PPC for Different Buying Cycles: Keywords Matter

By now most businesses know that pay-per-click (PPC) advertising can be a valuable marketing technique. However, you can boost campaign results by carefully choosing your keywords to target searchers at different stages within the buying cycle.

Strategically planning PPC for buying cycles enables you to specifically target late-stage shoppers when they’re making a final purchasing decision as well as early- and mid-stage shoppers.

This can give you a valuable competitive advantage by putting your brand and products in front of shoppers sooner. That’s especially important if your products or services are higher-priced or more complex, because the buying cycle is generally longer. You need to connect with these consumers early in their decision-making process.

To develop PPC for buying cycles, you must understand the nuances and opportunities inherent in each of the three stages:

Initial interest.

This is the top of the sales funnel. Searchers are looking for basic information so you can use broad keywords with just one or two words to get them headed in your direction. Searchers may or may not be brand-aware, so this could be an opportunity to begin educating them.

However, generic keywords are almost always the most expensive, and targeting brand-specific keywords isn’t likely to be cost-effective this early, so using PPC for this buying cycle stage won’t generate great ROI. You can try placing ads in content networks associated with especially relevant or authoritative sites.


This is the stage where using PPC for buying cycles can really take hold. You can catch searchers before they’ve made a decision or weeded out some options, which is especially important if you aren’t the most-visible or well-known brand. Both content and display networks can be good places to advertise.

Prospects are refining their search, looking for more specific information — whitepapers, e-books, articles, statistics, industry trends, etc. PPC for this buying cycle should meet their demands with keywords that let them know you have the information they want. Rather than using more, broader keywords, create “long-tail” keywords by adding modifiers like best, favorite, recommended, ratings, reviews, compare.

By the end of this stage, searchers will also be making comparisons, so they want specs, more reviews, maybe warranty information, etc. Keywords that include exact product identifiers (model numbers, etc) can be particularly successful.


Now they’re shopping for the best deal, so use pricing-related keyword modifiers – buy, purchase, bargain, best price, cheap, compare, coupon, deals, discount, free shipping, low price, price, save money.

Since late-stage searchers are most likely to buy, focusing PPC on this buying cycle stage can be very cost-effective and generate the best ROI. It’s also a good opportunity for re-marketing to bring back bounced or lapsed shoppers.

If your competitors are emphasizing their brand name, you probably need to do the same. But be aware that relying on that as a draw may muddy the water when you analyze PPC results, because  buyers may be responding to previous advertising or marketing efforts.

How do you design PPC for buying cycles?

Deliberately targeting each shopping stage will help you create the most profitable ads. Use these tips:

  • PPC ads are extremely brief, so well-targeted keywords are critical. The more specific, the better, as noted above. Use brand + “warranty” or Brand + model + “reviews.
  • Brand names or model numbers can be great, but make sure that’s allowed in your merchant affiliate agreement.
  • Do your homework to learn more about driving increased SEM and SEO at each stage.
  • Stay in touch with customers, to build a stronger relationship and repeat sales. Reach out to them after 30 days or so with a special offer aimed at upselling, add-ons, etc.

What if you’re a B2B advertiser?

Business purchases are often subject to a slower or more convoluted decision-making process, therefore you have excellent opportunities to attract early-stage attention. In many companies several different people may be involved, people with different backgrounds – technical, product or operations managers, CEOs, etc.

Targeting these multiple individuals may not accelerate the buying process but it will put and keep you top of mind, which could be a significant competitive advantage. So create specially-targeted ads and landing pages that speak to multiple decision-maker interests and needs.

The more you know about buying stages and how they relate to your business and products, the better you’ll be able to target PPC for buying cycles and run profitable campaigns.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user bikeracer

Interested in keywords? Check out our post “How to Determine Keywords in PPC.”

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