Making the case for more non-brand funding in paid search Search Engine Watch


Making the case for more non-brand funding in paid search

When you’ve worked in paid search for as long as I have, you’ve undoubtedly received emails from your clients that all go a little something like the one given below.

Hi [insert your name here],

Revenue is looking a little lighter than usual this month versus last year. What can we do to close the gap? Please let me know by EOD today.


[insert client name here]

Short, sweet, and oh-so-stressful, or at least it used to be. But now? Well, this isn’t your first rodeo, my fellow PPC partner, you’re prepared. Placed firmly in your holster is a solution that’s fully loaded. Ok, enough with the quick draw metaphors, let’s dig into how to respond, assuming the following criteria are being met:

  • You can confirm the trends your client is seeing.
  • Brand checks out (since it accounts for the majority of your revenue at any given moment):
    1. Brand terms are maxed out aka meeting or exceeding a certain impression share threshold.
    2. You are serving against the same brand terms as last year, but if not they are at least being caught by BMM.
    3. No new competitors have entered the auction or suddenly become more aggressive, causing CPCs to rise and in turn, cause traffic and revenue to fall behind.
  • The right ads are active and all available real estate is being utilized.

Find yourself checking all the boxes? This is usually indicative of brand demand decline, a trend that is all too common among online retailers due primarily to the rise of Amazon. Yo, Bezos! What gives? As a secondary check, we use Google Trends to confirm brand demand decline. But if all the boxes above are checked, odds are the plague is real. Fortunately, you’ve got the silver bullet (metaphor alert). Unfortunately, your client may shoot you down before you’re able to use it. Why? Because that silver bullet is non-brand.

I’m serious, and I’d be happy to explain

All too often we neglect non-brand CPC advertising because, in the client’s eyes, it’s seen as one or all of the following:

  • Too expensive
  • Too competitive
  • A lot of work for a little payoff
  • Not beneficial to the bottom line

And most of the time, they’re completely right. Hard to argue with that, right? Wrong. Focusing purely on search text, non-brand has the power to close the gap widened over time by brand demand decline. However, there are stipulations. Most importantly, we’ve got to stop measuring the success, or validity, of non-brand based on last-click attribution. If we stay this course, the tactic will continue to be deprioritized and defunded and basically never given a chance.

Think of non-brand collectively as those keywords in your account that ads rarely get a chance to serve against because bids aren’t competitive enough. Instead, Non-Brand success should be measured based on its multi-touch influence. There are several apt attribution models out there, the trick is honing in on one that both you and your client can agree on. This usually requires both parties to do a bit of extra digging up front.

For example, one of my clients made the decision to increase its non-brand investment after (a) being plagued by brand demand decline and (b) learning that each time our non-brand investment increased, omnichannel sales — both grew online and offline. This happened outside of peak online retail season, too, so it wasn’t just an anomaly. From that moment on, we stopped viewing non-brand as a last-click attribution tactic and started assigning a certain multiplier to the last-click revenue it generated to better defend our investment. Positive by-products of this change included:

  • Increased brand awareness, resulting in more Brand searches which helped to reverse the downward trend caused by brand demand decline.
  • New customer acquisition, resulting in larger audience pools and more efficient spend, particularly in Non-Brand where audiences are often applied (why inflate brand CPCs by bidding up on audiences there?)
  • Greater SERP ownership by serving non-brand and PLAs simultaneously for certain products, resulting in higher visibility and CTR.

If you’re like me, even overwhelmingly positive change can be scary, so during this time, I kept my eyes peeled for the first hint of danger. Surprisingly, negative by-products of this change were sparse and totally manageable:

  1. Higher CPCs, resulting in a lower last-click ROAS, pre-multiplier
    • Solution: Created alerts using proprietary tech that pinged us on Slack when CPCs rose considerably (also set max bid rules)
  2. Larger potential for keyword and ad copy/extension misalignment
    • Solution: Created an Excel macros doc for fast-n-easy creation of new campaign/ad group/keyword structures, including a tab for ad group-to-ad copy concatenation + rigorous QA process (Manager > Senior Manager > Lead = Live)

Still not convinced?

One of our wiser presidents, FDR, once said,

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

That’s really all your client is asking of you. If it fails, it fails, then you move on to the next thing. In the meantime, however, here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • Consider investing as much as you did last year in non-brand, at a minimum.
  • Investment level could also be just enough to maintain a certain impression share threshold on various high-visibility products, especially if your competitors are less visible or non-existent in those spaces.
  • Try to maintain a steady investment level — even if it’s on the lower end, so as not to inflate CPCs by erratically pausing/enabling, as we undeniably tend to do with non-brand.
  • Running display? At least with non-brand search, people are actively looking for products associated with those terms (pull media) versus being served an ad for certain products regardless of search intent (push media)

What are your thoughts on non-brand CPC advertising? Share them in the comments.

Katy Winans is a Senior SEM Manager at PMG.

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