6 Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice

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This has been the week for bad PPC advice around the web. First came yet another New York Times article filled with small business owners whining that Adwords doesn’t work. We’ve been down this road before with NYT, so I won’t go into it here. You can read my rant about their last article to see how I feel about that.

On the heels of that foolishness came this gem from WhiteShark Media. I got skeptical when 3 paragraphs in, it starts talking about a 40% conversion rate. If you’re getting a 40% conversion rate from PPC, you shouldn’t be writing blog posts – you should be figuring out how to spend as much as you can on PPC.

But I digress. This article was full of so much bad that I can only conclude it was written as linkbait. Let’s rebut each piece of bad advice.

It tells you to spend more money.

You know it’s a wrong-headed article when the first “tip” for improving PPC results is “increase your bids and budget.” Was this article guest-written by Google? That’s always Google’s first “optimization” recommendation, and it’s not a good one.

Now, if you indeed are getting a 40% conversion rate (ha ha), and you’re making a profit on those conversions, then you should absolutely spend more money. But if you’re not, then a safer approach is wiser. Spend what you can afford, and work to optimize every aspect of your campaign: keywords, ad copy, landing pages, etc.

It tells you to geotarget the world.

The advice to “target more geographies” is mind-boggling, frankly. Unless you started using PPC in only a small area to test the waters, you should never expand to other areas without a clear expansion strategy.

For example, if you are a small local business, you should only advertise in the areas near you. Running ads in California if you’re a small clothing store in Michigan makes no sense whatsoever. Same thing goes for national advertisers. Unless you’re equipped to sell to other countries, don’t do it!

Bottom line, you should only invest in the areas that fit your business strategy.

It recommends using broad match.

I have seen countless small businesses who say that Adwords doesn’t work. When I dig deeper, I find that they’re bidding on the broadest possible terms: broad-matched “women’s clothing” and the like. I don’t recommend that strategy for my largest, deepest-pocketed advertisers, much less most PPC clients. It just doesn’t make sense. Instead, you should use exact and phrase match terms, and modified broad match if you need to cast a wider net.

Now, if your search volume is very low, you may want to add a few more broad terms. But this needs to be done carefully and measured closely.

It suggests adding high-volume keywords.

The article advises finding keywords with high search volume. While I don’t think every advertiser should avoid high-volume terms, advertisers need to proceed with extreme caution. Have a plan in place when you add a high-volume term. Put it in its own ad group, or even its own campaign. Be sure to have realistic budget caps in place. And watch it like a hawk. It might work for you – but it might not. I’ve seen a single keyword spend 4 or 5 figures in a single day. Can you afford that kind of risk?

It says to focus on short-tail keywords.

Using short-tail terms, as the article advises, is usually not a good idea unless your budget is very large and you have an awareness strategy in place. Short-tail terms rarely convert well, and often have very competitive bids. You’ll be duking it out with everyone else who sells “women’s clothing” – and unless you’re a major national retailer, you probably can’t compete.

By sticking to longer-tail terms, you’ll moderate traffic and have a much better chance of driving conversions.

It says to include appealing promotions.

OK, the last bit of advice I actually agree with. Ad copy should contain language that compels qualified users to click. If you have a strong promotion running, use that. Focus on the unique benefits of your product or service. Include a sense of urgency (“Limited Time!”) and a strong call to action (“Buy Now!). Test different elements of your ad copy to see what works best.

A word of caution about promotions: Think long and hard before making promotions a part of your marketing strategy. While promotions can and do drive sales and profits, some businesses end up relying on deeper and deeper discounts to acquire customers. This becomes a race to the bottom and can hurt sales in the long run.

Remember, any time you see an article that equates “grow your business” with “spend more money,” be afraid. Be very afraid.

Did you read the NYT and/or the WhiteShark posts? What do you think? Share in the comments!

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  1. Bravo for taking on that article point by point!

    As I’d said during our Twitter discussion about that article, it is this combo of bad advice, half truths and ridiculous conversion rate notions that contribute to a general misunderstanding of just how PPC (and often SEO) actually works.

    It is no wonder we all run across so many businesses who really believe that “PPC doesn’t work” – at all or ever. I’m not saying it is the right choice in every situation, but it is a shame that this type of “advice” is out there perpetuating that false notion.

    Great stuff, as always!

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Thanks Julie – I couldn’t agree more. It’s like so many other things in life. Your car won’t work either if you don’t drive and maintain it properly, and put gas in it now and then. PPC is no different!

  2. Call them to the carpet, I love your style Mel!

    All the advice surrounds generating high traffic volume, but at the expense of quality and cost. We, like you, go in the opposite direction. Keyword sets are segmented to address each stage of the funnel. Initial keyword sets may be large, but we continuously boil them down into a concentrated caramel of goodness over time.

    The most frequently missed tactic by small businesses and posers alike is a well structured negative list. Using negatives to cross filter all of your adgroups ensures you block keywords with the wrong intent altogether and serve up the perfect ad for the high value keyword match. Tending to negatives is like tending to the bugs in your garden, its not a one time proposition.

    Keep it up 66

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Jerry! How are you, my friend? Totally agree with your comment. We always did agree on tactics, didn’t we? Hope you are well.

  3. Hi.

    Can I also add (with a hint of mischief as I do it) another point – “They recommend spending a load of money on increasing your brand awareness on the GDN!”…

    (OK, OK – this one is not black and white).

    I also want to point out that while conversion rate varies hugely and for some keywords for some of my clients it can be well under 1%, I have a lead generation client whose overall conversion rate from Adwords is around 30% (we are talking confirmed enquires with email addresses, phone numbers, post codes and some other relevant details).

    Though a large percentage of these leads don’t turn into clients and the CPC is pretty high – so it isn’t quite as good as it sounds..

    I also want to say yaboo sucks to anyone who says that if you have a conversion rate below a certain percentage that you definitely have a problem and should probably stop bidding on that keyword. mmmm (yeah that makes sense, stop bidding on a profitable keyword)…. (Someone on twitter said this, but life is too short to reply and get into an argument with people who obviously have very little actual experience)

  4. PS – maybe they are measuring a conversion a visit that didn’t bounce or something??

  5. Wait a minute, essentially the premise is something isn’t working so throw more money at it? No wonder so many small business owners fall out of love with PPC.

    If it is a link-bait article then it’s proof that no publicity is bad publicity!

  6. Hi Melissa, I’ve been to both PPC Hero conferences, so maybe we’ve met … (and I’ll be at the next).

    Like you, I’m sick of people whining that AdWords doesn’t work.

    That’s tosh, because it *always does*.

    What people really mean is “we couldn’t make it work for our Business (because not only do we not know how AdWords works, we don’t really know how our own Business works either”)

    Great article, and hear hear about bad advice, of which there’s always plenty.

    This is because ppc practitioners are *still* not measuring the single most important metric there is: PROFIT

    Dollars in vs dollars out (I call it “Follow the Money”).

    This is pretty ridiculous, because data beats opinion.

    Anyone can get clicks from AdWords, and lots of people sell stuff as a result – but are they running a Cost Center? Or a Profit Center?

    So, on your first point I agree and disagree – you absolutely should be spending more money, as much as you possibly can.

    But – only because you’re measuring the ROAS and taking into account your margins and overheads. AdWords is simply a game of identity and numbers.

    Many lead gen clients could bandy around 40% or higher (I’ve had 100%) conversion rates – but so what? How much did you earn?? Most lead gen clients can’t tell you that because they don’t know the value of the click, or of the conversion. Show me the Money!

    So I choose these days to hardly deal with lead gen clients at all, unless they ruthlessly know their numbers, and I really like the marketplace they serve (e.g Education).

    I much prefer ecommerce where we dynamically measure actual sales values (“Clicks are for Show, Conversions are for Dough”), because now we can run with unlimited budgets and accelerated delivery. And I only get paid commission for profitable sales (no fixed monthly fee) so I have to make it profitable, or I don’t get paid.

    There’s more at davidnrothwell.com, and I have a book about my system coming along at ClicksCustomersCashflow.com if anyone is interested…

  7. This is very helpful to those people just starting their PPC Campaign. Great tips, very informative and helpful, easy to well detailed and easy to understand.

  8. Hey, regarding Clickbank – are there any ideas about improving sales on a varied webpage? I own a file uploading site and as such it’s very to match offers to the visitor. regards


  1. […] 6 Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice, Beyond the Paid […]

  2. […] the Paid – Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice – PPC articles that tell you to spend more money, geotarget the world, and use broad match are […]

  3. […] 6 Ways to Spot Bad PPC Advice – A great article from one of Managing Partner Joe Ford's favorite PPC gurus, Melissa Mackey. It points out typical ignorant scare tactics used by people who think they know how to talk about paid search. It especially touches on one of his favorite topics, broad match keywords. […]

  4. […] 6 Ways to Spot Bad PPC Advice – A great article from one of Managing Partner Joe Ford’s favorite PPC gurus, Melissa Mackey. It points out typical ignorant scare tactics used by people who think they know how to talk about paid search. It especially touches on one of his favorite topics, broad match keywords. […]

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