Create A Killer PPC Strategy With This 3-Step Process


Throughout my digital marketing career, I’ve had the good fortune to audit numerous paid search accounts. Many of these accounts are missing one critical component: a coherent strategy.

Without a solid strategy, how can we ever employ the correct set of tactics to effect positive outcomes for our PPC accounts?

Today, I’m going share a process for creating winning strategy that will lead to strong, sustainable results for your paid search program.

What Is Strategy, And How Is It Created?

In order to create strategy, it’s important to understand what it is. According to the dictionary, strategy is defined as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”

One thing is certain: strategy is not tactics.

In conversations with account managers and clients, I’ve heard things such as, “My strategy is to begin ad testing,” or “My strategy is to restructure the account.” Strategy is bigger than that. It’s the path you’re going to take in order to reach goals.

Below is a three-step process I use for building an effective PPC strategy.

  • Assess the overall situation. The assessment process will help uncover the biggest challenge(s) your business faces, what the competitive landscape looks like and what the goals are for PPC.
  • Develop a policy. Based on a rigorous assessment of the overall situation, you will craft a principle that will guide you in determining how PPC advertising will be used to reach goals and solve the biggest problems.
  • Create an action plan. Develop a coordinated set of initiatives and optimizations that directly supports the policy you’ve created.

Let’s get into each of these areas in more detail so you can put this methodology into practice.

Conducting The Situational Assessment

When I conduct a situation assessment, I do the following:

  • Conduct a business download meeting. I meet with key stakeholders to learn everything I can about the business and the industry they compete in. Is the business itself growing or struggling? What about the industry as a whole? I use this time to learn what has worked and not worked from a PPC perspective and to determine if PPC performance goals are realistic and achievable (or if they exist at all).
  • Conduct a thorough account audit and gap analysis. Audits are time-consuming and tedious, but they’re absolutely necessary. I use the account audit to understand underlying drivers of performance and to determine whether work being done in the account is in alignment with business goals. Uncovering the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities provides critical information I need to form my guiding principle for account management.
  • Competitive analysis. Sometimes, a stakeholder identifies the competition in the PPC space incorrectly. Competitive analysis helps me learn who the competition actually is and what they are doing to be successful in terms of bidding, keyword targeting and creative messaging. The competitive analysis helps me determine how aggressive I need to be in my account management policies in order to successfully compete in the marketplace.

Developing Account Management Policy

Once the assessment has been completed, and I have a firm grasp on the overall situation, it’s time to develop a policy for managing the PPC account.

PPC management is a very iterative process. We’re trained to perform the “common practices” over and over again, achieving ever-improving results along the way.

Working on common practice tasks such as negative matching, keyword expansion and more are the right things to do for an account, and there’s a proper place and time to do them. Without a policy governing how to manage our PPC accounts, we’re “stringing tactics together,” which creates misalignment between volume of work done versus meaningful work that’s impacting results positively.

What should a policy look like? It can look something like:

  • We’re going to use PPC as a growth driver, and we’re going to manage the account accordingly.
  • Paid search is going to be a profit driver, and we’re going to manage the account accordingly.
  • Paid search is going to be a touch point leading to conversions through other channels, and we’re going to manage the account accordingly.

The policy should be written down for all stakeholders to see and abide by. Now that the governing principles are in place, we can build an action plan that reflects the policy.

Creating An Action Plan

The next step in the strategy development process is developing a coordinated action plan that’s designed to overcome the biggest challenge(s) a business faces.

The action plan is higher-level in nature. For instance, let’s say you’re managing a PPC account for a college or vocational school. Schools are always in need of students. Based on this information, I would surmise that the primary challenge is to find more potential students. Therefore, my policy is to use paid search as a lead growth driver.

The action plan regarding this example would support the policy by focusing on the following:

  • Market expansion
  • Remarketing

The specific action plan for your account will most likely be more comprehensive, based on your stakeholder’s overall situation and the policy you’ve decided to pursue.

The tactics you use will now stem directly from the action plan. For instance, tactics for market expansion might be to set up Facebook and Twitter campaigns to expand upon your Google and Bing efforts. The tactics for remarketing might be “set up an RLSA campaign” or “implement GA remarketing.”

The point is, action plans are designed based on a guiding principle, which is based on an assessment of the overall situation. This flow makes sure work is only being done on items that positively affect performance and help overcome the largest challenges.


Strategy is often mistaken for tactics. Before pulling the first lever, make sure to have a full understanding of both account goals and the chief obstacle the business you’re doing paid search for is dealing with.

Once this understanding has been established, develop a coordinated set of actions that’s focused solely on reaching those goals and solving the chief business problem. Following this process will lead to a PPC program that’s well-positioned for success, both now and for years to come.

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