You just got a new PPC client or maybe you are starting an account for a new brand or division of your company – what are you going to do first? Keyword research? Write ads? Before you dive in head first, take a step back and develop a plan. Ask some key questions, research the competitive landscape and think through things to make sure you set the account on the right path from the beginning.

In order to make the process a little easier, I have put together the steps to go through before you go anywhere near keyword research. If you are inheriting an existing account, follow the same steps to help give a new perspective. No matter how old an account is, sometimes we all need to look at it through a new lens in order to get better results. Already have an account and have done the process? Great, but how long ago was it? More than a year? If so, it is time to refresh your documents and make sure you are still on track. You may find new competitors have popped up and are copying your approach.

Understand the company, brand/product and how that fits into the larger picture.  If you are setting up a PPC account for a product or brand that is part of a larger company, make sure you fully understand that product/brand but also what the larger company stands for. For instance, let’s say you are going to do PPC for Mountain Dew.  Not only do you need to understand Mountain Dew, but you also have to consider there are several products or flavors (Code Red, Live Wire, etc.) within Mountain Dew name. You need to think about your approach – is it better to create campaigns for each flavor or approach it all as just Mountain Dew. The other piece to consider is that Mountain Dew is part of a much larger brand, PepsiCo. During this discovery phase, thing about if want to try and cross over with other Pepsi audiences or if there is equity in using the Pepsi brand name at all. Especially when working on products that are part of a larger brand, make sure you understand the overall marketing strategy, what role PPC plays in it and any general guidelines or restrictions the client has. For instance some clients don’t want to ever buy keywords for competitors, others do.

Determine a core set of competitors and why your product/brand is different. Search for your product/brand to see who is already playing in the space, what their ads say and what is on their landing pages. Try to identify 3-5 core competitors and dig to find out as much about them as possible. Is it a highly competitive space, are there not a lot of players, is everyone saying the same thing?  Use research sites to gain additional insights on PPC competitors – there are several out there and although there is no way to get exact information on who you are going against, you can gain some general knowledge. From there, generate a list of benefits about your product/brand that you will later use to write ads and landing pages. Having this list on hand will make it easier to identify your key point of difference and spell it out for visitors.

Who do you want to attract and what are they interested in? Let’s go back to Mountain Dew. I could just say I am targeting males 13 – 35 and end this section there but in order to better identify not only keywords but also sites you want to target for the content network, go beyond this. Develop a personality and character traits for the user – paint a picture and develop a story about them. What are their interests, personality, likes and dislikes? Where do they live, how much do they make, etc. If your site has analytics data, use the traffic information to see where people are coming from, if they are using mobile devices, etc. The important thing to keep in mind though is this is your CURRENT traffic and that may not necessarily be who you want to target moving forward. So for our Mountain Dew example, the story might go something like this… Nate is 17, into xtreme spots and rap music, spending money on music, games and fast food. He spends time with friends or online and truly believes he is the greatest Halo player ever. He averages 25 texts per day, and spends 1 hour a day surfing  the web from his cell phone…the more detailed a picture you can paint the easier it will be to find other interests or things you can overlap into for keyword research, ad writing, content network placements or types of ads. In this case, you may want to create mobile ads in addition to text ads.

What is your goal and do you have the support needed to get there? This is a key piece that is often overlooked and can be the difference between success and failure. Not only does the goal need to be determined but you also need to get buy-in and agreement from the client and any internal teams. If your goal is to generate 1,000 conversions per month, get agreement on this as well as budget and average cost per lead. Without these three pieces agreed upon, it is going to be difficult to meet everyone’s expectations. From there outline what you need to make sure you hit that goal. If conversions are the goal and a conversion means capturing contact information, then you need to make sure you have a landing page that gets you there. If your client doesn’t want to test landing pages and just use their home page with a “contact us” button in the corner, you are going to have a hard time getting to the goal no matter how much traffic you generate. In that case, you need to set expectations from the start as well as determine other metrics that you might be able to better control. For instance, instead of just tracking clicks maybe use time on site so you need to make sure the visitors generated are qualified.

Write it all down and map out your plan. Once you have done your homework, put together a summary and provide it to everyone on the team – both internal and external. The team needs to be on board with who you are targeting, how you are measuring success and the plan to get there. Part of your write up should also include your approach. Maybe you determined that in addition to traditional search, you are going to use video game and extreme sports type websites on the content network to further your reach for Mountain Dew. Having everything documented will also help in case the account migrates to a new person or team. Consider it your download document to help a new person get up to speed quickly.

No matter where you are in the cycle of a client, there is always room for improvement. A deep dive into a client can sometimes be just what you need to get those few extra leads to hit a new record in the account.