Setting goals for PPCI’ve often been asked the question, “What keywords should I target for paid search?”. I don’t think this is the right way to approach paid search investment.

Focusing on keywords first risks making your paid search program untargeted and alienating it from your overall business goals.

I prefer the question: “How can paid search support my business goals?”.

When I first looked at PPC (probably back in 2002), I thought in terms of keywords because I didn’t appreciate where paid search fitted in to the direct channel. Now I think in terms of goals. How can paid search support e-commerce goals and what do we want to achieve?

This blog is my explanation for why you should start your paid search project by defining goals and KPIs, and then let the keywords follow.

Paid search is part of the bigger picture

Paid search is a digital marketing channel, not a business strategy. Though it’s possible, I’ve not yet come across a business that uses paid search as its only marketing channel. Therefore, paid search is part of the whole and needs to be aligned with your other marketing channels, both online and offline.

The first discussion to have is how paid search fits in. The learning from your existing marketing channels can help influence PPC planning, in relation to demographic and geographic targeting.

It’s essential that you stop and consider the role paid search will play in customer acquisition and retention.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What gaps do you currently have?
  • What products/services/content do you currently struggle to get attention for?
  • What conversions do you want to increase?
  • Which webpages aren’t doing well for natural search (SEO) that you could give a short-term boost for using paid search?
  • How can paid search support other channels like display and offline advertising?

Goals provide direction

Most businesses will have a potential PPC market of hundreds of thousands of keyword queries, if not millions. Churning through all of these combinations is resource intensive, not to mention mind numbingly tedious. How do you pick? On total available impressions? On estimated cost per click (CPC)? On competition levels?

If you start with your business goals, you can filter your keyword targeting by applying in to specific areas.

For example, a formal clothing hire company identifies Highlandwear as a strategic focus due to its unrivalled product range, competitive pricing & store network enabling local pick-up. The digital marketing manager can instruct the paid search executive to focus keyword research & campaign planning on this subject area.

The paid search exec can take this to the next level and benchmark current “Highlandwear” keyword coverage for SEO and focus the paid search campaigns on keyword queries where the business currently has poor SEO visibility but there is significant market potential.

KPIs enable measurement & evaluation

Each business will have a unique approach to measuring performance and defining success. Whilst revenue is clearly a target for all commercial enterprises, strategies to achieve this vary.

For example, one company might put the emphasis on increasing average order value by driving sales for high ticket items, whereas another tasks the marketing team to acquire as many customers as possible within a cost per acquisition (CPA) threshold limit. The KPIs that a business uses depends upon the financial model it follows.

It’s essential that after defining goals, you agree the KPIs that performance will be measured against and create a benchmark of where the business if before you invest in your paid search.

Knowing the KPIs you are measuring investment against will influence your paid search execution. It will affect elements like:

  • Which products/services you are pushing
  • Which keywords you target (whether you focus on head, mid or long tail queries, or a blend)
  • Your bidding structure
  • Your campaign budget
  • The content of your ads
  • What promotions you use

Reporting & review cycles provide focus

Now that you have goals & KPIs agreed, you need to decide how often you are going to report on progress. It would be crazy to unleash a paid search project and then have no structured approach to evaluating progress and evolving plans. Defining goals and KPIs gives you a focus for your reports.

This involves deciding:

  • How will you report (i.e. what format?)
  • Who is responsible for generating reports?
  • How will reports by circulated and to whom?
  • Who is responsible for interpreting the data in the reports?
  • How will you act on learning from the reports?

Markets fluctuate, so it’s possible that a short-term spike or fall in one KPI for an individual PPC ad group isn’t lasting. This is where your review cycle comes in to play. Decide how often you intend to review paid search campaigns and at what level. For example:

  • A daily Dashboard review of top-level KPIs to monitor spikes/falls.
  • A weekly management report of ad group performance against KPIs.
  • A monthly strategic review of keyword performance to determine on-going ad structure and bidding approach.

It’s rare for a keyword to be dropped after a few days of ‘poor performance’ because it can often take weeks of optimising to make paid search ads perform really well. However, with a limited budget you do need to have plans in place to react to keywords/ad groups that are devouring the budget and delivering low returns.

Keywords deliver results

Once you have built this structure, it then becomes much more intuitive to do the keyword research and build out campaigns. At this stage you already know:

  • What the goals of the business are
  • What products/services/content is the priority
  • How paid search fits in to the marketing program
  • What KPIs you will measure results against
  • What your current benchmark is for each KPI
  • How you will report on PPC performance
  • How you will review performance

How do you approach paid search?

This is a simplified explanation but from your experience, does my blog hit the mark? When planning paid search (either for your own website or for Clients), where do you start? What planning is done before you even consider building campaigns?

Please drop by with comments and opinions based on your experience with planning paid search.