The Hierarchy of PPC Account Realization

By Jacob Fairclough | @RealSecretJake | Senior Account Analyst at Hanapin Marketing

There are many aspects of PPC account management but few frameworks for explaining them. Often times account management is portrayed as a bundle of tasks, which may or may not be needed for a specific account. This lack of a clear explanation leaves it open ended as to where tasks fall in relation to one another.


Most have probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If you haven’t, the school system failed you. Based on research by Abraham Maslow, hence the name, the hierarchy provides a basic psychological framework for understanding human needs. By fulfilling the lower level needs a person is better able to reach self-actualization.


We can apply this framework to our own activities. This is of course a simplification and presents problems in translating it to PPC. The most obvious problem is “does an account have needs”? Don’t worry, a lack of self-awareness makes this an easy no. We aren’t approaching Skynet level PPC accounts, yet.


It won’t be a perfect analog but developing a framework allows for more meaningful discussions around account work and understanding our own behaviors.


The Needs


Maslow lists the following needs in order:


  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love/Belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self Actualization


It’s easy enough to pick up on which ones don’t necessarily fit the framework for a PPC account. That isn’t to say that you can’t find love and belonging through your work but it won’t have a direct analog to our system. I’ll leave that up to you.


In the PPC-centric model, I propose the following:


  1. Goals
  2. Base Components
  3. Optimization
  4. Advanced Tactics & Initiatives
  5. Adjusted And Refined Goals

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In the following paragraphs, we’ll discuss what each component entails and why they are ordered the way they are. The goal here is not only to list the main areas but also more fully define the order they are developed, which can be tricky to conceptualize. Another way to consider the progression is to view the hierarchy in reverse. While it won’t solve every problem it reorients thinking and helps move past sticking points.


Let us put on our amateur psychologist hats and jump in.


Basic Performance Goals

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The first need is oddly one of the most difficult to define. From Maslow’s hierarchy it seems as if the components of an account should be the first need. For this reason, I had the first and second needs swapped in early drafts. It seems obvious that you can’t have a PPC campaign without keywords, ads, and so on.


By succumbing to this line of thinking we remove PPC as part of an overall business strategy. Without the business and its goals, there wouldn’t be a PPC account. Even if this is a brand new account with no data to develop a realistic set of goals based on the market, each business has some figure in mind for CPA or ROAS. If they don’t propose one, any responsible PPC manager is going to ask questions pointed in that direction.


Even if we take the counter argument, “well you must have an account to start advertising, goals can come after” we neglect that PPC accounts should be built around goals. We should not impose goals upon the account but create an account that is amenable to the goals of the account.


Base Components


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This is a broad bucket indeed. It is partially intentional but also a matter of fact. As we all know, there are a plethora of components that go into PPC work. An issue could be attributed to a variety of reasons. Poor queries, directing traffic to an inadequate page, unrefined ad copy, etc.


The way to think of this is anything that makes up the basic pieces of an account. If you think on this for a while, you’ll start to develop your own sub-hierarchy but we will leave that off for now.


The base components are most analogous to the physiological needs of Maslow’s hierarchy. Without these, you simply could not advertise. They are required for the existence of your program.


So why do they come in second here? The simplest way to think of this is that humans are existentially open ended and undefined, thus physical needs come first. PPC accounts are brought into existence by the requirements of an existing entity. Therefore, they require prior justification and don’t just exist on their own right.


Going back to the idea of progression and regression. When performance goals aren’t achieved you are more likely to focus on the core components rather than directly question the assumptions made in the base level goals.




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This is where professionals spend most of their time. Once you’ve established proper goals and have all the pieces of the account implemented you are thrust into the optimization stage. You have to hit this stage fairly easily or you are going to have major issues.


The basics should not change too much as accounts should follow a path of evolution rather than revolution. For you to continually revaluate the basics, you would have to regress to the base level for goal reconfiguration and build back up. Which is not only taxing but also impractical in making any progress.


While optimizing we utilize the data to better adjust the base components for either efficiency or growth. Eventually you run out of practical additions from the base level but there is so much more to be done to optimize those components.


This follows from the assumption that you don’t just pause and replace a keyword or ad for poor performance. Unless it is absolutely abysmal or an error, your first steps are to adjust copy, change bids, implement modifiers and so on. Each of these tasks refocuses rather than rebuilds. It is only when the optimization level continually fails that you must take more drastic efforts and regress to the previous level.


Advanced Tactics and Initiatives

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Advanced tactics is an amalgamation of the prior two levels. It is an amorphous concept but what separates this level is that it surpasses the basic components and subsequent optimization.


Optimization can only go so far. At some point further growth requires something completely new. Even if it is all just PPC in the end, this level demarcates the line between maintenance and progression. For this reason, advanced tactics and initiatives is a separate level.


For example, rather than pushing for growth slowly through Google Search, consideration is given to betas or new initiatives such as Google Sponsored Promotions or building top of funnel campaigns. Both of these initiatives take new angles of attack, opening new opportunities for growth.


These are opportunities you can take once you’ve surpassed the prior levels (or potentially exhausted every other option, but we’ll ignore that too). For this reason, advanced tactics is placed higher. It’s not something you can do every day, every week, or maybe even every quarter. At the risk of sounding clichéd, think of it as a state of mind. You are oriented towards the future and looking to surpass what is already in place. You won’t always have these chances but they are vital in ensuring continual growth and hardiness.


The most interesting facet of this level is that over time, the previous levels eventually subsume any new growth. It effectively becomes part of the regular optimization. Just as everything else in life, growth quickly becomes the new normal.


Refined Goals/ PPC Realization


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As with self-actualization, this level takes many meanings. Being at the top also means you must fulfill all the previous levels to ascend. As stated in the previous section, this isn’t always an option. Since this level depends not only on the previous accomplishments but external factors as well, this is a rare place to be.


So what does it involve? Realization involves the understanding of PPCs place in the total business. Not in the sense of “we need to drive X leads to hit goals” but a subtle understanding of how PPC interacts with other marketing initiatives. Thus, PPC becomes part of the operations, not something that exists on it’s own.


Another way to think of this level is a refinement in goals. Similar to the advanced tactics, these will eventually roll back down the hierarchy. At this level you consider budget allocation. Depending on channel interaction or refined business goals (customer segmentation or creating sub goals) better decisions can be made on how to spend money and where advertising is most valuable. Rather than have static CPA goals, work begins to incorporate the incremental value of additional leads and sales.



What Does It All Mean?


How you utilize and adjust the hierarchy is up to you. The two obvious uses are education and prioritization. Education in the sense that it is useful in explaining work to trainees. Prioritization in that the hierarchy influences your decisions based on where the task falls. If you continually surpass the needs of the optimization level, you need to stop flirting with the next level and find steps to fully inhabit it.


The additional structure can also help understanding your own work. What if you are just barely hitting the optimization level and simply keep readdressing the basic components? In that case you’ll need to either decide if there is an underlying problem at the very bottom or the hierarchy or you need to adjust your skills/experience to transcend the basics and achieve the next level.


This is by no means a carved in stone hierarchy. Where noted, I’ve included some concerns or considerations. As I continue to develop my own understanding, my thinking deepens on the subject. I’d encourage you to make think about this exercise and build you own hierarchy. You might just be surprised by what you come up with, whether it is solutions or conflicting ideas you need to resolve.