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Moving From Keyword Optimization to Program Optimization

Paid search is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy. Whether you are trying to drive awareness or demand, there is a lot that goes into an effective SEM program, such as messaging and the overall experience you create for your audience.

In order to satisfy searchers’ needs in today’s dynamic online marketplace, every interaction must be considered in its totality, not just individually. Such considerations need to be taken into account when optimizing a paid search program and its keywords.

Prioritize Quality 

Some practitioners think about the keywords they want to target, but they often forget about the experience they are offering to those who clicked on their ad in the first place. Keywords alone won’t drive leads or sales. I would argue that high-quality content, the right call-to-action, and a landing page aligned with keyword intent are all SEM essentials.

One of the most important metrics to look at when optimizing SEM campaigns is quality score (QS) as it can help you identify areas for improvement at the keyword (expected CTR), ad copy (ad relevance), and landing page (landing page experience) level. Again, this metric shows that paid search is not only about keywords but it’s also about relevancy.


Business and Campaign Goals

Business and campaign goals are also important to consider when optimizing a paid search program. You need to understand the business priorities and see the full picture when making optimizations in the accounts. In some instances, keywords may have a high cost per lead (CPL) when optimizing towards leads. However, these are still valuable and relevant to your business so it’s possible to make the wrong decision when optimizing the account if you don’t have this context and are not seeing how the search program is affecting the pipeline.

The following is an example from an account where the first keyword listed below is the most expensive when looking at cost per conversion (cost per lead in this case). Despite the price, the company wants to own this keyword in the search engine results page (SERP). Therefore, we must look for other areas to optimize, find efficiencies, and deliver the lead volume the client expects from the program.

business and campaign goals

Target Audience

Equally, if not more important to the quality of your SEM activity, is your target audience. Some keywords can perform better when refining your audience. Below, is an example of a remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) campaign we created for thehigh cost and broad keywords that generated leads.

We narrowed the audience to target returning users and high converting in-market audiences and saw CPL decline while CVR grew, which resulted in an increase in MQLs and pipeline. The “Pre” row captures data on new and returning users whereas the “Post” row shows performance for returning users only. The goal of the campaign was to generate leads efficiently and that is what we achieved.

Pre Post

Non-Keyword Tactics

Finally, there are audience-based tactics, such as display remarketing and discovery campaigns, that should be taken into account when optimizing your search program. Remarketing can be effective for driving leads at a lower cost and can help balance out the expense of high-cost keywords in search campaigns as it can help to convert traffic from any non-brand campaigns.

The image, below, shows how you can generate leads from different campaign types and how some of them will drive leads at a lower cost, thus helping to bring the program CPL down.

Campaign type


When optimizing a paid search program, think about the buyer’s journey and how your keywords and tactics are working together to bring the results you expect from the program as they will perform differently in each stage of the funnel: awareness, consideration, and conversion.

Optimizations made to any search program have to be based on the campaign and business goals. Keywords, while important, are only a piece of the puzzle. Instead, it’s about having the right message to target the right audience at the optimal time. All these pieces, when working together in harmony, can help businesses seeking to increase their online presence, generate qualified leads, build a pipeline, and increase market share.