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An Oft-Overlooked but Critical Thing to Understand About Keyword Search Advertising

Briefcase full of money representing the cost of pay-per-click advertising.

If memory serves, I believe Perry Marshall, of 80/20 marketing fame [affiliate link], deserves credit for putting this insight so distinctly:

Keyword-based search advertising can only work when all three of the following things are true of your prospects:

  1. They know that they have a problem, and…
  2. They can describe it to themselves, and…
  3. They believe that somebody on the internet has a solution for it

Sound obvious? It’s not.

You can judge simply by paying attention to the search ads you see all day long, and you have to know that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted due to the above principles.

Many people have problems that they don’t even realize they have.

Many people have problems that they can’t explicitly define, so they can’t really know what kind of solution they are searching for. You might say they are “aimless”.

And lots of people have problems, but they don’t think to look for a solution for it on the internet! (You know this. How many times have you been perplexed by observing someone struggling mightily with a problem – looking for solutions in all the wrong places – and you, with a disbelieving shake of your head – said to them, “Why don’t you look it up online?) 

That said,  if your target audience does meet all three requirements above, you might – might, mind you – be able to cost-effectively reach them with keyword-based pay-per-click advertising.

But if your target audience does not meet the above three criteria, you cannot reach them with any amount of keyword-based search advertising.

So are you dead in the water? No, but your task is far more challenging – because you have to interrupt them instead, as Perry says.

It’s important to really grasp what that involves, though…”interrupt them”.

See, in keyword-based search, by its very nature you know that a prospect is a prospect because s/he entered one of your paid keywords into the search engine, saw your ad that was relevant to their keyword, and clicked on your ad to learn more about what it was promising them.

But when you interrupt, you have none of that going for you. Consider: say a person is on the CBS News website reading an article about Venezuela, when your ad for Viagra pops up. Why would that be, when Viagra has nothing directly to do with Veneuela? 

It’s because the ad systems these days are smart enough to quickly (and by that I literally mean in the flash-of-an-eye) discover everything known about people. And the ad system discovers that that Venezuela article reader happened to visit a site about Viagra a few weeks back. That’s why the ad system serves up your ad for Viagra and interrupts that “prospect” who is focused on Venezuela at the moment.

So, in that case, your first job is capture that person’s attention with your ad design, then – with your ad content – convince him or her that you have something important enough to share that s/he should stop reading the Venezuela article, switch their attention to Viagra, and click on your ad!

It can be done. It is done. To the tune of billions dollars a year, much to the dismay of  TV networks and their dropping-like-a-rock ad revenues. 

But, here’s another little secret take-away: Most interruption-based advertisers will never know how much of their ad dollars are being wasted. Because many of them pay just to have their ads seen, not acted upon!!!

And so, alas, that CBS News reader may end up buying Venezuela instead of (more?) Viagra.

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