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Capitalizing On Your Branded Search Terms: How To Find The Right Mix Of Branded And Competitor Bidding

User browsing an athletic website

Though it’s highly unlikely you’re reading this blog post on a growth marketing agency’s website without being at least somewhat familiar with the term “Branded Search,” it’s important to properly define before diving into how to properly leverage your brand name in Paid Search campaigns.

Branded Search refers to bidding on any keywords that relate directly to the brand being advertised; for example, if you search a prominent brand, you’ll likely to see a paid search (and potentially shopping) ad atop the SERP, especially if the brand practices e-commerce:

SERP for Apple

There are many reasons a company would bid on branded terms, with the primary being to capitalize on existing brand awareness to increase website traffic, with the goal of increasing revenue, conversions, etc. Today, we’ll dig into some of the reasons why leveraging branded search is more essential than “just capturing traffic” or lowering account cost per conversion metrics as a simple way to improve PPC results

Branded Search: A Deep Dive

Let’s do a quick thought exercise on how people make purchasing decisions.

Let’s say you’re a marketer at Apple, and a user has been contemplating buying an Apple MacBook Pro for a few months and finally has decided to make a purchase. 

Or maybe, you’re a PPC manager at Robinhood and an avid investor saw some a TV commercial or news headlines involving Robinhood.

Perhaps an avid runner saw an Allbirds ad on Instagram or TikTok, and it’s your job as a marketing manager to get them to convert.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that each of these hypothetical users might go to their trusty search engine and search a branded search term. A user would hop over to Google and search: “Apple” or “Allbirds”, and suddenly, their search engine result page is full of options.

For each advertiser, the ideal outcome would be:

  • Apple: online MacBook Pro purchase
  • Robinhood: new account creation
  • Allbirds: online shoe purchase

Many would make the argument that simply ranking #1 organically for your branded terms ensures a sale. But that’s not always the case.

A branded paid search ad gives advertisers more options for driving conversion-focused traffic, both with extensions, landing page destinations, and more.

A Good Alternative to Organic

You may be thinking to yourself:

“But what if our organic branded terms are healthy and driving great results?”

Even brands or advertisers with strong brand awareness and prominent organic presences can stand to benefit from bidding on branded search terms.  In many cases, branded paid search campaigns outperform organic search performance from a conversion rate standpoint.

For one of Tuff’s partners seeking to drive signups for a online gift-giving platform, we saw branded paid search convert at a 65% higher rate than organic search branded queries between January – April 2022.

Another one of Tuff’s partners, an eCommerce company, branded paid search campaigns converted at a 363% higher rate than organic search branded queries while driving a higher average order amount during the same period.

Running branded paid ads allows you to control the landing page URL and experience more than a homepage result, which could be serving multiple purposes and may not be as optimized for conversions as a landing page would be.

Branded Search vs. Non-Branded Search Campaigns

Branded search campaigns typically drive higher ROAS than non-branded campaigns (due to typically having higher conversion rates and lower CPCs*). In addition, they can offer extremely valuable insights in terms of period-over-period trends in branded search volume (a good indicator of brand health and demand) as well as who you’re competing with via the Auction Insights.

*Lower CPCs are usually awarded when advertising one’s own brand and the reason for that stems from the way Google and other search engines judge an advertisement, using Quality Score.  Quality Score is calculated based on the combined performance of 3 components:

  • Expected clickthrough rate (CTR): The likelihood that your ad will be clicked when shown.
  • Ad relevance: How closely your ad matches the intent behind a user’s search.
  • Landing page experience: How relevant and useful your landing page is to people who click your ad.

Using one of our examples from before, someone searching “Apple” is extremely likely to click an ad bidding on that keyword (CTR) with the word “Apple” in the ad copy (relevance) and sending traffic to apple.com (landing page experience); because of this, they were awarded the top result and likely paid a nominal CPC. 

Generally speaking (and assuming your keywords and negative keywords are in good shape**) maximizing Impression Share (Share of Voice) in branded search campaigns makes sense. An 80% branded search Share of Voice (SOV) means that for every 100 times a user searches one of your branded keywords, you are showing up 80 times. This may not be achievable given your budget, competition, or bidding strategy. 

**Apple may want to add negative keywords such as fresh, fuji, career, internship, etc. since the search terms that trigger those keywords would likely not be as relevant, likely to be clicked, and likely to lead to a conversion. Robinhood may want to add the negative keywords such as lawsuit, king richard, fairytale, story, etc. for the same reasons.

Assuming there isn’t a specific reason prohibiting us from doing so, we typically aim for 80-90+% SOV for branded search campaigns, depending on performance vs non-branded search campaigns and other campaign types as well.  This should serve both conversion/revenue goals while also remaining prominent when your brand is searched, regardless of specific user intent.

Gathering Auction and Competitor Insights

What if you aren’t able to capture a majority of your branded search SOV?  Google and other search engines offer the ability to view campaign, ad group, and even keyword level auction insights, allowing you to delve into the data and see who is potentially bidding on your branded keyword. 

Using our previous examples, perhaps another trading platform, such as Webull, is bidding on Robinhood keywords; this would result in direct competition with Robinhood and likely a decrease in Robinhood’s branded search SOV.  In this hypothetical scenario, it would be safe to assume Webull sees value in bidding on Robinhood keywords to increase visibility, web traffic, and/or conversions and revenue.  Google Trends would assist in reinforcing this thought, as Robinhood has substantially more search volume:

Webull vs. Robinhood Search Volume

Using Branded Search to Test Bidding Strategies

Though we mentioned Share of Voice as a barometer when evaluating branded campaign’s performance, it’s not a given that these campaigns should automatically use the “target impression share” bidding strategy.  This bidding strategy will prioritize impressions (or searches shown up for) instead of clicks, conversions, or conversion value.

Speaking from experience, we’ve tested almost every bidding strategy on branded search campaigns, ranging from manual cpc to Target CPA; there are pros and cons to each and they can vary depending on industry, budget, and goals.

If visibility is, in fact, the primary goal, then target impression share makes perfect sense.  But what if your goal is something else?  

Chances are that Google has an automated bidding strategy for that. Take for example: 

  • Maximize clicks: this bidding strategy will optimize to drive the highest number of clicks possible based on the set average daily budget
  • Maximize conversions: this bidding strategy will optimize to drive the highest number of conversions possible based on the set daily budget
  • Max conversion value: whether you have ecommerce conversion tracking or want to assign dollar values to specific conversions, this bidding strategy will optimize to maximize the overall value of conversions in favor of number of conversions
  • Max conversions (target CPA): the bidding strategy is ideal when an advertiser has a lot of data and a good idea of what their target cost-per-acquisition is

Using Google Ads’ experiment function, it’s very simple to set up a schedule or ongoing experiment to judge how these bidding strategies perform against each other, but that’s a topic for another day.

Branded Search: More than Just a “Set it and Forget it”

Whether you’re advertising for a Fortune 500 company that’s been around for over 100 years or a scaleup trying to gain traction and scale growth, branded paid search serves many different purposes and should be a part of almost every digital marketing strategy.

Want to learn more about how we use branded search for our partners? Let’s talk!

Google’s Performance Max Campaigns: How Tuff Clients Are Using It

As a growth agency, we continually test the new automated campaign types that Google rolls out each year, while making constant updates and improvements along the way. The newest addition to this catalog is Performance Max Campaigns. 

Performance Max was first introduced as a new way to buy Google ads across multiple channels in the ad platform, utilizing conversion data and machine learning to run almost entirely autonomously. 

Since its launch, Google has announced that Smart Shopping campaigns along with Local Service Ads, will soon be replaced entirely by this new Performance Max campaign type. This is just one of many reasons why making a switch over to the latest form of automation is worth the time and effort. 

Let’s dive head first into everything we know about Performance Max campaigns and how Tuff successfully utilizes them across a variety of industries for our partners.

A Deep Dive On Google’s Performance Max Campaigns

One of the first questions surrounding this new campaign type that comes to mind for many of our partners, is “Where do these ads serve?” The short answer is, everywhere. 

When we create a new Performance Max campaign, Google will combine our assets to serve relevant ads across Youtube, Display, Shopping, Discovery, Gmail, and other Search Partners. With such a large mix of available channels, these campaigns can check off multiple business goals all at once. Display and Gmail placements, for example, can help satisfy Brand Awareness goals, focusing on impressions and reach. Shopping, on the other hand, is focused more on direct sales, executing on your conversion KPIs. 

Example of Asset Group Performance Max

No matter the industry you serve, Performance Max campaigns are a great way for you to easily diversify your marketing mix while taking advantage of Google’s best algorithms. 

Understanding what these ads are exactly, and how we target users, is the next step in successfully utilizing this new campaign type. 

Asset Groups & Targeting Options

Where other automated campaign types, both in and outside of Google, utilize ad groups to break up the contents of a campaign, Google Performance Max campaigns use Asset Groups.  These asset groups include a variety of different forms of creative: headlines, descriptions, images, logos, shopping feeds, and videos. All of these different assets are used in different ways depending on the network Google serves the ad on. Discovery ads will rely heavily on Images. Gmail, for example, will focus much more on Ad Copy. 

Targeting With Audience Signals

Google’s Performance Max campaigns don’t have the usual keyword targeting techniques that advertisers are used to for PPC efforts. Targeting is mostly done automatically based on your website, unless you use the new feature called Audience Signals. You do not need to upload an Audience Signal, but it is a best practice and we have found it useful for creating a successful campaign. Here’s how it works.

Along with your assets, you can upload different audiences to your campaigns. This can include a remarketing list or any custom segment you create. These audiences will act as a starting point for Google to start optimizing towards. Ads will not serve only to these users, instead, the campaign will use data from these audiences to determine broadly those who will most likely convert, using that information to look for new people with similar or stronger intent.

Google will use this library of assets that you upload to match the advertiser with a target audience at multiple touch points in multiple mediums, with every conversion adding more data for Google’s computers to parse through.  

Supplementing Smart Shopping Ads With Cleary Bikes

One big area that Performance Max excels with is through the Shopping Network. Cleary Bikes is a high quality kid’s bicycle brand that is focusing on scaling sales while decreasing their CPA. With an abundance of creative assets to utilize, Performance Max was a perfect opportunity to showcase Cleary’s highly visual eCommerce brand. 

Since starting a Performance Max campaign earlier this year, we were able to out pace our Shopping campaign while improving across all relevant KPIs. Compared with our previous Smart Shopping campaign:

  • Spend increased 280%
  • Conversions increased 407%
  • Cost/Conv decreased 24%
  • CTR increased 125%
  • Clicks increased 242%

These kinds of results speak for themselves. Not only were we able to find this success to take over what our Shopping campaign was giving us, but we were able to branch off into new channels that boosted our overall performance. 

Using Performance Max for Lead Generation

For our partner Findex, an Australian company that specializes in financial services, Google’s Performance Max campaigns have been a powerful tool to bring in qualified leads with incredible efficiency. After 30 days, the results are astounding. 

While incorporating this new campaign, we were able to spend an additional 62% month over month. This not only brought in a large increase of overall traffic, 245% increase to be exact, but the traffic was high quality, spending more time on the site than ever before. This isn’t the only time on site metric that saw drastic improvement either. Bounce Rate decreased by 70% while Pages/Session increased another 25%.

These metrics on their own would be enough to determine a successful campaign, but the wins don’t stop there. Month over month, comparing a period without a Performance Max campaign versus a period with one, leads jumped up a staggering 125%. More users were coming to the site, staying longer, leaving less often, and converting exceptionally. The cherry on top? CPCs were down 50% on average. What more could we ask for?

Using Performance Max to Drive Signups

Another one of Tuff’s fintech partners developed a platform that allows investors to follow and communicate with other like minded investors with the goal of scaling their user base.

Because search volume for such a niche offering is low, we had to explore other ways to reach the target audience outside of search. In this highly competitive industry, bidding on stock, investment, and trading keywords will find you competing with direct investment platforms, banks, and other financial-adjacent organizations. 

With this increased competition we were able to drive account creations via paid search, but the cost/signup was far higher than anticipated and was not sustainable. In comes a Performance Max test, leveraging an audience signal of Google’s affinity audience “Avid Investors” along with some demographic restrictions to hone in on our audience. 

In the first month, this Performance Max campaign drove signup costs down 80% compared to our Search campaigns. As time went on and machine learning had more data at its disposal, the next month, cost per signup dipped in half. Performance Max allowed us to leverage broad targeting options to drive more engaged users to the platform at a fraction of the price.

Bar chart of Performance Max results.

Leaning Into Automation

Automation isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’ll just get more and more powerful as the years go by which makes embracing it early on, testing and learning from performance, a vital part of a marketing strategy. Tuff’s results are proof that utilizing these new forms of technology in an overall marketing mix can yield great successes. 

Looking for a strategic partner to test new campaign types for your organization? Let’s talk!