Precision as a Search Ad Strategy

For success with your search ad campaigns – be precise.

Whether your goals are tied to awareness, conversions, or ROI, all aspects of your campaign should be focused on specificity, not inclusivity. This approach may seem to run counter to the features, structure, and even instructions that search ad platforms offer, but it’s absolutely essential.

To your target audience, your ads must be specific answers to their specific questions. And your website is the expert.


Attention is scarce. And whatever your campaign goal, you need their attention. The digital world has re-aligned expectations when hunting for information and solutions. Everybody expects to find exactly what they’re looking for, and fast. Even if you’re on topic, your audience has little patience for relating indirect content to the specific words swirling around in their head. It’s easier to just move on to the next search result, until there’s one that is speaking directly to them.

How do you speak directly to your target audience? Message match. Directly to their search phrase. In all aspects of your campaign – without exception.

This approach is more work, there’s no way around that. But if done correctly, the payoff will be well worth it.

It starts with defining the target audience. With high variable costs, search ad campaigns can be expensive. It’s best then, to ensure that your campaigns are targeting and capturing your highest value customers. These are customers that have a high likelihood to convert and become repeat customers, maximizing lifetime value, and, if possible, require a relatively low level of ongoing maintenance.

Define any common demographic and behavioral traits you can among three categories: location of search, device used in search, and hour of the week of the search. Segment key groups among these three categories into different campaigns so that you can use bid modifiers to help target these traits. Use these characteristics, and others, in ad and landing page messaging to relate more directly with your target audience.

Next, conduct detailed keyword research and identify short and specific key phrases used by your target audience. From here, create a direct match between the search phrase and your keyword. There will only be one keyword for each ad group – the exact search phrase. This method is sometimes referred to as SKAGs (single keyword ad groups). This structure is critical to message match, and will deliver you the attention you need.

You are now aligning yourself directly with those words floating around in your target audience’s mind, maximizing your relevance and commanding attention.

Your audience’s search phrase will also be used as your ad headline. The remaining ad content will depend on the target audience’s intent when using this key phrase. Which part of the buying cycle are they in? Craft content with this in mind to address the audience’s specific concerns at this part in the buying cycle. Use the charts below from Neil Patel to determine in which phase your audience exists when using this search term, and as a result, what aspects of your offering are most important to them at that moment.

Audience Concern of Need

Audience Buying Cycle

Your target audience is essentially writing your ad for you. Remember – your ad is the specific answer to their specific question. And what else? Your website is the expert. That brings us to the landing page.

When your audience clicks on your ad, they expect to be greeted with content that continues congruency with their original inquiry. The best way to manage this is to use Dynamic Keyword Insertion on your landing page through URL parameters. This ensures that your audience’s exact key phrase used in their search query appears in both your ad headline and the lead heading in your landing page. With this, you achieve the ultimate in message match and relevance – maximizing not only the click through rate of your ad, but also the conversion rate on your landing page.

To achieve message match – use your target audience’s exact search phrase as your keyword (one per ad group), ad headline, and landing page headline. This means that for every search phrase you target, you will need a separate ad group. This account structure requires more time investment and attention to detail. It is the opposite of “set it and forget it.” But for long-term success in search ads, it is crucial. Look for opportunities to use technology to assist in campaign management. Invest in development to automate repetitive creation, bidding, and analytic processes where possible.

The precision strategy leads to better campaign performance measurement and optimization – key principles of agile marketing – than any other account structure. Isolating each ad group to one keyword allows you to achieve more specificity in performance by identifying exactly which keywords (and by design, which audience’s search phrase) performs best and worst for your specific goal. From there you have precise control to optimize performance by pausing ad groups and adjusting bids.

Implement continuous procedures to regularly monitor the search term report and ensure there is an exact match between your top search terms and the keyword triggering your ad to appear for that search term. For any search terms that don’t exactly match with your keyword, create a new ad group using that search term as the keyword and ad headline. Use ad group level negative keywords on the original ad group to ensure that this search term no longer triggers the original ad group through the original keyword. Repeat this process until all top search terms exactly match a keyword, and subesequently ad and landing page content.

When you implement this strategy for your search ads, two KPIs will go through the roof – Click Through Rate and Conversion Rate. If your goal is awareness, this will help you sell your message and encourage interaction with your brand. If your goal is conversions, you’re driving more of your target audience to your website, and converting more of them. Finally, if your goal is ROI, you achieve this through maximizing CTR and ad relevance, which leads to better Quality Scores and lower CPC.

How can you afford not to make precision your search ad strategy?

Have You Been Gamified?

A gamer. Likely the first image that flashes through your head is a recluse in a dimly lit room, carefully constructing the perfect fortress or barking orders into a headset – directing a squadron of cybernated soldiers to sweet, sweet victory. But, in many ways, you’re probably more of a gamer than you think.

Games have been around forever. The oldest chess piece dates from 465 A.D., excavated in a palace basement in Albania. From family game night to a round of “I Spy” or “20 Questions” to pass time on a road trip – you’ve been gaming since your adolescent years. In today’s culture, friendly competition has infected so many aspects of our lives. In the last few months you may have participated in a State of the Union drinking game, picked the Oscars, and filled in your annual March Madness bracket. It was hardly surprising that coinciding with the start of the “Big Dance,” an explosion of alternate brackets began circling the social-sphere, inspiring debates on everything from the best Disney movies to the best Mariah Carey singles.

We participate in these mini-games to increase our interest in things and events that, otherwise, may only command a passing glance in our busy lives. I just checked my fantasy baseball team. Without the game, who’s achieving the most success on the diamond would have never wandered through my brain today, or for matter, the past few years. The digital world has connected us to so much information, so much entertainment, and so many possibilities, that the best way for anything to capture our attention is to become a game.

Games create competition, and give us someone to cheer on. The only reason you can name an alpine skier or a figure skater is because you watched the Olympics and were following your country’s team, which, uncoincidentally, dominates Olympic coverage in your region.

In business, this can be used to your advantage. Gamification, or, the application of game design to non-game contexts, is an important new technique for success in today’s fast-paced digital world. As a consumer, you’ve been gamified already – whether you realize it or not. From the digital badges on Nike+, to the progress bar in your Mint account, to your current Starbucks level. These game mechanics, among others, are being consistently employed by market-leaders in their product development to increase engagement and attention among their customer base. If you’re not thinking about gamification in your product design – you should be.

Perhaps more importantly, adding elements of competition to internal projects can capture interest and boost productivity for you and your employees. This is often overlooked as leadership obsesses and struggles over how to halt decreases in productivity caused by new-age digital distractions. Instead, consider how you can borrow from the elements that make these distractions so distracting in the first place, and implement them into your project management and ongoing operational activities.

Want to learn more? There’s even an online Wharton course offered in Gamification. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself watching a progress bar move a little closer to completion after each assignment.

The Very Best of Meditations

Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is full of inspirational dogma. These are some of my favorite passages.

2:11 (Excerpt)
But death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they are neither noble nor shameful – and hence neither good nor bad.

Your ability to control thoughts – treat it with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions – false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and submission to the divine.

People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.

But suppose that those who remembered you were immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do you? And I don’t just mean when you’re dead, but in your own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your lifestyle a little more comfortable?

You’re out of step – neglecting the gifts of nature to hand on someone’s words in the future.

5:16 (Excerpt)
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone – those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us – a chasm whose depths we cannot see.

So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.

So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.

The best revenge is not to be like that.

If anyone can refute me – show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective – I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

6:44 (Excerpt)
My city and state are Rome – as Antoninus. But as a human being? The world. So for me, “good” can only mean what’s good for both communities.

6:47 (Excerpt)
The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.

When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them.

It’s good to keep this in mind.

Do your best to convince them. But act on your own, if justice requires it. If met with force, then fall back on acceptance and peaceability. Use the setback to practice other virtues.

Remember that our efforts are subject to circumstances; you weren’t aiming to do the impossible.
– Aiming to do what, then?
To try. And you succeeded. What you set out to do is accomplished.

Treat what you don’t have as nonexistent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them. But be careful. Don’t feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them – that it would upset you to lose them.

“And why should we feel anger at the world?
As if the world would notice!”

To watch the courses of the stars as if you revolved with them. To keep constantly in mind how the elements alter into one another. Thoughts like this wash off the mud of life below.

Everywhere, at each moment you have the option:
– to accept this event with humility
– to treat this person as he should be treated
– to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in

You can hold your breath until you turn blue, but they’ll still go on doing it.

To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.

To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice – it degrades you.

To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

Continual awareness of all time and space, of the size and life span of the things around us. A grape seed in infinite space. A half twist of a corkscrew against eternity.

The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within.

12:3 (Excerpt)
Your three components: body, breath, mind. Two are yours in trust; to the third alone you have clear title.

Momentum Forest

Astronauts, upon returning to Earth, often find they have acquired a renewed perspective on life and society. They feel connected and at peace – to each other, to the Earth, and to the universe. Many call it the overview effect – brought on by the overwhelming experience of observing a borderless, fragile world spin beneath their feet in just 90 minutes. All of society’s conflict and disagreements are suddenly too petty to be worth a thought. Mankind’s most distant, insurmountable goals – world peace and the end of suffering – now seem manageable.

It’s uplifting to imagine a time when all of humanity is afflicted with the overview effect. But that’s a long way off – the joie de vivre of some future generation, should we find the courage for preservation. In the present, we are too flawed. We draw borders on our maps to bring order to the world and we create borders in our minds to heed our impulses – for better or worse.

To meet our goals, we need rules and boundaries to keep us on task and moving forward. We are too weak to let our own predispositions be our only guide. The modern, app-filled world gives us the tools to create the boundaries just right for us. Two of my favorites are Momentum (for habits) and Forest (for productivity). They both keep me accountable and focused on what’s important, while being flexible enough to adapt to changing goals and lifestyle. I call it my Momentum Forest.

Despite returning to the Momentum Forest for years, endlessly checking boxes and planting digital trees on my phone still strikes me as silly and superfluous. But it’s necessary. After all, I’ve yet to witness the Earth spin beneath my feet in 90 minutes.