How TA Created and Executed a Nationally Acclaimed PPC Campaign

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Recently, we created a paid-search campaign for Zions Bancorporation that far surpassed its intended goals — and our client’s expectations. We were pretty proud of it and submitted it to this year’s Global Search Awards and U.S. Search Awards in the finance category. We ended up placing in the top 5 in the international competition and 2nd in the U.S. one, so we thought some bragging was in order. 

But … since we’re also experts in content marketing, we know that quality blog posts need to bring value to one’s audience — and a self-serving piece just talking about how great we are wouldn’t exactly do that. That’s why, with help from our Director of Search Kuulei Hanamaikai, we’ll go over what made the campaign so successful and how you can use some of our tactics to improve your own paid-search efforts.


Why this campaign was needed and the results

Zions Bancorporation, a bancorp with whom TA has had a long and fruitful relationship, oversees several major banks throughout western America, including Zions Bank (Utah), Vectra Bank (Colorado) and Amegy Bank (Texas).

In 2020, as COVID took its toll on many small businesses, many banks — including the aforementioned three — offered a lifeline by offering PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans through the SBA (Small Business Administration).

(So many acronyms! But this is an article about marketing, so expect plenty more to come.)

Small-business owners faced several challenges with PPP loans. Many went to their financial institution of choice only to discover that they weren’t an SBA-approved lender — and therefore unable to offer the loan. Others found that their SBA-approved bank still couldn’t facilitate a loan, or that the process to apply was painful.

Zions Bancorporation saw this as an opportunity to promote its banks’ PPP loans, which were offered to everyone — not just existing customers — via a fast and simple process. They needed TA’s help in driving applications, so we developed a massive omnichannel campaign — with paid search being the star player.

The key results?

  • A 30.9% conversion rate (initially projected at 5.1%)
  • A $3.27 CPC (initially projected at $5–12)
  • A $10.55 CPA (initially projected at $81.93)
  • A spend 3.5x higher than initially planned (increased from $70,000 to $252,000)

Note: projections were based on industry benchmarks and other forecasting tools.


Tactic 1: We used past campaigns as a jumping-off point

In many fields, past behavior is often the best predictor of future behavior — and marketing campaigns are no exception. Taking elements from a successful campaign and reusing them in a comparable new one usually creates positive results.

Subtle-brag warning: Because we’ve run paid-search for Zions Bancorporation and other finance clients for some time now, we didn’t have trouble referencing past campaigns similar to the new PPP one (e.g., ones promoting other types of SBA loans).

We analyzed those campaigns, determined what made them successful and transferred those success elements over to the new one. We looked at variables like landing pages, bid strategy and copy messaging. But a key priority was to find keywords that had performed well and use those as the foundation for our keyword strategy. This data-informed approach was a reason the PPP campaign was successful from the get-go.

Takeaway: Use the past to guide the future. There’s nothing wrong with returning to the well, especially if that well has historically produced killer CPA’s.


Tactic 2: We made constant adjustments

The same way a chef tastes their food and makes adjustments as they make a sauce, a paid-search specialist needs to frequently review their campaigns and make optimizations where needed. (As of the time this article is being written, this year’s Thanksgiving feast is still fresh on our mind, which probably explains the choice of a cooking analogy.)

Relentless testing and optimizing is TA’s MO when it comes to paid search, and this PPP campaign was no exception. Kuulei and her team were going into Google Ads at least three times a week, adjusting keyword bids, targeted and negative keywords, and copy — among other things.

But the most notable optimization was a recurring recommendation to increase the campaign budget. Because the campaign was performing so well, TA kept advising upping the spend and the client kept agreeing (why wouldn’t they want dirt-cheap conversions after all?!). As a result, the campaign’s total spend ended up at $252,000, a whopping $182,000 more than our initial plan of $70,000.

The takeaway: Setting-and-forgetting yields forgettable results. Optimize frequently and adapt accordingly.


Tactic 3: We keep up with the PPC world

Like fashion, technology moves fast. And just like how the skinny jeans you bought last year are no longer acceptable to wear this year (source: the youth), many paid-search best practices from just a year ago might be ineffective today. But, unlike with fashion, there are practical consequences to being out of touch in the paid-search world — namely ineffective campaigns.

A recent example of a major change in paid search is the disappearance of the “modified broad match” option in Adwords — which we used to rely on heavily. As a result, we had to adapt our keyword strategy, which took a lot of trial and error.

We’ve since substantially increased the number of exact-match keywords we’re targeting while being extra vigilant about negative keywords. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve found that it’s produced the best results for our campaigns — and that’s what our clients expect from us.

The takeaway: Stay on top of your craft or you’ll quickly fall behind. Subscribing to industry newsletters is a good way to do that.


Tactic 4: We created messages that resonated with our client’s audience

No one likes narcissistic people, and the same can be said about brands. When creating ad copy, we don’t just write what we think is best about our client’s brand or product. Instead, we write about how the brand/product can address customer pain points that we identified through our research.

With the PPP campaign, we knew that loan applicants were wary of long and complicated application processes that, in some cases, would not even result in a PPP loan. That’s why we made it a priority to disclose that the application process with Zions Bancorporation banks was a breeze — only taking about 10 to 15 minutes. This audience-first approach to our messaging was a major reason for this campaign’s success.

The takeaway: Know your audience and tell them something good. How can you help them?


Tactic 5: Be omnipresent

Successful marketing is a lot like successful dating. You have to be present, but not clingy. You have to say the right things at the right time. You have to be consistent and honest.

When it comes to a large marketing campaign, checking these boxes requires an omnichannel strategy that promotes a consistent and relevant message. That is our approach at TA and that’s what we did with the PPP campaign.

In addition to paid search, we promoted this campaign in channels like social, display and traditional — pushing a unified message that was also personal, based on where the customer was in the customer journey. In the end, these additional higher-funnel touchpoints contributed greatly to the success of the paid-search channel.

The takeaway: When developing a campaign, try to diversify your channel strategy — but ensure cohesion in your messaging. (We see brands convey disjointed messages all the time.)


Did you enjoy these tactics? We’ve got plenty more we’d love to share with you. If you have any paid-search needs (or other marketing needs), holler at us. We’ll show you all the acronyms we know.

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December 7, 2021by TA


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