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The Key To Optimizing Non-Branded Paid Search Campaigns


Just about any search marketer can attest to the challenges of running a non-branded search campaign. While providing much greater reach, non-branded keywords tend to be much more competitive, more expensive and, unless you’re Amazon, much more challenging to convert from.

In this article, we’ll highlight some of the strategies ZOG Digital (my employer) has put in place to improve the performance of non-branded search campaigns for our clients.

Applying RLSA To Non-Branded Campaigns

Okay, so technically you could argue that Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) aren’t “non-branded,” as the ads are targeting previous site visitors. RLSA is, however, a very strategic way to segment and test non-branded keywords in a manner that won’t drastically diminish your budget.

We’ve found a few successful methods to influence non-branded performance with RLSA:

  1. Familiar Ad Copy. When targeting product- or service-related keywords, treat RLSA campaigns like any other retargeting campaign and emphasize the information that the user viewed on your website within your ad copy. You’ll want to ensure the user has a continual association with your brand, plus the product or service they’ve demonstrated an interest in.
  2. Competitive Ad Copy. Keep your value proposition in mind as your prospective customers are researching the sites that offer the products or services they’re looking for. If you can’t compete with the major retailers on price, then promote other benefits of buying through your website. You might highlight a rewards program, your seller ratings or the percent of proceeds that go to charitable foundations, or you could even encourage prospective customers to shop locally (if you have a local presence).
  3. PLAs (Product Listing Ads). With major retailers dominating this ad arena, it can be challenging to not only invest appropriately, but also to compete on price point. We’ve found that using RLSA in conjunction with Product Listing Ads can be not only a cost-effective way to gain visibility in this shopper-centric ad format, but also a highly effective brand awareness tactic that can allow you to compete (at times) with lower-priced retailers.

Tools & Competitive Insights For Non-Branded Campaigns

There are many tools available to search marketers that can provide insights into competitors’ keyword targets, ad copy and landing pages. We’ve found that one of the most valuable outputs of these tools is the ad history reports. These reports will tell you the ads associated with the keywords your competitors have been bidding on and, most importantly, for how long.

Given that search marketing is performance-driven, it’s fairly safe to say that keywords that have been bid on for a long time are driving a cost-effective cost per action (CPA) for your competitors and are worth testing for yourself.

Ad history reports can be found using the following tools:

  • SpyFu (PPC Research >> Ad History)
  • SEMrush (Advertising Research >> Ads History)
  • Google AdWords (Auction Insights Report)

Standard vs. Accelerated Ad Spend

One of the main differences between non-branded and branded campaigns frequently lies in bidding strategies. Based on your target CPA goals, you will know how much you can bid per keyword and determine the best use of budgets.

If your campaigns convert consistently across the day, a standard ad spend is ideal for stretching budgets and keeping campaigns active at all times.

The risk is that budgets may not be spent efficiently, as bid limitations negatively impact CTR at certain points throughout the day — often also the best converting hours of the day. Depending on your brand’s purchase trends, this could mean big missed opportunities for driving conversions from paid search ads.

In addition, by setting a high position bid (e.g., avg. Pos 2.0), and setting campaigns to “Standard” delivery, you are essentially allowing Google to select the most expensive auctions to participate in throughout the day. With this strategy, you will most likely see higher ad position and a good CTR but lower overall click volume, due to higher Avg. CPC, and little increase in Conversion %.

In a scenario like this, lowering bids to hit a lower average position (e.g., avg. pos 2.8) and changing your delivery to “Accelerated” can show you a clearer picture of what click and conversion volume you can afford on the same daily budget.

Unless your industry sees consistent structure around purchase patterns, we’d recommend testing non-branded campaigns at an accelerated spend to determine if more exposure yields greater conversions.

With accelerated ad delivery, you are instructing Google to show your ad every time an eligible keyword has been searched for. For non-branded campaigns, this creates opportunities to be seen throughout the day when your competitors have exhausted their budgets.

Note: This technique can go through your budget rapidly, so be sure to monitor your data and adjust accordingly.

Geographic Fencing: Isolating Your Best Converting Impressions

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, applying geographic parameters to paid search is certainly an obvious tactic. However, we’ve found that this targeting method is often lacking with “brick-and-mortar + e-commerce” or “e-commerce only” businesses.

We tested geographic fencing when a brick-and-mortar-only client recently launched e-commerce. A portion of our non-branded campaigns was A/B tested. A subset of products was targeted nationally, and the same subset was targeted within a radius of our client’s store locations. Our test was to determine if an assumed brand awareness in specific markets could boost the performance of non-branded e-commerce-only focused campaigns.

The outcome of this test went exactly as expected. The non-branded test that was geographically targeted yielded a higher volume of conversions at a lower cost. The takeaways from this aren’t limited to e-commerce + brick-and-mortar, however. We’ve tested similar strategies for e-commerce-only clients after researching geographic areas that have a higher concentration of customers and higher brand awareness.


These are just a few of the methods we’ve explored to boost non-branded results for our paid search clients. We’d love to get your thoughts. What have you tried and tested successfully with non-branded search?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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