When I work on building and optimizing AdWords accounts for our clients, I always keep two things in mind while making decisions:
- The client’s goals for the campaign
- The buying funnel
What’s a buying funnel?
A buying funnel is a way of representing the stages a purchaser goes through on their way to buying a product or a service. Depending on the business or school of thought, it can have different numbers of stages and different names for the stages. However, a fairly basic, five-step funnel that works well for us looks like this:
- Awareness - The buyer becomes aware of your product or service. At this point, they know nothing more than that the product or service exists.
Veronica just had a fantastic cup of coffee made in a way she’d never seen before. She heard the barrista call it “pour over” coffee; he had used scales, drip cones, filters, and a really cool looking kettle with a long, thin spout. “Pour over” coffee…hmmm…
- Interest - The buyer finds your product or service intriguing and wants to know more about it.
Veronica finds herself thinking about that kettle and how much it costs. She reaches for her smartphone and searches for it.
- Learn - The buyer begins spending time learning about your product or service.
Veronica searches Google and immediately finds a picture of a kettle that looks like the one the guy in the shop used. She quickly learns that “pourover” is actually one word, that there are several makers of pourover coffee kettles, and that they are indeed more expensive than the kettle that sits on her stove now. She reads more and more about pourover coffee: why it’s so good, and what it takes to brew a really good cup.
- Shop – The buyer decides to buy your product or service and considers which one to buy and where.
Veronica is smitten with pourover coffee and resolves to make it at home. She begins looking at the different brands of pourover kettles, the shops that carry them, their prices, shipping costs, and if shops charge tax.
- Buy – Using your shopping cart, the buyer hands over her credit card info and completes the transaction.
Veronica has selected your online store to buy the kettle she wants. She uses your easy-to-use, optimized shopping cart to complete the transaction, and along the way, she decides she might as well grab a couple of pounds of the coffee your site says is best for pourover coffee.
Buying Funnels Come in All Speeds
In this example, the consumer moved quickly though the buying funnel. However, if you sell multi-million dollar business-process consulting services to Fortune 100 companies, it might take a year or more for one sale to happen. Every product and/or service has its own length of buying funnels.
What do buying funnels have to do with AdWords?
The buying funnel has a direct impact on two areas of AdWords: keyword research and writing ads.
Let’s start by taking a look at the impact on selecting keywords.
How the buying funnel affects keywords selection
If you’ve been around Internet marketing at all, you’ve likely come across the the words, “long-tail keywords” and “head keywords” (also referred to as “high-volume keywords”). To get started, let’s make sure you’ve got these terms clear in your head.
When you are doing keyword research for your AdWords campaign, you’ll likely start with the AdWords keyword tool. Google’s keyword tool provides a wide variety of keywords related to your product or service. Some of those keywords will be searched for thousands, tens of thousands, or maybe millions of times a month. These high-volume phrases are what I call “head keywords:” they tend to be short (one or two words in length) and quite general. In the graph above, they are represented by the long vertical bars to the left.
At the other end of the X axis, represented by short lines, are keywords that are not searched for very often. Long-tail keywords tend to be longer (3+ words in length) and are quite specific; searchers may include make, model, color choices, and even model numbers. They are called long tail because of the shape of the graph above: these low-volume keywords can continue to the right for a long, long way, making a long tail on the graph.
Imagine you sell bicycle trailers online, which our client, Wandertec, does very well (see our SEO case study). When you do keyword research you’ll find that people search for the keyword, “bike trailers,” more than 150,000 times a month. For your products, that’s a lot of searches, so “bike trailers” is a definitely a head keyword. One of the products that you sell is the BOB Ibex trailer; you check the keyword tool for “BOB Ibex Bike Cargo Trailer” and find that it’s only searched for 16 times per month. It’s a true long-tail keyword in that it doesn’t have a lot of volume and has at least three words in it.
How are keywords and buying funnels related?
Let’s take the graph we were looking at earlier and turn it on its side.
Double it for good measure and the funnel is pretty clear (see below).
The head keywords (in my examples above are: “pourover coffeee”, “bike trailer”, etc.) are the types of keywords someone would use at the top of the buying funnel—just becoming aware of a product or service. On the other hand, people use long-tail keywords (such as “stainless steel pourover coffee kettle” and “BOB Ibex bike cargo trailer”), when they are shopping or ready to buy.
Therefore, people who use long-tail keywords are much more likely to convert than those using head keywords: they have learned about the product or service and are using those long-tail keywords to get further details or to try to find the best deal.
The buying funnel and ad writing
One of the keys to writing compelling ads is to make sure the copy resonates with the searcher. Knowing about where the keyword is in the buying funnel helps you make educated guesses on ad copy. If consumers are at the top of the buying funnel, your copy should encourage their curiosity and desire to learn more. If the keyword is at the bottom of the buying funnel, you might want to begin focusing on the factors that are going to help them make the decision of whether to buy from you.
Let’s continue the bicycle trailer examples. You’ve got an ad group in your campaign that is focused on head keywords that are all similar to “bike trailer.” Ads that would appeal to individuals at the top of the buying funnel might encourage them to learn more about different types of bike trailers and how they can be used.
Someone who is low in the buying funnel is likely much more interested in pricing, shipping costs, and the reliability of the seller.
Where in the buying funnel do you want to focus?
Depending on your campaign’s goals, you will likely focus on different keywords. If your goal is to educate people about your product or service—that is, if your site is set up to nurture people through the buying funnel—you likely want to focus on head keywords. This approach often works well for high-end or complicated products and services.
Imagine you’re looking for a way to use the Internet to market your B2B products and services; these are products and services that often have long buying funnels. A strong strategy is likely going to focus on head keywords to bring people high in the buying funnel to a website that will establish your credibility and expertise before moving down the buying funnel with most potential customers. With B2B Internet marketing, we seldom find long-tail keywords that are productive.
It is also true for luxury consumer products; one client that fits this description is Conservatory Craftsmen—a custom conservatory builder. Their products are costly and completely custom, so it’s important that people who are interested in a conservatory learn about them and come away feeling Conservatory Craftsmen are experts. By attracting people high up in the funnel, Conservatory Craftsmen have the opportunity to educate their potential clients and fully demonstrate their expertise.
However, there is of course a downside to focusing on head keywords. They tend to have much higher competition from other AdWords advertisers and be more expensive—that is, you will have to bid higher and/or have better quality scores to be competitive with all of those others wanting to show ads for the same keywords. And with that expense comes an additional challenge: a lot of the people who search for head keywords are probably “only looking,” so you’re paying to help them “just look.”
On the other side of the coin, if you are simply interested in finding the people who know what they want, then long-tail keywords are for you. Let’s say you bought a pallet of 8 GB flash drives direct from a Chinese manufacturer and want to sell them online. You don’t need to teach people about these products; you just need to convince them that you have exactly what they’re looking for and at prices, quality levels, and service levels they want. If that’s your business, you will likely have much more success going with long-tail keywords focused on things like color, size, price, and features.
Long-tail keywords have fewer competitors bidding on them, so they tend to be considerably less expensive than head keywords. The other benefit of long-tail keywords is that you have a much greater chance of searches actually converting since they probably know what they want. The catch with long-tail keywords is that they aren’t searched for all that often, so you have to cast a wide net and go after a lot of them, which require organization and systems when setting up your AdWords account.
Put a fine point on it
Identifying the right keywords is both science and art. While setting up an AdWords account, you should select them based on your campaign’s goals. You also have to keep in mind how those goals are reflected in the buying funnel. With this knowledge you can then judge the keywords based on where they are in the buying funnel.