This is a repost of my monthly column at Search Engine Watch.
When you’re dealing with a niche and high value product, competition for active buyers in paid search can be fierce. And expensive. Consider this example from enterprise security:
It’s basic economics: the smaller the universe and higher the value of click, the higher the CPC. If you’re in B2B or marketing another complex purchase, you likely need to be in front of this audience.
But, it’s not the only way to reach them. And you can pay 90 percent less.
Target Prospects When They’re Ready to Learn
Buying isn’t a linear process, but prospects generally go through some various phases of consideration before they purchase. The classic marketing AIDA model is a good way to think of the phases of search activity. It stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action and looks a little like this:
Somebody searching for “networks security software,” for example, is likely in the Action phase. Their search goals are focused around the execution of their purchase vs. research about the problem.
That same person would like search “how to improve network security” or “network security advice” well before they’re ready to buy. When prospects are in the awareness stage, they’re looking for education, not a sales pitch.
They’re also much cheaper to target.
I know this from personal experience. I manage the paid search campaign for ClickEquations, a SaaS platform to help people measure and manage their paid search advertising more effectively. As you can imagine, reaching Action searchers is pricey.
However, that same audience often searches for education about how to manage paid search efficiently. You can offer them a white paper. Educational clicks are 90 percent less expensive:
In addition to reducing your cost, you get the benefit of reaching customers before the competition and the ability to establish yourself as a thought leader.
Successfully targeting learners vs. buyers requires a different approach. Here are three tips for reach your prospects when they’re ready to learn.
Tip 1: Get Their Contact Information Without Asking For It
It’s common knowledge that adding form fields decreases conversion rate and increases your cost-per-conversion in most cases. But, how much do you really give up?
Conversion rate decreased 30 percent and cost went up $10 per lead! Not surprisingly, the most expensive field to add was phone number.
Asking for a phone number is often a sticking point for sales and marketing. Sales wants and needs the number to reach out to prospects, but, for early stage, educational content in particular, prospects are reluctant to disclose it and you miss a chance to establish a relationship.
As Miller points out in the article, however, there are other ways to get the data.
One solution to consider is Jigsaw Enterprise. It’s a Salesforce company that’s directly integrated into the platform. What distinguishes it from others is their data source: it’s crowdsourced as people enter contact information they have to credits for the info they want.
It’s also automatic. You can set up the system to auto-append information that isn’t associated with the record (which I recommend rather than over-writing something a prospect or sales rep has entered):
The data, which is appended every 12 hours, isn’t perfect or complete and the system isn’t priced for small businesses. But it does offer an automated way to increase conversions without losing all of the contact information your sales team needs.
Tip 2: Integrate Offline Conversion Tracking
Finding the keywords and setting up a landing page are relatively straightforward processes when you’re targeting learners. As you would expect, these people need to be nurtured and marketed to over time before they move into the Desire and Action phases.
That exacerbates an underlying issue with complex sales: long sales cycles and offline conversions. Not every educational prospect will be equally valuable. That is say: not every lead is qualified.
Ultimately, we want to adjust our marketing mix and paid search buys based on what closes, not just who flirts with us.
From a PPC perspective, however, that presents a challenge as we have to tie together three systems:
- Search engine data
- Our PPC tool
- Business outcomes from our customer relationship management (CRM) database
The trick to connecting the three systems together is the use of an external ID for each keyword. That unique key allows you connect front end data (clicks, cost, CPC) with online conversions (form submissions) and the later stage activity (opportunities, sales, retention).
A key can be any alphanumeric value, for example extid=18MQGH1MGKKQAG3T0.
You need four things to use this approach:
- System To Generate External IDs: This can be as simple as a spreadsheet or a more sophisticated platform that creates them automatically. Each key has to be specific to the keyword.
- Hidden Form Field to Capture External IDs: The IDs will be appended to your destination URL as a parameter. A hidden form field on your landing page will grab that ID from your URL. If you’ve ever setup a Salesforce form and added in a campaign or lead source variable, it’s the same approach.
- Method to Export External IDs with Values from a CRM: You need to be able to create a report or list that associates each external ID with a latent conversion and value from your system (e.g., “1 Opportunity” and “$500″).
- Tool to Connect Paid Search Data with External Conversions: Once you have an ID for a keyword and a value for that ID, you need technology to stitch together the two so you can measure, report, optimize, and bid on business outcomes.
Note that outcomes data, by its very nature, will be sparser than micro-conversions. You can optimize on earlier actions and do a biweekly or monthly review with the later stage data.
Tip 3: Retarget Prospects on the Display Network
It used to be that search marketers only got one, maybe two, chances to convert someone on a landing page before we lost them.
That changed with the introduction of retargeting, or remarketing as Google calls it. Briefly: remarketing allows you to show display ads only to an audience of people who have been to your site and exhibited some desirable behavior.
A classic business-to-consumer example is shopping cart recovery, or the targeting of buyers who added items to their shopping cart but who did not check out.
There is a parallel in B2B marketing. Prospects who visit your landing page, but don’t fill out your form are the most likely to convert from a display campaign and worth chasing with ads for a few days at least.
Setting up a remarketing campaign is relatively straightforward.
First, create what Google calls “Audience.” Set up a separate campaign for retargeting. Go to Campaigns > Audiences > Add Audience. If you don’t see the Audience tab, select the drop down arrow to add it.
In the “Create and manage lists” section, you’ll need to create three lists:
- People who visited your landing page.
- Those who visiting your thank you page (i.e., converted).
- A custom combination of list 1 and not list 2 (i.e., those who visited, but didn’t convert)
For each list (1 and 2), you’ll have a tag to put on your landing page (list 1) and your thank you page (list 2). This allows Google to cookie your audiences appropriately.
There is a lot of strategy in how to design and prioritize remarketing lists. I recommend you read Brad Geddes excellent article on the topic for more detail.
To be read for a remarketing campaign you’ll need:
- Banner ads to run on the display network. You’ll want text ads too, as some sites don’t accept banner ads.
- Separate campaigns for better budgeting and bidding.
- Proper tracking and attribution. Last click will only make it look like your retargeting campaign deserves all of the credit.
And We’re Only Just Getting Started…
Complex sales require marketing that supports how buyers purchase at every stage. Paid search is an integral part of that mix. If you’re locked out of active buyers because of CPCs or simply looking for a way to expand your PPC buy, targeting prospects when they need education is a great strategy.
Ever since the release of Keyword Zoom, we’ve been talking a lot about search queries and keywords. Keywords are the gateway in PPC advertising that connect your business to prospects. But, how do you find keyword niches that are profitable?
In this webinar presented by Compete and ClickEquations, you’ll learn 2 unconventional keyword research techniques:
- Competitive intelligence to find keywords with strong intent before you launch your campaigns
- Search query mining to improve your targeting and cut unprofitable clicks after you launch
Watch the recording:
“The traditional view of paid search has been that it’s about keywords and bids. And a lot of PPC management time and attention gets spent on keywords – expanding them, bidding on them, organizing them, et cetera.
But the truth is that keywords are just a means to an end; they’re little magnets sent out there to attract search queries. And if you’re only able to review reports and make decisions at a keyword level, you’re not getting a very accurate or informative picture of what’s really happening in your account – so you’re almost certainly making bad decisions and not optimizing your results.”
That’s a snipped of the Craig Danuloff’s interview with Josh Dreller, paid search columnist at Search Engine Land and VP at Fuor Digital, on the topic of query mining. He covers a broad range of questions:
- Where can an SEM pro go to find search query data?
- Why did you invest so much time into building query reports into ClickEquations?
- Why do you hate Broad Match so much?
- I’m supportive of your suggestion of an Include match type. Can you sum up your thoughts on this for the readers?
- What is the best way to organize search queries to gather insights for optimization?
- What are some best practices to utilize once you’ve analyzed the query data?
If you missed our recent webinar, Master Search Queries to Save Money and Increase Conversions, you’re in luck. The recording is now available below and in our free resources section.
Watch the search query webinar to learn:
- What search queries are
- Where to find search queries
- The best way to organize your search queries to identify opportunities to save money and increase conversions
- Actions you should take daily, weekly and monthly to profit from search queries
Links mentioned in the webinar:
- ClickEquations Analyst
- ClickEquations Analyst Templates
- Microsoft Advertising Intelligence
- Google AdWords: Keyword Tool
Finding Synonyms for Low Volume Keywords
As you monitor your search queries, the actual words searchers type vs. the keywords you buy, you’ll find two types:
- Winners – Search Queries that convert (or assist) profitably and may be worth promoting to Exact Match at a higher bid
- Losers – Search Queries that generate clicks and cost without any value. They’re definite candidates for negative keywords at the campaign or ad group level.
These data sets, however, are limited. The more niche your term, the harder it can be to find additional words. If you’re working in B2B or other low volume verticals, you’ll need a different tactic.
Enter: Google’s related searches.
Finding Long Tail Synonyms with Google’s Related Searches
At the end of some search results pages, Google presents a list of related terms to help searchers:
These lists can be a good source for synonyms for your niche terms. It’s tedious to scroll through the page. Instead, use Google’s Wonder Wheel option to speed up your research.
At the top of your search results, click “Show Options” (the plus sign). Then choose Wonder Wheel in the left nav.
The result is a hub and spoke graphic that shows you related queries. Now, you can conduct searches and see the gather synonyms more quickly:
Search queries, the actual words people type vs. the keywords you buy, are a critical and often underused tool in managing paid search as we’ve said on this blog before:
Queries are vital because they can contain insight into the desire or intent of the user. If you sell tennis racquets, for example, and buy the keyword ‘tennis racquet’ (using the standard Broad Match) then your ad might be shown to someone who wants ‘tennis racquet restringing’, or ‘New Prince V14 Tennis Racquet’ or ‘used cheap tennis racquet’ or even someone looking for ‘tennis racquet art’.
Are each of those people relevant to you? Are the ones that are relevant equally relevant? Can you write a single text ad that speaks directly to each of those people and persuades them to click and take action?
We’re tackling all things search queries in our next free webinar, “Master Search Queries to Save Money and Increase Conversions” on Thursday, July 16th at 1:00 EST. We’ll cover:
- What search queries are
- Where to find search queries
- The best way to organize your search queries to identify opportunities to save money and increase conversions
- Actions you should take daily, weekly and monthly to profit from search queries
Keywords are one of the false gods of PPC. There’s really no reason to get to hung up on keywords.
The goal of our campaigns is to have our text-ads matched with the most appropriate search queries. Keywords are just the tool we use to get to the most qualified queries.
With that in mind, it’s my opinion that the world of keyword selection and expansion is quite broken.
Keyword selection in PPC – broadly and generally as I’ve seen it practiced and promoted by both ‘experts’ and tools providers – is about finding every possible word and phrase related to the category or topic at hand.
This is a great strategy if you’re a paid search engine looking to make money from way too many clicks with way too little targeting.
It’s not really to your advantage if you’re an advertiser looking to maximize returns.
Waiting For Your Keywords To Bark
Bryan and Jeffery Eisenberg wrote ‘Waiting For Your Cat To Bark‘ several years ago, as one of several books covering their Persuasion Architecture process (now built into their OnTarget offering), and it remains a book I don’t think any online marketer should miss.
Among the many brain-tingling discussions in ‘Bark’ is the idea that people come to the web with a very specific idea in mind, a personality all their own (but categorically like a lot of other people), and a situation that they’re in along with a goal they’re trying to achieve.
This bundle makes up their buying process. I’m a massively geeky tech freak with a strong need to fit in and a brother whose birthday is Saturday so I MUST order something for him today.
You’re online trying to sell stuff. Your mind is on the great price you offer on the new ‘Widget9000′ and the free shipping program you just launched.
I’ll let the Eisen-brothers tell you how to solve this mis-match (ok, a clue: align your selling with their buying, the other way around isn’t going to happen.)
But what does this have to do with keywords?
Up With People
Traditional keyword development and expansion is all about saturation bombing a category or topic. The suggestion tools and brainstorming techniques we’ve all relied on toss in (or try to) anything contextually relevant.
This is too low resolution and comes at the problem from the wrong direction.
Let’s think about it the other way. (IOW: What would Bryan do?)
Imagine a specific person, in their full psychological glory, in a specific situation who wants/needs/is curious about your product or offering. What are they likely to search for? Build the list of words and phrases that capture their needs given the details you’ve assumed.
Start with the most specific and detailed versions of what they might ask, and then slowly narrow it to queries that at least lean in their general direction.
Break down the components of the query – how might they reflect their product desires? How might they reference their urgency? What clues might appear to show that they prefer well-liked and popular products?
Stepping through the range of queries you can imagine, from deeply personal and unique out towards general queries that anyone might do. Taking this deliberate step adds another layer of clarity to each keyword. Some are deeply targeted and precise. Others are vague and broad. Shouldn’t your measurement, bidding, expectations, and text-ads align with these attributes?
Repeat this process for other kinds of people, or other reasons people might have, for visiting your site or buying your products/services. (By now you’ve gone and read the book and have built a full set of user persona’s right?)
Of course, most users won’t load their query with clues to every aspect of their needs, personality, and situation. But some will and more importantly this exercise creates the beginning of an intelligently tiered keyword list we can use to evaluate our campaigns and keywords with a new level of precision.
SEO your PPC
The idea of really thinking hard about the specific queries people are likely to execute is central to good organic paid search optimization.
In the organic world, where broad-match doesn’t exist, a page can only rank for a limited number of keywords, and there is a content+effort cost for each rank, the spray-and-pray approach isn’t practiced and certainly isn’t effective.
Never thought I’d say it, but when it comes to keywords, PPC folks can learn a lot from the SEOs.
It’s time for a new Match Type.
Our friends Broad and Phrase and Exact just aren’t getting the job done anymore.
It’s not really their fault – the way people search has changed and they just can’t keep up. Or more accurately, we can’t keep up.
Here’s the problem. People are using more and more words in search queries. This has been the trend for a long time, and new data from Hitwise shows the greatest growth in search queries with SEVEN OR MORE words!
Changing number of keywords per search query
The growth and diversification of search queries do not work to search advertisers benefit. As queries get longer it becomes much harder to capture them via exact or even phrase match keywords, leaving only for possible acquisition by broad match.
And we don’t like broad match very much.
- Broad match is imprecise. It attracts both highly relevant and highly irrelevant search queries.
- Broad match wastes money. We pay for all the clicks that come from those irrelevant search queries.
- Broad match lowers quality score. We get lower click through rates when our keywords are matched to irrelevant queries – many of which see that our ad isn’t for them and do not click.
- Broad match lowers ad position. Google has clearly stated that exacts match before phrase which match before broads. Your broad match ad will only rank highly if few people bid on that query in phrase or exact form.
The Include Match Type
I’m sure there are a number of ways to solve this problem.
My suggestion would be the ‘Include’ Match Type. It would enable advertisers to specify a group of words, and then match to any search query which included those words, in any order. This attempts to correct a weakness of the current Phrase Match Type.
If I want to bid on lots of any search queries about dog food, and specifically target ‘dog food discounts’, today I might have to buy the following on phrase match:
- dog food discounts
- discount dog food
And of course I’d but ‘dog food discount’ on phrase and exact match too. (see Match Type Keyword Trap for the rational behind that.).
But a search query report (such as the excellent one provided by ClickEquations) would show me many long queries out there that this phrase match won’t cover, including:
- get dog food at discount
- discounts on dog food for puppies
- dog food los angeles discounts
- discount on purina brand dog food
A ClickEquations Search Query Report showing how queries are matched to keywords
You get the idea. What I really want to do is buy ‘dog food discount’ in the new ‘Include’ match type, so all of the above can be purchased and matched without having to fall to broad match.
And of course I’d add a lot of appropriate negatives to that ad group, tuning it over time by keeping a close eye on the search queries that are matched.
Times are changing Google. We’re spending money every day. Please give us better targeting tools!
What do you think? Any other good ideas for new Match Types you’d like to see?
When you finally get a paid search tool (like ClickEquations) that allows you to see each search query that people typed matched directly to the keyword you bid on and the match type you set, you’ll soon notice that all of your Exact match keywords aren’t entirely exact.
Doing a little research and experimentation while preparing for SMX, I just came across a great example of one reason why this is true.
Look at the ads to the right. Which one is not like the others?
One of our clients sells products to help Fido keep himself together, and I did some searches on that topic. Then a search for ‘Premium dog collars’. That’s the search which delivered the ads you see.
Google however remembered that not long ago I was concerned with the other end of the animal, and slipped the Poop ad into the mix.
Had I clicked it, my search query of ‘Premium dog collars’ would show up, correctly, for the exact match keyword/phrase ‘dogs eating poop’.
Just so you know.
Heading to SMX in San Jose? Come see the new version of ClickEquations at our booth, or catch me in the Quality Score or Text-Ad Testing workshops.
The power Google has by virtue of their position is amazing. Consider two recent announcements from the ‘plex:
- Google Suggest is now a default feature of Google.com. The impact here could be that people stop typing long detailed search phrases and instead just take one of the suggestions. The worry is that this ‘cuts off’ the long tail and will increase competition for those suggestion phrases. Read this for an in-depth analysis.
- Google Chrome munges the address and search boxes together so that you’re in effect encouraged to search and not type-in the URL. This drives more and more traffic through search, which places a premium on both your organic and paid results. It also hastens the trend to not bother remembering or bookmarking URLS because ‘it’s easier just to search’.
While both features are genuinely user-friendly in terms of Google enhancing the experience of people browsing the web, they both also happen to drive more money from advertiser pockets into the Google coffers.
Google Suggest will (I predict) lengthen what we call the ‘search chain’ – the number of different searches you do before you find what you’re looking for. Folks who had been searching on increasingly long phrases will be suckered into trying the shorter suggests, only to later go back and do the long search anyway at least for that large percentage of the time that the more generic searches yield interesting but unsatisfactory results.
Google Chrome’s search/address box will just increase search volume. Once they bundle Suggest in Chrome, then both search volume will increase and the number of queries per chain will increase. Another 1-2 punch for quarterly profits.
What Can PPC Advertisers Do?
Nothing to stop the features or trends. But what both demand is a strong need to know exactly what search queries users are typing, and how these queries are being matched to the keywords you’re bidding on.
If there is a new concentration of traffic from Google Suggest, only search query analysis will reveal it, as your various keywords and match type combinations will not make these trends visible to you.
If Chrome drives more search volume, that’s good. But if you want to know how it drove that traffic, again you need to be able to analyze search queries.
Keep An Eye On Search Queries
Search queries are the unfiltered driver of your traffic and your search spend. A keyword-centric view of PPC obscures this truth behind an matrix of keywords, match types, bids and quality scores that all combine and conspire in rather complicated ways to determine which keywords get the clicks and how much those clicks cost.
If you know which queries are driving your costs and revenue, you can better organize, select, and bid on keywords. Knowing them however, isn’t easy, as Adwords reports only a percentage of them and not at a keyword level. Yahoo and MSN, however, report no queries at all.
In ClickEquations we report all queries, and show exactly which keyword attracted each one, and which conversions resulted. It’s just one of many things we did differently because our years managing paid search accounts gave us a unique perspective on what a paid search tool should do.
ClickEquations isn’t available, hasn’t even really been announced, but we’re now accepting invitations for free ‘charter’ accounts. Wanna give it a try?
Thus far in this series we’ve talked about the difficulty of getting a clear view of paid search performance, of deciding the most urgent risks and opportunities amidst the volumes of data that you do have.
Now we come to the third issue: the productivity (or lack thereof) in making changes or improvements to your paid search account.
Possible Changes To Improve Search Campaigns
There are a limited number of things you might want/need to do to your paid search campaigns. Most of them aren’t too difficult when required on a small scale. But there’s not much in PPC campaigns that really happens on a small scale, which is where the frustration begins.
You might want to add keywords. It’s not hard to generate a large list of incremental keywords, and there are tools to help you do it. You can even harvest search queries, scape competitor websites, or get lists from Compete or Hitwise of terms driving traffic for others.
But to effectively apply a list of keywords they need to be expanded and parsed into versions and phrases and synonyms and layered across match types and segregated into ad-groups and campaigns and matched with bids and text-ads. The ideal environment for this would both facilitate the process as a whole and provide suggestions based on a learning algorithm which watched your style of division and targeting.
You could see the need to modify match types based on your search queries to build more effective match type keyword traps. This requires versioning keywords, segregating them into Ad-groups, pyramiding bids, and making sure the net is wide and lacks gaps or overlaps. Software could visualize this process and make it ‘drag and drop’ and even ‘bionic’ if someone put a little effort in.
Your bids may need to be changed, and of course this is the one task to which some substantial software automation development effort has been placed. This is a big topic I’ll save for a future series of in-depth posts.
You might need to substantially reorganize your campaigns. This happens for all kinds of reasons, many having to do with the impact of organization on the roll-up summary numbers as presented, some having to do with quality score management, the issue of match-type control and reporting, issues of geo-segmentation, and of course good old logical segmentation.
The technology provided for campaign reorganization today – cut and paste – is getting a little dated and I feel confident that a more elegant and productive solution could be conceived and developed.
The text-ads you’re running may need to be altered. While the idea of presenting four blank boxes and allowing unlimited freedom (with the constraints of available character limits) is powerful, perhaps there would be some advantage in tracking and analyzing the different ‘recipes’ used in various ads, building up repositories of different synonyms for important concepts and then making it easy to re-use effective ones and tracking how they perform both individually and as groups based on their relative position in the ad, in the ad as it runs at different positions or on different days, etc.
Lastly there is a chance that you’ll need to test different landing pages (leaving alone for now the implications of testing various designs within a single landing page). From the typical home page vs category page vs item page variances, it may be wise to consider user personas based on the keywords and queries and other factors as well.
Here again the current ‘type-anything-you-want’ technology could be enhanced by allowing simple meta data to be entered and tracked (how are item pages doing in terms of conversion vs category pages vs the home page) and enabling automated testing of these variations. And it doesn’t have to be limited to just a simple ‘which page’ consideration – performance may vary by the length of the query or number of works in the keyword phrase?, time of day, day of week, visit number, or many other factors. Software could track and optimize this.
Working In A Coal Mine
The common element in the current state of paid search management is that only one of the steps in even the most simplified version of the process has progressed even one iota in the last five or more years in terms of automation.
Tens of thousands of people are being treated as migrant-search-workers standing in the hot sun every day harvesting keywords and clicks.
And for the moment we’re not talking about the chisels and stones they’re given to bang out reports and dashboards.
Where is the Eli Whitney of PPC?
(Upcoming Events: I’ll be at the Semphonic XChange Conference in San Francisco on Aug 17-19, and am Speaking on “Identify, Analyze, Act: SEM by the Numbers” at Search Engine Strategies in San Jose on August 19th)