HomeBlogThe 6 Essentials of a Successful Paid Media Strategy

The 6 Essentials of a Successful Paid Media Strategy

Author: Amy Bishop
Last Updated: May 31, 2023 | Paid Search Marketing

A paid media strategy is like any recipe. You have the freedom to customize different ingredients to your liking, but forget one key ingredient and the whole outcome is impacted…

cookies missing baking soda

In this post, I’m going to cover the six essential ingredients you need in your paid media strategy this year if you want to avoid failure. They include:

  1. Review and reset benchmarks
  2. Build a first-party-first strategy
  3. Stay on top of advanced tracking technology
  4. Test more paid media channels
  5. Be a steward of automation
  6. Master responsive search ads

The 6 essentials of a strong paid media strategy

If 2020 was the beginning of what seems like an eternity of “unprecedented times” and 2021 was the year of big shakeups, there’s no telling what’s in store for 2022. But based on the marketing trends so far, here are the six ingredients we know you’ll need.

1. Review & reset benchmarks

It’s a best practice to review benchmarks and set goals on a regular basis, sure. But it’s time to look beyond the recurring analysis that we frequently do to monitor campaign performance and do it at a macro level.

As I mentioned above, 2020 was the beginning of what seems like unending “unprecedented times” in the sense that most things are still not quite back to normal. Most of us have found a “new normal,” to use another cliché, and advertisers have trudged forward, but many businesses’ purchaser trends have changed over the past few years.

paid media strategy - consumer behavior COVID chart

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With new variants on the rise, we could see another totally unique year or we might see trends that resemble prior years, whether that be 2021 or pre-COVID times. The reality is that most of us do not yet know what to expect, so we make use of the data that we have and we revisit it frequently.

This year, advertisers need to seek out firmer, more established trends. This will be a year of revisiting what we thought we knew vs. what we saw in 2020 and 2021, while adding external annotations, to try to project what to expect on a go-forward basis.

How to do it

  • Conduct quarterly reviews. This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook with weekly PPC reporting. You should be doing that too. But at the end of each quarter you should take a look at the broader trends going on with your performance and identify anything to improve, harness, or nix for the quarter ahead.
  • Visualize your data. Tools like Google Data Studio can help you achieve a better and more actionable understanding of your performance. Google Data Studio offers pre-made templates to choose from, and you can find more in our round-up of free Google Ads tools.
  • Use benchmarks. In addition to comparing against your own benchmarks, check your performance against industry benchmarks to make sure you’re staying competitive.

paid media strategy - benchmark data example

Check out our latest search advertising benchmarks here.

2. Build a first-party-first strategy

The goal to eradicate third-party cookies across all browsers is clear, so big tracking and targeting changes are on the horizon. Because of this, there’s no doubt there is a high premium on first-party data.

zero, frist, second, third-party data

How to do it

To collect more first-party data from your audience, follow these tips:

  • Create lead magnets. Offer free guides, free tools, and free consultations on your website—anything of enough value that your relevant visitors will fill out a form for.
  • Run lead form ads. Try out Facebook lead ads or Google lead form extensions. You can also customize your questions to collect the information you need.
  • Have a content strategy. Not only can useful content be repurposed into all kinds of lead magnets (guides, webinars, checklists, etc.) but consistently being the go-to resource for your audience builds trust, and the more trusted you are, the more information your audience members will be willing to share with you about themselves.

3. Stay on top of advanced tracking technology

For similar reasons, it’s also imperative that you increase your investment in tracking technology—technology that gives you access to the data you need to propel you ad strategies and report on their effectiveness, but that also maintains the privacy of the prospects being targeted.

Facebook announced that it would be investing in a multi-year initiative focused on privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) in collaboration with other organizations including the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). One such technology is private lift measurement, which it has been testing and plans to roll it out to advertisers this year.

paid media strategy - privacy-enhancing technologies

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Facebook is calling on the industry to work together, collaboratively, noting that it will only work if there is a shared set of standards. It has open-sourced its framework for private computation to allow any developer to create privacy-centric measurement products.

I tend to agree with Facebook that it would likely benefit most parties to have a shared set of standards versus a sea of different tracking mechanisms and standards between different devices, browsers, and ad platforms. The crossover with those three areas gets messy quickly—not to mention the different legislation by geography.

Facebook is not the only large company doing its due diligence, of course. We are seeing it with Google’s Topics API and Microsoft’s Parakeet, as well.

google topics api - flowchart of topic assignment process

Image source

And I anticipate other companies to have their own testing in motion. It will be really interesting to see what lies in store for us on this front.

How to do it

Unless you’re a Facebook or Google Developer, there’s not a whole lot to do here except stay informed on what’s being built. However, you can start adopting tools that have already been made available to us.

  • Implement the Facebook Conversions API: The power of the Facebook Pixel is dwindling. Start using the Facebook CAPI now to minimize gaps in your reporting.
  • Import your offline conversions: Google’s OCI helper tool walks you through the process of getting your offline conversion data into Google Ads so you can find similar, high quality leads. Provide your information and it will put together a customized implementation plan with a progress dashboard and everything.
  • Set up Google ads enhanced conversions: This is Google’s way of providing cross-device conversion tracking without cookies. You can set it up manually with Google Tag Manager or sitewide tagging, or via API. Learn how it works in our coverage here.

best marketing strategies 2022 - how enhanced conversions work in google ads

4. Test more paid media channels

Events of 2020 and 2021 created instances where certain platforms either underperformed or exceedingly overperformed most benchmarks. When those opportunities or issues arise, the advertisers that are prepared to take control of their circumstances are those that have already been proactively testing multiple channels.

Single-platform advertisers, on the other hand, or advertisers that have the majority of their eggs in one bucket, struggle to be agile. In instances where that platform does not perform as well as it used to, it is hard to heavily reinvest elsewhere until you have had a chance to test and gather data.

paid media strategy - facebook outage

Likewise, if another platform is suddenly performing really well, it is hard for advertisers to fully capitalize on it without knowing exactly which targeting options will perform well.

For example, with many advertisers scaling back budgets in the wake of COVID in 2020 while social usage was increasing at the same time, CPMs dropped significantly for advertisers that stayed the course (how to combat rising CPMs here). It was tough for advertisers that had not previously had a social presence to determine whether they should transition budget or stay in their current channels, because they did not have a benchmark.

Having a diverse media mix makes advertisers more nimble and tougher to disrupt, even in the wake of big changes.

How to do it

Here’s how to create a strong cross-channel marketing strategy.

  • Always be testing out new marketing channels. You don’t have to invest heavily in them, but make sure you know how they work for your business, which offers perform best on them, and what your benchmarks are so that should you need to fall back on it, you won’t be upstream without a battle.
  • Employ a mix of paid and organic strategies. Head to our list of the 19 best marketing strategies for 2022 and you should be covered.
  • Don’t promote the same offer on every channel. This is one of our cross-channel marketing mistakes. Find out what offers do best on which channel and then harness that for your strategy.

5. Be a steward of automation

Not unlike tracking changes, there has been a clear and concerted effort to move advertisers into more automation. This is evidenced with the rollout of Performance Max, an ongoing push to automated bidding, and a push toward auto-applied account changes from both Google and Bing, where the platforms will automatically make updates—unless advertisers opt out.

paid media strategy - google auto applied recommendations list

Not to mention changes to Google Partner standards requiring premier partners to achieve a minimum of a 70% optimization score, which is a well-intentioned-but-mostly-meaningless score that truly only measures whether or not you mindlessly implement Google’s (often self-serving) suggestions. This change was scheduled to roll out in 2020 but was pushed back in the midst of COVID, and is now officially set to roll out in 2022.

How to do it

  • Test. Personally, I have seen success in automated bidding strategies and Performance Max campaigns, when used in the right instances and at the right times. You have to test them and give them time, as they don’t always work right out of the gate.
  • Become a steward of automation. Sometimes automation feels like a power struggle. Plus, the lack of visibility makes it hard to trust that something is working optimally. But it can be helpful in many cases. Find things that automation can do well and use it there to free up time on what you need to manage manually.
  • Educate yourself. Of course, if you’re not familiar with Google Ads’ automation features, get yourself up to speed! You can learn the pros and cons of every automated bidding strategy in Google here.
  • Try out AI. Automation, machine learning, and AI all come hand-in-hand. Check out these practical examples of AI in marketing to see where you can get started.

Becoming a steward of automation still takes less time than full manual implementation and can lead to better outcomes in many cases. It is not man (or woman) versus machine, but rather man and machine!

6. Master responsive search ads (RSAs)

Last but not least, the Google Ads portion of your paid media strategy needs to include RSAs. Though advertisers can continue to use existing expanded text ads (ETAs), including pausing and reactivating existing ETAs, new ETAs cannot be created after June 2022.

Many advertisers noticed Google giving precedence to RSAs over ETAs at auction time in 2021, so it did not come as a surprise to most when Google announced RSAs would become the only option for new ads in the future.

This also ties closely to the trend toward more automation (especially by Google) in 2021. Some advertisers have noted they do not find as great of performance with RSAs and so, it is no surprise that some have held off on fully jumping into RSAs. At this point, though, the transition is inevitable so it benefits advertisers to place a heavy focus on creating and improving RSAs to ensure that they are putting their best foot forward.

responsive search ad cheat sheet

See our full responsive search ad cheat sheet here.

How to do it:

Start creating RSAs, of course! Use our responsive search ad guide and follow these tips:

  • Establish RSA benchmarks now: RSAs tend to have higher click-through rates than ETAs, but conversion performance varies. Get RSAs active in every ad group now so you can have clear expectations for what performance will look like after June.
  • Diversify your copy: Each headline and description should be different so Google can mix and match. At least two headlines should include keywords and at least three should not include keywords.
  • Don’t abandon ETAs! Your existing ETAs will still run after June 30, 2022, you just won’t be able to edit them. So test and create ETAs now that you can pause or unpause in the future.

best marketing strategies for 2022 - expanded text ad creation screen in google ads

You can find more ways to prepare for the end of ETAs here.

Future-proof your paid media strategy

If you’ve been following along over the past year or two, these paid media trends shouldn’t come as a surprise. Then again, surprises seem to also be a trend in and of itself, so stay on your toes!

Let’s finish off with a recap of the six essential ingredients of a successful paid media strategy:

  1. Review and reset benchmarks
  2. Build a first-party-first strategy
  3. Stay on top of advanced tracking technology
  4. Test more paid media channels.
  5. Be a steward of automation
  6. Master responsive search ads

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Meet The Author

Amy Bishop

Amy is a digital marketing consultant and the founding owner of PPC agency Cultivative Marketing. She has built and implemented multichannel digital strategies for a variety of companies—from start-ups and small businesses to Fortune 500 and global organizations—and spanning several industry verticals. Her expertise includes ecommerce, lead generation, and localized site-to-store strategies. When not working, you can find her speaking at industry events across the US and Europe and talking shop on Twitter @hoffman8.


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