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Saturday, December 9, 2023

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Paid Search Research In Action

Because this column, PPC Academy, is a one-year search advertising course, it made sense to spend the first few months on research. In the real world of tight deadlines and downsizing, it can be easy to want to do everything quickly, but deep research can yield tremendous dividends for your account so it’s important not to overlook this step. It can literally be the difference between success and failure. Train yourself to not dismiss any data until everything’s been collected as you never know what’s important until you have the complete picture. It’s easy to delete data once it’s collected, but one little grain of information may glean a pocketful of insight.

It’s time to put these new skills into action!

Below is a practical application of these lessons using ABC Pet Supply as an example advertiser.

My first post, The Advertiser Interview: How To Surface Key Goals, provided a blueprint to how you can get the most important information out of your advertiser to understand their expectations for this search marketing effort.

After talking with ABC Pet Supply, I learned that this paid search account is going to be used to drive coupon downloads for their eighty-five retail locations primarily found on the west coast of the US. There is a second goal to drive location look-ups from their location finder page. They want to start with a relatively low budget but will increase spend levels if the target cost per acquisition (CPA… basically the number of coupons downloaded) can fall under $10. They’ve done some PPC in the past and have provided logins to Google and Yahoo so I can take a look at what was done previously. They expect weekly reporting emails with phone calls each month to discuss the account. I also had the advertiser send off introductory emails to a few of their technology vendors to request a login for me and explain that I’ll be taking over this account.

How Competitive Intelligence Shapes Your Keyword Landscape demonstrated some quick tactics to get a initial read on the advertiser’s category from a search marketing perspective. Tasks included simply typing in the core terms to see who is bidding and what ads/landing pages are being used.

After getting back from the initial advertiser interview, I went on to the top search engines and looked at who else was bidding on ABC Pet Store’s top terms which included “pet supplies,” “dog food,” and “heartworm medication.” I took some notes on who were the top companies showing up for paid search ads on these terms and took some screenshots of their ads and landing pages. Then checked out the Google Keyword Tool and typed in the core terms. I was able to get a good idea on how much national search volume there is for these keywords as well research their competitor websites and see what terms Google thought were important to them. Really, my main goal was just to learn more about this advertiser’s space and be able to think intelligently on how I need to attack this vertical. Mission accomplished.

In PPC Academy Toolbox: Keyword Monitoring, the post showcased some strong tools that can get even more in depth into what is happening on the engines for the keyword landscape of an advertiser. Just load up the terms and these technology platforms will follow them over time to deliver valuable insights.

After building out the advertiser’s initial handful of keywords to around thirty terms, I uploaded them into one of my keyword monitoring tools. A week later, I had some very surprising data. One of the competitors which I thought was not very active in the search engines was actually coming up very often for my terms. They seem to stay towards the bottom of the ads but almost 100% of the time! They need to be watched so I setup an auto-alert to email me when their ad messaging changed.

For another competitor, this time a big national chain, I was able to see their ads through the week and realized they were running different creative messages on the weekends than they were on the weekdays. Maybe they had some intel there that made sense to repeat on my end? I was also able to quickly compare competitors against each other to see which keywords they were appearing more often on and at higher positions. This way I know who I’ll be up against for various terms.

Using Web Analytics For Paid Search Research was a good reminder that web analytics data can be extremely useful for search marketers. Not only can track geographical and browser based data about your audience, but you can see if your search traffic is sending engaged users (more page views, more time spent, more downloads, etc) than the average visitor.

After getting the logins from the advertiser, I signed into their analytics platform and started fishing around. I immediately wanted to see the historical breakout of their paid search traffic. Aha! Paid search traffic was highest over two years ago to almost 35% of their traffic, but then started to dip early last year and now they’re not doing hardly any at all. From an engine perspective, there was no surprise as Google was most of their paid search spend. Maybe I should be a bit more aggressive with Yahoo and Microsoft for them?

Then, I went to the geolocation reports and saw what I wanted to see—that most of their overall traffic is coming from the west coast where their stores are located. I also looked through their organic search traffic and internal site search results to uncover keywords that I might have missed during my initial research. These terms are already being queried by users coming to their site so it was important for me to not take that data for granted. In fact, I did find about thirty terms and over two hundred misspellings/variations that I included into the keyword level research.

Essential Competitive Intelligence Platforms For Your PPC Toolbox highlighted the importance of competitive intelligence tools and their role in search marketing. The tools were bucketed into two segments: the lightweight, nimble search landscape trackers and the more robust, panel-based tools that track actual users and their online behavior.

I logged into one of my lightweight tools to get some more info on a few of the competitors and additional terms I uncovered while researching for the account. I was able to get some spend level information and it verified some of assumptions that this category is very heavy and filled with virtual stores that are stealing market-share from offline pet supply retailers. Being solely online, their costs are lower so their prices are lower. I knew it would be worthwhile to test some ad messages that lauded the benefits of coming into the location in order to separate my advertiser from the “online-only” clutter of competitors. I was able to finally choose the five or six terms that I thought had significant search volume and relatively low competition so I could get the advertiser’s web team to start building landing pages specifically for those terms.

When I got into my more robust, panel-based tools, the real data started to tell the story. After looking at the upstream and downstream traffic (the sites users were before and after coming to my advertiser’s site), I noticed a pattern. Portals and news sites tended to stick out and drive a disproportionate amount of traffic to companies in this keyword landscape. To me, that means users were online to find this info if they came straight to these sites after initially logging into the internet. That means my messaging might even need to be more specific as these people might be looking to browse immediately. I also checked out my advertiser’s main competitors and their share of voice for some of the top terms. I was surprised that the pet food terms (i.e. dog food, cat food, etc) were being dominated by the big chains. That must be where the real money is for pet supplies. Is it because of better margins? Or repeat business? Maybe I could suggest my advertiser add a special pet food selection section to their website to engage users once they arrive from those terms. That way they don’t just click the back button and go with the big chains.

And finally, Build Out Your PPC Toolbox With Non-PPC Tools rounded out the discussion with some out of the box ideas for tools that can help with search engine marketing research. SEO tools, search engines, social monitoring platforms, industry intelligence sources and research sites can provide context for the data you already have.

Using some of these other tools turned out to be a great idea. For example, checking out various complaints and comments from real users about issues they have with pet supply companies gave me a lot of understanding on what kind of audience this is. They are very passionate about their pets and treat them like family. Having not owned a pet since childhood, I wasn’t very familiar about the various needs and toys on the market. There are some strong shifts toward more organic ingredients in dog food so maybe those ad messages will resonate with people searching on those kinds of terms. The industry intelligence sites drove home just how much internet research pet owners use and gave me some brainstorms on how I could use some non-product focused terms to reach the audience. Maybe my advertiser would be willing to develop animal health awareness programs on the site which could engage conscientious pet owners (who I also learned spend more on their pets)?

With the research phase completed, we should have a very rich profile of your advertiser’s target audience, competitors and keyword landscape. We’re now ready to build! Next week, we start the build phase where we take this research and apply it to the way we will craft our keywords, ad groups and ads.

This week’s question: “How do you know you have enough research to start building your PPC accounts?”

PPC Academy is a comprehensive, one-year search advertising course from beginning to end. Starting with the basics, PPC Academy progressively explores all of the varied facets of paid search, and the tactics needed to succeed and become an advanced paid search marketer.

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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