SEM Planning for 2022: Because 2020 Didn’t Help You For 2021

Hello, fellow research industry friends. It’s already November 2021, which means if you haven’t already, you’re behind the 2022 planning schedule.

I realize most of us have yet to recover from the dumpster fire that was 2020 (just look at our beloved NY Jets as an example).

But 2020 left us with a little PITA Easter egg, too: the inability to use historical annual data from the past year to plan for 2021 or 2022.

Take a deep breath and accept that you are really behind the eight ball here. Let’s discuss how you will do this.

How is strategic planning usually done in search marketing?

First, an important note: this process applies if you’re working on the same game plan as the previous year, without drastic, overarching changes.

What this does not apply to is if you are moving from a pioneer generation to an outreach approach.

The most popular method that research planning for the new year follows is by examining past data. Here, you examine the annual growth in CPCs (let’s be honest, they rarely go down).

This is all done by the engine, so you end up with the behavior of Google Ads, Bing Ads, and (for some advertisers) even Yelp.

You examine seasonal, monthly, and even daily-of-the-week behavior across all segments of your campaign including product listing ads, brand, non-brand, high volume, etc.

Once this is done, you can look up the front and rear traffic variances over the past 2-3 years.

You’re looking for highs or lows caused by time or macro factors that often repeat annually, or is it a one-and-done scenario.

You probably keep a close eye on your impression share data (especially lost impression share).

Then you apply projected growth, spending increases, etc., over the course of 365 days, and fold up or down for recurring seasonal, quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily events.

and BOOM!

We’ve got your anticipated 2022 delivery needs together in a neat little package.

That worked out pretty well – until 2020 came along.

What has made 2020 a planning nightmare for search engine marketing professionals?

Well, if you’re wondering about it, you either have a unique and different form of planning, you live in a shack with no off-grid internet, or you’ve only been deep in the industry for one year.

These are all acceptable answers.

More than one factor to play in Chaos 202 in a big way:

  • Epidemic: This completely wiped out some sectors (such as travel), crushed others (such as retail banking), and was a “golden age” for others, such as consumer-oriented consumer goods and home improvement.
  • Election season: This hit some sectors more than others as politicians ran ads targeting key terms in adjoining/corona categories such as healthcare/insurance, Medicare and law.
  • The unemployment: High unemployment rates affect sectors differently. You often see longer buying cycles, higher price points, and luxury items take an ugly hit.

Search Engine Marketing Planning for 2022, Step by Step

So, what are you supposed to do now?

Well, the number one thing is to take it seriously but avoid panicking.

Depending on your sector, your activity may have returned to pre-pandemic levels of normality.

For those who have seen a return to ‘normal’, this will be a little easier.

Here’s what you’ll do, provided you maintain the same goals.

1. Pull data from January to September.

2. If you lose impression share due to budget…

Select the campaigns and months, and select the opportunity if you’re not underfunded (fun little formula below).

Actual budget impression share data calculation by author November 2021

3. Take it further.

Now, if you want to take it a step further, you can calculate the missed opportunity due to lost impression share due to ranking.

I first learned about this formula in Pay-per-click math is easy by Rachel Law in 2019, and found it to be pretty accurate.

Calculation of the actual impression share data of the rankingActual impression engagement data calculates ranking by author, November 2021

4. Add up the total chances If you are underfunded for a missed opportunity because of your mattress.

You got what you should have for this year.

5. See average CPC growth within the past two or three years per month.

Apply this growth to CPC and cost (not impressions or clicks).

I was used to 3%-5% annual growth.

6. Review of growth / change in activity in the last quarter of 2018 and 2019.

Compare with Q3 and apply that demand/cpc/traffic, etc. to your current Q4 budget and forecast.

Boom, you have a plan for 2022 filtered for election season, unemployment, and pandemic noise.

Tips for planning SEM in specific scenarios

Now, that’s all well and good unless you’re dealing with a vertical that’s been under the hammer or had a golden age.

Your process will be similar, but not quite the same.

If your performance hasn’t reset, or at least returned to pre-pandemic levels in the past three months, take this approach – and remember, this is for advertisers holding the same goals.

If your geographic target is anywhere outside the regions of Asia/Oceania…

Start by pulling 12 months of historical data from February 2019 to January 2020. This is realistically the latest you can get before things really hit the fans for most of the world.

If you’re running ads targeting Asia/Oceania, pull data from November 2018 to October 2019.

Determine the overall chance that it should have been with loss of impression share.

Then extend your CPC to two years.

This is based on 2-3 year historical growth (ending last month that I pulled), including the fourth quarter.

Note: If you’re doing 3% to 5% annual growth, make sure you’re expanding year-on-year (i.e. a 2-year compounded 5% growth rate works out to 10.25%).

Now for the important part – flexing based on macro factors, including:

  • Supply Chain Constraints: Reduce by product so you can predict proper delivery.
  • Abnormal lifting like a halo of epidemic (such as DIY products): Start with a low budget and keep a test reserve as more consumers return to normal life.
  • COVID sales affected (i.e. gym memberships): Plan for average demand between regular and peak seasons.
  • Principal Holiday Seller: Default to 2022, assuming holiday shopping starts in mid-November instead of October, but keep an emergency budget in case that happens.

The list of factors goes on, but the truth is that you need to factor in the fact that your extreme (out of character, that is) downturn or rise depends on a macro factor, and it will eventually come back unexpectedly.

This means that you need to play on the conservative side with the budget, and put the surplus/excess into a backup test budget.

Once I have my pass numbers, what do I do now?

Well, you can’t do anything. But that would be a terrible idea.

Instead, apply historically normalized PPC performance data (follow the data history above to find “normal” PPC performance data, such as conversion rate (CVR), cost per acquisition (CPA), etc. to your delivery numbers This will give you the expected back performance for the year.

But remember to be careful here.

Your positive performance windfall may only be temporary, so don’t use COVID numbers to predict positive performance. At the same time, if you have an economic downturn, use this data to hope it turns positive.

If there’s just one thing you take away from this column, I hope 2022 is the year of broadcasting on the side of caution.

Do this, and you will meet or exceed your expectations directly.

And cross your fingers that murder hornets don’t try to come back.

More resources:

  • How to develop your own Pay Per Click (PPC) strategy
  • 10 best practices for paid search and PPC planning
  • 6 tips for more targeted and engaging PPC campaigns

Featured image: Shutterstock / N ON NE ON

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