Closing the Paid Search Knowing-Doing Gap

I HAVE RECENTLY become consumed with the Knowing-Doing Gap idea made popular by Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton. The basic premise of the knowing-doing gap trying to understand why companies don’t do more of the things they know they should do to improve performance. Companies invest in training and consulting for their employees so they can learn best practices and how to to their job the right way but for various reasons, even after training, employees revert back to old habits. And so, do to cultural problems or failed processes or some other root-cause, the gap between knowing what to do and actually doing it exists.

Identifying Areas of the Knowing-Doing Gap

In the world of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) I see instances of the Knowing-Doing Gap all the time. For instance, clearly known information on the simple, fundamental ways to practice paid search advertising has been presented at countless industry conferences, written about in endless blog posts, spouted by search evangelists and even provided in Google’s own help documentation and yet search marketers fail to do the right thing.

An example of what I have observed include the attention (or lack there-of) to Google AdWords Quality Score and Clickthrough Rate (CTR). In regards to Quality Score Google states in it’s help section:

Quality Score is the basis for measuring the quality of your keyword and ad and determining your cost-per-clicks (CPCs). Quality Score is determined by your keyword’s clickthrough rate (CTR), relevance of your ad text, historical keyword performance, and other relevancy factors. The higher your Quality Score, the lower the price you’ll pay per click.

Another example I observe as a former SEM Account Manager and Strategist and current SEM Consultant and Coach is in regards to relevance. Relevance of keywords to each other, their text ads and landing pages. In regards to relevance of an AdWords structure Google instructs:


One of the biggest benefits AdWords offers is the ability to precisely target ads to users based on their interest, as well as a number of other factors like location, language, and demographic. The result is that the user sees highly relevant ads, which they are more likely to click on. And because ads on search engines show only in response to a user’s query, the user is also more likely to be further along in the buying cycle, and more likely to be ready to convert.

And the last example is in regards to how text ads are ranked and tie together Quality Score, CTR and relevance:

Ads are positioned on pages based on their Ad Rank, which is a combination of your bid and a relevancy metric called Quality Score. The ad with the highest Ad Rank appears in the first position, and so on down the page.

A Quality Score is calculated every time your keyword matches a search query — that is, every time your keyword has the potential to trigger an ad. Quality Score is a formula that varies based on your bid type, where your ad is showing, and targeting type. However, the main concept remains the same. Because Quality Score measures relevancy, a high Quality Score generally means that your ads will appear in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).

In other words, AdWords rewards well-targeted, relevant ads. You also can’t be locked out of the top position as you would be in a ranking system based solely on price. Having relevant keywords and ad text, a strong clickthrough rate (CTR) on Google, and a high CPC bid will result in a higher position for your ad.

Pretty good advice isn’t it? Improve your Quality Score by improving your CTR and you will pay less per click and have your ad displayed in a better position. Very sound, known information and still, time and again, I see search managers fail to follow Google’s advice. Why?

Why the Knowing-Doing Gap Exists & What to do About it…

In my experience I think there are few things that cause the Knowing-Doing Gap to exist for both advertisers and search agencies.

For smaller advertisers I think the lack of resources is the primary cause. Small business owners tend to wear many hats and simply do not have the time to implement best practices properly. This is an unfortunate, common occurrence because small business owners typically do not have large AdWords budgets to work with and end up paying more than they should, or can afford, for a click.

For agencies what I have come across is typically a lot different. In some cases search marketers are forced to work in a business model focused towards spending an advertisers budget until it is depleted which is generally in in the best interest of the agency and not the advertiser. In theses instances there tend to be a mass produced feel to an AdWords account that contain an excessive amount of broad match keywords, repetitive, generic text ads and dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) in the title of the ads. Very little focus on relevance and no attention to Quality Score or CTR – just get the clicks, drive traffic, spend, spend, spend and call it a day. Most search marketers in this situation know what the right things are that they should be doing, but the business model strictly does not allow it. In my opinion, in this situation, both the advertiser and the search marketer suffer.

In order to begin to close the Paid Search Knowing-Doing Gap my advice would be to begin building processes into your daily routine that focus on the known information provided to everyone by Google and the other engines. And start with small incremental improvements. Focus on keywords with a low CTR but have a higher potential to convert. Or take a look at your keywords in an ad group – are they relevant to each other? Relevant to the text ad? If not, begin to break them down by theme or by modifier and make sure the text ad includes the keywords with modifiers – don’t rely solely on dynamic keyword insertion.

The other step towards closing the Knowing-Doing Gap is being able to build quality focused processes into the company culture. Processes that are established properly, that include a sustainable, systems approach to customer satisfaction will largely help employees succeed in doing the right thing and close the gap.

Knowing-Doing Gap Resources

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

Turning Knowledge into Action: Reducing the Knowing-Doing Gap


Matt LeVeque is the Service Product Manager at Monetate. He is a Senior Member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and recently completed Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business Certificate in Customer Experience Program. He is a Registered Yoga Teacher, an avid cyclist and recommends living by Velominati Rule #6 - Free your mind and your legs will follow.

Posted in Knowing Doing Gap, Paid Search Tagged with: , ,

Leave a Reply