The buying cycle is a topic that search marketers have labored over and written about consistently through the years. Today I would like to share a few new techniques with you to optimize your PPC campaigns for each stage of the buying cycle.

First a quick reminder of what constitutes a buying cycle:

  1. According to Kevin Lee at ClickZ, the traditional cycle is Attention, Interest, Conviction, Desire and Close.
  2. Search Engine Guide simplifies the cycle by one step, listing it as Awareness, Consideration/Research, Decision and Purchase.
  3. Not to be outdone, Yahoo! takes the buying cycle down to these three steps: Research, Shop, and Purchase.

No matter how you slice it, it is very important to realize that the customers looking for your product or service are at different stages of the cycle. It is key to realize that your PPC campaigns need to focus on all aspects of the cycle from your campaign organization down to your keywords.

People enter a market for most products or services at a variety of stages in their personal buying cycle. If you target only those people who have done their research and are ready to buy, right now, you will miss the majority of your market.

What I would like to offer up as a suggestion is that you actually optimize your PPC campaigns around the buying cycle. How does one go about this, you ask? Simple! Focus on your keywords, ad texts and bids.

Keywords and Ad Text
The complexity of a keyword most often is in direct relation to its place in the buying cycle. General, one-word search terms are going to target those customers in the early research phases. When you get to the 3 and 4 (or larger!) keyword strings, these are targeting customers who know what they want and are ready to buy.

Optimize your PPC accounts around these ideas. By doing this you can create relevant ad texts for each phase of the buying cycle. But ad texts are not the only string you can pull.

It should be a given that you want your ads to be present from research through purchase. However, high ad positions may not be as paramount with the research phase. For these general keywords, you can bid lower. On the flip side, for those customers in “buy mode,” you will want to bid higher on complex search terms to ensure they click your ad when the time is right!

All of that being said, use these techniques in close cooperation with your own ROI reporting. In some instances, general keywords can catch buyers at the end of the cycle. You will have to do your homework and make the best decisions for your individual campaigns.

I’d love to hear if anyone else has experimented with PPC optimization based on the stages of the buying cycle. Let me know your thoughts!