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A Paid Search Marketing Roadmap

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A Paid Search Marketing Roadmap

Once upon a time, when everyone’s favorite ad platform was just learning how to walk, creative PPC managers would bid on common typos of a search term for a fraction of what the correct spelling would cost.

That piece of advertiser ingenuity was patched out, but its importance remains.

Today’s ad platforms are built on years of search behavior and advertising data and using the expertise and creativity of successful marketers.

So I empathize with anyone worried that another “patch” is coming as PPC platforms move toward more automated solutions.

That said, the majority of PPC specialists will ultimately be fine. There’s certainly some turbulence (especially with respect to data visibility), but the search marketers I talk to are largely confident that the industry will find ways to adapt.

For anyone not so sure about how to be a successful marketer in the age of PPC automation, I’ll cover:

  • Changes you should be ready to deal with.
  • Opportunities to consider pursuing.
  • Must-have skills that will serve you well.

3 Changes To Prepare For

Adapting To New Privacy Regulations

FLoC, GDPR, CCPA – the past few years have been full of acronyms surrounding how privacy is addressed on the internet.

Between that and “walled gardens,” where each ad platform restricts what data users can see (including their own), PPC marketers are forced to rethink tomorrow’s campaigns.

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Information that was readily available for use is slowly going away. So, instead of tracking users’ every move, it’s time to personalize ads by addressing people’s fears, dreams, pain, and concerns based on their interests.

In other words, it’s time to do some old-school marketing!

A More Holistic Approach To PPC

One of the biggest surprises when I started working in paid search, was how little emphasis some PPC teams place on the creative aspect of their ads.

Even today, I’m a little stunned by agencies that don’t employ any copywriters or graphic designers.

Screenshot from @NeptuneMoon and @beyondcontent/Twitter, April 2022Success In The PPC Automation Age: A Paid Search Marketing Roadmap

While I’m in awe of the data and Excel wizardry many search marketers pull off, winning top ad rank doesn’t mean much if your ad text isn’t relevant and catchy; it certainly won’t last very long.

Like it or not, paid search is becoming less about managing data and more about interpreting, influencing, and monitoring it.

Between privacy laws and issues with data visibility, it will become as much a creative channel as it is a mathematical one (if not more so).

Finding A Role For Automation On Your Team

It’s the evening of November 12, 2021.

A bug in the algorithms that govern Smart Shopping bids causes CPC bids to surge without warning.

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Some of your accounts spend more than double what they typically do for clicks.

And because it’s happening between 6 p.m. on Friday and 3 a.m. on Saturday, you only find out after you’ve spent half a week’s budget in hours.

See also  Daily Search Forum Recap: May 5, 2022

Or, do you?

If you had an alert set up to inform you when CPCs for certain campaigns exceed a threshold you set, you were probably able to limit the damage.

Perhaps you had an automated rule running to pause campaigns automatically under similar circumstances.

Automation layering is how successful marketers safeguard their PPC accounts.

These third-party tools create layers of automation such as alerts, scripts, and automated rules.

By increasing the number of barriers a platform-side error has to go through before impacting your account, you can be more efficient while buying time for manual intervention when things go wrong.

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4 Big Opportunities To Pursue

1. How You Manage Campaigns

If ad platforms change the capabilities they offer and the amount of data they share with advertisers, it stands to reason that paid search pros will have to change the way they approach account management.

On a micro level, this means accounting for things like Smart Bidding using conversion data from every campaign in your account (even the ones you adjust manually).

When it comes to the big picture, it involves a ground-up restructuring of what we know account management to be.

When ad platforms automate the mathematics and science that humans can never equal them in, it’s time to turn our attention to what the machines can’t do:

  • Targets: Finding the optimal ROAS and CPA goals for different campaigns.
  • Structured data: Optimizing account structure, ad text, creatives, and product feeds.
  • Conversion data: Sharing business data to prioritize profits over sales and customers over leads.

2. How You Use Data

Charts and spreadsheets are for paid search, as the saw and measuring tape are for carpentry.

But when ad platforms restrict how much data you have access to, challenges with targeting, measurement, and attribution are sure to follow.

Changing the role of data in your search marketing campaigns can liberate you from feeling shut out by ad platforms.

Here are some things I remind myself about frequently:

  • I would rather own 25% of the data than borrow half of it.
  • Attribution is not all-knowing, and it’s on me to plug gaps and test for incrementality.
  • The more data I own, the more I can see paid search as a delivery method.

First-party data may not be the remit of paid search, and it’s certainly not something you can solve without client support, but every team should at least open the conversation.

3. How Your Clients See You

Like any other discipline, performance marketing can’t exist in isolation from a wider marketing (and business) strategy. Real-world events like the cost of shipping containers impact the degree of success you can bring to the table, making it unwise to operate in a silo.

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Here are some roles you should play in addition to that of PPC expert:

See also  Bing Announces Enhanced Robots.txt Testing Tool

Pilot

One role of the PPC pilot is to monitor, plan, and navigate the direction of campaigns. But, it’s equally important to chart a course that makes sense for the business.

Learn about their customers, understand their brand and values, and use their business intelligence to build standout campaigns.

Doctor

Frequent testing and zero hesitation in treating what’s not working are hallmarks of the PPC doctor.

While diagnosing issues in campaigns are table stakes, doing so in a wider business context makes you invaluable.

Expand your area of knowledge to how clients source product, close deals, and post margins.

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Teacher

The toughest role is also the most critical.

Not only do you have to teach ad platforms what decisions are right for a given account, but you also have to get clients to buy in to and support changes in methodology.

In many cases, it involves undoing systems and conditioning you’ve put clients on to. Use the data to state your case.

4. How You Stand Out From The Crowd

Perhaps not something every PPC expert has explored yet; diversifying your offering is a great way to insulate yourself from being beholden to a single platform or channel.

While not everyone will go from specialist agency to full-service digital marketing shop, even a small expansion beyond your comfort zone can prove beneficial.

Some paths to consider include:

  • Expanding your skillset to support multiple advertising platforms.
  • Developing PPC-adjacent services like SEO and conversion rate optimization.
  • Offering value-add services within PPC like audits, photography, or design.

5 Must-Have Skills To Develop

Copywriting

Perhaps the single most important marketing skill of the 21st century, copywriting underpins everything we do in digital marketing.

Many facets of PPC can’t excel without solid copywriting:

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  • Ad text for search ads.
  • On-creative copy for display ads.
  • Scripts for video ads.
  • Landing page copy.
  • Calls to action.

Successful marketers agree that messaging, positioning, and tone of voice are the three most important elements of a winning campaign.

How those are conveyed begins (and sometimes ends) with copywriting.

It’s also a powerful skill for promoting your own business and pitching to win new clients.

Creativity

I’ve heard from many people that PPC isn’t a creative marketing discipline. They’re all wrong.

From ad text that wins clicks to landing pages that get conversions, creative expression is woven into PPC just as much as content marketing or mainline advertising.

And when every advertiser has access to the same ad platforms and automations, how you use them is what separates truly successful marketers from average ones.

So, there are even more ways to display PPC creativity, including:

  • Building and automating unique strategies, such as changing bids by weather.
  • Using PPC channels to achieve other marketing and business goals, such as fundraising.
  • Getting a dedicated budget for all your wild and crazy ideas.
See also  Daily Search Forum Recap: January 20, 2022

Audience Research

Strong audience research is vital to all great marketing campaigns, but your PPC results can also provide insights that translate well across other marketing and business teams.

Some of the ways to turn PPC data into tangible opportunities for your clients and co-workers include:

  • Testing messaging around different pain points to inform better website copy.
  • Using in-market audiences to see who’s really interested and improve sales targeting.
  • Gauging demand for new products before committing fully to sourcing or development.

Client Experience

A solid client experience is vital to both retention and acquisition. Not only does it give current clients a good reason to stick with you, but referrals bring in qualified leads with a high success rate.

If one of your concerns over automation is losing clients who would rather trust the ad platforms, improving your client experience is a great way to be seen as a growth partner.

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How you go about getting there might manifest as:

  • Communicating regularly with clients about their business and industry.
  • Creating standardized processes to help your team deliver quality work.
  • Showing up to client meetings educated on what’s happening in their world.

Contextualization

Machine learning and AI are fantastic at doing error-free math, processing enormous batches of data, and identifying patterns. What they can’t do is put any of that information into context.

If a machine presented reports to your clients, it would list a bunch of numbers, and that would be it.

All the information about why those numbers are what they are, how they got there, all the gaps in attribution – that’s context, and only you can provide it.

Successful marketers can explain why a campaign or ad worked and why something failed. No amount of automation or number of algorithms will ever replace your ability to investigate and articulate why things happen.

What The Successful PPC Marketer Of Tomorrow Looks Like

Success In The PPC Automation Age: A Paid Search Marketing RoadmapScreenshot from @PPCKirk and @bgtheory/Twitter, April 2022Success In The PPC Automation Age: A Paid Search Marketing Roadmap

Nobody really knows what marketing and PPC will look like a few years from now, but we’ve got a good idea of the skillset that allows you to roll with the times.

After all, this isn’t PPC’s first rodeo.

Knowing what button to press (and when) is good. Knowing why you press it is better. But not needing any specific buttons is where we should all aim to be.

Investigative ability, contextualization, and creativity are transferable across platforms and eras.

If there’s one thing to truly avoid at this juncture, it’s exchanging life in one walled garden for another.

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How Should You Optimize Your Content?

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How Should You Optimize Your Content?

People turn to Google for just about everything these days.

Whether it’s to buy something, learn about something in-depth, get a quick answer, or simply pass the time, Google is the primary stream of information for the vast majority of people living with an internet connection.

To be precise, Google makes up 92.19% of the search engine market share.

The constant quest of SEO professionals is to get their content matched up with the search queries it answers.

But how has this task changed over time?

While there can be books written on this subject, the general consensus is that search queries are becoming longer, more specific, and conversational.

In many cases, a portion of this shift can likely be attributed to the rise of voice search.

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A lot of what we are seeing is a growing importance on optimizing for questions and semantically related keywords.

So what exactly does this all mean?

And what are the best strategies when you’re down in the trenches of SEO?

Let’s discuss.

Questions & Semantic Search

Since the Google Hummingbird Update in 2013, Google has been on a steady path toward providing more personalized and useful search results.

You know when you enter a super vague query into Google and it somehow understands exactly what you’re getting at? Like when you are speaking to a close friend or family member?

This is semantic search.

A big aspect of Google’s semantic search capability is to pinpoint concepts and entities presented in question-based queries.

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When someone enters a question into Google – whether it be by text or voice – the semantic search capabilities work to understand the user’s intent with four key factors:

  • The user context.
  • Natural language processing (NLP).
  • Query stream context.
  • Entity identification.

What Types of Questions Does Google Answer?

Thanks to semantic search, Google has taken many steps toward a near-flawless ability to answer a plethora of questions. This is largely due to the developments in artificial intelligence, voice search, schema, NLP, etc.

Google generally answers three types of questions – as opposed to just providing links to the sites with the answers.

  • Direct answers
  • Short answers
  • Long answers

These answers are commonly placed in the Featured Snippet – also known as the “Google Answer Box” or “Position Zero.”

Let’s breakdown the specifics of each.

Direct Answer

Direct answer questions typically start with Who, What, Where, When, Best, Top, and sometimes Why.

These types of questions normally result in quick answers and are oftentimes linked to voice queries.

For example, if you enter a query like [When was Apple founded?], Google will use Hummingbird and semantic search to recognize the user intent to provide a direct answer. This answer would be April 1, 1976.

When was Apple Founded

Based on what Google’s algorithms decide is the most reliable source of information, the search engine will pull the answer from the content and display it in the Featured Snippet.

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Short Answer

Short answer questions generally start with words like Why and Can. But, given the context, they can also apply to What, Where, Who, etc.

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These types of questions can generally be answered in a paragraph, of which is shown on the Featured Snippet.

Let’s ask Google [Why does the sun follow a circular path?]

Why does the sun follow a circular path?

Again, Google’s algorithms will decide which content has the most credible answer here (based on numerous factors), and provide the answer in the Featured Snippet accordingly.

Let’s do another one.

Here’s a query for “Can fish feel pain?”

Can fish feel pain?

As you can see, Google has provided a 4-5-line answer – drawing from the content it sees as the most credible.

Long Answer

The long answer queries typically get more into the weeds of procedures and processes.

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Most commonly, these long answers are matched up with How and Why queries.

Google only has so much space to work with in the Featured Snippet; it can’t list out an entire procedure from A to Z. Instead, it has to abbreviate with an outline.

For example, let’s search for [How to build a treehouse].

How to build a treehouse?

The intent of this question is to get a better understanding of what all factors into the process of building a treehouse. The intent is more or less surface level.

As a result, Google’s algorithms serve up the step-by-step process involved in this project. To get more in-depth, the user needs to click on the link.

Other common examples of long answer snippets relate to how-to guides, recipes, workout routines, etc.

Which Types of Answers Do You Provide?

Everyone wants to get their content proudly placed in the Featured Snippet (or somewhere prominent on Page 1).

Given how much real estate this answer box takes up on Google searches, the potential benefits of taking the spotlight here are huge!

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In order to get placed in the Google Answer Box, you first need to have a strong idea of which type of answer your particular piece of content provides, and which keywords attribute to it.

For instance, this online tire store recently published an article around the keyword “best tire brands” – optimized for the question, “what are the best tire brands?”

Best tire brands

If we look at the Featured Snippet for this query, we see a list of tire brands outlined in the content under H2 tags.

In addition to drawing traffic, the content provides avenues for the user to actually purchase the products.

With each piece of content you create, you should be asking, “what types of questions does this content answer?”

This should be an integral part of how you formulate the outline, as well as how it will funnel into the bigger picture (like generating conversions).

How to Pinpoint Trending Questions & Keywords

In the process of figuring out which type of answer(s) is ideal for your content, you need to identify the trending questions being asked and the search volumes behind them.

One tool you could use is the Ahrefs Questions feature in the keyword explorer.

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By entering in your focus keyword, you can get a big list of related questions to be factored into how you create the content.

In this hypothetical scenario, let’s say you are creating a piece of content for a CRM software.

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Let’s look at the questions related to the keyword “CRM Software.”

CRM Software

Given what we found here, there are all kinds of questions to frame a piece of content around.

Now, a long, comprehensive piece of content could potentially work to answer all three major question types. However, for our purposes, we are going to focus on one.

Let’s say we want to create a piece of content that answers the short answer question [What does CRM software do].

What does CRM software do?

Now that we have the question, let’s look into the keywords that funnel into this answer.

What does CRM software do?

Think about it from a user’s standpoint who is at the beginning of the buyer’s journey.

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If someone wants to simply learn more about CRM software and what it does, what informational keywords and phrases would factor into the search?

Based on the keyword research above, this would likely involve terms and phrases like:

  • What is CRM
  • Customer relationship management
  • CRM meaning
  • CRM definition
  • CRM examples
  • Customer relationship
  • Relationship management

These are just a handful of the informational keywords and phrases that would ideally work to answer the overarching question.

Now, if there is transactional intent within this content, you are wise to include the following terms/phrases:

  • Best CRM
  • Best CRM tools
  • Best CRM for small business
  • CRM solutions
  • CRM pricing

When it comes to optimizing for questions and keywords, you need to have an idea of the users’ knowledge prior to looking at the content, what answers they want, and what they should do after consuming the content.

Ultimately, this forms the basis for how you conduct SEO research.

Ranking for Direct Answer Questions

Getting ranked for direct answer questions can be tough.

As with most SEO tactics, there are no laws, just theories.

Based on what we’ve found, getting ranked highly for direct answer questions involves the following common threads:

Get to the Point

Answer the question as early as possible within the content. If you can, try to do this in the first paragraph.

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List the Question Right out of the Gate

This helps Google tag your content appropriately.

Elaborate

After you answer the question bluntly, elaborate on it in the subsequent paragraphs. This helps to show Google that you are answering the question comprehensively.

Go the Extra Mile

This would commonly involve answering typical follow-up questions.

For instance, if you answered the question, “What is a lunar eclipse?” you could also include answers to questions like, “How often do lunar eclipses happen?” or “What is the difference between a lunar eclipse and a solar eclipse?”

You want to show Google that you know the answer in as much detail as possible so you are seen as an expert source of information.

Ranking for Short Answer Questions

Getting ranked for short answer questions has a lot of similarities to the process of getting ranked for direct answer questions.

Much of what we’ve observed comes down to the formatting of the content.

Here are a couple of the biggest patterns we’ve noticed:

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Make the Language Super Easy to Read

Don’t produce a wall of text; break it up into paragraphs no more than 3-4 lines long. Also, try not to use an extensive amount of business jargon.

See also  Google Search Results Rolls Out Much More Visual Design

Keep in mind, a lot of short answer questions are from people at the beginning of the customer journey – they are simply looking for more information, not to be overwhelmed.

Integrate Questions into Your Header Tags

This should ideally look like a Q&A format.

For instance, the question, “What does a CRM software do?” could be an H2 tag near the beginning of the post which the subsequent content would then answer.

Ranking for Long Answer Questions

Ranking for long answer questions normally requires quite a few factors based on the depth of the content.

On a side note: If a topic could be better answered with a more visual piece of content, Google will probably serve a video. For example, if you search Google for [How to wash pillows] you are going to be met with a video.

How to wash pillows?

So, if you answer these types of long answer questions, you are smart to focus on a video strategy.

Back to getting ranked highly on long answer queries, we have found several patterns in how content ranks.

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Keep the Main Title Focused on the Question

You want your content to appear to be the most relevant to Google.

If you are working to answer the question of “how to create a content plan,” your content should (in some capacity) reflect this in the title.

How to create a content plan?

Provide a Step-By-Step Format

Headings in content created for these types of queries often times have certain steps outlined.

Here’s what comes up for the question, [how to do SEO audit].

How to do SEO audit?

If you look at the content written by Ahrefs, you’ll notice the header tags in the piece correspond directly with the steps listed in the Featured Snippet.

Use Images

Images make your content more user-friendly and engaging – two things that Google loves!

We’ve found that the best-performing content uses imagery to supplement the points being made and provide a more complete answer.

Link out to Reputable Sites

Google wants to reward sites that provide the most credible information, based on the search query.

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What makes credible information?

Credible sources.

For example, if you are writing a post on “how to buy a used car,” linking out to reputable auto websites like Consumer Reports, Edmonds, Cars.com, etc. would (ideally) add credibility to your piece.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to note that every situation is a little bit different and the process of optimizing content is not always apples-to-apples.

However, it’s clear that the SEO landscape has been shifting towards long-tail keywords and questions for some time now.

If you want to get your content ranked well (and stand a chance at getting placed in the featured snippet), you need to factor these into your content strategy.

Hopefully, this post has given you a good idea of where to start.

More Resources:

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Image Credits

Featured Image: Created by author, August 2019
In-Post Image: SEMrush

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