5 PPC Account Optimization Tactics

optimizationThere is truth in the cliché “good is the enemy of great.” When it comes to paid search, it could also be said that “ongoing optimization is the enemy of an optimal account.” This isn’t to say ongoing optimization in itself is a problem. But there is a trap that many marketers fall into when the siren song of day-to-day optimizations lures them into complacency when the account is meeting budget and revenue goals.

It doesn’t help that often a search account that’s viewed as “successful” is allowed to lay fallow, with little if any changes made to it. However, this approach can leave opportunity and money on the table. With a little time and effort it’s amazing how many opportunities can be uncovered through a close evaluation of your account by looking in the following areas:

Overall Performance and Trends

When reviewing overall performance trends, it’s important to look beyond ROI to unearth intelligent market-level data you can use to positively affect your campaigns.

Charting impression-level data to the rise and fall of CPCs will provide information on the competitive volume, share of voice, brand resonance and overall market demand. Overall performance data can also be used to weed out bad assets, non-performing domains and identify click fraud to ensure budget is allocated as efficiently as possible.

Account Structure

What your account did for you yesterday might not be what you need tomorrow. You should evaluate the account structure to ensure that it is current with your objectives and goals.

Your account’s structure should be as flexible as your goals are adjustable and the marketplace is volatile. The ease of reporting properly, managing efficiently, and dividing responsibilities amongst a team is dependent on the basic structure of your account and its every imperfection will be reflected and amplified throughout the entire management process.

Keyword Evaluation

This is an area where the need to pay so much attention to the trees can easily make one lose sight of the forest. Frequently de-duping your account and performing a match-type gap analysis will ensure that all the fine-detail work your team is performing also results in a big-picture view that stays profitably symmetrical.

Active policing of negatives beyond a standard brand-defense list is critical. A negative/positive keyword conflict report can show you where your account literally can’t decide what to do. A look into the long tail of your negative list can reveal areas where the weeding-out of bad traffic may now be blocking some potentially profitable traffic.

Keyword harvesting also warrants a larger-scale and more thorough examination at times. Throw a wider net to see what keywords may be consistently just barely missing your top keywords report and thereby receiving disproportionately less attention than they merit. And of course, don’t forget to consider examining keyword expansions made necessary by changing offerings and the shifting landscape of the market.

Effective Ad Review

While the need for creative testing means that creative is often reviewed holistically more often than keyword build, it’s still common to find creative elements of an account in need of attention.

While sitelinks can be extremely beneficial, they sometimes outlive their relevance before the text ads they sit beneath. As the website structure and verbiage change, so should your sitelinks. If your sitelink strategy is older than your latest substantial website update, then the two are probably a poor match.

Step back and take a strategic look at the broader underlying assumptions that drive your creative testing tactics. Maybe a creative element struck from the testing battery is worth re-examining. If you have been successfully implementing a promotional calendar, consider if any changes to that implementation should be made; is there data supporting a longer or shorter flight period for limited time engagements?

Landing Page Analysis

Because much of a landing page’s quality depends on goals that are often managed by multiple teams, this is an area where it can be harder to implement substantial changes. However, any audit that does not pay close attention to landing pages will fail to address potential gains in quality score and conversion rate, metrics that you can't overlook.

A report on conversion rate and quality score by landing page can quickly identify pages that are performing poorly for every keyword and creative asset pointed at them. Grabbing these same metrics at the ad group level provides an instant problem list.

The Path to an Optimal Account

To be honest – these tactics only scratch the surface on what you can do to really kick your account into high gear. I hope to go into further details on some of these topics in future columns, but in the meantime don’t fall into the complacency of ongoing optimization with your search accounts. Step back and see how you can take something good to something great.

About the author

Dave Ragals serves as Senior Vice President of Client Services for IgnitionOne, where he oversees the company's client services operations and is co-author of “The Integrated Marketing Playbook.” Mr. Ragals has more than 13 years of online experience.

He began his online career with CNN, where he served as V.P., News Features at CNN Interactive, managing the creation of highly-customized content as well as several large business relationships with advertisers and partners. In addition, he developed the paid search marketing strategy for the American Cancer Society, where he was in charge of Web Marketing. Mr. Ragals graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree.