Don't Go Stale like American Idol; keep your paid search campaigns freshThese six paid search challenges will keep your team or agency focused on innovation and improvement so your paid media account performance doesn’t get stale.

When the television show American Idol was launched in the U.S. in 2002, it took the entertainment world by storm. It was described as one of the “most impactful shows in television history.” For eight consecutive seasons the results show ranked as the number one most viewed show in the U.S. and launched the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Hicks, Clay Aiken, and many more.

The show’s relatable contestants and interactive (for 2002) format made it incredibly popular. It seemed that the show couldn’t get any better, that it was fully optimized. Nonetheless, after a good 10 years or so, American Idol started to feel a bit… stale. Viewership and sponsorship declined, to the point that in May 2015, Fox announced it was cancelling the show after its 15th season.

What does American Idol have to do with managing your search marketing team? It comes down to keeping things fresh. One common complaint from marketing team leaders is that after the first year of managing an account, significant ideas around account improvement start to run out. Subsequently, performance starts to plateau.

While regular maintenance activities like bid optimizations, running search query reports, and refreshing ad copy are critical in maintaining performance, they are unlikely to lead to significant performance growth. So how can you challenge your search team with things that can jump-start performance and prevent a plateau?

Paid Search Challenge #1: Look at Long-term Search Query Data

Good search marketers will run frequent search query reports to block out irrelevant keywords that can hurt performance right away. Unfortunately, looking at these reports frequently also means looking at small data sets (“the trees”) that might obfuscate some great opportunities (“the forest”). Challenge your team to run a search query report over a long period of time and it will allow them to:

  1. Increase long tail keywords in your account. Are your broad and phrase match keywords matching to highly qualified, lower-volume search queries that should be added directly to your account?
  2. Identify missed negative keywords/categories. Are there keywords or categories of searches that individually don’t cost much, but over a long period of time are hurting your ROI?

Paid Search Challenge #2: How Can We Further Segment Our Account?

Starting out, most accounts separate keywords into brand and non-brand campaigns. Once the account has run for a while, analysts should have insight as to which keywords provide the best performance inside the non-brand campaigns. What many analysts fail to do, however, is to use this information to further segment out the campaigns, which results in better control of traffic, budget and ROAS. Challenge your team to look at the data and see if there are ways for them to further segment out your campaigns.

Paid Search Challenge #3: How Can We Better Match Search Queries to Our Keywords?

One of the easiest ways to get better insight into what is performing inside your search account is by ensuring the best match between the search queries and your keywords/ads. For example, consider the following search:

The searcher is clearly looking for women’s glasses, but the ad that was matched to it doesn’t mention women and furthermore leads to a generic glasses landing page. Is this the best experience for the user? No. In this case, it would be better if the word “women’s” was blocked from matching to this particular keyword/ad, so the right keyword/ad could be matched to the person looking for women’s glasses.

Run some test searches yourself: pick some of your high performing terms and see what ad pops up. Is the ad highly relevant to the search query, or is it generic and vague?

Paid Search Challenge #4: Improve Mobile Performance

If you’ve been on a call with a Google rep, one of the first things they bring up is the increase in mobile device usage and just how much mobile search has grown in the last 5 years. The problem for marketers? Mobile, for the most part, has a much lower conversion rate and higher cost per order/lead, even with a mobile optimized site. For this reason, most marketers will either completely opt out of mobile in their campaigns, or reduce the bid percentage below the threshold amount.

But don’t give up on mobile just yet! Instead, challenge your team to:

  • Set mobile bids at the ad group level – most account managers settle by setting the bid percentage at the campaign level. This can be a mistake. Ad groups within campaigns perform differently, so why would you want to set a universal bid percentage for an entire campaign?
  • Launch mobile-specific ads – Google search serves ads completely differently on mobile devices than on desktops. One of the biggest differences is that Google frequently cuts the second description line on mobile devices.  Since most marketers keep the call-to-action in the second description line, valuable information may get lost. Because of this, ask your team if they have created specific ads for mobile devices.

Paid Search Challenge #5: Increase Performance in Limited Budget Campaigns

While every marketer would like the accounts they own to have unlimited budget, unfortunately reality dictates for many firms that the budget for a campaign is lower than the potential spend (possibly even for quality keywords). It’s important to understand when a campaign budget is limited, Adwords will spread out spend evenly throughout the day, across devices and channels. What does this mean? Your ads could:

  • Show less often during the most valuable times of day
  • Show up more often in the typically less effective search partners network
  • Show a larger percentage of your searches in mobile or tablets than you would like

Possible solutions:

  • Reduce spend in mobile
  • Opt out of search partners
  • Segment the campaign further by spend or quality
  • Limit the off hours

Paid Search Challenge #6: Understand What is Impacting Brand Terms

One of the most difficult things to understand and quantify is how much impact your non-brand campaigns have on your brand campaign. Specifically, it is very hard to identify which non-brand keywords have a low, direct click-to-conversion, but high assisted conversion rate. In other words, these high-funnel, non-brand keywords are introducing new potential customers to your brand, but the customers are “closing” on a different, lower-funnel keyword.

Unfortunately, many times, in attempts to squeeze better ROI out of the account, some of the non-branded keywords get bid down over time and that hurts the account’s long-term performance as fewer searchers end up converting on brand terms. Running frequent monthly analysis either through Adwords (using the attribution columns) or through GA (using top conversion paths) will help ensure the assisting keywords are positioned highly enough to get the necessary traffic to in turn help the branded keywords.


American Idol had a good run. It lasted for 15 seasons in the highly competitive prime-time network television market. However, in the end, the show failed to evolve and found out that doing the same thing year-over-year resulted in staleness and, ultimately, failure. Don’t let your search team make the same mistake. Challenge their assumptions and activities and watch innovation and improvement emerge.