3 Reasons It’s OK That Non-Brand Paid Search Keywords Don’t ‘Work’

Have you ever done a search for a non-branded term that didn’t work for your brand, but saw ads for all your competitors? What do they know that you don’t? Are the metrics really that different from brand to brand?

For many of the world’s brands, non-branded paid search keywords don’t “work” from an ROI perspective.

It’s perfectly understandable why this is such a greatly debated topic.

PPC originally gained traction with a promise to clients: if you give us your money, we will tell you exactly what you got for your money, down to the penny and keyword. This was appealing because marketers could walk into their boss’s office and show them a positive ROI was that tangible.

Now PPC marketers find themselves arguing that search is effective even if it doesn’t directly translate to a positive keyword level ROI.

The origins of PPC have made this argument so hard to win, while TV thrives without directly trackable figures due to the way we taught marketers to originally think about the medium. We find ourselves fighting against the very reasons we told brands to shift their dollars originally.

There is no right or wrong to this based on your business.

Here are three reasons brands should consider spending on smart non-branded terms that don’t “work” – and still be OK.

1. Portfolio ROI

This is probably the most common approach that brands use today to justify non-branded spend. They work under the same assumption as a stock portfolio. You take the best ROI terms (i.e., brand) and combine them with lower ROI terms and manage to a blended ROI that achieves your targets. This allows you to buy keywords that wouldn’t be attractive on an individual basis.

The example below illustrates this example where using the portfolio approach enables an incremental $10,500 in revenue while still achieving the overall goal of a 2.0 ROI.


Each business chooses if the accompanying incremental spend is worth it as well. This is where the next two arguments come into play.

2. Offline Impact

More than a few studies have shown that the value of paid search has a direct impact on offline sales. A Google report in Q4 2012 noted that 51 percent of shoppers researched online and bought offline. There are many reports that show similar results.

We recently had one client in the retail space run offer ads on Google. The results showed that 65 times the orders were completed offline from that online offer. If you choose to use a previously published test, or your own offer code test it is important piece to why non-brand matters.

3. The Halo Effect

No ad operates truly on its own. Frequently the impact of an ad is the combination of many various touch points both online and offline.

Non-branded paid search is about entry into the consideration set. If a consumer is searching for cars if they are unsure about what type they want they may start by searching for “new car.” At this point that consumer is creating a consideration set.

How many sales might you lose if your brand isn’t included in the consideration set? This idea was a main theme behind the Zero Moment of Truth.

A strong analytics capability helps to understand how multiple digital interactions lead to the end result. Below is one example of how PPC spend impacted other channels. For this example ~7x the sales occurred as a result of paid search spend:



The true value of non-branded terms will continue to be a hot topic for a long time to come. The goal is to take the argument away from just a discussion and create a data driven case that proves the value of non-branded terms.

Hopefully these three points provide some thought starters about ways to value these terms without true last click ROI positive results. Your business results will be better off because of that understanding.

Related reading

automate success PPC
top skills PPC paid search SEM 2019
ppc advertising questions boss
google ads conversion rates by industry