Major business successes don’t happen by mistake – they’re the result of foresight. Goals are set, and then a plan is devised to accomplish them. Paid search successes (the ads displayed within search results) are no exception. Marketers who go in with a well-structured plan will win – but those who enter without a strategy will quickly be lost in an abyss of options and moving parts.

Determine what you want your campaigns to achieve and focus your attention accordingly. Do you want to increase sales by 5%? Attract 20 new customers in the next month? Identifying these goals will give you actionable direction, while narrowing the focus of your campaigns prevents them from bleeding into each other, which would muddy your measurable results.

Don’t Just Set It & Forget It
Now that you have your map and route planned, it’s time to navigate. The marketplace is constantly evolving, so your account structure needs to be examined on a regular basis. It’s the only way you’ll have the information to determine if your accounts are hitting the benchmarks you established.

The best account structure is one that is flexible – your original vision for your account may not produce as you expected. Accounts should be structured where each campaign has an individual focus, so you can easily pinpoint opportunities for improvement and expand targets. If you hit unforeseen obstacles along the way, your account structure needs to be segregated and flexible enough to identify issues and implement changes.

Not every search has good intentions
How do you get quality leads and/or conversions from paid search when not every search made is initiated by someone looking to make a purchase? The user could simply be browsing for information. Once you differentiate the intentions of the search terms, focus on driving the searches with a high-intent to purchase to your website to generate traffic that is most likely to convert.

For example, if you sell birdhouses online, you should avoid bidding on informational searches like “what is a birdhouse”, how to build a birdhouse”, or “pictures of birdhouses”. Instead bid on searches that show buying intent like “cheap birdhouses”, or “where to buy birdhouses”. The latter group is more likely to lead ready-to-buy customers to your site.

If people are already searching for your products or services, there’s no need to worry. You sell something; people are looking for it. You just need to show them where to find it. If a consumer is searching “where to buy the best dog food” and you are the proprietor of an upscale pet boutique, paid search is relatively easy.

A more difficult situation arises when what you’re selling is so innovative that people don’t yet realize they should be looking for it. First, make sure the terms you are bidding on are aligned with your business and the products or services you offer. Use the keyword tools provided with your accounts to determine search volume and interpret user intentions as they relate to your audience. A little bit of applied research here can dramatically increase search relevance and decrease costs.

Shhh… Google isn’t the only search engine out there
Of course, based upon sheer search volume, Google is where most businesses begin a paid search program; however, it is not the only player in the game. Don’t ignore the potential of other networks such as Bing, Yahoo, YP.com, or industry-specific search engines.

Comparison-shopping engines available outside of Google Shopping can offer substantial visibility to new markets, especially if you are an eCommerce business. The search volume is less than Google, but as these other avenues continue to grow there is a great opportunity to capitalize on a population that is not yet saturated with ads.

By identifying and working towards achievable goals, your paid search campaigns have direction and eventually will rank higher. By avoiding bidding on searches that won’t convert, you can cut back on spend and increase click through rates on the ads that will. And by seeking out alternative search platforms you can take advantage of unfilled ad space. Paid search, although complicated, can be a profitable tool for any vendor who is open to applying a few words of wisdom.