As digital marketers, we have a wealth of data at our disposal, affording us the ability to measure our successes and failures in real-time. With the ability to measure, track and chart our performance, though, comes a tendency to hone in on the things that can be measured, tracked and charted. That can lead to a tunnel-vision focus on conversion. While conversion is typically the end goal of a digital marketing program, it can be easy to forget that it is the end goal. Even in conversion-driven tactics like pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, it’s important to reach consumers at all stages of the buyer’s journey, starting long before conversion.

Your prospects’ journey to conversion probably looks something like this:

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Image credit: http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2232627/underneath-the-funnel

Or, perhaps a little more like this:

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Image credit: http://chiefmartec.com/2013/09/fire-funnel-5-stages-real-buyers-journey/

Or, realistically, even like this:

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Image credit: http://blogs.forrester.com/lori_wizdo/12-10-04-buyer_behavior_helps_b2b_marketers_guide_the_buyers_journey

 

However complicated your customers’ decision-making process may be, the conversion point is only one small part of it. If you are using paid search with a tunnel-vision focus on metrics like conversion rate and cost per action, you might be overlooking the majority of your prospects at other points in the journey.

While PPC is geared toward producing a measurable ROI, it can and should be used to reach potential customers at early stages of the buyer’s journey. Here are a few ways for reaching your target audience there:

1. Create brand awareness campaigns.

The downside of branding campaigns is that the ROI is hard to measure. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Why not extend your offline branding campaigns to reach your audience in their online activities as well?

Consider an example of this clever brand awareness paid search program. Snickers built an entire campaign that bid on more than 2,500 misspellings of 500 high-volume search queries to build awareness around a Snickers bar as an easy fix for being so hungry you can’t spell.

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Image credit: Screenshot from video at http://adage.com/article/creativity-pick-of-the-day/snickers-bids-misspelled-google-words-offer-candy-antidote/241189/

Sure, the ad includes a call to action that ultimately pushes the purchase of a candy bar, but its overarching focus is making consumers aware of Snickers as a great solution to hunger.

Side note: PPC can also be used for branding through channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. Social networks and video are some of the most consumed content on the Internet, and as such, are a great place to build brand awareness.

Or course, performance results like click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate from branding-oriented PPC campaigns will vary widely from your lead generation campaign results. Consider metrics you typically ignore, like impression share, for example, to gauge your success.

2. Use paid search to meet broad queries and answer informational queries.

Another way to build brand awareness is to use search to provide answers to broad queries that indicate a searcher is in initial stages of the buyer’s journey. Using the example of someone thinking about buying a baby stroller, a prospect in the awareness phase might simply be searching on broad terms like baby strollers, stroller brands or types of strollers rather than best strollers for jogging or graco stroller coupon code.

On the flip side, you can also incorporate tail terms. A large portion of search queries are long-tail and informational in nature, such as how do I do this, or where can I find out more about that? Build PPC campaigns that bid on long-tail informational keywords and build site content to support it.

For example, the stroller company Bugaboo realized several years ago that its target audience – new parents – was actively looking for information about where to go and what to do with their kids. In direct response, Bugaboo created award-winning content that provided an answer to their questions, including an interactive website with suggestions for kid-friendly day trips in cities around the world.

This content could be used to support both organic listings for and paid promotion of the content on queries like, things to do with toddlers in paris or stroller-friendly attractions in l.a., likely low-cost, low-competition queries compared to keywords like buy a stroller online.

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Image credits: Compilation of a Google screen capture; Video screen capture from http://www.72andsunny.com/work/bugaboo/daytrips/film-daytrips

Tap into the needs of your target audience. What informational search queries are you seeing come through your internal site search and organic search? What kinds of questions are prospects and customers asking across your social media? Use this knowledge to widen your paid search program.

3. Use analytics to measure your impact.

To measure the impact of awareness and brand-focused PPC, look at metrics like impressions and impression share. How many people are seeing your brand message on the search results page?

Second, both Google AdWords and Google Analytics provide search funnel reports that allow you to see the paid keyword and query paths that lead to conversion. Look for themes among the initial queries and think about expanding upon those ideas in your paid strategy.

hird, track engagement through metrics such as average visit duration, time on site and percent of new visitors.

Wrap-Up

Top-of-the funnel PPC programs might not feel as glamorous as their bottom-of-the-funnel counterparts – without the high CTRs and conversion rates that make ROI obvious. But think of them as the assist. The more you can do during awareness, the more conversions your programs will produce later.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Top-to-Bottom Strategy Series, where I help you drive impact during the engagement phase.