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How-to: use paid search for branding

Published: December 31, 2014

Author: Jaime Sikora

Paid search was not ideally built with branding in mind. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for branding; many large-scale brands choose to use paid search simply for branding needs. However, choosing key performance indicators can be tricky when CPA, conversions, and ROAS are off the table. Here are some key points when it comes to knowing what to look at to measure success in a brand-focused account.

Set Goals

First and foremost (and this goes for ALL paid search accounts), know your goals and why you want to do paid search. For brand-focused accounts, decide what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to position your brand as a leader in its industry? Are you trying to reshape your brand’s image? Are you trying to highlight an offering of your company that the general public might not be aware of? Deciding on what you are trying to accomplish is an important first step toward knowing what metrics are most important to your account.

Click-Through Rate

Click-through rate is usually one of the top KPIs for branded accounts. It’s definitely important, but you must make sure you’re looking at it the right way. Simply setting a KPI of achieving a certain CTR and then walking away won’t benefit you. Additionally, branded terms always have higher CTRs than non-branded terms, and competitor terms mostly have a poor CTR. If you or your agency simply gets robotic about attempting to achieve a certain CTR, you’ll end up dedicating all your money toward your branded terms, which probably isn’t what you want to do. Additionally, you may end up turning off important keywords simply because they have poor CTRs. In the instance you have a service company that you want to position as a leader in quality service, and the keyword ‘quality service’ has a poor CTR, the solution is NOT to pause or delete the keyword. Instead, look at the queries driving the keyword being served.
Maybe some negatives need to be added. Look at what other ads might be serving on the SERP at the same time; perhaps one of the competitors has more compelling copy, and optimizing your copy is the answer here.

Choose Keywords Carefully; Watch SQRs Like a Hawk

As mentioned earlier, once you decide your goals, choose your keywords appropriately. In the instance you want to position your brand as a leader in terms of quality, you will want to make sure you include non-brand keywords that convey quality. Exact- and phrase-match keywords are usually a good choice; broad match modified can be good if you’re going for volume and awareness. However, what’s most important is watching the SQR and making sure you’re only serving ads on queries that align with your brand image. Perhaps if there’s a news or opinion article that negatively portrays your brand, you may not want to serve ads on these kind of terms (or you might want to specifically target these kind of queries with combative ad copy). Additionally, just looking over the queries can help offer up information on brand perception.
In terms of competitor keywords, it really depends. A couple things to consider: are your competitors serving on your branded terms? If they’re not already, you may open a can of worms by serving on theirs. Are you specifically trying to position your brand against your competitors? One recommendation is, in the instance you do choose to go the competitor route, it’s good to have competitor keywords in a separate campaign with specifically tailored ad copy. With the objective of branding in mind, when showing on competitor terms, it never hurts to mention your own brand name a couple of times (in the headline & D1 or D2) to help drive the point home. The busy skimmer could use a little extra help sometimes.

Impression Share

Another thing to consider is Impression Share. In the instance you’re running paid search on your branded terms, you’ll most likely want to target for 100% impression share, although this, of course, depends on budget. Additionally, like we mentioned earlier, if your brand is trying to convey a certain message, such as quality, target a higher impression share on these keywords (90%+ would be ideal, but also ambitious and potentially expensive) vs. looking strictly for high-performing CTRs.
If you want to convey a certain message, you’ll really want to focus on ‘owning’ certain queries. In order to achieve the super-high-impression shares, you’ll need an average position in the 1-2 range.


Analytics metrics are also worth considering. However, there’s a huge heavy caveat with analytics: it doesn’t start recording data until you visit a second page within the site. Therefore, a user could click through a paid search ad, landing on the landing page, read the page thoroughly, and, without visiting a second page, leave. This user will have a 100% bounce rate & 0 time on site.
A best practice of paid search is taking the user to the exact information he or she wants by choosing the most relevant landing page. In a very well-executed paid search campaign, the bounce rate should be higher than other channels, and the time on site should be lower than other channels.
Instead of relying solely on bounce rate and time on site, I like to look at site usage. It can be good to filter for a specific top-volume paid search landing page and look at popular second pages as a secondary dimension.
If a large amount of traffic travels on to a specific other page, it could be good to test that as a primary landing page.
Additionally, I would also look at the secondary dimension of the exit page (screenshot). This part can be tricky, because whether or not someone left this page a satisfied customer or out of boredom could be difficult to determine. However, if there’s a certain page people are dropping off at, is there a logical next progression after this page? If not, it could be worth considering building out more content for another page. If people have traveled this direction on your site, there might be an interest in this area of the business.
Got any other tips for metrics to watch in the tricky world of PPC for brand awareness? Leave a comment!

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