Spring is finally here. It’s by far my favorite time of year in Seattle. This city of avid gardeners bursts into shades of green and colorful bloom starting in April (but don’t tell anyone, we like our rainy city reputation).
More significantly for those of us in the business of selling goods or services the arrival of Spring signals the start of the second quarter. Following the Holiday madness and three months of “business as usual” (if there’s anything to be considered usual given the current recession) we should take a step back and evaluate our business strategy in light of results from this past quarter or year over year.
We recommend that you take advantage of this brief lull to review the performance of your paid search account and clean out any digital cobwebs you may encounter. Believe us, you’ll feel great when you’re done. Your campaign will be optimized just in time to take advantage of the bumps in commercial activity that happen around Easter and Mother’s Day in April and May. And as a bonus you’ll be better prepared to face the challenge of the Summer Slowdown that follows right behind.
So here are our top ten pointers (OK, top eleven pointers, we like bonuses) to a thorough Spring Cleaning of your paid search campaign.
1. Reevaluate your overall paid search strategy.
Has the “big picture” changed at all since you designed the campaign? Have there been any significant shifts in the market? Have any new competitors or influential players entered the scene? Is the strategy you’re pursuing still well aligned with your business goals? Paid search can be successfully used to elicit direct response or raise brand awareness, two very different strategies.
2. Revisit and, if necessary, revise your campaign architecture.
Is your campaign structured to support your stated goals? Are you able to track performance to the level you want given any changes in the “big picture”, as stated above. Should you break up and restructure any campaigns to allow for easier tracking or testing of specific keywords, ads or sub-strategies or tactics? For e.g., are you balancing search and display advertising appropriately?
3. Re-calibrate your web analytics settings to capture the right metrics.
When looking at the data from the first quarter, are you capturing the right data? Unless your data can be turned into actionable bits of business intelligence, it’s just a bunch of numbers. Evaluate what metrics are driving your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Poke under the hood in your analytics set-up. Should you be tracking additional data points? Take a hard look at those trends and course-correct, as needed. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
4. Review your keyword list with a fine comb.
Have you observed any changes in your Quality Score (Google) that might have an impact on your ad placement? Identify any keywords for which your ads no longer show up on the first page of search results. Are they worth the higher bid to get your ad back on the first page? Separate top performers from laggards to insure they get sufficient media support. Are there cyclical or seasonal factors that you should be thinking about? Keywords that haven’t received clicks or impressions need to be re-evaluated for inclusion. They may he dragging down the Quality Score for the account, impacting account performance and driving your cost-per-click up.
Are new terms emerging that you should have on your radar? Find out by running a search query report to see which new keywords may be gaining in popularity. Have any terms fallen out of usage that you should no longer be bidding on? What are your competitors bidding on these days? What negative keywords should be added to the account based on what’s happening in your marketplace? For example, is there increased activity in the market around a term you’ve traditionally bid on that was not there a year ago, generating unwanted (misguided) clicks on your ads?
5. Reevaluate your ad copy.
Is your ad copy still relevant? Do you see signs of fatigue – such as click-through-rate trending down, cost-per-conversion trending up – for your winning ads? Consider pausing your losers and introducing some new, fresh ad copy to challenge your current winners. And as with keyword changes, changes to ad copy might be needed to align with seasonality. Make sure to take some time to check on what your competition is doing.
6. Take a critical look at your landing pages.
Make sure your landing page layout and content follows current best practices and that the core message, call to action and copy remain relevant to your target audience. Adjust as necessary by revising copy, calls to action and offers.
7. Familiarize yourself with the latest crop of efficiency and optimization tools and start using them.
Our friends at Google have been very busy lately, rolling out new management features in AdWords on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis. One recent Automated Rules to provide advertisers more efficiently and precisely manage bid and budget management. It’s good to stay on top of those developments as the ever-finer controls allow for better budget optimization for a higher ROI, and who doesn’t want that?
8. Are you targeting the right audience, at the right time, in the right place?
While all those new AdWords features are super exciting, it’s nice to revisit all those “old” ones, like ad timing, geo-targeting and remarketing. If your analytics data shows you 95 percent of your high margin buyers live in the major metro areas and shop between 6:00 pm and midnight, focus your ad spend at those locations and times. Remarketing lets you serve up an ad to those visitors who came to your website but for some reason didn’t complete the purchase. You know they have some interest in your offering – why not target them while they’re interested to close the deal?
9. Identify any contextual placement opportunities you may be missing.
Now that you’ve considered your target market and evaluated their behavior relative to your offering, think of any opportunities you may be missing. Where are your best customers going online? What do they like to read? Are they reading articles or blogs? Are they watching videos on YouTube? Where do they like to congregate? If you are not doing this already, use the power of Google’s ever growing Display Network to target ads at your audience in those spaces.
10. Don’t forget to look at natural search data.
At Confluence we love to get on our soapbox and talk about the need for proper integration – and yes, confluence – of various digital and non-digital marketing channels to generate efficiencies and maximize impact and ROI. This applies to all marketing channels, but it is in fact impossible to consider paid search in isolation from natural search and SEO. To truly optimize your PPC campaign you should incorporate insights from natural search. For example, take time to review your natural rankings and examine your analytics for keywords coming from natural search that may not be converting but that drive deep engagement metrics, such as high number of pages per visit, low bounce rate, long time on site and secondary conversions within 30+ days of original visit. Those that drive traffic to your website via natural search may provide additional ideas for keywords to test (see point 11, below about testing).
11. Reevaluate your testing strategy, revise (or develop) your testing plan, and set aside a testing budget.
As the market evolves, your strategy should be evolving along with it. The best (only) way to stay on top of changes and ensure your paid search effort is performing up to snuff is by looking at the data and continually testing new keywords, concepts, ideas (ABT). Review your testing strategy and develop a plan of concepts, keywords, display ads you may want to test during the second quarter.
So, get on it. We promise that you’ll feel really great once you’ve gone through this process and you’ll be ready to face the months ahead knowing that your account is optimized and that you are managing your paid search spend for maximum ROI.