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The Full-Funnel Approach to Paid Search

By: Brett DiFranco    July 23, 2019

Most paid search programs focus most of their budget at the bottom of the funnel. It makes sense, as the low-funnel visits are from individuals who are actively seeking your brand’s products or services. Those types of site visits are extremely valuable and convey strong purchase intent. From a measurement perspective, they look great on your client’s metric reports. Low-funnel metrics are almost always going to be the most efficient on your monthly reports. Search marketers avoid upper-funnel paid search because upper-funnel metrics won’t look good when compared to bottom-funnel KPIs.

The problem with only using paid search as a bottom of the funnel tactic, is that it doesn’t align with the present reality of how consumers use search engines for purchase research and decision-making. Adopting a full-funnel approach to your paid search program will help your business maximize the impact of the channel.

In order to convince your client or bosses that paid search should be a full-funnel approach, make sure you’re ready to discuss the following talking points:

Every relevant search is a potential sale or lead for your business.

Advertisers must not forget how valuable a relevant search on Google is to their business. Every relevant search, regardless of its place in the in the purchase funnel, has value because it is initiated by a potential customer who has conveyed interest in the topic and has committed to pausing whatever else they were doing, and using that time to research the topic and engage with brands. It is hard to argue that there is any better ad click than from someone who just searched on a keyword that is relevant to your business.

Make sure you have a good understanding of your own purchase funnel.

Not all paid search traffic is equal. To know which mid- and upper-funnel keywords have the most value, you must fully and intimately understand your product or service, and how consumers research it on Google. Pinpoint the mid- and upper-funnel keywords that are most likely to be searched on during your customer’s path to purchase.

It is also important to create the right ad copy and messaging to attract and qualify potential customers. Mid- and upper-funnel keywords tend to yield more ambiguous search results, so crafting copy that attracts the right type of customer is crucial. Your landing pages must also address that visitor at whatever stage of the funnel they are in.

Evaluate the performance of each stage of the funnel differently.

Upper-funnel search should be measured as awareness-generating activity, similar to a display campaign. Upper-funnel search may absolutely be driving or assisting in driving conversions, but the tracking won’t always reflect that. I recommend measuring upper-funnel search based on its ability to drive impressions to a very targeted audience.

Some may argue that a more visual ad format would be more effective for an awareness-based tactic, but one could also argue that paid search is the more valuable channel, as you are reaching the consumer while they are actively raising their hand on a topic. Additionally, an advertiser is only charged when their ad is clicked, so the impressions are free, and the decision is further validated when clicks are generated as that visitor has admittedly found value and relevance in your ad.

Middle-funnel search should be measured on its ability to drive engagement. Consumers in your middle-funnel campaigns should be considered highly valuable and qualified, even though they may not be ready to purchase or become a lead. I recommend looking at metrics such as clicks, time spent on-site, and bounce rate to gauge the performance of this traffic.

Lower-funnel search should still be gauged by conversion metrics. Conversion volume, cost-per-acquisition, return on ad spend and conversion rate are some that can help paint the picture of success for your bottom-funnel campaigns.