While I’m sure I wouldn’t have headlined at Econsultancy’s Future of Digital Marketing last week by presenting on generic PPC ineffectiveness, it is nonetheless crucial as the mainstay of any company’s digital marketing to ensure the foundations of a campaign are solid.

Though far more pioneering and forward-thinking speaker sessions are presented as the topic of the day, let’s make sure as an industry we do not build sophistication on inept foundations.

Therefore, I thought it would warrant a blog post to state the common mistakes or areas often overlooked by either a client’s in-house or other agency team.

Here then, are our seven tips to make a generic PPC strategy an effective digital paid media acquisition channel:

1. Match types

There are 500m search queries every day that have never been seen before by Google, which means getting the approach right with this is crucial.

‘Broad Match’ types can waste budget on irrelevant searches whereas ‘Exact Match’, at the other end of the spectrum, can be far too restrictive. With the millions of unique search terms seen on a daily basis, a simple exact match strategy is going to miss out on more specific, high intent traffic.

The solution is to utilise ‘Broad Modified’ match types more widely across your campaigns to capture this unique traffic, whilst still utilising exact where appropriate.

This will broaden the scope for long tail, more conversational searches which are often driven by a higher intent. Driving qualified, high intent traffic will improve the Quality Score of your generic keywords, which over time will drive down CPCs and aid a more efficient generic strategy.

For one of our clients, efficiencies were gained in the account which led to a 29% drop in CPC’s, allowing a 70% uplift in traffic year-on-year with only a 22% rise in spend.

2. Ad scheduling 

We are regularly shocked to see generic keyword campaigns running at all hours of the day, every day of the week.

This may sound like a basic, or fundamental, tactic to aid efficiencies in generic search, the majority of accounts we audit are not employing it. This ‘always on’ approach can lead to unnecessary waste, and whilst conversions may be realised within all hours of the day, your budget may be better focused within your top converting hours and days.

To avoid wastage, use historic data to plot conversion rates by time of day and day of the week. Schedule the ads to only run during key trading hours and use the bid adjustment tool to increase the ad position at peak conversion times.

3. Geo-targeting 

If you match your online offering with your bricks and mortar presence, your brand awareness will inevitably be stronger in these areas.

This is likely to lead to a higher conversion rate online in these locations, with a customer more likely to click and place their trust in your business. In addition, your brand should have a target audience, with varying geographical tastes and disposal income potentially aligning with this audience.

This should also be taken into account within your generic approach.

When planning generic build out, utilise the tools in Google Analytics to identify your key converting geographical locations online.

Using this as a basis to begin generic targeting, then experiment with different locations over time to determine new ‘sweet spots’ where your brand’s demographic audience are. Taking this one step further, for brand with a physical store presence, this can then be used as market research to inform the overall business expansion strategy.

4. Device targeting

As we already know, online behaviour varies according to the device being used. Mobile browsers are often shopping with lower intent to purchase online and are likely at the research phase of the purchase funnel.

However, if your website provides a good user experience on mobile devices, you should not be afraid to capture generic mobile traffic.

Especially if your competitors are less advanced in their mobile offering, they are likely to be avoiding this traffic, posing an opportunity you should capitalise on.

When the ability to target mobile and tablet devices separately was removed with the Enhanced Campaigns release in February 2013, many were afraid mobile CPCs would escalate.

Contrary to popular opinion, we find CPCs for mobile devices significantly cheaper for the same or higher ad positions, making this mobile traffic opportunity an even more attractive prospect.

Nevertheless, as always, check this insight against your own data. If your mobile traffic has a low conversion rate and you haven’t yet focused attention on a responsive or mobile site, it may be best to limit budget on mobile traffic.

5. Remarketing for search

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) launched in June last year (2013) and allow brands to serve up targeted ads based on a visitors past behaviour.

This is a great opportunity within the competitive generic space, either to promote repeat purchase through generics, or as a final step to convert a customer already in the purchase funnel.

We are yet to see brands using this to their full advantage, with some not even building out lists to be used on the search network. By placing a simple piece of code on the site, brands can capture a visitors IP address and track how they interact with the site, even down to whether they have abandoned a basket or completed a purchase.

This information can then be used to identify a highly qualified customer when they enter a generic search term on Google, and serve them an ad in a higher position than if they were a brand new customer.

This will prove to be a fundamental part of generic strategies in the future, especially to re-engage your past audience during promotional periods, sale and peak trade.

6. Long tail keyword coverage approach

Generic keyword coverage can sometimes be the result of a snap decision to increase traffic, which may lead to the quickest build out of high traffic, high competition search terms.

This tactic, whilst driving traffic and perhaps awareness, is not likely to drive efficient conversion in the long term. Therefore using this as a gauge of whether generic keywords will work for your brand is not wise.

Generic strategy should be tackled as a long term commitment with periods of controlled trial and error across your product set.

Analysis of phrase and broad modified keywords should be undertaken to identify long tail search terms, which can then be extracted and controlled within their own ad group or indeed campaign.

This on-going breakdown of the keyword coverage allows you to ‘weed out’ the inefficiencies, and allocate budget to the revenue drivers to allow for greater ad positioning and traffic.

7. Tactical generics

While these strategies will aid you in creating an efficient generic strategy with long term incremental value, it should also be noted that an ‘always on’ approach to generics isn’t always necessary.

Build out of generic campaign structure could be carried out in a preparatory sense, which can then be quickly utilised to drive traffic during appropriate periods.

For example, conversion rate on generic terms will most likely be higher during periods of promotion, sale or seasonal peaks. This is a strategy which we like to coin a David and Goliath tactic.

Especially when working to restricted budgets, we focus generic expenditure during promotions, sale and for specific sales peaks, where they can efficiently make a noise against their more established ‘always on’ competitors and win a portion of their traffic and custom.


Again, whilst the above tips will not necessarily win innovation awards it is imperative as an industry standard we at least get the basics right, regardless of in-house, search or wider media agencies.

I trust once the above tips have been implemented and the results achieved; then we all will be able to answer whether or not it is worth bidding on generics, and the channel and tactics being a viable and cost-effective way to recruit customers will remain loud and proud.

Then, and I suggest only then , can we all move onto the more sophisticated ways of optimising search and overall digital strategies!