Small Steps, Big Results
How focusing on one AdWords metric at a time pays off.

Christian N.By Christian N.

PPC Cycle

This article was first published as a guest post on WordStream, July 5, 2011.

Whenever I’m confronted with the task of building new AdWords campaigns from scratch or expanding existing ones, I focus on the above four steps one at a time. Without having that first impression, no click is possible. With no clicks, you can’t hope for a conversion. Without conversions, there’s no customer loyalty.

Adding keywords while writing new ads, analyzing yesterday’s results while planning the next optimization steps, instigating competitive research while creating the next landing page test … it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the work associated with paid search marketing. It’s easy to lose focus on what you’re actually trying to achieve. Keeping your attention on one simple goal at a time goes a long way.

The following is a summary of each step of the cycle, with links to a few resources if you want to learn more. I encourage you to share your own resources in the comments.

Step 1: Get The Right Impression

It may seem trivial but getting that first impression from the right search query is not a walk in the park. Low Quality Scores will stop you, if a low budget, a suspended account or ads stuck in review mode haven’t. But the biggest cause of too few impressions is probably poor keyword research.

In order to get impressions, you need the right keywords to attract the right search queries and you need a lot of them. The AdWords keyword tool is everyone’s favorite, WordStream’s keyword tool is another, but very few know how to use them well. Effective keyword research aims at having a wide and complete view of your market’s main lateral search terms, building an exhaustive list of wide keywords before digging deep.

Building a great list of wide keywords solves more than the simple problem of getting impressions, it also allows you to discover cheaper and higher converting keywords you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

To discover lateral keywords to add to your wide keyword list:

  1. Type your competitor’s websites in Google’s keyword tool
  2. Use Google’s wonder wheel
  3. Use a thesaurus to find synonyms of your keywords
More resources:

Step 2: Get The Click

Once you have a good keyword list from which you hope to get enough market-wide impressions, you run the risk of getting too many impressions and too few clicks. And such poor performance has a negative impact on the number of future impressions you’re likely to receive.

What can prevent you from getting clicks? Keywords that are too general as well as boring, untargeted ads. The first is easy to handle. Simply take a look at your keyword list and remove single-word terms or anything that is too vague. The second, however, is a whole skill in itself.

Getting high volumes of clicks from effective ads starts with understanding who the person behind the keyword is, understanding what they’re really looking for in between the words they type, and understanding what happened in their mind just before they turned to Google in search of a solution to their problem. If you can do that, you’ll leave your competitors in the dust, as most of them still think that putting keywords in the headline, expressing a benefit and just adding a call to action is all that is needed.

When it comes to any copywriting task, research is half the battle. Here’s a quick introduction to the ad writing mindset.

More resources:

Step 3: Get The Conversion

This is where success or failure is measured. You can get clicks at the cheapest costs possible, if they don’t convert into profits, you’ve failed.

A lot can be said about conversions. Your choice of keywords and ads play a role. Of all things, the most important element of conversion success is your offer.

You wouldn’t ask someone who doesn’t know you to marry you on first sight, would you? But you can ask them for a simple date, with a promise of fun or something interesting. A marriage proposal on first sight is the equivalent of asking someone to spend $100 on your website at the first visit. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but most of the time you’ll need to build some kind of a relationship first, court them until they fall in love. You have to know what they want, and provide something greater, asking for something small in comparison to the value you offer.

Sometimes you’ll offer some great information in exchange for an email address, and continue the courtship afterwards like a man who asks a woman for her phone number. Sometimes you can convince them to purchase right now because they already know you or what you’re selling and you’ve done a great job at expressing how yours is a better offer than everyone else’s. But every time, to get that conversion, your offer has to be more valuable in your prospect’s eyes than what you ask for in exchange. And they have to trust you enough to deal with you.

A must-read is Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins (free download). It was written almost a hundred years ago, the principles are timeless, priceless, and most advertisers still ignore them.

Step 4: Get The Loyalty

The last step is to get your customers to keep coming back to you as well as recommend your products to their friends. It is easier to get a sale from someone who has already bought from you than getting a new customer. It is also easier for someone to buy from you if their friend recommended you to them.

Over-the-top customer service drives loyalty. So does creating an experience that customers will always remember and want to talk about. So does rewarding them every time they perform an action you want. PunchTab may help for that last one, but mostly you’ll have to get creative; you’ve already done the hardest part of converting them.

Here’s a must-read quick article from on customer loyalty.

More resources:


This was a simplified explanation of the main micro-goals of SEM. A book can be written about each of them. SEM is an almost never-ending process that revolves around these 4 steps. You’ll need to master each of them.

Have I forgotten an awesome resource? Let me know in the comments.

Christian N.

About Christian N.

Chris is one of the two-man team that founded, he wrote his first PPC ad in 2007, fell in love and hasn't stopped ever since.
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