Assembly-Line PPC Is Not PPC Strategy

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Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Salt Lake City Search Engine Marketer’s conference (SLCSEM). I talked about the 7 Things Your Clients Want To Know About PPC Strategy. And then we had a fun “live PPCChat” with myself and Susan Wenograd, with Bryant Garvin moderating. For a recap of the event, check out the writeup on the SLCSEM blog.

We covered a ton of different topics in the live discussion, including our thoughts on Bing Ads (they had a rep on our panel, which was super cool), remarketing, and of course, PPC strategy.

Long-time readers of my blog know that this is a hot topic for me. Blog posts on PPC tactics abound – if you want to read about keyword research, setting up social PPC audiences, and campaign structure, you’ll have no trouble finding articles on all of these topics. I’ve written a post or two on them myself.

We all need to know these tools of the trade. But we also need to know the right time to use the tools. That’s where PPC strategy comes in.

I’ve found a surprising number of PPC practitioners who practice what I dubbed at SLCSEM to be “assembly-line PPC.” They have a list of PPC tactics – keyword research, ad copy writing, search query mining, bid adjustments, etc. – and they work their way through these as though they were boxes on a to-do list to be checked off. They’re doing the equivalent of “turning the screwdriver” on an assembly line – performing the same task for every client, no matter what, without really thinking about the final product or the goal it’s supposed to achieve.

Now, there’s no doubt that all of these things need to be done. A PPC manager who never looks at search query reports or writes new ad copy isn’t doing his or her job. But none of these tasks are a PPC strategy. If a client (or your boss) comes to you and says “I want to be the first ad on Google,” you should have a serious conversation with them about WHY they want to be there and what they hope to accomplish with that. “Being first on Google” is not a strategy.

“It’s about the experience, not the Adwords.”

In a conversation with my boss this week, he said, “It’s about the experience, not the Adwords.” I guess he used this in a client pitch, but it’s right-on when it comes to ongoing PPC strategy too. Some clients don’t belong on Adwords. We have more than one client using strictly social PPC, because it achieves their goals way better than Adwords or any search engine could. Other clients spend more on Bing than Adwords, because it reaches their audience better (and usually at a much lower cost).

The point is, PPC campaigns and the optimization performed on them should be based on achieving client goals, not checking a box. PPC isn’t a series of tasks. It’s a means to an end. It’s much closer to practicing medicine (looking at symptoms to solve a problem) than it is building a machine on an assembly line.

And yet, posts on PPC strategy are hard to find. When I uploaded my SLCSEM presentation to Slideshare, I was saddened to realize that the tag suggestions when I typed in “ppc” showed “ppc tactics” but not “ppc strategy.” So I added it.

slideshare tags

Speaking of the Slideshare, here is my deck. Let me know what you think!


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  1. “Some clients don’t belong on Adwords.” – That’s my favorite quote from this post. And you’re right. Too often accounts are built based on a check list or because the client thinks they need to be “#1 on Google”. I have a client right now that is doing great on GDN but just due to the nature of the product, doesn’t get much in the way of search volume. The right strategy is to meet your client’s goals in the most cost effective way possible, and not “I checked every box”. Great article.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Thanks Mark! Every client campaign should be unique based on goals and not a formulaic set of “best practices.” Best practices are good but they’re only a starting point – not a strategy. Thanks for reading!

  2. Fact is, this is why most agencies do terrible work and you really aught to be working with individuals or at least dedicated strategists if you have to lean on one, otherwise, off to the assembly line your campaign goes.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      You do realize that I work for an agency, right? And so do many of my readers? Many agencies have dedicated search professionals who have been doing this since the beginning – in fact, most of the smartest PPC people I know work for agencies. There are also search-only agencies where that’s all they do. We are not “assembly lines.” Doesn’t seem you’ve read many of my posts or you’d know that. I think you “aught” to rethink your rude and insensitive comment.


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