No Time for a Marketing Audit? Make These Four Search Fixes

by | Apr 9, 2024

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One of my favorite initiatives as VP of Search at Playbook Media is doing audits of brands’ marketing campaigns. It’s incredibly gratifying to show smart marketers where they could be saving (and reinvesting) their budget—on average, we can save brands 20% of their spend without seeing an impact on revenue.

It’s a popular offering at Playbook! But we only have so many hours in the day and a healthy backlog of brands looking for help. So, in the spirit of helping smart brands spend money effectively, I’d like to note four common themes we see that I recommend you address in your campaigns. (You can also sign up to request a full audit here.)

A suboptimal bidding and campaign structure

This is the single most important initiative in our search audits: helping brands overhaul the structure of their search campaigns.

We lean into a portfolio bidding model that really starts humming when you have the right campaign structure to feed into it. That’s where it gets more nuanced—we ID the strongest signals to craft a new campaign structure. 

We group campaigns together based on themes like performance tiers and conversion thresholds. The idea is to build clusters that will strike a great balance between relevance and scale, where we can train the bidding algorithm on the right signals to find the right users quickly and efficiently. There’s a lot of complexity there, but if you begin by examining your campaigns with an eye on finding clusters that give you data density without sacrificing relevance, that’s a good start.

Relying on last-click attribution

This has been all too common since I started my search career, and it’s about to become even more flawed as third-party cookies die off and take a ton of click tracking with them.

Last-click attribution doesn’t take into account any marketing efforts like branding, upper-funnel campaigns, nurturing, etc.—yet lots of brands are still using it to measure their marketing effectiveness. If you’re in this boat, start by getting your head around the fact that your marketing will be stronger if you know the value of all kinds of engagements along the customer journey—and then start researching MMM tools and implementing native lift tests into your campaigns.

Over-indexing in brand

This is closely related to the attribution point above. If you’re over-reliant on last-click attribution – or even if you have a slightly more nuanced approach – you’re almost certainly over-crediting brand search for your conversions. And that means you’re probably bidding too high for those terms.

Consider: how did people get to know your brand well enough to search for it by name? Surely that’s due in part to marketing campaigns – maybe PR, or billboards, or TV ads, or even upper-funnel Facebook or LinkedIn or TikTok ads. Cut those off, and your brand search volume will start to dwindle.

Even in search campaigns, you’re likely not putting enough focus on non-brand terms; to me, non-brand is where the opportunity is. The search part of our audit really emphasizes recommendations for unlocking non-brand scale – which boils down to finding better audiences in your non-brand campaigns and engaging them more effectively.

Going too broad (and/or taking other Google recommendations at face value)

Broad-match targeting in search isn’t the strategic blunder it used to be, when great search marketers had more control over exact- and phrase-match keywords, but it’s still frequently overused – as are tools like Performance Max, which are far too black-box in nature when marketers simply turn over the keys.

Remember, the more control you give Google over how it’s spending your budget, the more of your budget it will spend and the more credit it will try to take for conversions (for instance, Performance Max might “convert” existing customers and value those exactly the same as net-new users). Make sure you’re taking new releases and Google recommendations with a grain of salt, and remember that what’s in Google’s best interests isn’t necessarily in yours. 

There’s really no substitute for getting an expert set of eyes on your campaigns, but correcting your approach to the mistakes above should help you find some quick improvements. If you’d prefer to request the full audit from Playbook, just drop your details here, and we’ll get back to you with next steps.

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