Note from the editor: We talk a lot about conversion rate optimization, and how it’s about showing the right people, the right thing, at the right time in order to get more out of your website.
For many CXL readers, PPC advertising is a big part of your business & in many ways it is just as critical to the conversion process as what’s happening on the page. You may have an exceptional page that would convert beautifully if your PPC ads were just a little more on topic.
That’s why I’ve asked my friend Georgene Nunn, one of the brightest PPC people I know, to break down some of the ways you can use your existing data to improve your keyword sets, targeting options, and relevance scores to drive more targeted people to your site.
This is a long one, so I encourage you to bookmark it and come back later. Also, let me know if you find this useful to what you’re doing now as I’d love to give you more focused PPC content in the future.
The aim of each of these strategies and tactics is improving the relevance of your keywords.
Not just relevance in the sense of improving Quality Score or Ad Rank, but improving the relevance of your search marketing keywords and ads to your potential customers. By tightening up the standards and criteria you use to find, deploy, and measure keywords, you can really begin to improve your conversion rates at every level of the funnel.
Your existing keyword set will benefit from tighter audience focusing. Your future keywords will be better informed by your knowledge of the business and the audience.
Table of contents
- Terms & Concepts We’ll Cover In This Include:
- Start By Identifying Major Influencing Factors To Target Your Keywords.
- Time Is On Your Side If You Understand How Time Affects Your Audience.
- You Need To Be Where The People Are.
- Stay On Target By Coming Out Of The Data Shell & Tapping Into Other Business Factors.
- Conclusion – Don’t Be Put In A Box
Terms & Concepts We’ll Cover In This Include:
Day-parting – a term borrowed from radio and television that refers to establishing a schedule to target your audience. In PPC, day-parting is set by choosing hours of the day on each day of the week to run your Campaigns or boost or lower your bids.
Geo-targeting – relates to segmenting content based on location factors. In PPC, this typically means setting up Campaign location targeting by selecting specific locations to show ads or excluding specific locations.
Seasonality – the variation of your business’s activity, typically over extended periods like weeks or months, that recur on a yearly basis. This may conform to seasons (e.g. winter, summer) within the calendar year, or be based around certain recurring events (e.g. the Christmas season, Spring Break season).
Domain Knowledge – the information you as a marketer possess about the business you’re working for and the industry you’re in.
Start By Identifying Major Influencing Factors To Target Your Keywords.
What is a major influencing factor? Elements that influence the behavior of your visitors, and elements of your business that influence your offerings and messaging.
If our keywords are the raw material, then these major influencing factors are like the facets jewelers use to cut and shape a stone into a jewel. We use targeting in a similar way to shape our terms to boost their conversion potential.
These factors we use to target our keywords can be broken down into three main categories: timing, relevance to your audience, and relevance to your business.
Time Is On Your Side If You Understand How Time Affects Your Audience.
Seasonality – Most businesses have a seasonality factor that influences top converting terms.
Let’s take a look at a few examples –
A tax services center could focus on “prepare 2013 taxes” now, but in September might focus on 3rd quarter filing services for freelancers. This ad is packed with trust boosting factors like a ratings extension, a review, social proof, and sitelinks that provide more detailed options while highlighting service benefits.
A supply store such as this AutoZone in New Hampshire is definitely on point by focusing on ice melt now, but wouldn’t want to keep running those same keywords full speed in mid-July. Providing the nearest location and a link to a store locator sitelink is a great combination.
Drug stores and locations with pharmacies can go after seasonal issues like flu shots. The two top side ads are well written to match the intent of the term, and provide addresses and the phone number to contact them for more information. (Note: Hannaford is a chain local to New England, so they’re in good position. They’d benefit from Location Extensions to show the nearest store.)
Travel businesses can focus around peak booking times that lead up to major school breaks and holidays. This ad is helping the website by providing a contact phone (especially good for mobile searches), and sitelinks. It could benefit from seasonal messaging that suggests they have travel deals specifically for Easter week.
Those are all fairly obvious cases that we can arrive at from basic understanding of how these business work, but to really make the most of seasonality analysis, you have to really look at your year in detail. This can all be done at a high level, using the time-centric reporting available in the Dimensions tab. Use date comparisons to pull year over year data if possible; that will go a long way toward confirming your conclusions.
Look at your account by Year, Quarter, and Month. Check the trend lines for impressions, clicks, and conversions; do these show any noticeable rise or fall? If it seems flat, use the drop down menu above your sparkline charts to add a more granular view by changing it to Weekly or Daily.
If you have year over year data, does last year follow the prior year? There may be business reasons or account change reasons why not, but knowing the history of your account’s performance arms you with the knowledge to identify emerging trends more quickly.
Don’t stop there though, start segmenting your view more by pulling in additional long term data sources. Dig into your analytics and ask: How do different sections of your site perform? Ask your sales team: How do different product categories do throughout the year?
Don’t just rely on raw data: have a brainstorming session about seasonality.
Write out holidays or months of the year and have people shout out the first product or service related to your business for that time.
Take these ideas back and look for them in your keyword targets. Are you going after these yet? Add new seasonal Campaigns to experiment with new ideas.
Quick Killer Tactic:
When new landing pages go up for seasonal offerings, set up a specific Campaign built around that landing page.
The match between your page, your keywords, and your content will boost your quality rating and your exposure to focused visitors.
Don’t have any? Do the exercise above and talk with your team to start them!
Advanced Targeting Tactic:
If there are strong seasonal patterns to your business, adjust your Campaign structure to revolve around these. Set up each season’s version of your primary keyword sets, so you can have all your keywords sorted into groups that have appropriate seasonal messaging for those time periods. You can cut out product Ad Groups from seasons where they aren’t applicable, or down-bid them if they still have some value.
Cloning & splitting your primary effort into seasonal Campaigns allows you to adjust day parting schedules for seasonal concerns, and not worry about disruptive changes to ad rank by swapping out creative sets within existing Ad Groups.
AdWords Editor makes copying Campaigns really simple, and AdWords has added a copy function within the native web app itself, also. To make it easier to manage, set up automated rules to pause and enable these seasonal Campaigns so you don’t have to micromanage the changeover.
Brad McMillen over at Wordstream provides an excellent guide to using automation to schedule the start and end of holiday Campaigns.
Day of week – In addition to giving you a strong feel for day over day and week over week performance, learning the performance of your account on a day of week basis will give you another point to dig in to find those terms that rock on some days and tank on others.
Find these day of week keywords, pull them out of the daily grind and into a Campaign tailored to let them shine.
Separating out groups into new Campaigns allows you to keep keywords focused by letting you to set up a dedicated schedule. Your focus day gets a high bid modifier, the day before and day after may include “ramp up” bid boosts as well, and the remainder of the week is neutral (no modifier), has negative bid modifiers, or is simply off. This keeps keywords focused on the days they’re working for you, and avoids CTR-lowering “waste impressions” during the times they aren’t.
But first thing’s first…
Start With High Level Data To Identify Areas That Need Attention.
Use the Dimensions tab inside AdWords to pull day of week reports for Campaigns and Ad Groups.
That will give you a bird’s eye view of keyword sets to take a closer look at. The simple format of this report enables you to pull the data into Excel and pivot to discover which days are best for Campaigns, Ad Groups, or both in conjunction. Let’s take a look at some sample data:
In this mock data we have two Campaigns and three Ad Groups. Here are a few possible takeaways from this view:
- Our overall best days of the week for volume of conversions are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We should look toward
- Our very best day for conversion rate is Friday, but it’s also the lowest click through rate days. We see our Red Widgets Ad Group in the Products Campaign has the lower CTR of the two, and is less than half the CTR of the day before. Dig into the keywords in the Red Widget Group to find out which ones are generating impressions without clicks. Dig into the keywords of the Blue Widget Group to see if the increased clicks on certain keywords here are using budget that would work better in the Blue Widget Group.
- The Products Campaign isn’t running on Saturday and Sunday, and Services is only on during the weekend. We can see here that our Red and Blue Widget Groups in Products work well on Thursday, and Red Widgets do well on Friday. It might be worth it to run one or both Ad Groups on Saturday.
- The Blue Widget group in the Services Campaign indicates that Blue Widgets as a Product may also do well on Saturday. Given that, and our observations above, it may be worth it to split Blue Widgets into a separate Campaign with its own budget and a schedule that allows Products > Blue Widgets to also run on Saturdays, while keeping Products > Red Widgets paused.
Inside the Keywords tab itself, use segments drop down to show each keyword’s performance by date or day of week.
You can also download these reports with both date and day of week segments included, so you can use spreadsheet wizardry to get down to definitive answers more quickly.
Get extremely familiar with your business’s operation days. What days are the sale staff present? What days of the week does support work?
Get plugged into the rest of the marketing team, also. Learn the release schedules for new products, new content, new campaigns within other channels. Are there things that you do on a weekly basis like start new sales, launch email campaigns, or push new content?
Create a Monday through Sunday chart and plot out all the possible day-of-week specific Campaign schedules you could create to directly support groups that revolve around these page or product launches.
Not only will creating a Monday-Sunday map of activities empower you to make smart decisions on when to run your Campaigns, but it will make you more valuable to your team as a source of key coordinating data.
Quick Killer Tactic:
If you’re in the lead generation business, save money on low-to-no staff days by turning off Campaigns or drastically reducing bids on days when your business isn’t ready to jump on the leads you’re creating.
This approach might not increase your conversion rate or number of conversions, but it will prevent you from burning cash on leads that are cold by the time you respond, which does increase the quality of the conversions you’re getting.
24/7 online retailers could apply this same tactic for Campaigns that focus around getting people to contact the business for special deals, or b2b Campaigns that connect visitors to inside sales.
Advanced Targeting Tactic:
You can create Campaigns that follow the content release schedule you charted out during your day of week charting exercise to give you a dedicated place to drop content-specific keywords that will have boosts corresponding to higher visibility when the pages are freshly launched. E.g. a Saturday-Sunday focused Campaign that runs ads tied to landing pages which encourage people to sign up for new sales that begin on Mondays.
Do you notice spikes a few days after your content launches? Try adding scheduled bid boosts for the day of launch and the days before your typical spike to see if you can push your visibility and drive faster spike cycles.
Or try adding a bid boost to the days following the day you typically see spike activity, to increase visibility to people who may have heard of what you launched but can’t find the link and are searching instead.
Hour of day – As far as time-based targeting is concerned, day parting is really busting out the jewelers’ loupe and getting to business.
Setting the time of day in which your keywords are active and adjusting bid modifiers on an hour-of-day schedule is known as day-parting, a term borrowed from the broadcast industry, and it’s critical to refining your PPC performance.
While everybody should spend some time crafting good day parting rules for basic performance maintenance, day parting can be used to laser focus otherwise strong Campaigns to their full potential during peak hours, or keep them from running amok during off hours.
Use hour of day segments on your high volume keywords to see when they’re driving conversions, and when they’re burning cash. Check at the Campaign and Ad Group level by leveraging the time report for hour of day in the Dimensions tab.
Carrie Albright put together an introduction to day-parting reporting over at PPC Hero that covers 3 major ways to drill through your hour of day data to get real answers. Running these reports is definitely a good way to start evaluating time of day data from a PPC performance standpoint.
Quick Killer Tactic:
Set your Campaigns to turn on or begin ramping up at least an hour before the actual peak performance times you want to target and/or boost. It takes time for reactivated Campaigns to reach full throttle, and you want to make sure you’re getting maximum exposure during those peak hours.
Advanced Targeting Tactic:
Coordinate with your sales and service teams to find out when their peak hours are. Check back with them on at least a quarterly basis, so you can keep up with changes to business behavior. This could tie in with your seasonal information, too!
Also, work with available sales or ecommerce revenue reporting to dig into the time between when a visitor first becomes a lead or enters items into the cart and the time they close as a sale. This type of cross referencing will help expand the scope of your conversion measurement and allow you to shape your conversion funnel.
You Need To Be Where The People Are.
You know the old saying: location, location, location.
Finding high converting keywords is made much easier when you match keywords to your audience, for two reasons:
- It will increase the performance of your keyword set by narrowing the audience scope down to the people most interested in what you have to offer.
- People in different areas use different language, including when they’re searching. What this means to you as a PPC manager is that your search term reports will contain more regionally-focused language.
Get Focused on Location
Just look at this array of possible location targets. Not only can you use raw geographic areas like country, state, zip code, county, and city, but you can refine our target around demographic information for that area, or expand using distance-based radius settings.
Demographic centered location targets in this example are: congressional district, average household income for a city, proximity to a university within the state, and a Nielsen® DMA® (Designated Market Areas) region.
Say you wanted to cover business based out of a particular small city like Dover, NH, by selecting the default location target of United States and Canada (for a US-based business) your broad match keyword coffee shop would make you eligible to appear for the search “coffee shop in Austin, TX” or anywhere else in the US or Canada.
That kind of set up would burn through budget due to clicks from locations way outside your intended audience, be highly detrimental to quality score due to the mismatch in intent, and overall lead to very poor conversion rate for that keyword.
By choosing a location target of the city of Dover, NH with an additional 20 mile radius, you could exclusively target people in your town and the people who are most likely to visit due to their regional proximity.
Alternatively, if you’re running campaigns across the country, you could create campaigns geo-targeting specific regions, and drill down from there. That way you’re able to see which parts of the country out-perform others & adjust your spend or campaign messaging appropriately.
Review your geographic reports within analytics, segment your reports by traffic source/ medium and review the conversion rates. Compare organic, referral, and direct performance against paid efforts to identify important review points.
Key takeaways from this exercise are: What areas am I receiving quality traffic from that I am not touching with paid efforts? How does paid traffic compare in conversion performance to other sources?
Quick Killer Tactic:
If you have physical locations, create advanced segments for each location at the city or state level, so you can quickly create reports to show how the people closest to each of your locations are interacting with your site.
Not only will it give you insights into visitor behavior based on area, but you can apply these segments to your Matched Search Query report under the Acquisition section of Google Analytics to see how searches differ from area to area and pull the highest converting queries to include as keywords within a region-targeted Campaign.
Advanced Targeting Tactic:
As you reduce spend by implementing tighter targeting, be sure to set aside those budget savings for experimentation.
Maintain some broad match targeting with totally open or large scope geo-targeting. If you’re an international company, allow all possible locations as targets. If you are focused around regional business, expand the scope of your target to include the entire state, or country, and neighboring regions.
Set your specific targeted locations as negative location targets. The easiest way to accomplish this is by copying targeted locations from your other Campaigns and pasting them into the “add multiple negative locations” dialog box within the negative location section in AdWords Editor.
This allows you to open up your targeting without the concern that you are competing against yourself by running the same keyword multiple times for the same targets.
Combining Location & Time
Use location data provided to you by analytics and PPC report data in conjunction with the time reports above to put together powerhouse combinations. Nation-wide and internationally targeted businesses in particular can benefit from setting up Campaigns that focus on time zones, to coordinate regional boosting with hour of day boosting.
For example, a 24 hour call center in New York that does brisk business from California around 7pm Pacific would be poorly served by a day-parting schedule that is set to lower bids at 10pm Eastern.
New York (blue) and California (orange) are laid out in the chart below, and they each have the same conversion pattern at the same time of day in their respective time zones. The X axis is set to Eastern time to reflect the location of the business. 7pm Eastern is the highest spike for New York (1900 hours), and 7pm Pacific is the highest spike for California.
However, the yellow line in our chart shows the day-parting schedule. The schedule was configured around New York performance
Stay On Target By Coming Out Of The Data Shell & Tapping Into Other Business Factors.
Major News – If your industry is prone to news-worthy press events, keep on top of that.
It might be worthwhile for you to run a blitz Campaign around that story focused on how your business is handling a change to the rules of the industry, or is an alternative to a negative story such as an industry scam, or are simply the best provider for that story’s focus.
Alternatively, if brand names or primary descriptors for products that you deal with might intersect with news that has nothing to do with your business – say you sell diamond candles, and Neil Diamond were to end up in the news – it could cost you a lot on wasted clicks, or drag your CTR into the gutter as your ads run alongside irrelevant results. Do your negative research!
Also worth keeping in mind is that news happens outside your industry bubble. Think about the location of your target audience when you’re doing news research, because major events that affect them affect your ability to get their attention. Major weather events such as hurricanes or blizzards are going to take precedence over your product or service in most cases. (Notable exceptions would be disaster relief and emergency services.)
Have a brainstorming session about key topics within your industry. Get specific, thinking about brand names important to your business, technical terms, political or legal figures that would take an interest in your field.
Follow up by searching all of them to verify that they’re actually news-generating terms. Do extended research to see if there are key items you might have missed, and create a Watch List from that.
Quick Killer Tactic:
Make sure that you have a separate Campaign dedicated to just your core brand terms. Core brand terms include things like business name, site name, and terms directly related to discussion of your business e.g. yoursitename.com reviews.
If you do press releases, or direct brand promotion of any kind, you may see spikes in traffic due to people searching specifically for your site or brand. Keeping your brand name terms separate allows you to increase budget to accommodate an uptick in direct interest, or rapidly pause if spend is excessive without taking away budget from critical every day terms that drive sales.
Advanced Targeting Tactic:
Set up alerts for all three major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) and use the intel from here to:
- Stay informed of breaking news that could impact your day to day operations
- Quickly adapt your messaging to address new information
- Be ahead of upcoming changes to products, laws, services, or other key items and plan out new targeting to reflect that
The Watch List you created in your industry deep dive exercise can be plugged into Google Alerts quickly to create a customized news feed that goes straight to your inbox. Set up a filter in your email to push these news alerts to a dedicated tag or folder to keep your news resource separate from your daily emails.
Yahoo news alerts are easy to set up, but require an account. If checking an additional email account isn’t on your agenda, you can set up Yahoo mail in popular email clients like Outlook or Thunderbird. If you’re an avid Gmail user you can add your Yahoo account there also and set up filters to sort your news alerts into a central News Alerts tag and sort everything else as you see fit.
Bing unfortunately doesn’t seem to offer a news alert by topic, though it has been requested. (If Bing is important to your strategy, I’d recommend adding your voice to the requests!)
However, it is possible to set up an RSS feed of any search by copying the URL of your search results, adding “&format=rss” (no quotes) to the end and plugging it into your favorite RSS reader. Aditya Kane at Devils’ Workshop has a more detailed explanation.
If you aren’t big on RSS, use a service like IFTTT to push RSS updates directly to your inbox. I’ve shared the IFTTT recipe you see below: get it here. You can use to get started, with simple instructions on how to set it up for your searches.
Don’t stop with just the major search engines! Seek out industry-specific news outlets and have those delivered to your news folder. Research which social media channels talk about your brand or industry the most and set up monitoring for specific terms or hashtags that will keep you informed about who is talking the most about the things your business cares about, and what they’re saying.
Business and Industry Knowledge – Industry and business knowledge, also known as domain knowledge, is difficult to quantify, but extremely valuable.
By understanding the way a business works, you can greatly refine your relevance at every level. Relevance is at the heart of so many discussions on PPC, because it’s the glue that binds every paid effort together.
Basic PPC wisdom holds that keywords should be relevant to the ads and pages they’re associated with. That is a good philosophy for keeping your account organized at the Ad Group level by encouraging you to think about keywords and ads as related, and things that should be grouped together by theme.
Campaigns are the next level and relevancy at this level is where you should look when thinking about applying the concept of relevance at a business level when organizing your keywords. Location and time targeting should be relevant to the audience for your Ad Groups. Budget should be relevant to the importance of keywords to your business; giving high importance terms and targets a separate Campaign with a separate budget allows you more visibility into and control over the cost and value of those sets.
Also worth remembering: High converting keywords aren’t just terms that get people to fill out a form, they’re terms that get people to fill out the right forms.
Subscribe to your own company’s newsletter or email list.
Read the company blog. Get familiar with the voice of your company’s website. All these things will not only provide you with the ability to stay on top of business news as it happens – without relying on internal communication chains – but it will also get you used to the voice the rest of the company uses to project. This is important for keeping your ads and landing pages congruent with the rest of the company, and prevents jarring transitions from one voice to another.
Quick Killer Tactic:
Try things that no one else in your space – including you – are doing in a small separate Campaign so you can control your budget and test how keywords do with totally new ads and landing pages without disrupting your existing structure.
You can completely flip the company’s voice and the industry’s voice around and launch a Campaign or Ad Group that doesn’t look or sound anything like typical content. While this sounds like your average A/B test, the key here is that it’s a dedicated messaging test that only shows people “B” content. The reason for this is so you can tightly control the match between your new ads and your new landing page.
Conclusion – Don’t Be Put In A Box
Whatever your relationship is with the business, really commit to the details. Getting to the heart of what the business has to offer makes the tasks of finding matching keywords, finding the right audience, writing the most compelling ad copy, and putting it all together with a landing page built to convert go much more smoothly and quickly.
Keyword research can begin based on known brand terms, as well as acronyms, slang terms, nicknames, etc. Money and time can be saved by avoiding keywords that aren’t relevant to the goals of the business, or relegating those terms to smaller experimental efforts. Knowing a business speeds up competitor research, which can be used to form lists of competitor keywords or ads designed specifically to counter known voices.
If you’re an in-house PPC marketer, ask to be invited to product launch meetings, operational training, research and development presentations, etc. It will give you the inside line into immediate action items like new products and services, but it will also give you a better understanding of the company’s voice and goals.
If you’re a contractor or an agency working with a business, don’t be afraid to get in deep with your clients. Come up with a process for getting an in-depth analysis of a business’s offerings. Encourage regular discussions about the client’s goals and objectives; keeping objectives as a regular topic will present far more opportunities for deeper discussion about product or service details.
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Add your comment
Quick question, what is your take on Day Parting? I have always avoided using it, but saw it interesting that you included it here
Dayparting is one of my favorite control elements in AdWords. By coordinating the hours of the day your business is open with the hours your Campaigns perform best, you can apply bid boosts to increase exposure during peak hours or turn off Campaigns during off hours.
I recommend running hour of day reporting at least once a month, using your data from the last 30 days, on a Campaign level. From there you can decide if applying a schedule is right for each particular campaign.
It’s also worth noting that in Bing/Yahoo, it’s less advanced, allowing for only blocks of time, rather than an hourly setting, so I’m less of a fan of using dayparting here. The best use of dayparting within Bing/Yahoo that I’ve come across so far is ensuring that ads aren’t running during the middle of the night, to save budget during hours that may not perform.
I’m curious to know why you’ve avoided using it so far, care to talk more about that?
Wow ! This is incredible. I am in the process right now of rebuilding/expanding out a client’s PPC campaign and this will go a long way in helping find some diamonds in the rough. Thanks for this post!
Thanks, will take a closer look at our other keywords!
So you refer to cut off night buyers and loose some profit?
Very interesting to read. Research before you do anything. That’s also true for PPC campaign.
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