Most of the search marketing advice currently available has a tendency to focus on those best practices that are easy to apply at a campaign or ad group level. This is because deploying best practice techniques, such as targeted ad-groups with relevant, keyword-specific ad copy, have proven they can generate great results.

However, while this may be the case, those search marketers who are tasked with running more complex, large-scale campaigns will know too well that being au fait with the best practices is merely a small part of their job.

The way to make the most of the best practice advice, but also the biggest challenge, is to work out where to allocate your time applying them to your daily routine, especially as search marketers have potentially thousands of ad groups to choose from.

To be truly effective, they need to evaluate their overall paid search campaigns into business-relevant sections and from there, they can decide which ones should take priority when it comes to optimising.

Most marketers will be structuring their campaigns so they are optimised to meet the targeting requirements of the search engines. However, they’re likely to find more success if they analyse their performance and then go on to segment them by the characteristics relevant to their business.

Separating your terms into different sections (such as geography, website or even brand vs non-brand) will always add value and can give a better understanding of how performance is distributed and where the best opportunities can be found. If you start to do this at a top-line level and then gradually drill down into specific ad groups, you’ll get the best picture of prospects for growing and making the most out of your search programme.

We’ve found that many of our clients see charting as a valuable tool for identifying the best opportunities. This can work using a standard ‘Efficiency vs Exposure’ graph, which I’ve included below.

This graph charts the efficiency of a keyword set against the average position and volume for a fictitious sportswear brand.

In the graph, the average position is on the y-axis, with the x-axis representing efficiency (as measured by average cost-per-acquisition) and the size of the bubble represents the total volume of conversions for each category of keywords.

For example, the group of brand terms has an average position of 1.1, an average CPA of £5.05, and drove the highest volume of conversions.

(Click on image for a larger version)

Article Bubble Graph

The graph has been broken up into four quadrants so that the areas for improvement and priorities for optimisation can be identified more easily, with each quadrant helping us to see which kind of optimisations need to be applied.

Using the quadrants in this graph, we’ve put together some tips to help you make the most out of the way you’re managing your pay-per-click campaigns:

Quadrant one

The first quadrant includes those keyword sets that have a low cost, yet rank highly. In spite of being highly cost effective, the higher average position of these terms means many search marketers tend to overlook them, rather than giving them the exposure they deserve.

For these keyword sets, marketers should be honing in and getting a thorough understanding of which terms are already in positions one, two and three, compared with those that are ranking in lower positions on the results page.

If you can increase your bids on the terms that appear in lower positions while still hitting your overall margin targets, you can drive higher revenues at an effective cost of acquisition. If your keywords aren’t showing on the first page of the results, you could stretch to meet the minimum bid in order to increase their performance.

Quadrant two

These are the keyword sets that are the most in need of improvement. The ad groups have the highest average position and highest cost, so they are the least efficient. In the graph, the size of the bubble represents the number of conversions each group is driving, with the largest bubble depicting the biggest opportunity.

As per this example, the ‘golf’ terms really should be at the top of your priorities list. Now that this opportunity has been identified, you can analyse which sets of keywords are the most problematic.

For example, are there certain sets of words you should be removing from the campaign? – you could take the money being spent here and allocate it to higher performing sets of keywords. Are quality scores or conversion rates for any programme too low? It might be that you could focus on adding negative keywords, or testing your creative.

Quadrant three

These are the words that are less efficient than others, but you’re paying for them to rank in high positions on the page.

As with the sets of keywords in quadrant two, you can prioritise the way you optimise these groups, based on the size of the bubbles – just make sure to address the high-volume terms first.

It’s likely that poor quality score or conversion rate is going to be the reason for low efficiency in this quadrant, so adding negatives to these groups can help to refine traffic which should serve to improve the likelihood of conversion, as well as increase quality rankings. Evaluating raw queries and adding phrase and exact match terms to groups can also help to shape your traffic and improve performance.

Quadrant four

The keywords in this final quadrant are your best performers. As in our example above, your biggest bubbles should appear in this quadrant. As these keywords are of the low-cost, low-position variety, you shouldn’t have to spend very much time optimising the way these campaigns are structured.

Without having to analyse the structure of these campaigns, you should spend the time you have free to focus on expansion. To do this, try using your search query data or popular keyword research tools to find new, profitable terms that allow you to drive more revenue from these groups.

Most marketers do have an instinctive overview of where their campaigns are going, and where the best opportunities for success lie. However, using a graphical approach in the way you hone in on and analyse your campaigns can dramatically improve the way you prioritise and optimise your keyword sets.

With this licked, your whole process will become more scientific and easily replicated. Best practices made be all well and good, but you need to identify the opportunities and remove the out-of-line campaigns if you want to get the best return on investment.

Ed Stevenson

Published 4 January, 2011 by Ed Stevenson

Ed Stevenson is Managing Director (Europe) of Marin Software, a paid search technology firm, and a contributor to Econsultancy. He also writes the Big Search blog. 

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