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SEM, PPC, CPC, CPA, ROI…do you know what these acronyms mean?  No, we’re not playing a game of marketing acronym bingo – we’re talking paid advertising on Google’s Adwords.  Whether you’re a seasoned digital marketer or just getting your feet wet, you have probably heard of Adwords and PPC (Pay-Per-Click) style marketing.  PPC is a unique style of paid advertising that uses search intent, geography, and keywords to display ads to potential customers when they search for related products or services on Google.  It differs from traditional paid advertising channels that charge by the impression, instead only charging the advertising client on a per-click basis.

When it comes starting search engine marketing, there’s a multitude of avenues to promote your business online.  However without a careful eye on your overall budget, targeting, and incremental costs, your campaigns can rack up an impressive monthly spend without generating website traffic, subscriptions, or sales that you set off to achieve in the first place.  Below we’ll detail some PPC strategies that will help your campaigns generate the right traffic, without destroying your budget.

Understanding the Funnel

Despite being incredibly powerful and ubiquitous, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) as a platform actually only really speaks to the final two stages of the customer purchase funnel.  If you’re unfamiliar with the purchase or marketing funnel, it starts with awareness at the top (the broadest point) where the customers begin their search for products or services, getting their proverbial feet wet. Going down the funnel, the next stage is interest, where customers engage with your brand to learn more about your company’s background and personality.  From there, we progress down to the consideration stage, where the potential customer weighs options, using things like case studies and free trials to direct their decision.

As we approach the bottom of the funnel, we head to the intent stage, where potential customers demonstrate serious interest in a purchase decision.  Things like completed product demos and ecommerce cart additions show firms just how serious these customers are – which gives marketers the opportunity to position their product or service as the best.  At the second to last stage we find evaluation, in which buyers make a final decision on a product or service.  Here’s where internal marketing and sales teams have to work together to nurture the lead without appearing too clingy or desperate.

The final stage of the purchase funnel is purchase, the word every single sales and marketing professional wants to hear.  A positive purchase experience is the cherry on top – a bonus that both sales and marketing loves when they successfully walk targets through the sales funnel.

However as a strategic advertising arm, PPC struggles to interface with the first 4 stages of the purchase funnel.  It is far too expensive of a medium with far too many big budget players to start wide, broad “brand awareness” campaigns on PPC – you’ll run your budget dry trying to get your ads to show any actionable results.  By nature, PPC swings more towards the direct response marketing silo where a potential customer is aware they have a problem, they’ve done enough of their homework to know providers and price points, and they’re ready to make a purchase.

Let’s say for example, your company is a consumer electronics device company – and you’re coming out with a tablet to compete with the iPad.  Despite having a cool product, the main drawback is your company is unheard of and you’re going up against big names on and advertising giants like Apple and Samsung on Adwords itself.  You certainly don’t have the overall budget or brand recognition to compete, and if you ran a PPC campaign in such a position, you’d waste money trying to nibble at the heels of giants – your campaign would be dead in the water, your budget shot, and the company would fail to gain any traction at all.

As a marketer, you must strategically survey your industry and determine at which stage the majority of your customers fall in the funnel.  Even the very dividing line of B2B/B2C advertising needs will dictate the campaign style and type – depending on the industry, PPC might not even be a valuable option.  For example, some professional service industries like lawyers and dentists see extremely high average CPCs (costs per click) across the board, because the lifetime value of just one client more than covers a $35+ single click.  Here’s where you strategic campaign and budget planning skills need to come into play as a marketer – you need to ascertain whether PPC is even a viable option given your industry, budget, and competition.

At the end of the day, it’s sad to see marketers of all skill levels force theirs client into apoorly-optimized, poorly-positioned, poorly-targeted PPC campaign just because “it’s on the first page of Google.”  It’s also important to keep in mind that not every campaign needs to be present on SEM 24/7…not every click you source is going to be a valid customer with cash in hand, looking to make a purchase.

If you’re looking to use PPC as a lead generation/lead nurturing tool then look elsewhere, because there are cheaper, more effectively-targeted advertising options to explore.  Don’t pay premium cost per click (CPC) rates for leads that are just doing “general” searches and product research.  Save your expensive, targeted clicks for those doing branded/product name searches after doing their homework…that’s the crowd you want to advertise too.  Tailor your campaign copy and creative to reach the informed crowd and your PPC results will take off.

Crawl Inside Your Customer’s Brain

Just this year, Google has been taking huge strides to punch up Adwords features to better compete in the nearly $33 billion dollar digital advertising market.  Things like expanded text ads (ETAs) and audience level targeting (demographics for search ads) improve search experiences, giving advertisers new ways to both engage and target their potential customers.  While channel providers are moving quickly to add features and contextual data to bring you more engaged customers, the best PPC accounts and campaigns put the target customer at the center from the onset.

All these data-based features are powerful, but if you don’t properly see your company, your products, your services, etc through your potential customer’s eyes, then they’re useless.  We see plenty of wasteful campaigns on PPC with poor ad copy and engagement strategies, completely missing the very language patterns and copy that resonates with the target.  Sometimes when planning and setting up campaigns, you have to remove your marketing goggles for a second, so you can think  with your “consumer brain” instead of your “industry brain.”

As an advertiser, you have to crawl inside your average customer’s brain to set up, run, and optimize a productive PPC campaign.  You have to research like they do; you have to read articles they would come across; you have to understand their price range; you have to use their language patterns; you have to browse the same websites they do; you have to read reviews and testimonials like they do…the following contextual customer questions might help spur some creativity on PPC:

  • What does your customer know about your product or service?
  • What does your customer know about your industry and the competition as a whole?
  • What is your customer doing before they start a search and see your ad?
  • What type of mindset is your customer in when they are searching?
  • What elements would make your customer drop what they’re doing and read your website?
  • What terms does your competitors use to describe their product or service features?
  • What brands comprise your customer’s evoked set?
  • What publications or websites do your competitors advertise on?
  • Is your customer searching on a mobile device, tablet, or computer?
  • Where is your customer located?  
  • What time of day is your customer searching?
  • Can you service said customer if they are outside of your immediate geography?
  • What’s the customer’s ballpark price range to spend on your products or services?
  • What parts of a website does the target customer care about?
  • Has your customer tried a demo or free trial?
  • Do you want your target customer to fill out their information in a form?
  • What’s the next step you want your customer to take after clicking an ad?

At the end of the day, the customer is at the core of your PPC campaigns.  The customer ready to make a purchase decision with money in-hand is the needle you want to find in the haystack that is Search Engine Marketing.  Without understanding the target customer, their knowledge level, background, budget, care abouts, and desires, you will never know how to separate that very needle from the haystack in the first place.  If you neglect these details and just run general campaigns for the sake of metrics and awareness, then you’ve clearly missed the point of PPC.

Run, Test, Analyze, Optimize

Say it with me now…this is now your PPC gospel.  Far too many PPC advertisers and agencies alike approach the channel with a “launch and pray” or “set it and forget it” strategy – the worst possible thing you could do. Typically with PPC, when people don’t see immediate results, they abandon their campaigns long before any optimizations are made.  Look here’s the thing…PPC is an inherently grimey, dirty, and manual process.  You have roll your sleeves up and get in the trenches multiple times a week – it’s not a throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks endeavor.

Savvy PPC marketers tier their campaigns based on the personas they’re targeting, product and service offerings, landing pages, and unique campaign copy angles.  Great marketers know that these things will never be dialed in 100% upon campaign launch, so testing is the name of the game.  A/B testing and multi-variant testing are the sharpest tools in your advertising shed – use them frequently to see what your audience responds to.  However to properly test your campaigns, you need data…and the more testing on different variables you set in motion, the longer it will take to record sufficient amounts of actionable data ripe for decision-making.

Start with optimizing your offer – targets want to see an engaging offer featured somewhere in the ad copy (everybody loves a deal).  What does your competition say?  Reverse-engineer a impactful campaign, learn what they do best, and improve upon it.  What messaging does your firm use on your website/landing page?  Next, optimize your angle – what are you saying to get the target to take action?  This piece is what is overlooked 99.99% of the time in PPC campaigns…we see the same angles over and over again, which makes the offer in step 1 just fall flat. What are your customer’s pain points?  What does your customer need, right now?  What does your customer truly fear the most?  Use these nuggets of insight to your advantage – test, refine, test, refine.

Lastly, optimize your landing pages.  There’s no one type of landing page that’s going to work for every campaign or every industry.  As a marketer, you must survey the business, the target customer, their persona, and their overall attention span.  Is your product or service cheap and simple?  Great, send them to a click through page that allows them to see some features and benefits and buy right on site.  Got a longer sales cycle that needs nurturing due to a higher price point?  Steal a Sideways Sales Letter-style landing page from Jeff Walker and divide the consideration process into a series of mental events that customer goes through.   Looking to capture contact information?  Awesome, drive traffic to a squeeze page and give target two options: leave or fill out the form.


When it comes down to it, there’s no set way to run and optimize a PPC campaign – it’s such uncharted territory for marketers, forcing you to think like your target.  The key is the willingness to get down and dirty with the details, while constantly optimizing the campaign to get the best results possible for the platform and industry.  PPC campaigns are never set in stone – good PPC experts keep the campaign in a constant state of flux, adding, pausing, testing, and optimizing everything against their demographic data, behavioral insights, and customer care-abouts.

Still nervous to wade out into PPC waters?  Give the SEM experts at Digital Vitamin a call – they can help you with an existing campaign or build a brand new iteration for you.  Get a FREE consultation today.

About Digital Vitamin

Digital Vitamin is a creative branding and marketing firm based in Los Angeles, California.  Whether it is brand vision, digital platforms, performance marketing and advertising, or social media management, we know how to grow your brand in a hyper-connected world.  Sick of the same old song and dance in your marketing?  Get in touch with us today and find out how we can supercharge your business.

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