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Setting goals for PPCI’ve often been asked the question, “What keywords should I target for paid search?”. I don’t think this is the right way to approach paid search investment.

Focusing on keywords first risks making your paid search program untargeted and alienating it from your overall business goals.

I prefer the question: “How can paid search support my business goals?”.

When I first looked at PPC (probably back in 2002), I thought in terms of keywords because I didn’t appreciate where paid search fitted in to the direct channel. Now I think in terms of goals. How can paid search support e-commerce goals and what do we want to achieve?

This blog is my explanation for why you should start your paid search project by defining goals and KPIs, and then let the keywords follow.

Paid search is part of the bigger picture

Paid search is a digital marketing channel, not a business strategy. Though it’s possible, I’ve not yet come across a business that uses paid search as its only marketing channel. Therefore, paid search is part of the whole and needs to be aligned with your other marketing channels, both online and offline.

The first discussion to have is how paid search fits in. The learning from your existing marketing channels can help influence PPC planning, in relation to demographic and geographic targeting.

It’s essential that you stop and consider the role paid search will play in customer acquisition and retention.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What gaps do you currently have?
  • What products/services/content do you currently struggle to get attention for?
  • What conversions do you want to increase?
  • Which webpages aren’t doing well for natural search (SEO) that you could give a short-term boost for using paid search?
  • How can paid search support other channels like display and offline advertising?

Goals provide direction

Most businesses will have a potential PPC market of hundreds of thousands of keyword queries, if not millions. Churning through all of these combinations is resource intensive, not to mention mind numbingly tedious. How do you pick? On total available impressions? On estimated cost per click (CPC)? On competition levels?

If you start with your business goals, you can filter your keyword targeting by applying in to specific areas.

For example, a formal clothing hire company identifies Highlandwear as a strategic focus due to its unrivalled product range, competitive pricing & store network enabling local pick-up. The digital marketing manager can instruct the paid search executive to focus keyword research & campaign planning on this subject area.

The paid search exec can take this to the next level and benchmark current “Highlandwear” keyword coverage for SEO and focus the paid search campaigns on keyword queries where the business currently has poor SEO visibility but there is significant market potential.

KPIs enable measurement & evaluation

Each business will have a unique approach to measuring performance and defining success. Whilst revenue is clearly a target for all commercial enterprises, strategies to achieve this vary.

For example, one company might put the emphasis on increasing average order value by driving sales for high ticket items, whereas another tasks the marketing team to acquire as many customers as possible within a cost per acquisition (CPA) threshold limit. The KPIs that a business uses depends upon the financial model it follows.

It’s essential that after defining goals, you agree the KPIs that performance will be measured against and create a benchmark of where the business if before you invest in your paid search.

Knowing the KPIs you are measuring investment against will influence your paid search execution. It will affect elements like:

  • Which products/services you are pushing
  • Which keywords you target (whether you focus on head, mid or long tail queries, or a blend)
  • Your bidding structure
  • Your campaign budget
  • The content of your ads
  • What promotions you use

Reporting & review cycles provide focus

Now that you have goals & KPIs agreed, you need to decide how often you are going to report on progress. It would be crazy to unleash a paid search project and then have no structured approach to evaluating progress and evolving plans. Defining goals and KPIs gives you a focus for your reports.

This involves deciding:

  • How will you report (i.e. what format?)
  • Who is responsible for generating reports?
  • How will reports by circulated and to whom?
  • Who is responsible for interpreting the data in the reports?
  • How will you act on learning from the reports?

Markets fluctuate, so it’s possible that a short-term spike or fall in one KPI for an individual PPC ad group isn’t lasting. This is where your review cycle comes in to play. Decide how often you intend to review paid search campaigns and at what level. For example:

  • A daily Dashboard review of top-level KPIs to monitor spikes/falls.
  • A weekly management report of ad group performance against KPIs.
  • A monthly strategic review of keyword performance to determine on-going ad structure and bidding approach.

It’s rare for a keyword to be dropped after a few days of ‘poor performance’ because it can often take weeks of optimising to make paid search ads perform really well. However, with a limited budget you do need to have plans in place to react to keywords/ad groups that are devouring the budget and delivering low returns.

Keywords deliver results

Once you have built this structure, it then becomes much more intuitive to do the keyword research and build out campaigns. At this stage you already know:

  • What the goals of the business are
  • What products/services/content is the priority
  • How paid search fits in to the marketing program
  • What KPIs you will measure results against
  • What your current benchmark is for each KPI
  • How you will report on PPC performance
  • How you will review performance

How do you approach paid search?

This is a simplified explanation but from your experience, does my blog hit the mark? When planning paid search (either for your own website or for Clients), where do you start? What planning is done before you even consider building campaigns?

Please drop by with comments and opinions based on your experience with planning paid search.

James Gurd

Published 7 August, 2012 by James Gurd

James Gurd is Owner of Digital Juggler, an ecommerce and digital marketing consultancy, and a contributor to Econsultancy.He can be found on on Twitter,  LinkedIn and Google+.

49 more posts from this author

Comments (15)

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Nick Stamoulis

" I’ve not yet come across a business that uses paid search as its only marketing channel. "

I've met some that have tried! Don't look at your marketing as an all or nothing. You need a little bit of everything to be successful in the long run.

about 4 years ago


Helen Laws

Great article covering exactly what should be considered before creating a paid search campaign. Although, it does suggest that paid search shouldn't be considered where a product or service is ranking organically. I find - more so now than ever - that paid search doesn't necessarily take away from the organic listing and both can perform better as you have increased visibility of your company on the search results page, so I would always consider a trial of paid search even if they rank organically for that product or service.

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

Thanks for the comments.

Nick - yep, I know some people who are highly reliant on paid search and ignoring other channels. It often costs them more than they need to pay.

Helen - I certainly didn't intend it to read as a recommendation for stopping paid search where you have good organic coverage. However, with a limited budget, it can often pay to invest paid search pennies in high priority keywords where you have no decent organic coverage as this will usually increase total acquisition. It's rare for keywords on page 2 or lower to get high organic traffic levels. Plus you can use paid search to increase the quality score of landing pages by driving converting traffic - this can have a positive knock on effect on organic ranking.

However, every brand and market is different, so it's up to the web manager to test and use analytics data to validate the optimum blend of paid and organic.

So yes, you are right that a trial of paid + organic vs. paid only vs. organic only etc is the most sensible way to optimise search marketing. I deliberately steered away from this discussion in the blog as I though it would side track from the key point and I do side track myself easily when writing blogs:)


about 4 years ago


Matt Whitehead

Good read. At the most basic level every business has one goal - increase X (X being the KPI).

Focusing on keywords rather than growth is a very dated outlook and it's great to hear people evangelising it!

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Thanks Matt for the positive comment. I never realised i was an Evangelist, I'll add that to my website:)


about 4 years ago


Terry Arena

Hi James,

Great article - some really useful thoughts and takeaways. Can you just clarify one thing for me?

You mentioned the following:

"Plus you can use paid search to increase the quality score of landing pages by driving converting traffic - this can have a positive knock on effect on organic ranking"

What do you mean exactly?



about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Terry,

Thanks for dropping by.

Of course I can clarify. Basically, search engines assign a quality rating to a webpage based on a wide variety of signals. One group of signals is relevance/popularity. The more your webpage gets visited and the greater the quality of engagement with that page (e.g. time spent on site, actions taken, content shared socially etc) then the stronger the signal to search engines that this page is relevant to that search term.

If you are using paid search and targeting your ads intelligently, it's possible to get a lot of good traffic that will convert (whether that conversion is a sale or taking another action, like sharing your content on social networks). This increases the perceived value of the page by search engines, helping you with paid search (you can often get a lower cpc than competitors if your ad performs really well) and also with SEO as the search engines now know that your page is highly relevant for the search term.

Hopefully that sounds as logical as it does in my head!


about 4 years ago


Mark Stonham

James, great article, with many key messages that apply beyond Paid Search.

Goals, for example, can be at strategic, operational and tactical level, and align with the reporting and review structure you outlined.

This all joins up into a Sales Funnel approach, where again Goals are the starting point, and the reference for decisions, to make sure they take the business closer to the goal.


about 4 years ago


Jamil Kassam, Global eTrade Marketing Manager at Philips

James...are you implying that buying PPC ads will help drive better SEO rankings? I was under the impression that Google have always denied this. Also, how does Google know (unless you are using GA/conversion tracking etc) that the traffic you are buying through PPC is converting into sales for example.

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Jamil,

I'm implying that increasing click through and visits to your webpages that doesn't bounce will increase the perceived quality of that webpage, which can have a positive impact on organic search.

I've seen that happen in the past for keywords where there was a focus on PPC but poor SEO coverage.

I'm not saying it is a definitive link but I've seen evidence that there can be a benefit.

I was assuming that conversion tracking was in place - it would be unadvisable to spend money on marketing and have no way to measure the impact.

That said, I certainly wouldn't advocate using PPC to substitute effective SEO.


about 4 years ago


Olivia H

What a breath of fresh air! I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, I just wish everyone else did too. Having recently interviewed for a number of senior digital marketing positions it is truly frightening to see how many organisations are utterly clueless when it comes to strategy, budgeting, testing and reporting.

I personally blame the rise of web 2.0 which enabled the inadequate skills of a number of marketers to flood the digital space and hide behind bamboozling stats and rigid CPA models with no thought for attribution or how the digital piece fits overall. We must remember that we are marketers first and foremost and not get carried away by every new digital innovation but instead take a considered strategic and operational view based on customer and company needs.

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Olivia,

The reality is that e-commerce and digital marketing is still a very young, immature industry, The rate of change and progress may be staggering but the majority of people working in this industry don't have many years of experience. And alas it does attract 'experts' who don't really understand the strategic/commercial implications of decisions. This is usually a sign of client side teams who don't know what to expect or how to evaluate the capabilities of service providers.

That said, there are some wonderful digital marketers out there doing a lot of very clever and innovative campaigns.

For those who don't have their skill and experience, hopefully this blog helps them understand the bigger picture and think before committing to investment.

Thanks for taking time to comment.


about 4 years ago


Mary Keane-Dawson


i would just like to congratulate you on an extremely good blog. It is very important that voices such as yours are enabling the search specialist community and the wider digital marketing fraternity to bridge the gap in expertise and understanding. The silo mentality has to be banished as it is unhelpful to the disciplines and more worryingly, to the clients. Being goal centric isn't rocket science, but too often those that promote that ppc key words are the most powerful tool in the digital box, are fighting the clients wish for transparency and the usefulness of attribution modelling in the strategic decision making process.

Best wishes,


about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Hi Mary,

Thanks for taking the time to share your comments.

As a generalist, it is my job to help Clients align the different disciplines of e-commerce and digital marketing, in both the direct channel and the wider business. It's a big challenge but an interesting one.

I think a lot of people accept that you need goals, targets & KPIs, just that in the heat of battle a lot of this goes out the window. If this blog helps a few people stop and take stock of what they're doing, i'll be a happy man.


about 4 years ago



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about 4 years ago

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