We all know the story of the Tortoise vs. the Hare.  The Hare was able to gain ground immediately but was also the most likely to get distracted.  Paid Search is the Hare when it comes to search marketing, but when the data is used to inform other areas of the business, particularly other search-leaning channels like SEO, your company can end up with some very big wins.

Here are the simplified steps to getting paid search live:

  1. Open an Account
  2. Set up Payment (credit card is the fastest)
  3. Pull the tracking tag for the account and get it on the site (not required, but smart)
  4. Define your analytics tracking value template
  5. Name a Campaign and AdGroup (I like to start with “Trademarks” and “Brand – Exact”)
  6. Develop a list of keywords (your brand name is always a good start)
  7. Decide on the landing page (trademark/brand is easy, start with your homepage)
  8. Write 2-3 ads to start
  9. Choose 4 main areas of your site and set up your Sitelinks
  10. Choose a maximum bid amount (if you don’t know what to start with, start with $0.50 and adjust from there)
  11. Launch

You can have a brand/trademark campaign up in a day.  The tracking tag for the account should go live ASAP, as it will help the search engines increase your PPC’s profitability by allowing them to see what is working and what is not.  This will eventually allow you to bid by a cost per order value vs. individual click bidding.

Now that you are live, start expanding and remember to keep an open mind about budgeting.  A flexible, performance-based budget will give your SEM manager/agency/etc. the ability to capitalize on emerging trends and to create a more robust paid search channel in the long-run.  Another advantage of a flexible, performance-based budget for paid search is PPC’s usefulness in testing landing page performance and identifying the most effective keywords for a given page.  Turn this data into informed SEO for the page tested.

Now, when you do identify an emerging trend, a prompt and informed response is key.  Dig into the analytics and use that data to also try to confirm the trend.  Did you find a positive trend?  Then shift budget to it and monitor it.  If you find a negative trend, shift budget away from it reserve resources for a positive trend.  Many times, a positive trend will mean that a negative trend is happening at the same time, so that can make the budget shifts easy.  Also, don’t forget to look for additional keyword expansion options when you spot a trend.  This could be an expansion of a certain area of your keyword campaign, or in a negative trend, it may simply mean the need to expand and refine your negative keywords.  Finally, when it comes to trends, always look at the longevity of the trend.  If it ends up being a lasting trend, use the paid search data to inform targeting changes for SEO.

The other major flexibility you have with a well organized paid search channel is the ability to control your overall search return on investment (ROI) but tracking is key to clean data.  Make sure you (or your agency) are using the granular tracking parameter values and dig into them constantly.  Use this to confirm trends and drive informed decisions regarding when and where to increase/decrease budgets to improve your overall paid search ROI.  As always, there will be keywords that you always want to show up on, but with a robust paid search strategy, there should be plenty of ROI offsets that can keep these “mandatory” keywords in play at positions acceptable to you and your executives.

Much like all SEO, paid search benefits from consistent management and longevity of activity.  As you leverage paid search, remember to give things time to become established.  Paid search is driven by algorithms just like all other search engine marketing, and longevity of data will result in the ability to make better decisions across your organization and allow the individual search engine algorithms time to better optimize when and where they show your particular ads.

Given many of you are probably using a vendor to build and manage your paid search, here are a couple of additional strategies for creating a true partnership with them.  First off, make sure you have as much transparency as possible.  Does your SEM manager have direct access to the paid search accounts and are the accounts owned by you vs. the agency?  Is the reporting you get from them at a granular enough level for your SEM manager to identify trends?  Are you using a common reporting vehicle on top of any proprietary internal/external analytics systems?  I personally find Google Analytics to be a great shared analytics platform when working with a vendor, but the key is to measure variances between the agency’s internal conversion reporting system and your own internal reporting system.  Consistently evaluate these variances and monitor benchmarks.  Finally, make sure your SEM Manager’s primary role is SEM and not simply reporting on SEM.  Allow them to have time in the trenches with the agency.  If they are not working hand-in-hand with the agency, even down to keyword expansions, push for a change.  Reporting is a good thing but not to the detriment of leaving business on the table for competition.  Strike a balance and empower your people to empower your agency.  Set real, tangible expectations for the agency and regularly ask your agency about trends they may be seeing in your accounts.  Also, make sure they build out your campaigns in a highly organized fashion that equates directly to your existing website’s taxonomy, as a highly organized paid search structure will always reap long-term benefits and will also allow better responsiveness to granular, short-term trends.

In conclusion, use paid search like it is the Hare in the race.  Leverage the flexibility and the immense amounts of data available, given you can get quite a clear picture quickly when using and analyzing it correctly.  Use paid search to sprint ahead of your competition and then leverage that data to inform other areas of your online business, especially SEO, to shore up your lead.

Next week, look for the next article in this set called ‘SEO is “The Tortoise”’ where I’ll discuss SEO at a high level and, strategies for ensuring that slow and steady will win the race.

See you at the races!

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