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When Is the Right Time to Launch Paid Search?

Paid search can be an extremely successful and cost-effective way to drive traffic and revenue. The direct response nature of paid search, and ability to easily test and optimize campaigns elements makes it ideal for every brand. But the ease of setting up and launching a campaign can be misleading and can cause some brands to start using paid search before they have a proper strategy in place and before their site is truly ready to handle the additional traffic.

So how do you know when the right time is to launch paid search? We look at digital marketing in three buckets--owned, earned and paid media. The owned media piece is comprised of channels that you build, nurture and optimize such as your website, your emails and your social media profiles. Earned media is those efforts that require time and resources to see an impact. It’s the conversations you have and relationships you build on social media. It’s press and blog coverage. And paid media, of course, is the channels that you pay to be on in one form or another, whether by paying for clicks as with paid search, paying for eyeballs with display and native advertising, or paying for connections with paid social campaigns and other sources.

We believe you need to start at the owned media, because it’s your digital showroom, your online retail environment, your home. You wouldn’t throw a party while remodeling your house (unless you wanted guests to do the demo, which actually sounds like fun and a good stress reliever!). You wouldn’t open your doors before giving your house a good scrub down or before getting the right supplies for the party. So why would you invite tons of traffic to your website without first ensuring that there’s plenty to eat and drink, entertainment is planned and guests can easily find the bathroom?

Following are five areas you should evaluate and optimize before buying even one keyword or optimizing even one bid in paid search.  

1. Product Inventory

If you can’t fulfill orders, there’s no point to getting more of them. Frequently having out-of-stock items, or being unable to handle an influx of orders will only result in a customer service nightmare that will most likely play out on social media and cause long-lasting damage to your brand and reputation. Make sure the behind-the-scenes and logistical items are up to speed before overextending your brand and causing a PR nightmare with massive traffic and order spikes.

2. Site Navigation & Content

Once users get to your site, can they easily find the information they want and need? Is your site organized in a way that makes sense for your specific users, for each distinct stage of their journey? Study your analytics and webmaster tools data to understand how users are finding your site, and what they’re doing once there. Run conversion rate optimization tests and usability studies to learn what could be working better for you. Once you have results and make changes based on that information, you will be better prepared to actually drive conversions from the new traffic, instead of just wasting spend and frustrating potential customers.  

3. Conversion Paths

Paid search traffic will behave differently than other types of traffic. That’s because these customers are usually ready to convert right away, or at least sooner than other types of traffic. They have already done their research through organic search, social media, word-of-mouth or any number of other sources (back in 2011, Google said it was 10.4 sources in fact, double the number from a year prior; just imagine how many sources consumers need now almost four years later!). But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to optimize conversion paths from other sources to improve your paid search conversion rate.

Evaluate conversion paths of each type of traffic that comes to your site to understand the similarities and differences, where you see the biggest drop offs and where you can make improvements now before inflating overall traffic through paid media.

4. Landing Pages

As noted, paid search traffic is different. That’s okay. It’s great, in fact. We like different. We like weird. But it means the first content you present to users must be different too. For example, if you are an apparel brand and a customer uses a category specific keyword (e.g., “women’s shoes”), you don’t want to send them to the homepage. That just creates more work for them to again search for that category once they get to your site, which most customers won’t want to do. Cut out the middle steps and send them directly to the women’s shoes page or whatever page is the most relevant and accurate for each search term. You may need to create specific landing pages on your site to account for these specific search queries.

5. Site Response Time

How quickly are users able to access your site and thus the information or products they are looking for? Even a one second delay in page response time can cause a 7% drop in revenue, according to KISSmetrics. A second is all it takes to lose a customer to a competitor. Ensure your site is operating at warp speed by evaluating your hosting provider, minifying superfluous code, removing unwanted items and pages and out of stock products, minimizing redirects, removing unnecessary query strings and optimizing images and files.

You can use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool to check the clip of your site, then determine the priority areas for cleaning up and optimizing.   

Be sure to take the time and make the effort to analyze and evaluate your on-site traffic and engagement signals to create a long-term paid search strategy and improve ongoing performance. Once you’ve got your house in order, you will have better success in paid search.

Have questions or comments? Join the conversation on Interstellar’s Facebook, Twitter or Google+ pages.