How to Create a Paid Search Plan That Will Drive Results

As we kick off a new year, it’s a great time to take a hard look at your paid search plan.

Wait – there is no plan?

Well, there’s no time like the present to create one.

Mapping out your paid search strategy forces you to dig deep into what’s working and what isn’t, review what’s working for your competitors and create a plan.

The resulting plan ensures that you are prepared to hit and exceed your goals and outlines exactly how you’ll do it.

1. Review Last Year’s Results

The best place to start when planning for a good year is, without a doubt, the prior year’s performance – heck, even the past few years.

Take a look at the highs and lows throughout the year and ask yourself:

  • Did you hit your goal? What were the key learnings in terms of what worked and what didn’t? Is there anything that you would’ve done differently in terms of campaign initiatives, tests, channels, budget allocation or otherwise?
  • Are there any trends or patterns that carry throughout multiple years of data?
  • What used to work that doesn’t seem to be working as of late?
  • Are there seasonal trends?
  • Are there any performance anomalies? Can the cause of those be determined and, if so, are there any that should be attributed to other offline events or external factors? Ultimately, are they replicable?

2. Set Your Goals

One of the most important aspects of ensuring that you have a good year is defining what it means to have a good year.

In other words, in the absence of benchmarks, it’s impossible to determine if performance exceeded expectations or fell short.

Most likely, a few company-wide goals have been passed down to the department or an agency.

Maybe you’ve even received goals, as an individual or as a team, that are specifically geared toward your work.

If the latter isn’t the case, then you should establish goals that illustrate how your work will support the greater goals.

I recommend putting together short-term goals and long-term goals in order to monitor pacing over time.

3. Review the Current Landscape

You now have documented trends for the past few years, you have your goals in-hand and you have a rough sense of your trajectory throughout the year based upon prior years’ performance.

The next step is to review the landscape.

Take a look at auction insights to see who is killing it and who isn’t.

Segment the data by month to see trending performance. Is anybody steadily becoming more aggressive that you should look out for?

Are there any surprises? Are there any brands you expected to see but don’t? Are they doing something different?

They possibly aren’t showing up in auction insights because they are bidding on different terms. Make a list of your key competitors and put together some extra competitive research.

  • What terms are they bidding on?
  • What do their ads look like?
  • What are they doing in other channels?

From there, identify if any of your findings are applicable to your efforts.

4. Analyze Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Subsequently following a competitive review is a great time to analyze your own strengths and weaknesses.

This should manifest in a few ways, as you should look at:

  • How your offering compares. Purely from a product standpoint, where do you win and where do you lose? Is this feedback being shared back into other parts of the company?
  • How well you are messaging that offer. Does your value proposition need help? Are you focusing on the right audience?
  • How well your campaign and channel efforts are performing. Is there a heavy reliance on brand? Is there a good distribution of performance across different campaigns and campaign types? How much time have you spent on testing into different campaign types?

In each of these areas, you should consider:

  • Where you’re doing really well.
  • Where your competitors are doing really well.
  • Where nobody’s really doing very well to help identify opportunities and threats.

This exercise can help you identify where the most value and opportunity lie.

Best case scenario, marketing is sharing the results of competitive analyses and the organization is able to pivot and improve products and services accordingly.

While that can, should, and does happen – it’s usually not a quick process.

Therefore, it makes it really important to ensure that you’re also being mindful of how you market yourself, in the interim, to take advantage of your strengths and seize opportunities before competitors.

5. Identify Tactical Improvements

If you’ve already been successfully driving performance through paid campaigns, then you probably don’t need to entirely reinvent the wheel.

It may be worthwhile to have your campaigns audited by a second set of eyes to see if they see performance opportunities.

If nothing else, take a hard look at your own existing campaigns to identify where performance gains can be made.

Which existing performance trends can you capitalize on?

Can you focus efforts to improve conversion rate to see more volume and cost efficiency across the board?

Can you shift more budget to a particular device?

Or, to capture more untapped volume, could you focus on the betterment of performance within a particular device?

6. Brainstorm Potential Expansion Opportunities

Based upon your goals, identify the best channels and campaign types to help achieve those goals.

Brainstorm all of the potential channels that could contribute to your goals. Think big picture including, but not limited to, the major platforms.

Consider whether there are other niche sites or platforms that you should test, as well.

Dream big, here.

You don’t have to employ all of the channels that you identify but it’s good to have a big list to review and vet. Then you can ultimately decide which areas have the lowest hanging fruit to start.

If those alone won’t get you to your goals, you can make a plan to continue expansion efforts.

I also highly recommend carving out a little test budget to allow yourselves the ability to continuously test new channels and campaign types.

7. Map Out Your Campaigns

Once you’ve identified all of the channels and campaign types that you’d like to run, map them out throughout the buying cycle to ensure that they are all working together to guide prospects down the funnel.

I suggest diagraming this to ensure all campaigns are connected through audiences and micro-conversions.

8. Create Your Budget Allocations & Your Projections

Now that you know what you intend to run, it’s time to map out your budget allocation.

Based upon all of the work that you’ve done up to this point, you have a sense of seasonality and trends. You know the goals that you need to hit.

Now it’s time to allocate both budget and conversion performance by month and by channel to ensure that you’re set up for success.

Review these projections against prior year trends to ensure that they’re realistic and that all performance gains are accounted for with tactical steps.

Again, I highly recommend setting aside a little additional budget for testing throughout the year, as well.

9. Circle Up with Stakeholders

Whether you operate on a team within a department, as an extension of a company through an agency, or in a role that wears many hats within a small business, it is really valuable to come together with stakeholders on a regular basis.

The beginning of the year is a great time to start making this a habit if it isn’t already.

Here’s a shortlist of the items that should be reviewed and discussed:

  • Any shifts in strategy or any major areas of focus. (e.g., “we want to really emphasize market penetration within this target” or “we really want to focus on new market expansion”)
  • Each team’s plans contributing to company goals. This should ensure that group’s efforts, collectively, meet or exceed company goals.
  • Any cross-channel or cross-functional efforts are outlined and agreed to.
  • All teams are comfortable with the targets and the plans.

10. Be Prepared for Change

In digital marketing, things can change fast. The same can likely be said for your competitive landscape.

Stay informed and be prepared to pivot!

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