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How Do Retargeting Ads Work, Anyway?

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How Do Retargeting Ads Work, Anyway?

Since Google Ads first launched retargeting in 2010, the evolution of this tactic has shifted tenfold.

It’s no longer a question of whether you should use retargeting; it’s how you should use it.

Whether you’re new to the marketing industry or a seasoned pro looking to polish your retargeting skillset, this post will cover the recent ins and outs of creating retargeting campaigns.

The Value Of Retargeting Ads

Ecommerce conversion rates range from 0.7% to 4% globally.

Since consumers have a low attention span and are used to endless scrolling, retargeting ads should be an essential part of your marketing strategy.

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If you’re struggling to understand why only a small percent of website visitors purchase from you, don’t fret (yet). In reality, most people aren’t in the buying stage when they first visit your site.

If, for example, only 3% of users are ready to buy, the other 97% are likely not prepared to convert.

Therefore, if your retargeting goal is simply to get people to buy or convert now, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

Why is that? Well, telling people to “Buy Now” when they’re not ready means your messaging is wrong for 96% of your audience.

Where does the value of retargeting come in here? Multiple factors make a successful retargeting ad:

  • Segmented audience by behavior.
  • Identifying the right platform for ads.
  • Serving the right message to the right audience.

Take this retargeting ad I got, for example.

I had been researching places to take a solo health and wellness vacation in Arizona. After landing on this website, I received this retargeting ad within 24 hours of visiting.

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The ad itself captured the most important aspects I was looking for in a vacation:

  • Wellness activities.
  • Healthy food.
  • Hiking.
Screenshot from author’s Facebook Feed, July 2022

What Do Retargeting Ads Do?

Simply put, retargeting ads help lead users to the next step in their buyer journey. It’s not just an ad that gets users to “buy now.”

Your retargeting message should not be a rehash of your original marketing message.

Smart retargeting, however, focuses on understanding where your customers are at in their buyer journey and helping them take that next step.

For example, say you are a SaaS company where your goal is to get users to sign up for a free trial.

Your initial strategy is to bid on the terms such as “cloud software,” where you land users on a page that talks about your software and encourages them to create an account.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of users will take that action. You may be tempted to retarget all non-converting web traffic with more information on your software.

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Do you see the problem here? That message didn’t work the first time, so why would it now?

It is where you’ll need to switch up your remarketing strategy.

First Things First: Start With Tagging

The key to running retargeting ads starts with proper tagging. If you’re looking to target web or app users of any kind, pixels, and tags are necessary.

Each platform you want to run retargeting ads on has its specific pixel. Right now, it seems the options are endless. You can retarget on major platforms, including (but not limited to):

  • Google Ads.
  • Microsoft Ads.
  • Meta (Facebook).
  • Instagram.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Twitter.
  • Snapchat.
  • TikTok.
  • Pinterest.

If you’re planning on testing out all these platforms, too many hard-coded pixels could slow down your website. Try using Google Tag Manager to simplify your tag/pixel management for a more straightforward implementation.

How Do These Tags Work?

These tags identify a user based on their website activity (anonymously), which are then collected into platforms where you can later target them.

Now, one major thing to consider is the deprecation of third-party cookies. It’s already been announced that Google is removing third-party cookies, and many others will likely follow.

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This change to the consumer landscape leads us to the next core item of retargeting ads: audiences.

Create Meaningful Audiences

As mentioned above, third-party cookie deprecation may affect retargeting in the future. But, in what way?

The most significant shift will come from securing first-party data on your users – at the beginning of their user journey.

First-party data means consumers give you their information directly, such as submitting an email address on your website.

Once you have first-party data, the possibilities are endless for segmentation. For example, you could segment your users based on:

  • How they first came to your website (organic, social media, referral, etc.).
  • How long do they stay on your site.
  • If a user completed (or didn’t complete) a particular action on your site.
  • What categories or products they viewed.
  • If a user is a previous buyer.
  • The length of time they watched one of your videos.
  • What type of offer do they claim on your site to give you their data.
  • How they’ve interacted with your social pages.

Again, these are just a few examples of how you can remarket. You can get as creative as you want!

Now, if consumers provide specific user data, you can upload this information to many platforms to retarget them. This data is uploaded in a secure, hashed way to keep the user anonymous.

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You’re able to upload data points such as:

  • Email address.
  • First and last name.
  • Phone number.
  • Address.
  • Other data points are available by platform.

It works because if your user data matches the cross-reference data from the specific platform, you can retarget them.

Additionally, if you have pixels or tags set up, you can create specific behavior-like audiences and use them on those respective platforms.

For example, if you linked your YouTube channel to your Google Ads account, you can create remarketing lists of users who viewed a certain video as an ad.

These types of remarketing audiences are powerful at retargeting someone likely at the awareness stage.

Choose The Right Messaging

Now that you’ve identified your audience to retarget, it’s imperative you get the messaging right.

If your company has an average sales cycle of six to 12 months, can you expect someone to convert to that sale immediately?

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I wouldn’t bet on it.

This is why segmenting your audiences is so important. You should not be giving everyone the same retargeting message, nor should you use the exact same messaging you’ve initially reached them with.

Let’s go back to the cloud security example.

Selling cloud security software to a company is likely a long sales cycle with multiple decision makers.

If this is the first page you see as a new user, would you want to take action immediately?

An example of a cloud security landing page.Screenshot from a cloud intelligence platform, July 2022

Probably not.

What if you landed on the same page from a retargeting ad the second time with no differentiation in ad copy?

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Again, probably not.

The idea is so simple, yet so many companies get it wrong. Everyone is looking for that final sale without giving a user a reason why they should trust their brand.

Now, what would be an ideal scenario?

  1. Create awareness of your product to your ideal audience  → Lead them to an informative page about what it does.
  2. Create a retargeting audience based on qualifying factors of that page Encourage them to download an informative whitepaper.
  3. Segment that audience further if they completed that action Start introducing them to a stronger offer (such as a demo or trial, if it’s an easy user experience).

This very simplified scenario should likely include more steps to warm the user up to you. But hopefully, this gives you an understanding of why your messaging or offer should differ each time.

More importantly: Don’t expect them to go to the final desired action you want them to take!

Reach Your User On The Right Platform

We’ve discussed the tags, audiences, and messaging for retargeting ads. Now it’s time to pick the right platform.

We already touched on just a few platforms you could retarget on. So, because there are myriad options, does that mean you should use all retargeting options?

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Not necessarily!

The key to identifying your retargeting platforms is to do your audience research. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are the key demographics of my audience?
  • Where does my audience spend time?
  • Am I collecting mainly business user information or personal information?
  • What message am I sending to my audience?

Dive deeper into your audience behavior to help influence your retargeting platform decision.

For example, if you’re trying to get ahold of business decision-makers and collecting work emails, you may want to try LinkedIn or Quora as a retargeting option.

Personal social platforms such as Facebook or Instagram may not be your best option.

The messaging should also influence which retargeting platform to use.

If you’re trying to get someone to sign up for a demo or start a free trial, you may not want to use platforms that are more used for awareness, such as YouTube.

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Conclusion

While retargeting options have changed dramatically since their inception, the premise hasn’t necessarily changed.

Retargeting and users’ brand expectations have become more sophisticated.

Keeping up to date on the industry changes and how they affect your retargeting strategy is a must in today’s age.

Use these tips above to help amplify your retargeting strategy for a better conversion rate and user experience.

More Resources:


Featured Image: eamesBot/Shutterstock

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Reddit Post Ranks On Google In 5 Minutes

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Google apparently ranks Reddit posts within minutes

Google’s Danny Sullivan disputed the assertions made in a Reddit discussion that Google is showing a preference for Reddit in the search results. But a Redditor’s example proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten of the search results within minutes and to actually improve rankings to position #2 a week later.

Discussion About Google Showing Preference To Reddit

A Redditor (gronetwork) complained that Google is sending so many visitors to Reddit that the server is struggling with the load and shared an example that proved that it can only take minutes for a Reddit post to rank in the top ten.

That post was part of a 79 post Reddit thread where many in the r/SEO subreddit were complaining about Google allegedly giving too much preference to Reddit over legit sites.

The person who did the test (gronetwork) wrote:

“…The website is already cracking (server down, double posts, comments not showing) because there are too many visitors.

…It only takes few minutes (you can test it) for a post on Reddit to appear in the top ten results of Google with keywords related to the post’s title… (while I have to wait months for an article on my site to be referenced). Do the math, the whole world is going to spam here. The loop is completed.”

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Reddit Post Ranked Within Minutes

Another Redditor asked if they had tested if it takes “a few minutes” to rank in the top ten and gronetwork answered that they had tested it with a post titled, Google SGE Review.

gronetwork posted:

“Yes, I have created for example a post named “Google SGE Review” previously. After less than 5 minutes it was ranked 8th for Google SGE Review (no quotes). Just after Washingtonpost.com, 6 authoritative SEO websites and Google.com’s overview page for SGE (Search Generative Experience). It is ranked third for SGE Review.”

It’s true, not only does that specific post (Google SGE Review) rank in the top 10, the post started out in position 8 and it actually improved ranking, currently listed beneath the number one result for the search query “SGE Review”.

Screenshot Of Reddit Post That Ranked Within Minutes

Anecdotes Versus Anecdotes

Okay, the above is just one anecdote. But it’s a heck of an anecdote because it proves that it’s possible for a Reddit post to rank within minutes and get stuck in the top of the search results over other possibly more authoritative websites.

hankschrader79 shared that Reddit posts outrank Toyota Tacoma forums for a phrase related to mods for that truck.

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Google’s Danny Sullivan responded to that post and the entire discussion to dispute that Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums.

Danny wrote:

“Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.”

hankschrader79 conceded that they were generalizing when they wrote that Google always prioritized Reddit. But they also insisted that that didn’t diminish what they said is a fact that Google’s “prioritization” forum content has benefitted Reddit more than actual forums.

Why Is The Reddit Post Ranked So High?

It’s possible that Google “tested” that Reddit post in position 8 within minutes and that user interaction signals indicated to Google’s algorithms that users prefer to see that Reddit post. If that’s the case then it’s not a matter of Google showing preference to Reddit post but rather it’s users that are showing the preference and the algorithm is responding to those preferences.

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Nevertheless, an argument can be made that user preferences for Reddit can be a manifestation of Familiarity Bias. Familiarity Bias is when people show a preference for things that are familiar to them. If a person is familiar with a brand because of all the advertising they were exposed to then they may show a bias for the brand products over unfamiliar brands.

Users who are familiar with Reddit may choose Reddit because they don’t know the other sites in the search results or because they have a bias that Google ranks spammy and optimized websites and feel safer reading Reddit.

Google may be picking up on those user interaction signals that indicate a preference and satisfaction with the Reddit results but those results may simply be biases and not an indication that Reddit is trustworthy and authoritative.

Is Reddit Benefiting From A Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop?

It may very well be that Google’s decision to prioritize user generated content may have started a self-reinforcing pattern that draws users in to Reddit through the search results and because the answers seem plausible those users start to prefer Reddit results. When they’re exposed to more Reddit posts their familiarity bias kicks in and they start to show a preference for Reddit. So what could be happening is that the users and Google’s algorithm are creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Is it possible that Google’s decision to show more user generated content has kicked off a cycle where more users are exposed to Reddit which then feeds back into Google’s algorithm which in turn increases Reddit visibility, regardless of lack of expertise and authoritativeness?

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Kues

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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Featured Image: Vanatchanan/Shutterstock

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