In this column, we routinely write about some fairly advanced topics: Next-level optimization, automated bidding algorithms, hyper-targeted search campaigns, paid vs. organic search, etc. Lost in all this is the underlying discussion around the need to hit your financial goals.
The majority of large enterprises engage in annual planning, which means that as SEM managers, we are tied to pretty strict financial goals. While all the advanced topics sound good and do warrant execution, in a world of limited resources sometimes we just need to hunker down and focus on hitting Plan.
At one point sooner or later, all search marketers will find themselves challenged to reach their financial goals for a variety of reasons, but always because some number of conditions have changed from the time the Plan was built until the present. I’ve written in the past about how search marketers who build annual plans are constantly faced with this because, for example, we will be building our own plans for Q4 of 2013 before we’ve seen the whole of Q4 2012.
There are many conditions that can change between now and then: search engine marketplace dynamics, conversion rates, site monetization, and competitive landscape, to name a few. That’s why for enterprise-level marketers, I’ve always maintained that we need to make our budgets mobile – that is, we have to be able to move funds from underperforming campaigns to more profitable ones.
But aside from that strategy, what are some tactics we can employ now, half way through the quarter, within our existing programs to ensure that we hit (and beat) our Plan?
There’s plenty of time left in the quarter to drive profitable growth from keyword expansion if your business can support it. In our world, we’ve invested substantially in our ability to execute on keyword growth strategies for this reason. While this can be a complex process, there are a few critical aspects that are currently attracting our focus.
First of all, it’s important to find new and reliable keyword sources. Mine your own sites’ query logs. See what people are searching on in your own site and use those keywords. Leverage search query reports supplied by search engines. Find out what keywords your SEO program is producing (which words users are searching on to find your site) and add those to your PPC campaigns.
Note: Don’t assume that any SEO keywords (especially brand terms!) you add to your PPC campaigns will necessarily cannibalize your SEO traffic. We did some research on this and found, at least in this case, that the opposite was true. Note below the positive correlation between the CTRs of the paid and organic listings. Find out for yourself!
Next, among other things you’ll need to figure out what bids to assign to these new keywords. If you have any data on keyword level monetization, use it to set your opening bids. If not, look to page- or category-level monetization signals to inform these all-important initial CPC bids.
Get them right and you can start driving incremental profit immediately. Get them wrong and you’ll either get nothing at all (bid too low) or you’ll spend all your precious budget on unprofitable keywords (bid too high).
Content Is King
It’s likely you haven’t paid much attention to your content campaigns lately. Dust them off and see if you can build them out and/or optimize them. Contact your search engine reps and see if they can lend a hand with building you some new ones. You can probably get some productive volume out of new content campaigns if you launch now and spend a few weeks getting them to profitability.
Keep it simple, though. Don’t expect to build and optimize graphical ads across a million placements. Sure, load up graphical creative (if you have it) alongside text ads, but craft your buy in such a way that you can then optimize it easily and quickly. Remember, you don’t have infinite resources.
Speaking or constrained resources, we use a combination of in-house and third party resources to make our SEM programs hum. Your internal resources are probably already maxed out, so it’s time to look to your agencies, tools providers, search engine representatives, and other contract resources to dig in extra deep and unlock the untapped potential living in your campaigns.
Leverage them for keyword expansion, creative optimization, even bidding strategies to squeeze that extra profitable volume out of your programs. Outsource, baby!
Follow Your Head
We spend a considerable amount of time working on tail keyword management strategies that can add incremental revenue and profit to our portfolio. If you stop and think about the ROI on your incremental efforts here (especially during crunch time), they will likely point you back to the head portion of your portfolio. This is no time to get bogged down in the minutiae of your tail keywords.
Instead, spend your time looking at the volume-generating head keywords that drive your program. Look for head terms that are highly profitable but that aren’t in top position. Bid them up to get extra click volume until they’re at as low an ROI as your goals can tolerate.
Here’s a trick: for high-velocity keywords, try breaking them up into smaller biddable units, using all the targeting options that search engines offer: match type, geotargets, dayparts, weekparts, device settings (tablet, iPhone, etc.) and network distribution settings. This makes your head more efficient, freeing up budget to spend on other expansion and growth efforts (see above).
Hopefully you’ve now got a few more tools in your belt to drive additional profit to your programs. Don’t worry, there will soon be time to go back to more advanced topics, but for now, don’t get cute and don’t try to be a hero – just focus on The Plan.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.