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3 Big Ideas That Will Drive a Fresh Back-to-School PPC Strategy

If you have a product or service that fits the back-to-school market, it's time to fine-tune your PPC plans for maximum benefit. Use these three data-driven ideas for maximum benefit.


We’re about to enter the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s a time when parents across the land silently cheer, secretly plan mimosa celebrations, and possibly spend the hours between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. not refereeing sibling arguments.

I’m talking about back-to-school.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for paid search advertisers, too.

Believe it or not, the earliest back-to-school shoppers get started in May!

If you have a product or service that fits the back-to-school market, chances are good that you’ve started to fine-tune your PPC plans for maximum benefit (and if not, let this serve as your reminder!).

This post shares some big ideas that can impact your entire strategy, based on some sound research by people who are just plain smart.

1. College Shoppers Do It Online; Moms Shop Locally

While children are still growing, it’s important for Mom or Dad to take them shopping to try on clothes. (Because nothing that fit last year will fit this year!)

This makes department stores and discount stores the first stop for back-to-school shoppers.

But since college-age humans usually know their size and/or the system requirements for that new laptop, they can easily research and shop online.

What This Means for Advertisers

  • Capture Mom and Dad with free shipping and returns, prominently announced in your paid search ads. Even better, offer free next-day shipping. This way, if the pants don’t fit there’s still time to order the right size.
  • Sharpen your shopping campaigns (more on this in a minute) to show local results, so they can head out to purchase with a kid in tow.
  • Consider conquesting or bidding on department store keywords that fit your offerings.
  • Back-to-school shoppers take an average of 16 trips to purchase what they need at an average of seven stores! How do you think this translates to their web searches for back-to-school items? Multiple sessions. Which makes remarketing an especially brilliant move. Segment by the frequency of visit, by abandoned cart content count (more items in there should get a higher bid) and by time since the last visit.
  • If you are advertising a local store, be sure to use location and call extensions to guide local shoppers to your door.
  • Consider serving complementary or counter-programmed ads on back-to-school keywords. For example, “spa days,” “getaways,” and “celebration destinations” would all be smart-aleck (yet still relevant) ads on a search for [fourth-grade lunch boxes].

2. Back-To-School Is a 5-Month Episode – Plan Carefully

The earliest shoppers get rolling in May (these people don’t understand or appreciate procrastination), and the latest shoppers are still searching in mid-September (my people).

There are even signs of life in October… who waits that long!?!?

The key trend in back-to-school shopping is that everything is starting earlier and lasting longer.

It used to be we could plan July-August-September and be done with school shoppers!

What This Means for Advertisers

  • Start earlier. As in: plan in April, launch in May, ramp in July. (If you didn’t fit this trend in 2018… stop reading and start your campaigns!)
  • Flight your campaigns according to the most popular start dates for school across the country. This will help you conserve ad budget for the moments that really matter.
    • Schools start session throughout August and into September.
  • Use location targeting to bid upon regions with the highest spending share. This beautiful map might be all you need to plot your budget:

back-to-school ppc insights from Bing

  • Create a safety net with in-market audiences to catch searchers when they are ready to buy. Food for thought:
    • Education > Primary & Secondary Schools (K-12)
    • Computers & Peripherals
    • Computers & Peripherals > Computers
    • Computers & Peripherals > Computer Accessories & Components
    • Apparel & Accessories > Clothing
    • Apparel & Accessories > Shoes > Athletic Shoes

3. Pictures Get an A+

Bing Shopping Campaigns are seeing big gains in click growth in general (48 percent increase in clicks YoY, based on Microsoft internal data, Bing Network, U.S., June 1-October 15, 2016 and 2017), and during the back-to-school season specifically.

What This Means for Advertisers

  • Computers and electronics are big for school shoppers. And this category saw a 48 percent increase in clicks YoY for Bing Shopping Campaigns. Not using shopping campaigns would be a lot like missing the bus, because:
    • College shoppers dominate laptop purchases, with 61 percent of shoppers checking the RAM
    • K-12 parents are in the market for calculators, with 35 percent of shoppers showing their children how to spell “hello” upside-down with the numbers 07734
  • School supplies take many shapes. Review your search query data from back-to-school campaigns of the past. Review your product catalog. What do you have that’s a match?
    • Usual suspects: computers/laptops, computer accessories, backpacks, clothing, shoes, school supplies, furniture/small appliances (college-aged).
    • Not-so-usual suspects that skew toward college kids: cell phones, gift cards (family gifts), food, collegiate-themed “stuff.”
  • Have sales/deals lined up for back-to-school? Be sure to keep your product feed(s) updated and don’t be afraid to use the phrase “back-to-school” in your descriptions during this season… after all, many searchers use that phrase in their search queries. For example:
    • back to school deals
    • back to school sales
    • back to school
    • best back to school laptop
    • [brand] back to school clothes


When you put together a paid search campaign for back-to-school that hits all of these points, you’re bound to be teacher’s pet.

Seeing solid improvement from this season is possible with a fresh look at your strategy. Meet me after school (September!) to report on how things went for you!

More PPC Resources:

Image Credits

Featured Image: iStockPhoto
In-post Photo: Bing

Category PPC
VIP CONTRIBUTOR John Lee Head of Evangelism at Microsoft Advertising

John Lee is a digital advertising professional with experience in PPC, display advertising, social advertising, SEO and analytics. At Microsoft ...

3 Big Ideas That Will Drive a Fresh Back-to-School PPC Strategy

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