5 Ways to Break Your Campaign Out of an SEM Rut

Attribution and use of demand creation can save your stagnant pay-per-click (PPC) search campaign – and perhaps your business at large. Cost-per-clicks (CPCs) are rising for some of you (after a hiatus of a couple of years) and the competition is bidding on almost all of your keywords. Plus, you have more competitors now than ever before. Consumers are savvier than ever and shop around before making any commitment (purchase or lead form). It all adds up to a search engine marketing (SEM) rut. Even with Google adding click volume through new ad enhancements, or by making the ads more visible, many marketers are finding it increasingly difficult to grow their revenue from search by double digits.

The coming month may be even more challenging for you to meet performance goals as your campaigns – and those of all your competition – move over to Enhanced Campaigns structures. Any website that sucks on a tablet may find itself getting a significant percentage of clicks from tablet search traffic, and those non-converting clicks will dilute the overall return on investment (ROI) of campaigns, forcing you to make a choice: take an ROI hit – and keep your CPCs high to maintain position and volume – or drop CPCs and bring your ROI back into compliance, losing critical sales and click volume.

Some people are pinning their hopes that their ROI won’t drop on the fact that Google has indicated that Quality Score is calculated in real time and may be calculated differently on tablet vs. desktop search (perhaps even on a device-specific basis). That makes sense. A landing page that includes Flash would present a poor-quality user experience for an iPad user. So Google may end up giving non-adaptive-designed landing pages poorer Quality Scores – specifically for searches on devices that would provide a subpar experience. Therefore, if your site sucks on mobile and Google gets the Quality Score calculation right, your position would be lower on a tablet than on a desktop.

But back to getting your campaigns out of a rut (and now would be the perfect time).

After you’ve allied all the best practices with a fully optimized account structure and have engaged in cherry-picking the clicks that can deliver volume and profit through better targeting by daypart, geography, match type, etc., and you’ve blown out your keyword list, you start to run out of things you can do on the front-end of a PPC search campaign. So, you turn your attention to the back-end of the campaign, looking for leverage. Any increases in conversion rate empower a higher reserve price. So, you start landing page testing. If you have enough traffic, you use multivariate testing. If you don’t have the traffic volume, then good old-fashioned A/B testing still works quite well – as long as your traffic is homogeneous or if you can determine which traffic types prefer B over A or C over B.

Rather than offer up tactics alone that can be used to break your SEM campaigns out of their rut, I’m going to urge you to change the way you think about your campaign as well as to evaluate online media key performance indicators (KPIs) and how well your KPIs really fit your business.

  1. Evaluate KPIs and strategy based on whether or not your prospects and customers go through a high involvement vs. low involvement purchase decision. The higher the involvement of the purchase decision, the more information the consumer collects prior to making the decision. Is the shopping cart alone the best measure of success? Should you consider more holistic metrics, particularly for research-related keywords?
  2. How complicated is the product or service? Is it really easy to explain? Even some low involvement purchases require that the product or service be explained sufficiently to differentiate from substitutes. Do you properly value the high engagement parts of your site?
  3. Does the search ecosystem contain a bunch of pent-up, pre-existing demand, or do you need to help create the demand? Search is great for demand harvesting. Content marketing, display media, and video are great at generating demand. (Do you think there was pent-up demand for a Foreman Grill? No, TV infomercials created the demand.)
  4. How emotional is the purchase? Speaking of video advertising, one reason TV advertising refuses to die, despite DVRs, is that it can generate an emotional response. Will emotion be required to trigger the purchase intent? Online and offline video are better at that than banners or search (don’t quote me ;-)). But seriously, consider using video on your landing pages.
  5. Should you be allocating more budget to niche targeting options, both online and offline? How easily can one target the audience online and/or off- (for example, model train enthusiasts)?

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. If you aren’t the one setting the KPIs on which your campaign is judged, perhaps a conversation in the next marketing meeting will help you determine which KPIs can be used together to provide you a new construct to add life to your campaign – and break it out of its rut.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

Related reading