‘Back to School’ Campaigns, PPC Marketers Never Stop Learning

Ian O'Rourke Posted by Ian O'Rourke

The ROI of building an effective “back to school” PPC campaign might be higher than ever before.

UK parents’ collective back to school spending reached a sum of £2.3bn in 2013 (£224 per child) according to research by Santander Credit Cards, as covered by ClearDebt. How should you build your campaign, target the most effective keywords, and keep your customers on the path to purchasing your products?

As the myriad of “back to school” advertisements loom, parents in the UK dread the inevitable takeover of their television sets, browser pages and radio stations. Furthermore, they dread the ever-increasing amount of money they have to invest in their children’s classroom needs.

According to Santander’s report, back to school spending showed a 25 percent increase on classroom goods from 2012, and 2014 spending is expected to reach at the same level as 2013 spending.

E-Commerce Versus Physical Retailers

eMarketer forecasts that digital sales for back to school items will increase by 16 percent in 2014, slightly higher than the 15.5% increase in digital sales forecasting for the entire online marketplace. More drastically, this is nearly triple the 5.85% growth in projected retail sales overall in Q3.

Factors To Consider In Your PPC campaign

Items with the Most Money Spent on Them

Clothing items make up the bulk of back to school spending at an average of £130 to purchase. After clothing come technology products, such as e-books at a paltry £17 average. The rest of the spending includes bags, sports equipment, books, stationery, and lunch boxes.

While these products may or may not be relevant to your brand, it pays to know where you stand in relation to the field and what bid prices to expect on certain keywords.

Mobile Transformation

The prevalence of mobile devices today has transformed how parents shop for their children, but has not significantly changed when they shop.

The peak period for researching items, according to US research by eMarketer, is late June, while the peak period for buying items is early to mid-August. After mid-August, research drops off completely, and buying behaviour is non-existent after late August.

Journey to Purchase

Acquisio stresses the importance of keeping your audience’s path to purchase in mind.

Visibility and consistency of messaging across different devices is key to sustaining interest and coherency in the minds of your audience, and although smartphones are not currently widely used for purchasing purposes, they are an important source for many potential customers’ research that leads to purchase.

Campaign Tactics


Make sure your ads display physical locations of stores when applicable in order to capture customers browsing local competing shops on their mobiles and drive in-store sales.

Affinity Audiences and Interest Targeting

Selecting Affinity Audiences and Interest Targeting on the GDN (Google Display Network) help brands to generate a following and are a way to more precisely target most probable buyers. Words that can be used for interest targeting include “shopping” or “apparel,” while Affinity Audiences might be described as “value shoppers” or “bargain hunters.”


Reaching out to people who have previously engaged with your brand is essential to staying in their minds while they progress in their journey to purchase. Selecting from “in-market audiences,” customers engaged in research around products like those you offer, is also a possible within the GDN.

Plan for the future

Shoppers start their research early, so start your campaign early. 20 percent of shoppers start their research on phrases such as “back to school sales [YEAR]” in mid-July, and the searches peak in late July.

Adthena’s Insights show the most popular keywords in the back to school category are school uniforms, followed by school bags, school shoes and school backpacks.

There’s a huge uplift of the school uniform keyword string in September when the school term starts, but in March, it drops, although searches remain steady above 2000 for the rest of the year.

This is completely different to the third, fourth and fifth place searches that all see their peak in June and July, dropping to be much lower in the winter months.


Peak Spending Days

Analyse the days on which products like yours are bought or searched for most frequently and plan your PPC campaign around the dates you find in order to maximise ROI, bidding more on the days when the most sales occur, and less on others.

Bolster Offline Marketing with Online

Backing up your offline campaigns with relevant online ones makes great sense, especially if your offline marketing can’t fully express the offer in the time consumers have to view them, such as a highway billboard. They always have their mobile devices, however, and can research further to find more information online at any stage of research and/or purchase.

Writing for to acquisio, Francis Shovlin explains how he uses personal mobile behaviours to advise digital marketers: “If I’m reading a magazine or I see a billboard that interests me, I’m likely to pull out my phone to research.”

UK-based independent organisation, The Money Advice Service, writes, “On a per child basis, school uniform, school shoes and coats are the biggest outlays for parents in advance of school term time. And once the school term begins, the biggest regular outgoings (per child per week) are school trips, packed lunches, extra-curricular activities, and school meals.”

In a quote published on The Money Advice Service’s website, Alan Mathewson, chief executive at Santander Cards says, “Kitting out children for the new school term is an expensive task. It comes at a time when many families are under financial pressure and looking to rein in their spending.”

With the sharply rising schooling costs, could it be time in 2014 to target “value shoppers” in your back to school PPC campaign?

(Image credit: Mike Mozart/Flickr)

About the author

Ian O'Rourke
Ian O'Rourke
Ian is the CEO and Founder of Adthena. After 22 years being involved in technology businesses and start-ups, he has driven Adthena forward since 2012 and it is now experiencing rapid growth. Ian likes to foster a culture of common sense and self-reliance at Adthena, and ensures everyone has the tools they need to succeed, His flair for innovation and business has been recognised with the Developing Entrepreneur Award at the WCIT Enterprise Awards – commonly regarded as the Oscars for technology entrepreneurs. A graduate of the University of Queensland, Ian is also a fluent Chinese speaker having lived and studied in Taiwan. He is married with two children and is an avid rock climber in his spare time.