How different PPC channels capture, nurture and influence leads at the different stages of the consumer journey: awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty and advocacy.
We often associate paid advertising with the conversion stage of the customer journey. You bid on high-intent keywords and generate traffic from people looking to buy now – or in the near future – with the goal of converting them into paying customers.
However, different PPC channels play a key role in every step of the customer journey and many influence multiple stages of the funnel. In this article, we explain how each channel impacts the consumer journey and moves prospects onto the next stage of the funnel.
Paid advertising across the marketing funnel
Last year, we published an article looking at end-to-end optimisation of the marketing funnel, discussing each stage of the customer journey. We looked at several concepts and templates for the marketing funnel, most of which are based on the traditional AIDA model of Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action.
However, these days, we have to use an evolved version of the AIDA model that considers the post-action stage of the consumer journey to account for customer service, repeat purchases, loyalty and maximising customer value.
So a modern marketing sales funnel should look more along the lines of this:
In this article, we’re going to look at how you can use different PPC channels at each stage of the funnel to nurture leads across the consumer journey, encourage users to take valuable actions at each stage and continue doing so after the initial conversion.
Before you can start applying PPC channels to each stage of the funnel, you have to understand what your goals are for each one. Based on the model above, here’s a quick summary of the funnel stages we’re looking at in this article and the goal we have for each one.
- Discovery / Brand awareness: Maximise visibility on social media and content discovery apps
- Interest / Research: Maximise visibility and relevance on search platforms when prospects actively show their interest for the first time.
- Consideration: Place your brand, products or services as key contenders once prospects start comparing purchase options.
- Conversion: Turn prospects into paying customers.
- Loyalty: Turn first-time buyers into repeat buyers and loyal customers.
- Advocacy: Turn loyal customers into brand advocates who actively promote you to others.
First up, let’s look at how you can use PPC channels to maximise visibility among audiences who aren’t even looking for you yet.
#1: Discovery & brand awareness
So much of the online experience is now passive that you can’t wait until people show an active interest to introduce your brand. You have to be visible on social media and content discovery platforms to build brand awareness as prospects scroll through their feeds, timelines and recommendations.
Social advertising is the perfect channel for introducing your brand to new audiences at the very top of the funnel. Social platforms have a wealth of user data allowing them to show hyper-relevant content to individuals and provide targeting options that allow you to pinpoint audiences who demonstrate an interest in your products or services.
With social targeting, you can reach the right audience – no matter how niche your brand offering is or individual products may be. For example, if your company provides camera repair services, you can deliver ads to people who show an active interest in photography and camera gear. Better yet, you can pinpoint audiences who use editing software like Adobe Lightroom, professional photographers and even people who have bought camera gear in the past 12 months.
Social advertising allows you to get your brand seen and known by relevant audiences, placing you at the front of their mind when their interest becomes active.
In a move to satisfy the demand for passive content, Google has its own discovery platform, which was aptly rebranded as Google Discover in 2018. The personalised feed recommends content to users based on their interests and you can run Discovery campaigns to place native ads in the mix.
So, when users are scrolling through their feed, they’ll come across subtle ads that look something like this:
Google Discover isn’t the only content discovery platform you can advertise on, either. Flipboard has 145 million active monthly users with a sophisticated advertising solution for brands to fit seamlessly into its magazine-style app.
Feedly is another popular app that originated as an RSS feed to collate content from sources selected by users. Today, the platform has advanced content discovery and recommendation systems with an advertising platform for brands to build visibility among audiences showing interest in specific topics.
Display ads show on network partner sites, allowing you to create visual ads on platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads that show on third-party websites and apps. The effectiveness of display ads varies greatly but platforms like Google Ads provide the targeting options you need to show your ads to relevant audiences.
With content targeting, you can show ads on web pages covering specific topics or include specific keywords.
According to data from Bannerflow, “relevant and timely” ads saw an 8% increase in click-through rates in 2019, compared to the previous year. Consumers are increasingly sensitive about the relevancy of ads but they’re also increasingly willing to take action on ads that deliver real value.
And the key benefit of display advertising is that, even when users don’t click on your ads, you’re still building brand awareness through impressions.
#2: Interest & research
At this stage of the funnel, users turn to search engines and other networks to actively look for information relevant to your brand. Purchase intent tends to be low at this point with a lot of broad product category searches and indirect informational queries.
Your goal is to be present for these touchpoints, deliver relevant content and leverage existing interest to inspire the kind of purchase intent that leads to conversions.
Paid search is the obvious channel for reaching prospects at this stage of the funnel because most people turn to Google when they want to find information. Your task is to find the keywords your target audiences are using at the top of the funnel that present opportunities for paid campaigns.
Keep in mind that a lot of queries at this stage of the funnel, where purchase intent is typically low, will be more suitable for organic content campaigns – although this depends a lot on what products or services you’re promoting.
For example, someone showing early interest in the latest games consoles might type the following queries into Google over several sessions:
- “PS5 vs Xbox Series X”
- “Which games are exclusive to PS5?”
- “How much does the PS5 cost UK?”
- “Best 4k tv for gaming 2021”
Purchase intent is increasing with each of these queries and it’s only the final query that returns any ads when we type these into Google.
However, if we type in a query with a very competitive keyword included, it’s easier to trigger ads with informational queries:
Also, keep in mind that click-through rates and conversions will often be lower for most of these low-intent, informational queries. So you have to optimise your bids accordingly and accept that these ads may not be top-performers in terms of conversion rates. However, they’re still a valuable tool in building brand awareness and capturing remarketing leads.
In the example above, you’ll also see Monday.com addresses the question in its ad rather than simply promoting its product.
YouTube is a powerful channel for several stages of the funnel with video content playing a key role in the modern consumer journey. In fact, according to data from Google, “more than 55% of shoppers globally say they use online video while actually shopping in-store.”
However, YouTube is an important research tool for much earlier stages of the consumer journey, too. People craving their next holiday turn to YouTube for travel inspiration while audiences interested in the latest consumer tech follow industry experts and review channels to stay in touch with the latest developments.
What’s really special about YouTube is that it’s a powerful influencer network built around the search experience. So you can deliver ads to relevant audiences who use the platform specifically to make informed purchase decisions.
With YouTube Ads, you only pay when users watch your ads (either in full or the first 30 seconds, whichever comes first) so you can run campaigns at any stage of the funnel without worrying that your budget is wasted on low-intent viewers. If people watch enough of your ad for you to be charged, they’re showing valuable interest in your message.
You can also use inspiration networks to build brand awareness and increase purchase intent at this stage of the funnel. The most obvious of these is Pinterest, which has intentionally shifted from a social network into an inspiration platform for creatives and consumers alike.
You’ll find niche platforms relevant to specific audiences, too, such as the design portfolio and inspiration network Dribbble. The platform has its own advertising system designed to help brands reach the creative community, making it ideal for companies promoting products of value to designers.
Know where your target audiences are getting their inspiration from and be present on the platforms they trust to influence their decisions.
When prospects reach the consideration stage of the funnel, they’re weighing you up against alternative options, which means you’ve made the shortlist and you’ve got plenty of purchase intent to work with. This means audiences should be more responsive to your messages by now and you want to exploit this to position your offer as their favourite option.
During the consideration stage, search users are showing a much stronger purchase intent in their queries with branded keywords, specific product names and longtail keywords that reveal their priorities.
They’re not searching for “where to go on holiday in summer 2021” anymore; they’re typing in queries like “best hotels in Rome,” “flexible return flights to Rome” and “will I get a refund if my flight is cancelled due to Covid-19?”.
So it’s increasingly important to deliver ads that are relevant to your target audience and the queries they’re typing into search engines. You want to match important keywords like “Rome” and provide information and address their priorities, especially when their queries reveal purchase anxieties.
You can use keyword insertion in Google Ads to automatically match key phrases like “Rome” in your search ads and create campaigns that address the concerns of your target audiences.
In the example below, British Airways has created campaigns specifically to address the demand for flexible bookings in the post-pandemic world.
It also uses sitelink extensions with the first one linking to a dedicated page on flexible bookings and a description that specifies vouchers are valid until 2023. With one sitelink extension, BA reiterates the key selling point that it provides flexible bookings and eases buyer concerns by showing them that they’ve got plenty of time to change their booking, if needed.
Before users even click on an ad, BA is showing in the top placement, matching specific keywords and addressing several user concerns. Even if this user doesn’t convert right now, they know that British Airways has a generous flexible booking policy for the specific destination they’ve set their hearts on.
Remarketing campaigns allow you to keep your offer in the minds of previous visitors by showing them display ads as they browse other websites. You can use these ads to increase incentive by highlighting key selling points, addressing purchase anxieties and tempting them with time-limited promotions.
You can continue to target prospects as purchase intent increases, too. For example, you can create campaigns for users who visit the same page multiple times or users who add a product to their cart (but don’t purchase).
With remarketing lists, you can create lists of prospects for a range of actions (all traffic, specific page visits, repeat visitors, cart abandonments, etc.) and target them with campaigns as they progress along the funnel – something we’ll come back to later.
When we looked at YouTube earlier in this article, we referenced a stat from Google saying that 55% of shoppers engage with video content while they’re shopping in-store. So platforms like YouTube can take prospects all the way to the finishing line and it plays a crucial role in the consideration stage of the funnel.
Channels dedicated to product reviews, product comparisons and unboxings are some of the most successful on the video network and also some of the most influential.
In fact, YouTube is the largest influencer network, filled with industry experts, vloggers and commentators on every niche imaginable. Their audiences are loyal, engaged and ready to take action. This is a platform where one video of a kid opening Kinder Eggs can generate more than 35 million views.
Paid social is the perfect channel for promoting your own comparison content, reviews, testimonials and other resources that position your product/service as the one to buy into. Once again, you can use remarketing to target previous visitors with ads showcasing the best of your offer and you can combine this with targeting settings to make your message more relevant.
For example, if you’re promoting a software product you can target visitors who have previously clicked through to your landing page and apply targeting settings to reach Windows and macOS separately with content positioning your product as the best option for each operating system.
You could create another campaign for visitors who visit a sequence of pages, too, such as users who visit your pricing page after clicking through to the initial landing page. You might emphasise key features that set your product apart from the competition, show it’s better value for money or review scores that highlight how happy your existing customers are.
This is where purchase intent is at its highest and your campaigns need to turn interest into paying customers. To achieve this, your ads will have to create a sense of urgency that tells prospects now is the time to make the purchase.
Earlier, we saw how Shopping ads can show for informational queries but warned that you might not get the same level of CTRs and conversion rates on Google Shopping as you would expect at this stage of the funnel.
Google Shopping campaigns really come into their own at the conversion stage of the funnel where users are typing in specific product types or names.
You’re not limited to Google for product listings ads, either. Most product searches now start on Amazon and the retail giant has one of the fastest-growing advertising platforms in the game.
You’ve also got eBay Ads, which connects you with the UK’s second-biggest online retail platform (second only to Amazon) with a 66% reach in the country.
Local searches tend to come with high purchase intents from the get-go and a short customer journey – at least, until the first conversion. We’re talking about looking to book a restaurant table for tonight, find a shop in their area that has an item in stock or check a business is open before they pay a visit.
There’s an intrinsic immediacy with local searches that means prospects are quick to take action when they find what they’re looking for – the perfect scenario for paid advertising.
You can start by creating local campaigns in Google Ads but you’ll find that most local searches don’t trigger search ads. Instead, users are more likely to get a local pack of results and the Google Maps feed, which is where (aside from having a strong local SEO presence) local search ads can help you stand out when users click through to Google Maps.
Local inventory ads are another crucial ad format for converting local prospects. These are product listing ads that include a label showing users that you have the item they’re looking for and antagonise their desire for a new phone.
#5: Loyalty & advocacy
In the final two stages of the funnel, your aim is to turn customers into repeat buyers by building brand loyalty and get your existing customers to talk about you, leave positive feedback and recommend you to others (advocacy).
Social advertising provides a channel for keeping your brand in the consciousness of your customers. If you sell a limited range of products (meaning that cross-selling opportunities are lower) or the purchase cycle is long, you might be more conservative with the frequency and messaging of your ads. For example, you might highlight brand and customer stories more than products to promote the value of your relationship.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a wide range of products or services, you can start recommending additional purchases sooner – and repeat purchases for shorter sales cycles.
Social advertising is also crucial for building brand advocacy, which is where people talk about you, recommend you to others or perform meaningful interactions that can influence other people’s buying decisions. In today’s social world, one retweet can open you up to an entirely new audience, even if the interaction itself doesn’t appear to be all that meaningful.
So keep an eye on engagement to see where people are commenting, sharing and interacting with your social ads. Create campaigns designed to engage and get your customers involved – not only to expand your audience but also to show new prospects what it’s like to be part of the family.
Customer Match, Lookalike Audiences
You can also turn customers into advocates without their input by using Customer Match in Google Ads, Lookalike Audiences on Facebook and similar technologies on other platforms. With Customer Match and Lookalike Audiences, you compile lists of customer data, which Google and Facebook use to show ads to other people showing similar interests and behaviours during the build-up to a purchase.
This allows you to reach new audiences that wouldn’t necessarily see your ads otherwise and these are prospects that demonstrate behavioural patterns suggesting they’re likely to buy from a brand like yours in the near future.