Paid Search Strategy: Fundamentals Before AI

/ Thoughtspace - Blogs, Industry Expertise, Marketing Strategy, Programmatic Paid Search

In 2023, paid search strategy conversations are being peppered with never-ending buzz around GPT and advanced automation. With the possibility of Google losing its lion’s share of the search market, along with rapid tech evolution taking center stage and reshaping SERPs, search marketers need to be diving in to understand and apply these trends headfirst. 

Right?

Well…yes and no. Being at the forefront of digital transformation is a must. However, this cannot be at the expense of abandoning tried and true best practices. 

We must embrace AI and emerging technology, while maintaining fundamental marketing tactics, in order to create a sophisticated, yet flexible paid search strategy that supports the business goals.

The Value of Going Back to Basics

Truth: AI algorithms will drive efficiency and conversions for your goals.

False: AI algorithm will drive the RIGHT efficiencies and conversions for your goals. 

If your efficiency is producing lower cost per clicks but lower quality website traffic, it’s no longer efficiency at all. Without proper inputs and guardrails, AI can begin optimizing to a keyword that is not driving results or the wrong conversion metric for your key business objective. This is why I encourage all performance media practitioners to be cautious about over relying on automation in your paid search strategy. 

So before you begin exploring the latest tech advances, make sure you master the three key fundamentals of paid search advertising:

  1. Measurement
  2. Research
  3. Optimization 

Paid Search Advertising Fundamentals

#1 – Measurement: What’s Working and Why?

Testing new paid search strategies and ad formats is all well and good, but those tests need to be strategically set up and measured to ensure they are feeding into your broader marketing strategy and business goals. Identify the leading indicators of success for your search campaign using both front-end and back-end tracking.  

The prevalence of zero-click search makes tracking front-end metrics more complicated, but also more important than ever. Find creative ways to monitor if your content is adding value and optimized to show up in featured snippets or other rich results? Complementing paid search efforts with organic SEO is key to success here. 

On the back-end, look at meaningful signals, such as time on site, path to purchase, and exposure-to-conversion frequency requirements. These insights will help you improve campaign effectiveness and refine the customer journey. 

Lastly, use search volume tools and in-platform forecasting to identify the budget required to reach your share of voice, impression and reach targets. 

Client Application: We consulted a large swimwear brand on their search strategy. With a list of over 46K target keywords, they faced a nearly impossible task to understand share of voice and make smart optimizations. We made these recommendations to streamline their search strategy: 

  • Consolidate spend to hours when people are most likely to be searching for swimwear
  • Group themed keywords together to better understand intentionality and select the best keyword + ad option to serve 
  • Create larger ad groups to allow machine-learning to learn faster and deliver better performance 

#2 – Research: Aligning the brand and the user

Now, with a strong foundation of measurement beneath our feet, we can craft a sound strategy by knowing the business inside and out. 

First, analyze the brand’s position in the marketplace. 

  • How much share of voice do you have for branded vs non-branded terms? 
  • How intensely is the competition spending in your core markets? 
  • What pricing/brand power exists for the category? 

Tip: If you already own the category, don’t waste money by overinvesting in branded search. 

Second, evaluate opportunities and highlight the unique value proposition for the brand’s products or services. Keyword research, competitive analysis and audience understanding should all play a role in the search ad copy and creative content. 

Tip: Incorporate your audience’s language in your search copy – use their lingo, not your own.

Third, support conversion-based ads with more educational content. Highlight thought leadership articles, how-to videos, landing pages and downloadables to prime your audience. Even within the shortened conversion window of performance media, relevant, high-authority content can play a large role in the user decision-making process (and your SERP ranking). 

Tip: Create your organic and paid search strategy in tandem to make this process seamless.

#3 – Optimization: Fueling the improvement loop

Searching for a surefire way to continually improve your paid search strategy? Look no further than an iterative test and lean process. There are numerous things you can test, just be sure to manipulate one variable at a time so you can understand which actions are impacting your outcomes. 

Here are a few common things we regularly test in our paid search strategies: 

  • Broad vs exact vs phrase match keyword targeting (in-market audiences vs new users) 
  • Google vs Bing
  • Various audience groups and layered targeting
  • Ad group and keyword variations 
  • Copy and creative pairings using dynamic ad insertion

Start by testing the most basic elements of your campaign. Make sure you’ve established statistical relevance, then adjust and refine as you go. This will establish a sound SEO taxonomy to expand upon. 

Timing also comes into play with paid search optimization. Consider the following tactics to stretch your search budget: 

  • Dayparting: Create a time window to run paid search campaigns based on when users are most likely to be searching. For example, your local Starbucks may only run search ads in the morning. Google Ad Scheduling offers insights into peak search hours. 
  • Day of Week: Select particular days to serve search ads based on audience behavior.  For instance, B2B brands commonly only run search on weekdays. 
  • Seasonality: If your business is impacted by seasons, holidays or major events, ebb and flow your budget accordingly to maximize efficiency. Read how Coegi leveraged seasonal search to drive year-end giving for a cryptocurrency brand

Next Steps: Amplify Your Performance With Technology

Technological advances will only continue to enhance the discovery experience. Creating a fundamentally sound search strategy with flexible options will allow for opportunities to scale and take advantage of these newer search trends and capabilities

Remember: AI won’t work for you unless you set it up for success with the right fundamentals of measurement (to the conversions that matter), research, and data-driven optimizations. 

For more best practices view our Paid Search 101 article.

Coegi Partners

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