PPC – 3 key tenets of successful full funnel search

PPC - 3 key tenets of successful full funnel search

In my first post on full funnel search, I made the case that most paid search programs focus a lot of spend on the bottom of the funnel which is misaligned to today’s reality on how consumers actually use search engines for purchase research and decision-making. Embracing a full funnel search approach will open up SEM to truly maximize the total business impact of the channel.

Previously I explained why the core reason why paid search has been somewhat relegated to the bottom funnel because bottom-funnel metrics always look better on the weekly or monthly marketing report. Upper funnel search metrics will never look good when evaluated against bottom-funnel KPIs.

Three key tenets of full funnel search

Moving away from nearly twenty years of the way that paid search has been practiced and evaluated can be difficult. However, to take a quantum leap forward on how SEM can maximize business impact, our industry needs to give search marketers new talking points to start planting the seeds within their organizations why full funnel search is the right approach.

In today’s post, I start my mission to arm search marketers that narrative to facilitate this needed shift in thinking, starting with the three key tenets of full funnel search marketing.

Full funnel search tenet #1: Every relevant search is a potential sale

Over the last decade, new publishers, channels, targeting capabilities and ad formats have armed marketers with advanced ways to engage and influence consumers. However, this is a double-edged sword…there is more noise and clutter in the market than ever before.

Marketers cannot lose sight of just how important a relevant search on a search engine is to their business. In comparison, how many ad boxes on a page reach people who both:

  1. Ready to stop what they’re doing and engage with a brand message; and
  2. Interested in the product or service is being advertised?

This doesn’t mean other channels don’t have value. But, it’s not about any value, when it comes to marketing investments, it’s about the most value. Remember, “clicks are no longer clicks; they represent individual consumers on specific journeys.”

The full funnel search approach argues that every relevant search has the most value because it is being initiated by a consumer researching on the other side of the screen which, by default, can be assumed to be interested in that topic and ready and willing to pause their day and engage.

Can anyone argue what is a better ad impression – online or offline – than a paid search ad served to someone who has just searched on one of your most relevant keywords?

Full funnel search tenet #2: Know your funnel

Just because every relevant search has value (tenet #1), it doesn’t mean that every search’s value is the same. You must know your funnel! Every brand’s funnel is unique. Even different products at the same brand have their own, unique funnels.

In our example, the term bicycle could be potentially valuable to hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses. You, as the search marketer, need to understand your product or service and how consumers research. What are the upper funnel keywords that are most likely to drive an eventual sale? Do you need to bid on those terms or can you bid on the mid-funnel terms that most of your buyers also search?

Understanding your funnel is crucial to a full funnel search approach. If your brand, product or service line is new to the market, you may have to spend more budget to capture consumers on a purchase path to fill your funnel.

Full funnel search is not a license to bid on every keyword relevant to your business. You have to best understand your buyer’s paths with keyword research. Keywords at different funnel stages need the right ad copy to attract good prospects while repelling the bad ones. Landing pages need to address the buyer at whatever stage of the funnel they are at the time of the click.

Intimately learning your unique funnel and recognizing when you need to push upper, middle or bottom activity with your search campaigns is key to a full funnel search approach.

Full funnel search tenet #3: Evaluate SEM efforts differently based on funnel stages

With a new approach to search, a new way of evaluating your efforts is needed as well.

Just focusing on last click conversions is a bottom-funnel technique. This won’t work for upper and middle funnel traffic as these consumers are still researching and might not even be sure yet if they’re even going to buy anything.

What makes this more complex is how difficult the customer journey is to track – and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult with browsers moving towards blocking more and more pixel tracking mechanisms. So, upper funnel terms might absolutely be driving conversions, but sometimes the tracking just doesn’t reflect that.

Each search marketing program is unique and will need a unique set of evaluation criteria. Here are some suggestions to how this might work:

Upper Funnel Search should be treated as a true, awareness activity such as broad reach television or online display campaigns. These channels are usually evaluated by impression delivery and their efficiency at delivering targeted impressions to an audience. What is the CPM of your daytime cable daypart on TV? What is your average CPM on your branding (non-direct response) online display and digital video ads?

On the one hand, these other channels can argue that their ad formats are better at storytelling, but on the other, a search ad is delivered to an interested consumer at the time they are “raising their hand.”  Not only that, but a marketer only pays for a search ad when it is clicked, so there’s a double-validation here that someone has searched for a keyword or phrase relevant to your business and also has read the ad copy and believes that there is some interesting value a click away.

Middle Funnel Search is related to other channels that drive engagement. A consumer searching on one of these terms should be considered highly valuable and qualified, even if they aren’t yet ready to buy or fill out a lead form. Once again, the fact that it takes a click to spend the marketing budget means that the consumer felt compelled to visit your website via the search ad.

Metrics such as page views, time spent on the site, and return visits might be more fitting to gauge the success of middle funnel search traffic.

Bottom Funnel Search can still be held to today’s CPC and ROI standards. Actually, if search marketers only reported on these KPIs for just their bottom funnel activity, the metrics would be instantly better than ever because of the removal of the upper and mid-funnel campaigns.


Moving to a full funnel search approach won’t be easy. But for brands, it’s the right thing to do. We need to proceed carefully, have those hard conversations with our teams and leaders, and use both common sense and testing to find our way.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Josh Dreller has been a search marketer since 2003 with a focus on SEM technology. As a media technologist fluent in the use of leading industry systems, Josh stays abreast of cutting edge digital marketing and measurement tools to maximize the effect of digital media on business goals. He has a deep passion to monitor the constantly evolving intersection between marketing and technology. Josh is currently the Director of Content Marketing at Kenshoo.

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