When we audit clients’ PPC (define) accounts, we look at their work from two aspects: the technical and the creative. While a 95-character ad shouldn’t be so challenging, common flaws appear in almost every account.

Let’s start out by examining the creative aspect.

Creating the PPC Searcher’s Journey

For visitors to convert, the five steps of the PPC searcher’s journey must be in alignment along the conversion path. I describe that five-part journey below. The model is simple, the execution challenging, and the businesses that effectively align these five parts are rare.

Intent: Behind every search is a person. That person has a want, a need, or an itch to scratch. If only we could tap directly into his mind, then we might be more relevant to his search. Imagine, if you knew the true intent of a search inquiry (query) and you could respond to that intent perfectly, then you’d convert most of the time.

Query: The searcher’s desire isn’t a keyword. The intent gets translated by a searcher into a keyword or key phrase that he hopes best expresses the need he has in their mind. Of course this process is complicated by the level of skills, intelligence, domain knowledge, language skills, and patience of the searcher. We, as marketers, must select those keyword we believe are most relevant to our business and choose the appropriate match types, negatives, and bids to maximize return on investment from these queries. Keywords are the bridge between the prospective buyer’s intent (want, desire, and/or need) and the experience you provide. Divining the searcher’s intent and responding appropriately should be the holy grail of all search marketing.

Google algorithm: Your keywords and key phrases are only the triggers for the actual search queries. Google uses a complex formula based on your campaign settings, budget, Quality Scores (define), Ad Rank (define), etc., to choose which advertisers ads will appear and in what position. It is your job to ensure all the technical settings are done properly and to continue to routinely optimize these settings. Many settings can be regulated by a rules-based system and can likely be automated or semi-automated based on criteria that you set.

Advertisement: The most important fundamental mistake we watch companies make is thinking of their Ad Groups as keyword groups. Bunching seemingly related keywords into one group and assuming that one advertisement can be relevant for the intent behind each of those keywords. Remember they are called “Ad Groups” not “keyword” groups. What does that means for you, as an advertiser? You must create ads that are truly relevant for the queries that your “keywords” will trigger the most relevant ad based on the actual query.

It helps to think of every hyperlink (PPC ads, SERPS (define), your navigation, banners, etc.) as a contract between you and your reader or prospective customer. Every time someone clicks on a hyperlink, he’s asking a question either implicitly or explicitly that he expects you to answer with precisely relevant information. Understanding and planning relevant hyperlinks and the content that corresponds to that hyperlink (UX people call this concept “scent”) is how we teach companies to maintain persuasive momentum. It is rarely good enough to use “dynamic keyword insertion” to ensure pseudo-relevance.

Relevance is always relative to buying mode. Lots of factors affect buying mode (economics, demographics, psychographics, stage of buying process, etc.). You must plan your ads to match buying mode and still optimize those ads for click-through rates and conversion. All too often advertisers limit themselves to only having one advertisement and not testing multiple versions of their ads.

Landing page: We often say, “Keywords don’t fail to convert, we do!” Why? If you believe the keyword query that you selected in your PPC settings is relevant to your business, your ad and landing page must deliver a relevant and persuasive experience that explains to your visitor how you can scratch their itch and offer him greater value than your competitors. Keep in mind: the searcher’s experience doesn’t often end on the landing page on your site, but rather continues several pages deeper toward your conversion goal. All of these pages must be in sync with the searcher’s journey in order for them to convert.

The Three-Step Paid Search Management Process

To successfully align your business goals to the PPC searcher’s journey, you must also have an effective and nimble PPC management process.

Step 1: Targeting. This step involves choosing keywords and organizing campaigns. This is where you deal with understanding the searcher’s intent and query steps in their journey. This is an ongoing process that continuously needs refinement and adjustments.

Step 2: Valuing. In this step, you leverage your understanding of the pay-per-click engine’s algorithm and set match types and bids. Most of this work can be automated or semi-automated. Every keyword has a different value for each match type. Typically an exact match (define) will converts at the highest rate but will have the smallest reach. Phrase match (define) comes next in terms of conversion but will expand the reach of your ads. Broad match (define) will have the greatest reach but lowest conversion rate. Broad match should be used as a way for you to continue to find relevant queries in the search engine and use those to create new Ad Groups, ads, and landing pages that can deliver relevant experiences.

Step 3: Satisfying. Here is where you focus on creating compelling ad copy and landing pages to match the searcher’s actual queries. Most companies spend too few of their resources on this step. When you focus your resources on satisfying a searcher’s query, you will tend to be rewarded with higher click-though rates on your ads, higher Quality Scores on your keywords, and higher conversion rates. All of this will act as multipliers on the rest of your efforts. Many companies overlook this step because they don’t take the time to understand the economics of having poor Quality Scores or haven’t come up with an effective process to scale testing and targeting effectively on their landing pages. Unfortunately, this part of the process can’t be completely done by a machine and needs human intelligence and creativity to get the best results.

Where in the search management process are you devoting most of your resources? How effectively have you aligned your PPC management process to the search visitor’s journey?