How to Apply User Journey Mapping to Pay Per Click Advertising

How to Apply User Journey Mapping to PPC Advertising


If you’ve been in content marketing for a while, you’ll know those acronyms aren’t some strange culinary trend – they refer to “Top of Funnel,” “Middle of Funnel,” and “Bottom of Funnel.” They’re used to organize content according to the user’s journey, so marketers can deliver more relevant content based on where a prospect is in the buying cycle.

This idea of thinking about content in terms of the user journey can, and should, be applied to PPC advertising. Paid clicks are an ideal way to lead or nudge prospects through their buyer’s journey.

For example: Say Prospect X just viewed a white paper on your website related to a Product Y. You can use that tracking information to show Prospect X an advertisement promoting an interactive tool that shows how much Product Y could save them.

Seeing the landing pages you’re using for your PPC ads through the lens of the buyer’s journey can be especially effective. Here’s one way to do it:

  1. Get a list of your PPC account’s top 100 keywords.

Why 100 keywords? So the next steps in this process don’t become too overwhelming.

If you’ve got a large PPC account, and we told you to “break your keywords into four groups,” you might be looking at the task of sorting 5,000+ keywords. That’s a daunting, time-consuming job.

So simplify it: Pick your top 10-20% most valuable keywords, based on either the revenue they generate, or on the leads they generate, or whichever criteria you want.

Thanks to the 80/20 rule (where roughly 80% of your results come from roughly 20% of your efforts), selecting your top 10-20% most productive keywords will net you the bulk of your account’s results, but not overwhelm you with thousands of keywords to manage.

If you want to include all your keywords, that’s fine. It may be easier to go back and incorporate the lower-volume keywords after you’ve designed the new structure of your keywords, ads, landing pages, and follow-up messaging.

  1. Break those keywords into four groups: Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, Bottom of Funnel, and Retention.

I’ve added retention here because it’s the smart marketer’s move: Everyone has heard the stat about how it’s easier to retain an existing client than it is to find a new client. Well, it’s also easier to get an existing client to spend more money with you, too. So include retention as one of your major keyword categories.

Now – do you have to limit yourself to just four categories? No. You could you organize your keywords into a dozen categories, or several dozen categories. It might even be a smart move… but you’d have a labyrinth of user journey messaging to track and manage.

So it’s best to be frugal with keyword categories. Use as many as you need, certainly: But no more.

Here are a few factors that can be worth creating those new categories for:

  • Different personas.

Personas” is another term from content marketing. You may also know it as “buyer profiles” or “customer types.” Whatever you call them, this refers to different types of prospects that are different enough to warrant customized messaging.

  • Product categories or complementary products.

Can your entire inventory can be broken into a couple of major categories (like above ground versus in-ground pools)? Then it could be worthwhile to create customized messaging for those product lines.

  • Account-based marketing initiatives.

If you are targeting a handful of specific companies, put in the extra effort to customize your messaging for everyone in the company. Clearly, you’re not going to do this for every prospect, but if you want to land a Fortune 50 client, they would probably bring in enough revenue to justify the extra messaging work.

  • Geography.

If your audience doesn’t speak English, you shouldn’t be sending them marketing content in English. And even if they do speak your native tongue, but they’re in, say Australia or the UK, it might help to customize your messaging for prospects from those countries.

Do you hold a conference every year? Is it a massive company investment your entire organization contributes to? Then it might be smart to customize your messaging for past attendees, this year’s attendees, presenters, partners, and other parties.

Again, be frugal with how many additional categories you create. Don’t create a new category unless:

  • This new keyword category really needs different messaging than the general group.
  • You believe that if you give this new group targeted messaging, you’ll be able to increase conversion rates by at least 10-20%.

That’s only a guideline, but it can help keep categories lean. Maybe your marketing financials are such that even an 8% increase in conversion rates would justify creating a whole new messaging funnel for this new category. Maybe not.

Just understand that for every new category you create, you’re going to need:

  • new landing pages
  • new confirmation pages
  • new download assets
  • new ads

There are powerful benefits to customized messaging, but they come with expenses and a level of complexity that can create more headaches than it solves.

  1. Create a spreadsheet that lets you list out each keyword and its user journey phase, PPC ads, and landing page/s.

Like this:

amazon ads TOFU AmazonAds1/2/3/4 AmazonAdsBestPractices
ecommerce PPC MOFU EcommerceCalculator1/2/3/4 PPCEcommerceCalculator

To give you an idea of how much complexity will be added if we include even three personas, here’s that spreadsheet again, but with the messaging segmented out for each persona.

amazon ads CMO TOFU AmazonAds CMO1/2/3/4 AmazonAdsBestPractices CMO
Marketing Manager TOFU AmazonAds Manager1/2/3/4 AmazonAdsBestPractices Manager
CFO TOFU AmazonAds CFO1/2/3/4 AmazonAdsBestPractices CFO
ecommerce PPC CMO MOFU Ecommerce CalculatorCMO1/2/3/4 EcommerceCalculator CMO
Marketing Manager MOFU Ecommerce CalculatorManager1/2/3/4 EcommerceCalculator Manager
CFO MOFU Ecommerce CalculatorCFO1/2/3/4 EcommerceCalculator CFO

Adding three personas triples the work of creating, setting up, and testing the messaging for each user journey. And that’s just for three personas. If we added a couple of languages and two product categories, you’d have quite a lot of user journeys to keep straight.

This doesn’t mean the returns aren’t worth the work. Or that there aren’t tools that can help you manage all those messages. But tread carefully. Segmented messaging gets complicated really fast.

Inheriting Someone Else’s Mess PPC and Landing Page Structure

Most marketers will not be launching a new PPC account from scratch. They’ll inherit an account that was built by a predecessor, or by an agency, or by some long-since disbanded team.

In other words, they’ll inherit someone else’s mess.

In this case, the marketer needs to go in and map all the keyword groupings, all the ad groups, ads, and landing pages, and all the follow-up messaging. They need to do a complete audit. So once again, it’s time to open up a spreadsheet and document where all the assets are.

If possible, it’s good to get conversion rates for each landing page, and click and conversion rates for each ad. That can help prioritize which keyword/ad/landing page sets need help first.

We’ve been referring to keywords throughout this article, but if you’re using PPC audiences, the same principles apply. It’s typically a little harder to sort audiences into top, middle, and bottom of the funnel, but it can be done. Especially with the right tool.

Closing thoughts

Google Ads made its fortune by leveraging one key principle of marketing: Relevance. Instead of showing general-audience ads to searchers, it showed ads related to those searches. That allowed Google to make dramatically more money than it otherwise would have… and has allowed the rest of us to make more money, too.

Relevancy is the golden law of PPC marketing.

PPC marketers need to think in terms of relevancy all the time. And generally, they do. But prospects’ needs change. A prospect who just learned your company exists should be shown different information than a prospect who’s seen a demo of yours and is closely comparing your company to a competitor.

The better your marketing can adapt to wherever people are in the user’s journey, the more sales you’ll make.




  1. Unsplash, Vlad Bagacian.
Pam Neely

Pam Neely

Pam Neely has been in digital marketing for 20 years. She's a serial entrepreneur and content marketing enthusiast with a background in publishing and journalism, including a New York Press Award and a Hermes Creative Award for blogging. She has a Master's Degree in Direct and Interactive Marketing from New York University. Follow her on Twitter @pamellaneely.

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