What your CEO Needs to Know about Paid Search: Creating a Narrative

9:00 am in AdWords Keyword Tool, Analytics, Keyword Research, PPC Marketing Blog by Mike Nelson

I’ve lost a lot of clients in the past. Most of the time, this ties back to the fact that we’re not typically dealing directly with decision-makers on a day-to-day basis. And although (as an agency) we’d like to think that delivering great numbers is more than enough to keep our clients happy at all levels, that’s certainly not always the case.

The reason for the disconnect between the account manager and the decision-makers is lack of clear narrative (defined as “what we do, why we do it, and why it’s optimal”) concerning the paid search approach. To make the best use of the time we do get with C-levels, it’s imperative that paid search account managers….

Develop a clear narrative that supports the CEO’s goals.

At a high level, all CEOs have one objective: grow the business. In some instances, this means improving profit margins; in others, you need to increase revenue or some other growth metric. It’s imperative that everything done in the SEM account supports this objective, so you need intimate knowledge of every client’s top-level paid search goal. When the time comes to support the decisions made in the paid search account, it’s important for you to have the ability to tie an action back to the ultimate objective. With that being said, it’s best to be proactive about addressing these items, as opposed to waiting around for C-levels to ask these questions themselves, which is where the narrative comes into place.

The narrative is easier to create if the account is structured in a way that allows reliable, clearly validated reporting of metrics. So, in order to support the narrative with more reliable data, you must…

Structure the account in a manner that results in the most reliable data.

Just how to do this varies from account to account, but one commonality I believe that they should generally share is forced mappings to high-volume queries. If you are able to also create single-keyword exact match ad groups, Google’s “ad group impression share” will actually provide query-level impression share. This clean data really helps show the true reach of the account’s known high-volume queries, and it allows you to create an ‘opportunity report.’ At that point, the C-levels should have a pretty good understanding that economics (budget) have resulted in the ad positions they’re seeing on the SERPs. And, since that is now rather clear, the only two variables remaining to optimize/sculpt known high-volume queries are:

1)      Ad copy testing

2)      Conversion rate improvement (landing page and funnel optimization)

Not coincidently, these two variables are mostly tied to user behavior – which is why they require ongoing testing.

When the structure results in enough data to really reduce the variables down to these two, you’re in the catbird seat!

The ‘opportunity report’ should appease just about every C-level executive, but the required structure isn’t incredibly scalable. And though it addresses the question of ‘query optimization and sculpting,’ it doesn’t give you ‘query capture.’ So, your narrative must also address this question:

Are you capturing all the relevant queries?

It should be rather simple to show whether an account is optimizing the high-volume queries that have some record in the Search Query Report, but this doesn’t answer the question of query capture itself. As far as you’re concerned, this primarily equates to keyword coverage.

Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly as many tools and/or metrics to prove keyword coverage as would be ideal, but the Google keyword tool, SpyFu, and SEMRush are some of the tools available to help build out robust keywords lists.

None of this, however, should be the crux of the narrative’s portion concerning query capturing/keyword building. Instead, I think it’s important to establish that Google’s objective of late has been to minimize the number of auctions. What this means is that the vehicles for query capture (keywords) are doing their job pretty well! So, if we’re selling ‘+widgets’, the cream will rather quickly rise to the top as seen in the Search Query Report (or, at least, high-volume queries would become known). So, with the SQR, our broad match and modified broad match keywords would do the heavy lifting for us to find the high- volume queries with a relatively small set of keywords. At that point, it’s your job to get the most volume out of these queries via precise bidding, customization of ads, and landing page optimization.

This is, of course, arguing that the long tail is dead. Now, this doesn’t mean that people don’t still search with multi-token phrases; it’s just that getting into the long-tail auctions isn’t all that hard any longer.  Google has made it easier for advertisers to get into every auction that’s relevant to their business by introducing ‘fuzzy’ match types for exact and phrase keywords and modified broad match and greatly improving the reach of regular broad match over the years.

So, what does my CEO need to know again?

Overall, proving to a C-level that an account is best of breed is done with a robust narrative that is simple enough that a non-expert can follow the PPC logic clearly. This narrative must….

1)      Create consensus on an initial query capture strategy that is finite. This keeps ‘keyword expansion’ from becoming a never-ending series of questions that start with “Did we buy the keyword….?” All people involved should feel comfortable with the account’s keyword reach. Keyword expansion can also be done as a recurring task, but it needs to be created as a calendar item so that it does not continue indefinitely.

2)      Focus on query (exact match keyword) sculpting for known high-volume queries. Once high volume queries are identified, structure them in a way that reduces the optimization variables to only ad copy and landing page testing. The structure should support the idea that the bid isn’t necessarily a paid search skill, it’s a result of the profitability constraint, and is simply mathematics. The structure should lead to each and every metric being valid and precise.

3)      Set up processes that proactively reduce unnecessary spending. This primarily means addressing the question of negative keywords. (My preferred thoughts on this approach can be found here.)

Again, what you want to do with your narrative is simplify and limit the variables (i.e. questions that a CEO would have) to ad copy testing and conversion rate improvements. Bids are a function of goals, and goals are set by C-levels with your guidance and input, so they should not be under scrutiny. If they are, Google provides plenty of data that can do the talking.

For the most part, the narrative is rather simple and doesn’t address things like Quality Score. However, all of these questions will eventually be either bucketed into ‘query capture’ or ‘query sculpting.’ For example, if the question of Quality Score improvement arises, the answer is very tidy: “CTR is the main influencer of QS. Improving CTR is also a primary goal of query sculpting, which means we should do quite a bit of ad testing. Other factors of Quality Score include landing page relevancy, which aligns with a conversion rate best practice, something we also work on with diligence.”

This begs the question of whether creating such a simple narrative trivializes paid search and commoditizes PPC management. In general, I would argue that it does, BUT that in order to ensure job security you need to live outside the AdWords UI. This means you need knowledge of landing page optimization, multiple channels (i.e. ability to manage the “wide tail”), and tracking to tie all these channels together. Additionally, the question of ‘query capture’ is dynamic in that Google is always coming out with new enhancements. So, keeping abreast of these updates, and creating the logic of how to integrate the new enhancements into PPC narrative, is plenty to keep you occupied. Lastly, as most of us know, the act of ad copy testing is infinite, so there is always more to be done on that front!

So, the next time your CEO says something like “Are we getting the most out of paid search?”, hopefully the answer is “Absolutely, we did 10 landing page tests and 20 ad copy tests last month!”, which completely answers the question.

Mike Nelson (@mikenelsonppca), Senior SEM Manager at PPC Associates and a math teacher in a former professional life, has extensive PPC experience with ecommerce, B2B, and lead gen clients.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Certified Knowledge. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

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