, and make note of changes that will affect your current and future campaigns.

You don’t have enough time to optimize your SEM

It’s possible to learn enough to create ads and campaigns with SEM, but your effort may fail because you don’t have the time to manage what you’ve set up. It won’t work if you try to set everything up once and let it run without any monitoring. It won’t work if you don’t regularly pull accurate data, measure your results and make meaningful changes.

It takes time and skill to create effective ads and landing pages that will convert to sales. Ideally, you have someone savvy heading up your SEM and talented team members jumping in to handle the ad copy and creative that falls within their wheelhouse.

There can be a lot of reasons why your SEM campaigns don’t seem to be working. Most business owners are discouraged by the obstacles or try SEM for a while and waste money on efforts that aren’t based on data and insight. SEM needs real-time monitoring and is time-intensive for businesses to manage.

If this is where you’re stuck, don’t lose heart! Your business can benefit from this powerful platform even if you don’t have someone on your team with the experience to manage it. Consider outsourcing SEM to an agency with the expertise and resources needed to create a strategy and execute it in real time while you focus on your sales team and operations.