A Guide to Using Paid Search for Top of Funnel Marketing

How to Use Paid Search to Build Brand Awareness

Who could benefit from running awareness search campaigns for their brand? In short, most everyone. 

It’s a good fit for any company looking to attract new potential customers and clients.

In this blog, we’ll use a fictional use case to help show how using paid search for a top-of-funnel marketing campaign is a good tactic for all marketers.  It engages a key portion of your prospective audience that is commonly overlooked but has huge potential.

Meet Abina, the newly hired digital marketing director of Urban Oasis, a fictional company with operations in several large cities throughout the Midwest. Urban Oasis started small but has quickly grown to nearly 100 employees, and Abina’s manager wants to know the most effective way to reach valuable new customers for their expanding business. Some of their core specialties include garden care, landscaping, patio construction, and urban green space design. Their target audience is both residential and commercial clients.

Abina is familiar with the marketing funnel concept. Here is the general list of stages of the funnel from top to bottom:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Loyalty

Marketing Funnel

Benefits of Search for Awareness

What are some of the primary online channels that Abina can use to raise brand awareness for Urban Oasis? Some more obvious ideas would be paid social (such as Facebook and LinkedIn), display, and video marketing

But what about search? Many view paid search as best suited for the bottom of the funnel, but search can also be a very effective, high-intent channel for top-of-funnel (TOFU) campaigns. The two largest paid search engine platforms are Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising (Bing, Yahoo, and AOL). Google and Ipsos MediaCT researched the effect that search has on lifting brand awareness. The study found that paid search ads raised top-of-mind awareness by an average of 6.6 percentage points—an increase of 80% from the control group. L’Oréal Paris, Intel, and Fiat are some other global brands that have incorporated search into their brand lift marketing with exceptional results.

Define Your Marketing Goals & Metrics

Your goals and metrics for top-of-funnel campaigns will look a bit different from those of your lower-funnel campaigns. For awareness search campaigns, you should create goals based on reach and engagement. For example, Abina could start off with a budget-based goal for Urban Oasis that results in an average top impression share of 70% with an average click-through rate (CTR) of 3%.

As she optimizes her campaign throughout the month, she will also want to check other relevant metrics including impressions, cost per thousand impressions (CPM), clicks, cost per click (CPC), time on site, and bounce rate. Conversion-based metrics are not as important here since her primary goal for this initiative is to generate interest in the brand.

Best Practices for TOFU Search Campaigns

In addition to best practices used for all paid search campaigns, your TOFU efforts will have some unique elements. Here are a few options to consider:

Campaign structure
  • Have separate campaigns for your branded and nonbranded keywords. For nonbrand awareness, you could have one campaign for category searches and another for affinity searches (more on this below).
  • If budget allows, consider running another campaign with branded keywords from your competition. By doing this, you could gain impression share from searches for related brands. For instance, Abina could have a campaign containing competitors’ keywords such as green thumb garden company or tri-county landscaping.
  • Use non-last-click attribution (position-based, data-driven, etc.), to give a more accurate picture of the customer journey and how your awareness campaigns contribute to your overall goals. In many cases, last-click attribution may give more value to your branded campaigns and less to nonbrand, even though nonbrand had a significant role to play in generating results.
  • Use Google Trends and Keyword Planner to gain insights into related non-branded search terms that are currently trending.
  • Focus on both category and affinity searches for nonbrand. Category searches include keywords for products and services you provide, and affinity searches are broader keywords that pertain to topics, events, or interests related to your business. In this case, Abina could have a category campaign with keywords such as gardening care services, landscaping for businesses, and patio design near me. Her affinity campaign keywords could include things like sustainable gardening, Cincinnati landscaping expo, and dry lawns. Since affinity keywords are broader, they will most likely have a lower CTR than your category keywords. However, you can still gain valuable incremental traffic by bidding on affinity terms.
  • Add your branded words as negative keywords within your non-branded campaigns to make sure you’re getting a true picture of how non-brand awareness is contributing to results.
Bidding strategies
  • Think about your marketing goals when determining the types of bidding strategies to use. Google Ads offers several different types of bidding, both manual and automated. For focusing on clicks, you can use Maximize Clicks or Manual CPC bidding. For focusing on visibility, perhaps use Target Impression Share. (Remember the maxim that “top of page equals top of mind.”) Your TOFU bidding strategies will likely differ from those of your lower funnel, conversion-based campaigns.
Ads & extensions
  • Consider your target audience when writing ads. People searching for your non-branded keywords will very likely be unfamiliar with your brand, so what would you like to convey in your ad copy? Write using a friendly, educational tone to pique the interest of your audience.
  • Use relevant and compelling language to entice users to click your ad for more information. Your calls to action (CTAs) could be invitations to “Learn more,” “Browse now,” or “See our portfolio.” Remember that your TOFU campaigns are designed to generate interest and excitement, not necessarily conversions.
  • Upper funnel campaigns can benefit greatly from image extensions to showcase the business in Google Ads. Abina could add high-quality image extensions to her search ads that display some of Urban Oasis’s completed patio designs, green spaces, or koi pond projects.
Landing pages
  • After users click on your ad, it’s critical that the landing page experience is relevant and user-friendly. Use an informative landing page with top-of-funnel content that will educate users about your brand and lead to consideration and conversion further down the funnel. Again, your primary goal on this page is to lift your brand, not necessarily drive sales.
  • Provide visitors with information on what to do next. Do you want them to browse your online shop, call your business, visit your brick-and-mortar store? Abina ensures that all Urban Oasis landing pages include beautiful imagery and informative videos that have an emotional, compelling element. Each page invites users to consider Urban Oasis for their next outdoor project. Rather than overwhelming visitors with too many details, she provides some helpful links on how to learn more about the business.
  • Layer on observation audiences to allow your campaigns to generate data on affinity groups, demographics, site visitors, etc. After enough information has accumulated, use remarketing lists in your lower-funnel campaigns. Chances are that someone will be much more likely to click a conversion-focused ad from Urban Oasis if they’ve already visited the site earlier during the awareness phase.
Test, test, test
  • This step isn’t unique to TOFU campaigns, but it needs to be reiterated. Take time to brainstorm and experiment with new ideas in your upper funnel initiatives, but always make sure to evaluate results and change course when needed.

Wrapping Up

After running this new top-of-funnel campaign for one month, Abina steps back to evaluate their success. She presents the results to Urban Oasis upper management and shows that the TOFU paid search effort exceeded their marketing goals—with an average top impression share of 77% and a CTR of 3.4%. In addition, the campaign had an incremental reach of 69K highly interested people for non-branded inquiries. This was a much better ROI than some of their other marketing channels. It’s time to plan for an even better performance next month!

In conclusion, paid search can be an effective, cost-efficient tool for your marketing toolkit in generating upper funnel results. By implementing some best practices, you can ensure that your business is primed for success further down the funnel.

Author avatar
Andrew Thomas
Andrew is a Senior Paid Media Specialist with Found Search Marketing. He can typically be found working on new account builds and optimizing existing paid media campaigns for our clients in order to surpass marketing goals. You may also catch him writing exceptional ad copy for various media platforms.