So, you’ve decided to kick off with a Google AdWords campaign, and you’re not really sure what keywords you should bid on, and what kinds of ads you should be using.
Well, before you go down the tactics path to decide what you should do, the first – most important – thing to know is the mindset behind users searching on Google (or Yahoo or Bing, etc.)
You see, it’s not as simple as Joey Lunchbucket just typing something into a search engine and buying from the first site he clicks through to.
Instead, there’s actually a process involved that many people never even consciously understand, and if you’re going to do any sort of search engine advertising (and be successful at it), it’s vital YOU understand that process.
I call this process the “Search Continuum” and I was first introduced to it by Richard Stokes, who called it the “Customer Life Cycle Model.”
Note: According to Wikipedia, a Continuum is “anything that goes through a gradual transition from one condition, to a different condition, without any abrupt changes.”
The basic premise behind Richard’s model is that [commercial-intent] searchers fall into 1 of 3 modes when they are searching.
The initial mode is “Browse”, and this is where searchers are seeking information, not necessarily with a view to making a purchase immediately. In fact, they often haven’t even decided they are going to make a purchase at all. They’re just thinking about the possibility of it.
The key thing PPC advertisers need to be aware of here is that aggressively chasing a sale from “browsers” is usually the toughest goal to achieve.
Searchers in browse mode are just doing simple information gathering at this stage – with the idea that MAYBE – JUST MAYBE – down the track they MIGHT buy something, but certainly not at this stage.
For example, back in early-mid 2011, my car was starting to have problems that just wouldn’t go away. I was put in a position of having to keep paying out big dollars for various mechanical and electrical problems, and once one item was fixed, something else started failing within a few months.
So, I finally got to the stage of actually starting to consider the SLIGHT possibility of buying a new car, working on the basis that if I kept spending money fixing my old car, it was just throwing good money after bad, and was just not going to fix the issue of my car continuing to break down.
So, I started with fairly simple short search terms like “car review”, “new cars”, “car prices”, “best sedan under $40000” and so forth.
Understand – that at this stage – I was definitely NOT committed to buying a new car. I was just investigating the possibility that it might be a good option compared to wasting more and more money fixing my existing car.
At the back of my head was still the strong thought that buying a new car (and going into debt for the loan) was NOT going to be a good idea…
The “browse” stage ends up either stopping someone from making a purchase (for whatever reason they decide on) OR they actually find enough information to get more serious about moving to stage 2 of buying.
And, in some cases, the searcher puts the “browse” mode to rest for some months before coming back to investigate it again down the track. For some people, the “browse” mode can last for years!
So, back to Richard’s model, and mode 2, which is “Shop.”
These people have now identified that they have a genuine need and they are starting to seriously consider their options.
This usually means they now start using a search engine to compare suppliers and products/services.
For me, this meant I had now decided that I was ready to start test driving cars and also comparing car loans.
My initial car of interest was the Hyundai i45. I had seen it on TV various times and really liked the look of it. It reminded me of a Mercedes Benz CLS, which I quite liked, but it is obviously a LOT cheaper. 🙂
So, my google searches took a more pro-active turn. I was now conducting searches like “Hyundai i45 reviews”, “Hyundai i45 price”, “hyundai dealers Perth” (my home city).
These searches lead me to websites that gave me a lot more information about the specific car I was interested in, so then it was off to a dealer to test drive one.
That’s where this story takes an unexpected twist. When I got into the car and actually took it for a test drive, I HATED it.
Loved the look, but when seated in the car, I felt totally claustrophobic. It was a deep low-set seat and the rear window was really small, so the view out of it was very constricted. Ditto for my view out the side windows.
Understand that my (then) car was a nice big Ford Falcon station wagon, which had plenty of space and big windows all round – great visibility for the driver.
It was chalk and cheese, and I suddenly realised that no matter how much I loved the look of the car and the drive, I could NOT stand being in it because of the claustrophobia effect.
So, it was back to the drawing board (and Google) to find information on various other makes and models of cars that I MIGHT possibly be interested in.
In other words, I kept going in “shop” mode.
I think I must have read about 30-40 car reviews, browsed multiple car manufacturers’ websites and also checked car loan calculators on bank websites.
Finally, I found the next car I was genuinely interested in – the Kia Optima. So, it was back to the aforementioned websites for more info and then down to a local dealer to take it for a test drive.
The test drive went well. I loved the look of the car (a combination of an Audi and Lexus) and was ready to move to the last stage.
Mode 3 is “Buy” and this is when the searcher has made a decision to buy something, and it’s often down to shopping around for the best deal.
For me, this was all down to the car loan interest rate and the final changeover price of the vehicle at a dealership.
Some of the search terms used this time were “best car loan rate” & “Kia Optima Price”, etc.
During this stage, I actually wavered between buying and not buying, mostly due to not getting the monthly loan payments down to a point at which I was happy to go ahead. It took several months for me to get to a final decision in the “buy” stage, and part of that was finding a cheaper loan that met my repayment goals and finding a dealer who would gave me the best overall price.
In both those cases, the web wasn’t actually used much because I was now doing offline negotiations rather than continuing to search on Google for the best deal.
The big day finally came, when I had my finance pre-approved and the visit to the dealer got me the deal I wanted, and I signed on the dotted line.
BTW, just in case you’re curious, here’s the car I brought 🙂
My “search continuum” journey had taken probably somewhere between 3 and 4 months before the deal was done & dusted, and at each stage of the life cycle, my searches on Google were different, depending on where I stood.
So, what key learnings can you take out of this experience?
Well, one thing to consider is that the INTENT of the search is usually different during each of the 3 stages.
Mode 1 is informational, so searchers will typically aim to clarify their understanding of a general range of products or services, and whether they can even fulfil their needs.
According to stats I have read in the past, something like 60% of all searches are in the browse stage, so if you are paying for every click in that mode, it has the potential to cost you a LOT of money in click charges.
At this stage, it’s fairly rare to get a fast sale, and therefore advertising to people making these sorts of searches should either focus on capturing their contact details (email, phone, address, etc.) and sending them more information to slowly warm them up, OR you may just choose to block out your ads from showing to these sorts of search terms using things like negative keywords, thereby saving wasted click charges on non-converting searches.
For example, if I was running an AdWords campaign targeting car buyers, I might choose to add negative keywords like: photo, image &/or video.
The reason being is that searches containing these keywords are most likely early-stage informational searches that might be made by someone with no interest in buying a car… After all, how many people looking for videos or photos of Lamborghinis are actually going to be shopping for one? Maybe 0.0000001% at most…
So, if you allow searchers to see your ads for non-shop or non-buy keywords, you can often waste a LOT of your budget on clicks that will NEVER turn into a sale.
As I mentioned above, the flip side to using negative keywords [to block non-buyer clicks] is to use the informational search results to capture a sales lead’s contact information and commence marketing to them ongoingly, with a view to converting them into a sale in the near future. For big ticket item purchases, this is a more common approach, since it often takes a long time for a buyer to make a decison.
Naturally, buying a car (or a house) often fits into this category. However, buying a $20 book might not?
And it’s now that perhaps you start to realise why I said (at the beginning of this article) “you need to know the mindset behind users searching.”
You see, your market space, customer demographics, competition and buying cycle will strongly determine your best tactics and strategy when setting up an AdWords campaign, before you even pick 1 keyword or write 1 ad.
Moving onto searchers in Mode 2 – “shop” – you will now likely have a different strategy behind the ads and keywords you choose, compared to mode 1.
Here, your ads might start discussing pricing, options available, comparisons between yours and a competitor’s product, reviews, etc.
These ads will all be aiming to get the searcher closer to the stage of deciding to choose to buy YOUR product or service as opposed to someone else’s.
Once again, strategic use of negative keywords, specific ad copy and matching landing pages (a topic for another day) will go a long way towards achieving your goals.
Then we get to mode 3 – “buy” – and you’re in the box seat here with a great chance of winning the business.
Now searchers might be looking for your office address (after all, a LOT of commercial search contains geographic words in the search phrase – from people searching for their local dealer/seller), or coupon deals on your product, or even the best price listed online via a comparison shopping service.
Naturally, your ads and keywords are likely to be different again, because the INTENT of the search is different than before.
The bottom line to the “search continuum” is that it helps you understand where your prospective customer is in the buying cycle and AND to maximise your chances of getting as many sales as possible and high ROIs.
I would also add 1 final thought: it’s NOT always necessary to advertise to all 3 modes of searchers. If you don’t have a great strategy to warm up prospective clients from the early stages, you might be more effective with just targeting searchers who have already reached mode 2 or even mode 3. Let someone else do all the hard work warming them up and then you swoop in and grab them with a killer offer just when they are ready to buy! 🙂
In my online Marketing career, I have been inside hundreds of AdWords accounts, and it amazes me how many advertisers waste money because they don’t understand the “search continuum.”
They choose the wrong keywords, write the wrong ads, build the wrong website and so on, and as a consequence, they burn advertising dollars AND potential customers.
So, from now on, I am inviting you to “read the mind” of your prospective customers BEFORE you start building your AdWords campaign. Just have a good think about the “search continuum” and try and mentally place your prospective customers into each stage and design your ads, keywords and landing pages appropriately.