Reinventing PPC

PPC - three powerful letters that have changed marketing forever. PPC is power personified. PPC is agile. PPC has turned the advertising world on its head over the past 10+ years.

Yet, PPC is largely viewed as a direct response medium -- an auction-based channel that lives solely on Google SERPs. This point of view may have been partially accurate years ago, but today it’s outdated and extremely limiting. Even the term PPC isn’t entirely accurate. It ignores so many aspects of how marketers can use paid strategies to engage with their audience.

We don’t live in a single interaction world – we never have. We live in a multi-device, multi-medium, offline and online convergent world where the Buyer Journey is infinitely complicated. This is where, not just PPC, but digital Paid Media shines. It’s not utilized this way very often, but when it is, it’s incredibly effective.

Click here to download the full eBook or read on below.

Keyword Strategy


Most “good” search marketers approach keyword strategies in a similar manner. After having their initial discovery meeting with the client, they go back and do client, industry, and category research. Once this is done, they research keywords that fit the motivational, demographic, and psychographic intents of the client site and landing pages.

Then, based on search volume, projected CPCs, etc., they formulate a keyword strategy. The approved keyword strategy is then broken down into thematic Campaigns and Ad Groups and then they write direct response copy for the various Ad Groups. Sounds logical, right?

This simplified version of the Paid Media keyword strategy process is solid, but it’s missing the most important thing --- the user.

If you consider the user first, then you soon find yourself thinking about the Buyer Journey. And, unlike most mediums, Paid Media can help you engage throughout the Buyer Journey in a very deliberate manner. Not just in search engines, but in social, display, video, and throughout the digital ecosystem.

Below are two examples of how keyword strategies might differ based on the two approaches:

Note the difference. We’re approaching the campaigns from the user’s perspective, not from the simple taxonomy of keyword variations. This provides a few key campaign advantages:

  • Campaigns and Ad Groups reflect the user's goals
  • Ad copy is crafted around the user’s progress and goals in the Buyer Journey, not the keyword:
  • Users feel respected. You’re not trying to sell them in Awareness stage or tease them in the Intent stage.

The big question is how do we transform keyword-driven Paid Media processes to a user focused, Buyer Journey process? Simple -- start with research, just not keyword research – not yet at least.

Qualitative Modeling


Good search marketers incorporate qualitative research into their Paid Media processes, mostly to write better ad copy and for landing page recommendations. The great ones actually use it to develop insights.

Ad copy needs to be good, but if you’re not thinking about where the user is within his/her Buyer Journey it will never be great. Paid Media specialists tend to think about ad copy in terms of CTRs and Quality Score, and you can’t argue that these aren’t important considerations.

However, the user should come first. Love them. Understand them. Become them.

The first place to start is with industry research. What is the competitive landscape like? Is the sales cycle long or short? Is the product a high consideration or low consideration product? What are your competitive advantages? What are your weaknesses? Be honest.

How about the competition? We love SWOT analyses, but not like the ones you may have done in college. We’re big fans of actionable insights, not text heavy deliverables that don’t actually say anything.

Next is audience research. Most search marketers are good at this, so we won’t go into detail here. But you can get so much deeper into audience research by performing stakeholder interviews.

Interview existing clients and prospective clients, along with sales and support teams, etc. This not only uncovers audience insights, but also helps you understand the actual Buyer Journey. How many interactions does it take on average before a purchase is made? What is the minimum and maximum?

What are the various sites, social networks, and repeat queries to search engines that help customers finally decide to purchase? Often, you’ll see one of the common Buyer Journey paths just in keyword queries alone:

Lastly, and very importantly, take time to understand the difference between a new customer’s Buyer Journey and an existing customer’s Journey. They’re not the same, and just like when you’re in a relationship with someone, you have different interactions with your significant other than with strangers.

Quantitative Modeling


Now that you understand the industry, your audience, the Buyer Journey, and the user’s hopes, dreams, fears, and motivations, it’s time to get quantitative.

Delve into your Web Analytics. Don’t just look at traffic. Look for patterns. Imagine you are the user. Look beyond data. Data is useless. Information is good. However, if you can develop insights and turn those into recommendations then you’re actually on to something.

To better understand the Buyer Journey, start with Multi-Channel Attribution. Google Analytics, SiteCatalyst, and other web analytics tools have the capability to provide you with the most common Buyer Journey paths – as you can see below:

As you can see, this company earned over $2.5 million in ecommerce revenue. Unfortunately, social only drove about 5% of the “last click” revenue. And since you spend so much time in social, you should cut back, right?

Not so fast. If you look closer, social assisted in over 25% of ecommerce revenue. This is the Buyer Journey at work. This is the media mix. We run into marketers everyday that want to pretend we’re in a single medium, single interaction, last click world. And if we listened to these marketers, we’d be putting 25% of our ecommerce revenue at stake in this scenario.

There is obviously much more you can pull from your web analytics to better understand the purchase path your customers take, but we think you get the point. Don’t look at traffic and time on site as your KPIs. Look for patterns to develop insights to better understand your customer. That’s really all that matters.

Another untapped Buyer Journey tool is your CRM data. Many search marketers are too focused on cost per conversion or cost per sale, so we often dig into our client’s CRM to move a step further.

What is the lifetime value of a customer? Can we map that to our Paid Media campaigns? What about profit per customer? Would you rather have your Paid Media campaigns be reflective of more than a single transaction?

Who cares about CPCs or even a single transaction if the Buyer Journey can be better understood to optimize campaigns and maximize profitability? Moreover, if you better understand your customer you’ll do more than maximize profit, you’ll maximize user experience; which we would argue is a better long-term goal. Profit doesn’t begat profit. But, incredible user experiences do.

Finally, as we mentioned in the qualitative section, dissect your audience. Existing customers have different paths, expectations, and touch points than new customers. Insights should be precise and actionable. Looking at existing customers and new customers in the same data sets may provide you with an “average”, but will often lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Keyword Research


Finally, we’re at the keyword research stage. This is where search marketers excel. However, now we have the advantage of moving beyond terms like “widget” and “widget + keyword”. Research can include these, but let’s go above and beyond.

One of our clients, FLEX-Drain, offered a good case in point. While we were doing our qualitative research we uncovered a difference between the terms and keywords they used to describe their product and the language their customers were using.

Terms like “french drain" and “corrugated pipe” didn’t resonate with their audience. Sure, we needed to include these terms in our campaigns, but also needed to craft campaigns from the user’s perspective – how did they start their buyer journey?

We determined that users were starting out the Buyer Journey by searching for conflict-based keywords. Terms like “ponding water,” and “how to fix standing water” were added to engage the user.

The bottom line is, your keyword research needs to go beyond the basic product keywords and into the Buyer Journey.

User Personas


User personas typically reside within creative departments and are rarely used by search marketers. We think this is a mistake.

First, a defined target audience is relatively useless in search marketing. Knowing things like age, sex, income, etc. are only moderately useful because search engines are tools that decipher user intent.

It’s more important to know the psychographic intent of a search query than the gender of the person searching.

However, if you add user personas to the mix, you actually have something useful.

Why? Because you can’t effectively write ads or model the Buyer Journey based on demographics alone. Creating user personas drives it home. We can understand that “Adam” is a first time dad, that he has a fast-paced, rewarding career, and makes low consideration purchases quickly. He’s college educated, socially responsible, view his cats as children, and has disposable income.

We can write Paid Media ads that truly engage knowing this. Now we can visualize a Buyer Journey. Moreover, our keyword research becomes real. It’s not “widget” then “widget + keyword”. It’s a busy new dad trying to buy a car seat.

There are multiple ways to approach user personas, so you should use whatever works best for your organization. Just remember, the target audience doesn’t make a purchase, but a person does.

So you’ve come this far, but there’s still work to be done. Just like you can’t treat all of your users the same way, you shouldn’t develop a blanket strategy for the Search, Display, and Social networks. Let’s dive into the various ad platforms and how you should approach each.

Google Search Network


Although we discussed taking a Buyer Journey approach to your keyword campaigns, fully optimizing for the Search network takes more effort. The good news is that you don’t have to go out searching for your audience here, because they’re already here looking for you. But you still need a solid strategy.

You have two main jobs on the Search Network: To make it easy for your audience to find you, and then to convince them that they need you. It’s about being at the right place, at the right time, with the right message. The research you’ve done thus far should have you heading toward that “right place” and a customized bidding schedule will help you get there at the “right time”.

In order to customize your bidding strategy, take advantage of bid modifiers. They allow you to prioritize the importance of each individual searcher based on their location, device, or time. This feature has been around for a while, but it wasn’t until Google released its Enhanced Campaigns that we’ve been able to do optimize our campaigns with such buyer-focused precision.

Most advertisers take the obvious approach to bid modifiers. Data is reviewed over time and then a percentage increase or decrease is applied to the corresponding device, location, day and/or hour based on performance. Setting bid adjustments like this is a good way to increase visibility in high performing areas (or decrease in poor performing areas), but it doesn’t consider the Buyer Journey at all and leaves a lot of room for error. The way people behave on the Search Network is completely different from the way they behave on the Display Network, so it’s likely data is already skewed the second these types of campaigns are lumped together. Furthermore, search behavior alone is so complex that even with display broken out you’re still making decisions based on extremely broad data. Instead, do a deeper dive into the data and analyze it from a different point of view – the searcher’s point of view. Look at device performance at the ad level and you may discover that a certain call to action performs best on mobile. Or maybe day parting data differs significantly by conversion action or geographic location. You can’t make a fully informed decision based only on where, how, or when, since independently these give only a glimpse into search behavior. In order to understand the searcher’s intent and why they might or might not be ready to convert, consider all of their signals together. Only then can you begin tailor your search strategy to the Buyer Journey.

While a customized bidding strategy is important, it’s just as crucial to personalize your message and the way it’s communicated. Despite what you may think, messaging doesn’t rely solely on ad copy. Ad extensions give you the chance to extend your voice beyond ad copy and provide your audience with valuable information. There a several ad extensions available to all advertisers, including location, call, sitelink, and offers, and a few others that are still in beta. The actual resources you have to offer as well as what you’re trying to promote will help guide you in choosing the right ad extension for a campaign (or Ad Group), but if you’ve read this far you know that those things alone are not enough.

Just because you have a promotion running doesn’t mean you need to set up an offer extension. Likewise, having Google Shopping reviews doesn’t mean it’s necessary to utilize review extensions. Inundating the user with information simply because it’s available is useless and will only confuse them. Instead, consider the person you’re talking to and where they are in the Buyer Journey. Have they been to your site before? If so, offer them something based on their past site interaction (This is where Remarketing Lists for Search Ads, aka RLSA, come in handy.) Are they searching from only 2 miles away from your retail store? Then it’s likely they’re trying to find you and could benefit from location or call extensions. Set your campaigns up for success by using your knowledge of the searcher to determine what information will be most useful to them.

In order to thrive in the Search Network, it isn’t enough to just bid on keywords and write informative ad copy. Strong, successful Search Network strategies begin and end with the user in mind and aim to improve the overall user experience. They leverage tools such as bid modifiers and ad extensions to maximize ad reach to the most valuable users at the times they’re looking to interact, with messaging that provides value specifically to them.

Display Advertising


Display advertising has a huge footprint and is nearly always part of the Buyer Journey, but has gotten a bad rap over the past few years. Marketers looked at the “last click” conversion rates of Display ads and became reluctant to sink advertising dollars. Until recently, many advertisers have stuck with other, more traditional mediums.

Now, with multi channel attribution, we’re able to see where display advertising fits into the Buyer Journey. At SES last year, it was said that display advertising assists in 50% of all online conversions. We don’t believe this number, partly because an ad network produced it, but we do believe the actual percentage is higher than most think.

The key is understanding where display fits into your media mix and Buyer Journey. People aren’t robots. They don’t just go to Google and buy. They surf the web. They hang out on social networks. They do research. They interact with the entire digital ecosystem.

Display advertising, including on the Google Display Network, offers Paid Media advertisers the ability to gracefully interact with users through the web. According to comScore, display advertising serves one trillion impressions each month. One trillion. With that kind of reach, the GDN and other DSPs have the power to increase your brand share of voice and drive users into the funnel. But first, you have to make a connection with those users.

Imagine that you own a luxury doggie daycare business in Atlanta – Puppy Paradise. You assume that your target pet owner cares about top quality products and services for her pet, so you might try targeting specific sites selling organic dog treats or designer dog beds, geo-targeted to metro Atlanta. Whether you use AdWords managed placements or negotiate a digital media buy, this targeting method gives you the most control over where your ads show. But what about everywhere else that your future customer spends time online? You don’t want to target all of the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s website, but you can limit where your ads show on the AJC by adding another layer of targeting.

Since we can’t predict when or where the AJC or an Atlanta blogger will post something about the latest in dog care, we’ll use contextual targeting to reach potential customers while they’re viewing relevant content. You can do this with any demand side platform, but only the Google Display Network lets you use keywords to target contextually. Your keywords determine where your ads appear, so when an article mentions, “pamper your puppy” or “Atlanta dog care,” you can reach your target audience while Fido’s on their minds. Topical targeting is another way to find relevant, themed content through a DSP. With the GDN, you can do this either by tracking down your audience with the Shopping > Luxury Goods category, or targeting pages that fit into the Pets > Dogs category. But because the categories are broad and leave a lot of room for interpretation, this targeting method is most effective when paired with another form of targeting.

In the same vein, DSPs allow you to target users by psychographic, or through AdWords you can use Google’s interest categories to find your audience. Puppy Paradise customers are probably Pet Lovers > Dog Lovers, right? Maybe you also decide that they’re Travel Buffs > Luxury Travelers, Shoppers > Luxury Shoppers, or Sports Fans > Golf Enthusiasts. Maybe you even include a layer of demographic targeting to bid more aggressively for females ages 35-45, or to serve unique messaging to a particular demographic of Luxury Shoppers. Google pinpoints a variety of affinity categories that allow you to find your DIYers, Savvy Parents, or Metalheads that may make up your ideal customer. Paired with a layer of managed or contextual targeting, affinity targeting can really help you hone in on your customer.

Once you’ve narrowed your targeting to a specific, but not too limited, audience or maybe tested out some different targeting combinations, you’d better be prepared with some engaging ad creative. Unlike the Search Network, display advertising allows for a lot of flexibility. Best practice is to test, test, test - text, flash, video, image ads of multiple sizes – to give your message a better chance of showing, and to see what resonates with your audience. Maybe future Puppy Paradise customers want to hear that you offer doggie spa treatments with organic products. Maybe a video ad featuring playful puppies and watchful caretakers would speak to them. Ad creative is your opportunity to stand above your competitors and tell your story – and make sure your brand logo and a strong Call-to-Action are included. You want to engage your audience, ignite their curiosity, and tell them what to do when they click through to your website. Remember that your ad is a part of their Buyer Journey. It sets the tone for how users will view your brand – Trustworthy? Sheisty? Quality? Cheap?

If you set up your campaigns properly, you’ll not only increase your visibility and digital footprint, you can effectively move your users through the stages of the Buyer Journey.

Social Paid Media


Social, like the Display Network, gets a bad rap. Some say social media marketing doesn’t work or is unproven. Others say it’s just for the Awareness stage of the Buyer Journey.

However, we would argue that both are misconceptions. Social media marketing can often be even more effective than SEM in terms of helping brands engage with their audience at the right time with the right message.

So, you might be asking -- what does this have to do with Paid Media?


Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube all have Paid Media advertising platforms. Even FourSquare is rumored to join the party with a check-in based ad platform. We know – many of you will say, “I want revenue, not fans.” We say you want both.

In the Awareness and Consideration stages, it’s usually most effective to build your audience and cultivate relationships, rather than going straight for the “sale.” Through well-crafted and well-managed social Paid Media campaigns, you can effectively build your social fan base.

Once you do this, you can build trust, interact, add value, and truly engage with existing and potential customers. Then, you can create campaigns to move them to the next stages – Intent and Purchase.

For example, let’s say you’ve built an audience with social Paid Media campaigns. You’re getting high interaction with your posts and want to move some of this audience to the next stage of the Buyer Journey. Instead of targeting everyone within certain demographics or interest categories, just target existing fans. It’s like loyalty marketing, but slightly different.

Conversely, once you have a fan base, you shouldn’t target them with the same campaigns and targeting that helped them become a fan in the first place. Your new-fan campaigns should exclude existing fans – and that’s easy to do, at least in Facebook.

With over 100 hours of content uploaded every minute, YouTube is another valuable social platform that is perfect for reaching your target audience through engaging content. It’s the world’s second largest search engine, garnering more monthly searches than Yahoo! and Bing combined.

Similar to the Facebook example above, you can promote your videos via ads to build a subscription base, then leverage YouTube Retargeting and Call to Action Overlays to drive subscribers down the funnel.

In this example, you want to promote a new social campaign through various video assets. By uploading these videos to YouTube, you can serve them to your target audience through demographic, interests, and contextual targeting.

Once you engage your audience with promoted videos and build a subscription base, utilize Video Retargeting to target users that have watched your videos and drive them to take an action on your external website.

The above examples are very basic and simple, but the point remains. The targeting options are seemingly infinite. What you do with them are up to you. But if you map your social Paid Media campaigns to the Buyer Journey, not only will you end up with more sales, you’ll also start to optimize your entire digital media mix.



Now that you have your keyword research along with Buyer Journey focused campaigns across search, display and social, it’s time to take your campaigns to the next level.

Even if you’ve done everything perfectly to this point, 90% or more of users will still leave your site without converting. Retargeting is your chance to re-engage with them. This is your opportunity to not only engage the user in an authentic manner, but also add to your digital footprint, adding credibility and trust to your brand in the process --- that is, if done correctly.

For example, let’s say that you’re driving most of your Awareness keywords to your homepage and/or category pages. Once the visitor takes an action such as viewing your product overview page, you can create a Retargeting audience based on this action. But don’t come across over-eager with your ads - remember, the goal is to move them from Awareness to Consideration, not from Awareness to Purchase in one step. Pressure the user and you lose them. If you engage them and treat them with respect, you’ll end up with something more than a transaction -- a loyal customer.

However, if you have a user that’s added several items to their cart, but hasn’t checked out, then they’re likely in the Intent stage. Setting up retargeting audiences for users that added to cart without completing a purchase is one of the most effective ways to close the loop in the Buyer Journey. You can even retarget to users that have purchased from you and encourage them to leave reviews or buy complimentary products.

Advanced Retargeting techniques, like Programmatic Site Retargeting (PSR), allow you to show ads to the most valuable site visitors by looking at visitor behaviors on your site. For example, PSR allows you to target visitors who navigated to a product page, spent a certain amount of time viewing a certain product or category, then added a product to his or her shopping cart without purchasing. This visitor is more likely to convert than someone coming in from a referral site who leaves promptly. PSR allows you to target high-value visitors with relevant, value-adding messaging.

One word of warning though, retargeting can be a little creepy if done poorly. Make sure you follow retargeting best practices so you’re actually adding value, not stalking potential customers.

Conversion Rate Optimization


Once you understand the Buyer Journey and start optimizing your Paid Media campaign mix, you’ll need to convert visitors to customers.

Now, Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) isn’t always a part of Paid Media campaigns, but to me it’s crucial improving a customer’s experience of the Buyer Journey. Optimizing the decision cycle is really about removing obstacles for the user, and even the best-designed sites have conversion issues. Obstacles can sidetrack even the best campaigns.

For example, many times a product may have multiple unique selling points. CRO offers the ability to test layout, imagery, calls to action, key messages, and much more.

Lastly, it’s usually more effective and cost efficient to optimize the bottom of the funnel instead of the top.

Let’s say Widget Co wants to increase sales by 25%. They can either increase ad spend 25% and hope it’s just as effective, or they can increase their conversion rate 25%.

Let’s look at the math:

Increase Ad Spend Scenario

  • Total Sales – 100 million
  • Sales Goal – 125 million
  • Average ROI – 4
  • Ecommerce Conversion Rate – 2.0%

Required ad spend to reach new sales goal = 6.25 million

Increase Conversion Rate Scenario

  • Total Sales – 100 million
  • Sales Goal – 125 million
  • Average ROI – 4
  • Ecommerce Conversion Rate – 2.0%
  • CRO and Web Design /Development Costs - $15,000 / month
  • New Ecommerce Conversion Rate – 2.5%

Required ad spend to reach new sales goal = 180k

Obviously this is a fictitious scenario, but it’s one we see often. Having a scientific, process-driven CRO campaign systematically increases conversion rates. It’s a data- and insight-driven approach that is designed for iterative improvement.

The goal isn’t to know in advance, but to understand that we don’t know and to test our assumptions. The other major benefit is that users are happier because conversion obstacles are diminished, which shortens the Buyer Journey. It’s better to convert more of your existing traffic before spending more advertising dollars to get more visitors that don’t convert.



The key to Paid Media is changing the way you think about it. It’s not a one-click medium – we need to move beyond that philosophy. The Ad->Click->Sale model represents a huge wasted opportunity: an opportunity to form a more meaningful relationship with your audience.

When in the hands of a marketer that cares, one that utilizes every resource available to understand users, Paid Media is a tool that helps move customers through the buying cycle. It offers value by promoting the right message, at the right time, to the right people.

But it won’t happen by accident. It won’t be easy.

Effective Paid Media takes intensive research, relentless optimization, and a thorough understanding of your customers’ specific Buyer Journey.

It will be worth the effort.


Written by Brian Easter, Kimm Lincoln, and Jenn Vickery on November 5, 2013


Add A Comment
Written by
Brian Easter, Kimm Lincoln, and Jenn Vickery