The Value of Non-Branded Ad Campaigns

By Matt Rubinstein
TOPICSConversion, Featured, Paid Search

Everyone loves progress, but no one likes change, or so the saying goes. Nowhere is this truer than in eCommerce, especially when it comes to acquiring new customers.  

In paid search (ad placement rather than organic relevance and ranking), new customer acquisition happens with a specific branch of search terms called non-branded (or non-brand). These customers’ searches are brand agnostic. These shoppers may not even be familiar with your brand. Or they may be familiar with it but not have bought from it yet. They are looking for a product, not a label or a reputation in this stage of their buying journeys.

Before we go further, let’s discuss branded search terms and clarify the differences.

Branded Search Terms 

These are the search terms that match either your business name or those of your competitors. For example, if you own a western supply store called Dave’s Western Depot, searches like “Dave’s western” or “Dave’s western depot” are branded as shoppers are searching for your brand by name. These shoppers know that they need western supplies and they are looking to shop at Dave’s. If you are Dave, these are your core people and they will have a high conversion rate. They are awesome customers but you need new buyers as well if you’re going to grow your business.

Non-Branded Search Terms

Non-branded search terms in this case might include “western jeans.” Shoppers using these terms have a sense of what they are looking for but they are not attached to a particular brand. It’s going to take a lot more to get them from search to purchase and they might buy from Dave’s or another western supplier. They don’t have brand loyalty and they are likely comparing many options across the web.

Running non-branded campaigns makes sense for almost every merchant. It is, after all, how you acquire new customers and sometimes even poach customers who usually do business with another merchant. However, when faced with initial results, many advertisers are surprised or even upset by non-branded campaign RoAS compared to branded campaign RoAS. “My branded campaign has a RoAS of 2,000%, why is my non-branded campaign at only 100%?” isn’t an uncommon question. There are good answers and you have to look beyond RoAS when it comes to the value of non-branded campaigns.

Understanding and Measuring Performance 

While non-branded campaigns are almost universally lower performers compared with branded campaigns, they can also be invaluable to your business in the long run. Here are some considerations as you expand your customer acquisition through non-branded campaigns. These will help you determine if you’re on track for success or if you need to make changes to ensure you keep growing your business.  

Example: Remember that Dave already has shoppers looking for “Dave’s Western Depot.” These are existing customers or other shoppers who have incentive to do business with Dave before another western outfitter. The people Dave doesn’t have are the shoppers searching for “cowboy boots” and “ten gallon hats.” Acquiring those people would be a huge win for Dave.

First, while it’s possible to anticipate which non-branded search terms will be successful, it’s never definite until you have enough data, meaning clicks from a specific keyword or search term. How many clicks is enough to know whether a search term is going to be successful or not? Our rule of thumb is 50-100 clicks. Since 2% is the rough average conversion rate for eCommerce, 50 – 100 clicks should yield between 1 – 2 conversions, which is a decent start for a new campaign. However, be aware that there are essentially two potential pitfalls of any non-branded campaign: 

  1. Low efficiency 
  2. Zero conversions 

Almost any campaign can be improved from an efficiency perspective, but, if after 100 clicks on a given search term (not an entire campaign, but a search term), there aren’t any conversions, that’s valuable feedback for both your specialist and you. That’s not an efficiency issue, it’s a signal that the search term wasn’t productive and didn’t resonate with shoppers.

So what happens if you don’t see any conversions? 

One of my colleagues has noted that paid ads are essentially leads that are handed to your website to help each potential buyer convert, either by taking a specific action like filling out a form or by buying something.  

If you have a search term that you, the business owner or eCommerce executive or ads manager, believe is relevant to your business, and you’re not getting any conversions for it, that’s vital feedback. Why? Because in keeping with the western metaphor, ads can lead horses to water but they can’t make them drink.

Once someone arrives on your website, the ad’s work is done. It did its job in winning the impression and the click. Now it’s the website’s job to demonstrate — by design, layout, content, and other elements of user experience — that buying on that site is in the customer’s interest and get the transaction done.

Failure to convert can indicate deeper troubles.

More specifically, if buyers aren’t converting on search terms that you believe are relevant to your business, understand that as feedback that something on your website needs to improve. Maybe it’s pricing, but often it can be the flow of the site, the way products are presented, or specific callouts that help buyers understand why they should buy from you, rather than take the default action of doing nothing. Get an EXCLUSIVE expert to give you a free eCommerce analysis to diagnose the issues.

Don’t take it personally when non-branded terms don’t convert (even if you just knew that the search term was gold). Understand the lack of conversions as feedback that indicates that something can be improved to turn visitors into buyers.

Put it this way, if your in-house salesperson was given 100 good leads and couldn’t close a single one, you might question the value of the leads, but wouldn’t you also consider that the salesperson wasn’t very good at sealing the deal? Sure, but there’s still hope! Salespeople can be trained and websites can be tested and improved, and when a salesperson and a site are optimized, the results can be vastly improved. 

Help your digital marketing specialist help you.

The last bit of advice I’d offer: share your industry-specific experience with your digital marketing specialists. I’ve noticed that clients tend to overestimate what people outside of their industry know. Sharing specific phrases, important topics, and other industry knowledge helps specialists better understand your customers and tailor campaigns and ad copy towards them. 

If you’ve been in your field for some time, you take your knowledge and industry language for granted. But what you’ve learned in your industry, whether it’s horse tack, apparel, or hardware has taken you years to accumulate. Sharing that with your specialists helps them best represent you as an expert in your industry and connect with potential buyers. 

The more expertise your business has and the more trustworthy you appear, the more you’ll help new customers convert on your site. Conversely, misuse of industry terms or phrases can be a dead giveaway to potential customers that specialists, and by extension your business (right or wrong) may not be the right place to invest their money. 

Non-branded campaigns can be a tough pill to swallow, but they are strong medicine in how they boost your brand’s health from website to persona identification and beyond. Rather than expecting branded-campaign-like performance, try to understand the value of non-branded campaigns (even with all of their challenges).

In addition to helping you acquire new customers, non-branded campaigns are amazing barometers and instructors. You may not be able to translate that to RoAS, but do not diminish the value. With enough data and understanding of branded vs. non-branded campaigns, you can synergize data-driven learning with best practices to grow your business and your brand.

Google Ads Scorecard Banner