How To Pick The Best PPC Ad

In a recent thread on Reddit, a user asked how to pick the best PPC ad from an ad copy test. The user mentioned two ads, one that had 6 conversions and another that had 4. They asked which ad they should roll out with.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, I hope your answer would be “none of them.” Ads with single-digit conversions usually do not have enough data to determine a true winner.

Most of the commenters pointed this out, but there were enough responses suggesting that the user guess at a winner that I decided I need to write yet another post on ad copy testing. Here’s a guide for how to pick the best PPC ad.

Ad Testing Overview

About a year ago, I wrote a comprehensive post on ad copy testing. This should be your starting point for setting up and evaluating PPC ad copy tests.

Give It Enough Time

Tempting as it may be to decide on a winning ad early on, it’s a mistake. Even very high volume accounts should accumulate at least a week’s worth of data before deciding on a winner. And definitely don’t declare a winner because one ad had 6 conversions and the other had 4. While PPC provides a lot of immediate data, ad testing is too important to let a few days determine your results.

Test Smart

There are so many things you can test in PPC: titles, descriptions, calls to action, display URLs, landing pages….. it’s tempting to test a whole bunch of them at once. Resist the temptation. Just because you can test something doesn’t mean you should.

Don’t Run Too Many Ads at Once

I see this with nearly every account we inherit: ad groups with as many as 10-12 ad variations running at the same time. Rarely does that make sense, even in large, high volume accounts. It just takes too long to determine a winner – and meanwhile, you’re spending money on losing ads. Too many ads can definitely ruin ad copy testing.

Use My Ultimate Cheat Sheet

My Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Ad Copy is a handy reference when setting up PPC ad copy tests. Use it to make sure you’re setting up quality tests.

Read The AdAlysis Blog

I’ve made no secret of my love for the AdAlysis tool. It’s saved me countless hours in evaluating ad copy tests. The AdAlysis blog is a treasure trove of articles on smart ad copy testing. Give it a read and subscribe today.

What are your favorite tips for choosing winning ads? Share in the comments!

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10 Years of Beyond The Paid

10 years ago this month, I tried a little experiment. Blogging about search was becoming all the rage. Industry movers and shakers were all starting up their own blogs. So I decided to set one up for myself as an experiment.

Back then, there was no WordPress. There were a few paid blog platforms (Movable Type, anyone?), but really the only free game out there was Blogger. So that’s where I started.

I came up with Beyond the Paid as a play on Jim Gaffigan’s Beyond the Pale comedy album, which had just come out. He’s hilarious, by the way – go check him out if you’ve never heard his standup. Anyway, I thought it’d be a fun name for a PPC blog. Little did I know that a few years later, I’d end up creating an LLC for myself with the same name!

I took a look back over the last 10 years’ worth of posts. Here are some momentous occasions from the past 10 years in search, or at least in my life in search.

2006

It’s amazing to think that in 2006, I’d already been doing PPC for 4 years. Looking back on my posts from that year, you’d hardly recognize we’re talking about the same job. Topics included MSN, which exists now as Bing; click fraud, which still happens, but isn’t the big to-do it was back in 2006; and Danny Sullivan leaving Search Engine Watch. How many PPC pros today even know that Danny started SEW? This was HUGE news at the time, with everyone wondering what would happen to SES and the SEW site.

2007

The pay per click version of Adwords had been around for 5 years in 2007, and nefarious advertisers figured out that they could make a lot of money gaming the system. Garbitrage, the practice of creating crappy Adsense domains and then running Adwords to send traffic to them and make money, was rampant. I wrote about garbitrage in May of 2007. Note in that post that I also mention the beta of Google’s placement report. It’s hard to imagine search without that now, but it was new and exciting in 2007.

2007 was a momentous year for me personally, too. My twins turned 10, I won a trip to the very first SMX Advanced, and in October, I left the in-house world to work for an agency. 9 years later, I still miss my MagazineLine colleagues (many of whom are still there), but I’ve been thankful for the opportunities the agency world has given me.

2008

The huge news of 2008 was the Microsoft-Yahoo deal. Prior to 2008, PPC pros had 3 major search engines to deal with: Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Adwords was then, as it is today, the market leader; Yahoo was second, and Microsoft was a distant third. But Yahoo’s search platform, Panama, was awful. It lacked an offline editor, was slow, and just painful to use. MSN adCenter, as it was called at the time, wasn’t much better, but Microsoft was actively innovating, much like they still are today.

I was happy when the deal was announced. I found it interesting on 2014 when Yahoo decided to re-enter the fray with Gemini – but not interesting enough to actually try it.

2009

The search engine Bing officially launched in 2009. It was announced at Microsoft’s Search Summit, a sort of predecessor to Bing Ads Next. I was lucky to be in attendance, and the Bing hype was real.

Not to be outdone, Adwords continued its frenetic pace of change. In 2009, they updated their policy to no longer permit multiple display URLs in a single ad group. This wasn’t something I’d done on a large scale, so it didn’t affect me, but I know plenty of advertisers had a lot of restructuring to do.

2009 also marked my very first speaking engagement, at SES Chicago. I’d been attending SES since 2003, and blogging since 2006, and yet somehow had it in my head that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I owe a debt of gratitude to Kevin Newman, then my editor at Search Engine Watch, for pushing me to pitch to speak. Speaking at search conferences is one of the best parts of my job – I love sharing and teaching others about PPC.

2010

2010 marked the official demise of Yahoo Search Marketing, which had been brewing since 2008. While there were aspects of YSM I missed, it made it easier to deal with only 2 PPC engines rather than 3.

Modified broad match made its debut in 2010 – can you believe it’s been 6 years? Finally, we had our “old” broad match back – MBM works the way broad match used to in the early days of Adwords, before close variants ever became a thing. It’s hard to imagine life without MBM now.

Adwords also launched Segments in 2010. Data that used to require running a report, or data that wasn’t available at all, became visible right in the UI. Segments is a feature I use regularly to diagnose trends and issues in accounts.

2011

I only have one milestone for 2011, and it’s a huge one: Google’s SSL change, aka the beginning of Not Provided. While this change didn’t have a big impact on PPC, it changed the whole game for SEO. I’m still not a fan.

2012

In January 2012, I started at my current company, gyro. I can’t believe I’ve been here 4 years! I’m eternally grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

I also finally moved my blog to WordPress in September of 2012. After 6 years on Blogger and being frustrated with its lack of flexibility, I took the plunge and have never looked back. If you’re thinking about starting a blog, WordPress is the way to go.

Finally, in 2012 I wrote one of the most popular posts on the blog, about Adwords DIY. The post was in response to a New York Times article about a guy who was trying to run PPC on his own for his business, and failing at it. The post generated a lot of discussion, with the conclusion being that PPC had really gotten too complicated for most small business owners. Funny to think that I started in PPC as a sort of DIY side project!

2013

2013 was all about Google. The biggest news of the year by far was Enhanced Campaigns. We’ve all gotten used to Enhanced Campaigns by now, but there are still little things that frustrate me to this day. Maybe the upcoming Adwords redesign will solve some of the issues. I’m not holding my breath.

I also noticed a big decline in service levels from Google around 2013. Long gone were the days of the Google Fridge and lava lamps, but we’d still had a semi-regular Adwords rep – until 2013 when they moved to the quarterly model. I’m still bitter about the poor Adwords support, by the way.

2014

I got lucky in 2014, writing 2 of the most popular posts on this blog. The first was 26 Free Tools for PPC, which also ran on Search Engine Watch. This was a crowdsourced post from PPCChat, and I’m ever grateful for my friends there who are always a source of ideas and inspiration.

I also wrote a post on how not to do remarketing – which ended up being the most-commented post ever on my blog. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of different opinions on how to properly remarket to people.

2015

Ah, 2015. The year of the infamous Call Only Ads. A year later, we’re still getting terrible performance from call only ads. I hate when Google takes a good thing and turns it into a bad thing.

Google created yet more fun with the launch of the new Adwords Editor. I’ve gotten used to it, but I still don’t love it. Alas, Bing Ads is working on a new Editor that mirrors Google’s, so I guess I’m stuck with it.

On a personal note, my twins graduated high school in 2015. They were starting kindergarten when I started doing Adwords. It’s crazy how fast time has flown by, especially when I’m doing a job I love. Now if time could slow down with the kids just a bit…

2016

We’re not even halfway through the year, and I can’t even imagine what’s in store these next few months in PPC. Already we’ve lost right hand side ads and have seen “wider” search results. We know Google is revamping Adwords. Bing continues to innovate and is rolling out with Bing Ads Editor for Mac later this year. It’ll be fun to see what happens next!

So, here’s to the next 10 years on this blog. If they’re anything like the first 10, I’m in for a wild ride.

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Lead Generation On Steroids: Using Audience Targeting For Max Impact

Pay per click advertising (PPC) is known for being highly targetable and trackable. And yet, with click costs continuing to rise, reaching the right audience in paid search and paid social is more important than ever – posing a challenge for many advertisers. For B2B advertisers using PPC for lead generation, it’s more important than ever to understand how to reach a B2B audience and meet lead generation goals at an acceptable cost.

PPC for B2B lead generation poses different challenges from B2C ecommerce. In lead generation, nothing is sold online. Instead, advertisers are using PPC to drive leads, which will then be nurtured and ultimately passed on to salespeople for follow up. The time from lead to sale varies by industry, but can take as long as 6 months to a year.

Reaching the right audience can also be a challenge. Searchers don’t self-identify as business decision makers looking for solutions. Many search queries are ambiguous, and could come from either a business or a consumer. For example, a search for “Windows software” could come from an individual looking to purchase Windows for their home PC, or from a business with 1,000 laptops needing the software.

In addition, B2B keywords are often much more competitive and expensive than B2C keywords. CPCs of $20-30 are common, with $50-$100 not unheard of.

Businesses, therefore, need to be laser-focused with PPC targeting. That’s why audience targeting is so important for lead generation.

Why Audience Targeting?

Audience targeting really started with paid social. In the early days of paid social, ads on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn were targeted by audience. The challenge with social PPC in the early days was that it lacked intent. We knew we were targeting the right people, but we didn’t know if they were in the market for our product.

Search PPC, on the other hand, offered clear intent – but no idea who was doing the searching.

Google began to change the game in 2010 when they launched remarketing: a way to target people via the Google Display Network who’d previously visited your site. While remarketing is more targeted than regular Google Display ads, it still lacks the intent of search.

Then, two years ago, Google changed the game with the launch of Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). RLSA combines the power of audience targeting with the power of search intent. Advertisers can serve one search ad to users who’ve never visited their website and another to users who have.

We’ll go into more detail on RLSA later in the post.

How Paid Search Works Well

Paid search has been so successful for a reason. Search is a deliberate activity. People don’t hang out on search engines all day – they go there with a specific task or question in mind. They’re telling us what they need, and as advertisers it’s our job to answer. With search, unlike social, the users tell us what they are looking for.

Many searches are highly commercial in nature. Consider this Google Suggest example:

sample google search
If a user searches for “where can I buy,” they’re ready to purchase. If you’re Cards Against Humanity, the post office, a dry ice vendor, or a drone seller, wouldn’t you want a targeted ad for your product to appear on these searches?

This is the sweet spot for paid search: the ability to use keywords to serve ads at the precise moment a user raises their hand. It’s why so many advertisers love paid search.

Gaps In Paid Search

Ecommerce PPC is fairly straightforward – the advertiser’s job is simply to answer the “where can I buy” question. But for lead generation, many search queries aren’t clear.

Consider the “Windows software” example from earlier. Here’s what the search engine results page looks like for that query:

ambiguous query
The search engine result has everything but the kitchen sink. There are ads for programmers: Microsoft Azure and Nektra. There are shopping results that are clearly geared toward consumers buying one instance of Windows. And there are ads from Softmart and Office Depot that clearly are geared to B2B.

It’s easy to see the challenge for both users and advertisers on an ambiguous query like “Windows software.” Users have to wade through ads that may not be intended for them. And advertisers have to compete with other advertisers who are targeting a totally different audience.

How Paid Social Works Well

Paid social is, in many ways, the opposite of paid search. We know exactly who the user is: their age, where they live and work, their job title, their interests, and so much more. We tell social channels everything about ourselves, and most of that info can be used to target ads. The audience picture is clear.

And people hang out on social media all day, even B2B buyers. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social engines are online gathering places for friends and business associates. Search engines are like a gas station – a place you go for a specific task, and leave as soon as the task is complete. Social media is more like the bar Cheers, where all your friends hang out and everybody knows your name. You hang out for a long time and come back frequently.

There’s no audience ambiguity in paid social, so it’s easy to target a B2B audience. Let’s say you sell software, and want to target design engineers. Targeting on Facebook is easy:

FB Audience

LinkedIn targeting is easy too:

LI audience
It’s easy to see how specific advertisers can get with paid social targeting.

Gaps In Paid Social

The challenges with paid social are the opposite of paid search. It’s great to know exactly who the users are. But as an advertiser, you don’t know their intent, or if they’re even in the market for your product. The lack of intent can lead to frustration for advertisers who may get lots of traffic on their paid social ads, but few conversions.

So what’s an advertiser to do? Are we relegated to choosing between dealing with audience ambiguity in search, or lack of intent in social?

This is where custom audiences come in.

Audience-Based Marketing With Customer Match and Custom Audiences

Wouldn’t it be great to combine the power of audience targeting with the power of search? Wouldn’t it be great to narrow down a paid social audience to previous customers or people who’ve interacted with your website before?

Both of these tactics are possible, thanks to audience-based marketing.

Audience-based marketing is exactly what it sounds like: targeting a specific audience with your marketing. Layering audiences onto paid search and paid social helps target the right people and drive ROI.

About 3 years ago, Facebook launched Custom Audiences, a feature that allows advertisers to create a Facebook audience from phone numbers, email addresses, or Facebook user IDs. Custom audiences were a boon for B2B advertisers for whom Facebook’s traditional targeting options left them wanting. Instead of trying to guess about their audience’s interests, B2B advertisers could now upload a list of prospect emails or phone numbers, and use that as their audience.

Twitter soon followed suit with Tailored Audiences, which allows advertisers to create lists based on Twitter handles, email addresses, web visitors (via a website tag), or mobile app users. One of the best ways for B2B advertisers to find success on Twitter is to target users in their field. Many businesses and business influencers are heavy Twitter users, and advertisers can target these users and their followers.

Here’s an example of potential targets for an advertiser in the food manufacturing industry:

twitter audience
For expanded reach, advertisers can choose the “also target users like your followers” option.

What about search? In 2015, Google launched Custom Audiences, a feature that allows advertisers to upload a list of emails to use as an audience for remarketing or RLSA. Custom audiences solve the problem of ambiguous searches by only serving ads to a known audience: existing customers, for example, or a list of sales prospects who’ve signed up for your emails. Custom audiences will take B2B search marketing to the next level.

Which Option Is Right For My Business?

Your individual business goals will help you determine which tactics are right for you. Does your audience tend to hang out on social media like Facebook or Twitter? Or do they eschew social media and stick to search?

The size of your audience is also a factor. Most search and social engines require a minimum audience of 1,000 users, so if you don’t have that many email addresses on file, you won’t be able to take advantage of custom audiences or customer match. If that’s the case, you may want to try other tactics to start building your email list so you can use customer match in the future.

Cost is also a factor in determining what will be most effective. CPCs for B2B keywords on Google and Bing are often in the $20-30+ range. Can you afford to pay $30 for every click?

Social CPCs are much lower, but even within paid social, CPCs vary across engines. While LinkedIn is known for reaching a B2B audience, CPCs there are in the $7-8 range – and they’re even higher if you want to target C-level executives. Remember, conversion rates on paid social are often significantly lower than on paid search (unless you’re using custom audiences), so you may find worse ROI from LinkedIn than from paid search.

CPCs on Facebook and Twitter are lower, in the $1-2 range. Depending on your audience and your business goals, Facebook and Twitter can drive a high volume of qualified traffic.

As with all things paid search, testing and measuring is critical. Try various channels and tactics and measure like crazy to find the pockets that are working for your business.

In Summary

There are more targeting options for B2B lead generation advertisers than ever before. With careful planning and the use of tactics like custom audiences and customer match, B2B advertisers can find laser-focused lead generation from paid search and paid social.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Acquisio Blog on April 5, 2016.

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How to Solve the 3 Biggest PPC Problems

Even the best PPC managers run into problems from time to time. But PPC problems aren’t really problems if you know how to solve them.

High Traffic, Low Conversions

Novice PPC managers and new advertisers will inevitably have a campaign or ad group that drives a lot of traffic, but few to no conversions. Remember, rarely will generating clicks be your goal – the goal is to drive conversion actions on your website.

But novice PPC managers will often fall into the trap of believing the search engines: focusing on high CTR and traffic. The default setting for search campaigns in both Google and Bing is “optimize for clicks,” rewarding the ads with the highest CTR.

Forget all that. Focus on your goal, which is driving conversions. If you have a campaign or ad group with high traffic and low conversions, first look at traffic by keyword. Is one keyword driving the bulk of non-converting clicks? If so, pause it right away. Did you accidentally use broad match when you meant to use exact match, or mistakenly add a keyword like “keyword”? (Don’t ask how I know this.)

Maybe you have an ad that isn’t performing – likely because it’s making a promise that’s not delivered on the landing page. Pause that ad.

Or maybe your landing page isn’t performing well. This is probably the most common reason I see for high traffic and low conversion rates – terrible landing pages. Take a long hard look at your landing pages and your website. You may even want to pause your PPC campaigns until you can fix the issues on your website.

Don’t forget to check and make sure your ads are driving to the right page, and that the page and any associated conversion tracking is working. It’s not unusual to find broken landing pages or tracking codes.

Low Quality Scores

Quality score is one of the most misunderstood metrics in terms of its importance. While I don’t believe you should optimize for quality score as one of your key KPIs, you shouldn’t ignore it either.

If you have a lot of low quality score keywords in your account, you have a problem. The problem may be as simple as being in an industry that has traditionally low quality scores  – a lot of B2B advertisers fall into this category. But if you’re an ecommerce advertiser, or you’re seeing low quality scores on brand terms, you have a problem.

Use the ad diagnostic tool to see where the problem lies. Is it your landing pages, CTR, relevance, or a combination of all three? The ad diagnostic tool will give you a starting point.

Then set about fixing the issues. If you have low quality score keywords that aren’t generating much traffic, or aren’t converting, just pause them. If they’re super relevant, or if they’re converting, consider moving them to their own ad group. Write very specific ad copy that includes the keyword. Use the very best landing page. Often these steps will boost quality score.

If your landing page is the problem, you can use Bing Ads Intelligence to help diagnose the issue.

Poor Landing Pages

This relates to the first two PPC problems – can you sense a theme here? Landing pages are often a huge issue, and yet are the last thing PPC pros focus on sometimes.

If your landing pages are poor, you’ll have trouble getting good ROI. Fixing your landing pages is a must. As mentioned earlier, you may have to pause your PPC campaigns temporarily while you fix your landing pages and website.

Look critically at all elements of the page. Does the page try to do too much? Is it cluttered, with no area of focus? Does it lack a headline and clear call to action? Try putting something in the cart and checking out. Are all the steps logical? Are there any barriers to conversion? Features like email signup interstitials and other popups are popular, and yet can distract a user from actually buying from you. Remove these from your landing pages, or wait to serve them until after the person has checked out.

With a little sleuthing, you can solve the biggest PPC problems. How do you solve tricky PPC problems? Share in the comments!

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Top 21 Women In Search Marketing to Follow on Twitter

It seems like every week someone comes out with “top” lists of people to follow on Twitter. I’ve seen top digital marketers and the smartest women on Twitter, but I haven’t seen a list of women search marketers that featured PPC pros.

With that, here are the top 21 women in search marketing to follow on Twitter.

Annie Cushing. Annie tweets about SEO, site audits, and super awesome Excel hacks.

Arianne Donoghue. Arianne is a UK-based PPC expert, smart and fun.

Christi Olson. Christi works for Bing Ads; tweets great live coverage of conferences and other PPC stuff.

Ginny Marvin. Ginny is the PPC writer for Search Engine Land. Follow her for the latest PPC news.

Pauline Jakober. Pauline runs the Group Twenty Seven agency and tweets a lot about B2B PPC.

Amy Hoffman Bishop. Amy works for Clix Marketing and has been around the PPC scene for a while. She tells it like it is.

Jennifer Slegg. Jen owns JenSense and is the founder and editor of The SEM Post. Find SEO and PPC news on her feed.

Katie Tonkin. Katie works for PointIt and has become a strong voice in the PPC community over the past few years.

Lisa Sanner. Lisa also works for PointIt, as the VP of Search Marketing. Follow Lisa for strategic PPC advice and tips on dealing with clients.

Maddie Cary. Maddie rounds out the PointIt troika. She tweets about PPC with a Beyonce twist.

Ann Handley. Ann is a content marketing and testing wizard.

Merry Morud. Merry works at aimClear and tweets about paid social. She can answer all your tough paid social questions.

Michelle Morgan. Michelle works for Clix Marketing and is a frequent poster to PPCChat.

Julie Friedman Bacchini.  Julie doesn’t pull any punches. She shares PPC knowledge and excellent blog posts on Twitter.

Meg Geddes. Meg’s been online longer than many PPC pros have been alive. Her Twitter feed is a mix of PPC, SEO, and sarcasm.

Kim Thomas. Kim shares lots of great PPC knowledge and conference coverage.

Purna Virji. Purna works for Bing Ads. She’s ever-positive and helpful on Twitter.

Kristine Schachinger. Kristine is an SEO who’s not afraid to call out bad practices.

Susan Wenograd. Susan shares a healthy mix of ecommerce, analytics, and other killer PPC tips.

Susan Waldes. Susan is president of Five Mill Inc. She tweets about PPC strategy, analytics, and more.

Mona Elesseily. Mona doesn’t tweet often, but when she does, you’d best listen. One of the long-time voices in the PPC industry.

I hope you’ve found some new people to follow on Twitter on this list! Did I miss anyone deserving? Share in the comments!

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Why SMB Retailers Don’t Do Search

Retail, or online shopping, is an integral part of Google and Bing’s success in PPC. Amazon and eBay are probably the best-known and most ever-present retailers in PPC, but countless others are selling millions of dollars of products via PPC every day. I got my start in search doing in-house PPC for an ecommerce site.

Despite all the activity by huge online retailers, a study released by BIA Kelsey shows that SMB retailers “only spend about $700 annually on paid search.”

$700 annually is nothing in the search world. Why aren’t these SMBs taking advantage of PPC, one of the most effective direct marketing channels out there?

Retail search is hard.

A few years ago, PPC was less complicated. You picked keywords, wrote ad copy, set your bids, and you were off and running. Nowadays, there is more competition in paid search, and limited inventory. There are only so many impressions for “Nike running shoes,” and hundreds of retailers selling them. It takes time, attention, and know-how to be successful in retail PPC.

Website optimization has gone to the next level, too. Tools like Unbounce and Optimizely have made it easy and inexpensive for even novice website owners to run multivariate tests. Ecommerce tools like Magento and Shopify have streamlined the back end of ecommerce, including shopping cart software. While these tools have made some tasks easier, they’ve also leveled the playing field – making small businesses that don’t use these tools look unprofessional.

And anyone who’s ever tried to set up a Google Shopping feed can tell you that feed setup alone is enough to make even seasoned PPC pros give up. Google Shopping is a powerful tool for ecommerce vendors, but it requires different skills and optimization tactics than traditional keyword PPC. It’s nearly impossible for a small mom-and-pop store owner to master both Shopping and keyword search, and SMBs can’t afford to hire agencies to do this for them.

Retail search is time-consuming to manage.

Let’s take 2 examples. If you’re a small hair salon with a website, chances are you have one conversion: booking an appointment. You might bid on keywords that describe the various services you offer in the salon, but those will stay relatively static over time, and the goal is to drive appointments. PPC for this type of small business is straightforward.

Now, let’s say you’re a small women’s clothing retailer. Even though you only sell to women, you probably have multiple items available for sale. And each item comes in different sizes, styles, and colors. You don’t just have women’s sweaters: you have women’s cotton cardigans in sizes 2-16 and a variety of colors; women’s crewneck wool sweaters in sizes 2-18 in navy, gray, and green; women’s cashmere sleeveless sweaters in sizes 2-16 in 5 colors, etc. You probably also sell pants, skirts, blouses, blazers, shoes, and accessories – each in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. It’s easy to see how running PPC for even a focused small business like this would quickly become a full-time job.

So what do small retailers do for marketing? According to the study, most SMBs in the retail space spend their money on social media.

Social Seems Easier

If you’re a small retailer, you may have an hour a day to spend on marketing (and that’s if you’re lucky). What are you going to do with that hour? Are you going to do keyword research, write ad copy, review bids, set up a shopping feed, look at search query reports, and create reporting dashboards? Or are you going to write a few Facebook posts and schedule them for publication?

Social media, especially Facebook, feels familiar to most people these days. Even our grandparents are on Facebook. For retailers, it’s easy to talk about a product or promotion, add a link, and call it a day – after all, you’re probably in Facebook anyway checking your personal feed. What better way to tell people about your business than by posting photos and links on Facebook?

Even Facebook Ads seem easier than search PPC – and SMB retailers spend 11.2% of their budget on Facebook ads, compared to 2.7% on paid search.

Facebook ads can be targeted locally. While search ads can, too, search ads feel more complicated. And Facebook ads can be targeted by interest. The small women’s clothing retailer in our earlier example can easily run Facebook ads targeting women ages 25-45, within a 20 mile radius of their store, who like fashion, are professionals, etc. For Facebook ads, you just describe your target customer and set that as targeting. No keywords, bids, or other “hard” stuff to worry about.

Still, less than 30% of SMB retailers are using Facebook ads. Most of them are just doing organic Facebook posts. And who sees those? Current customers and a few of their friends, maybe?

SMB Retailers Focused on Current Customers

According to the study, “retail SMBs are more invested in customer lists than SMBs in other verticals”. Marketing to current customers, especially in retail consumable goods, is smart. It’s easier to woo a returning customer than to acquire a new one. SMB retailers are also using mobile marketing such as mobile coupons and text messages.

It’s great to see that SMBs are taking advantage of mobile marketing, and paying attention to current customers. Many larger businesses could learn from them.

But there needs to be a balance between marketing to current customers and acquiring the customers in the first place. Search is probably one of the most efficient ways to attract new customers – but only if you know what you’re doing. The knowledge gap is why most retailers don’t use search.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on The SEM Post on July 16, 2015.

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Does PPC Work For All Businesses?

Matt Umbro started an interesting discussion last week with his post titled Why SMBs Should Not Run AdWords Accounts. He defines SMBs as advertisers with a budget of $500 per month or less, and says that’s not enough budget to compete and be successful.

Mark Kennedy wrote a detailed counterpoint on the topic called Paid Search Can Work for SMBs – Even the Little Guys! Both Matt and Mark’s posts were well thought out and made good arguments.

Believe it or not, I’ve been mulling this topic for some time, after I saw this question on Quora: Does Google AdWords work for all businesses? The answers to the question range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but one poster sums it up well:

“(Adwords) also only really works if you know what the hell you’re doing… It’s so easy to burn through budgets very quickly and pay for clicks from people who never had any intention of becoming a lead or purchasing anything from you.

All the clients I’ve had have attempted some form of PPC themselves, realised they thought it was simple but they’ve spent a whole load of money on something they don’t understand. I’ve then gone into the account, showed them the type of keywords people have entered which they have paid for – this tends to shock them because they thought they were bidding on exact match keywords. They also tend to lack conversion tracking (if there is no measure of what is success, how can you be successful?).”

I’ve written before about why inexperienced people should not attempt to DIY PPC. It’s too expensive and there are too many pitfalls, as the Quora poster says above. No matter what your budget, if you haven’t outlined clear goals and set up conversion tracking, Adwords or any other PPC program will not work for you.

But what about the small business question? Should small businesses use Adwords?

I’ve run small PPC campaigns a few times in my career. Some were agency clients, and some were side jobs I took on. I have to be honest: I haven’t found $500/month clients to be very profitable, for me or for them. In his post, Mark Kennedy offers several examples of small clients who used geotargeting and other tactics to their advantage.

That’s great, and it makes sense – but I’ve found that Facebook works much better in most of these instances. Clicks on Facebook are significantly cheaper than clicks on Adwords or even Bing, so your money goes a lot further. Even direct ecommerce or lead generation is more efficient on Facebook at small budgets, in my opinion. Matt Umbro also mentioned Facebook as a good alternative for small advertisers.

Mark Kennedy also talks about how to charge for small clients. This is where the problem lies, in my opinion. Mark says he charges about $75 per month for $500 clients. Even if you only charge $75 per hour for your time (which is low for this industry), that only gives you an hour per month to work on that client’s account. In his post, Mark says “Phone calls that are just a quick question turn into hour-long conversations. An email with one question turns into a trail of follow-ups.”

That’s been my experience as well – small clients are less sophisticated, and need more hand-holding. They often don’t understand basic marketing principles, much less the nuances of Adwords. They frequently have issues on their website that need troubleshooting – and lack an in-house developer to fix them, leaving me to answer web dev questions (which, trust me, is not a good use of their time based on my limited dev knowledge!).

So if you spend an hour on the phone answering quick questions, you’re done for the month – or you start losing money on a client that’s already paying you at the low end of the rate scale. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now if you’re running a small PPC campaign part time as an in-house marketer, and you have some PPC knowledge, a $500 budget might work. But in my opinion, there are better uses of your $500.

It’s been interesting to watch the conversation on PPCChat on this topic. What’s your take? Share in the comments!

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Ad Blockers and PPC

Ad blockers. A 2-word phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of PPC professionals. After all, we make our living from online advertising. The advent of technology that blocks our lifeblood is concerning to say the least.

Ad blockers work by detecting advertising code on a website, leaving blank space. They can also speed up page load times, especially on mobile devices, where content is often painfully slow to load. This is one of the reasons ad blockers have been adopted at a high rate – Smashing Magazine claims that 75% of their readers use them, and the iOS ad blocker app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

From a user standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal of ad blockers. I’m so tired of interstitials and pop-overs interrupting me when I’m trying to read an article online. On mobile, it’s often impossible to close or move the interstitials – which leads me to abandon the site entirely. It’s frustrating as a user.

And the web has indeed slowed to a crawl with all the tracking scripts running on many sites. Ad blockers can strip many of these tracking codes, speeding up the user experience – and killing the advertiser’s ability to track user behavior.

As I was researching for this post, I started to think about the definition of an ad. It’s clear that ad blockers define ads as third parties running ads on a website using javascript for Adsense or other ad syndicators. But what about ads for your own content? Aren’t those ads just the same?

Earlier this week, Ad Age ran an article called Three Reasons Why Ad Blockers Are Good for Advertising. They talk about over-saturation of the market, poor targeting, and the need for a better experience – all valid points.

But they contradicted themselves with the experience on their own website! When I first landed on the article, I was served a huge interstitial:

ad age interstitial

Sorry Ad Age – I don’t want to sign up for your “free” full access that you’re going to start charging me for after my “free” 14 day trial. I just want to read one article.

Once I got rid of the interstitial, I was treated to one of the most unappealing visual presentations of a web article that I’ve seen in a long time:

ad age ads

Look at that awful page. I had to scroll every sentence or two just to keep reading. Why? Because it was full of ads FOR THEIR OWN STUFF. Small Agency Guide! Look Book! Sign me up for the email that I just rejected on your stupid popup!

Is this what we’ve replaced “ads” with? Ads for our own crap? Is this the answer to the ad blocker problem? Is this a better experience??

Clearly, both the advertisers and the publishers need to do better. As PPC advertisers, we need to use better targeting. Use frequency caps. Resist the temptation to keep people on remarketing lists forever. Insist that clients use tag managers and limit the number of scripts running on landing pages. Maybe consider reducing your investment in display and remarketing and beef up search and RLSA – but only if display and remarketing aren’t performing. Base decisions on data, not a few outliers.

And publishers, don’t substitute ads for ads. Don’t frustrate and annoy your readers with silly popovers and ads filling the margins of your content. A bad on-site experience is just as responsible for the increase in ad blocker adoption as bad ads are. We’re all in this together. And it’s all about the user.

What say you? Are ad blockers impacting your PPC performance? Do publishers need to do better? Are ad blockers a “sky is falling” non-issue? Share in the comments!

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PPC: Anything But Routine

Robert Brady wrote a great post this week over at the Clix Marketing blog called How Valuable Are PPC Skills Anyway? I love the perspective he shared on PPC skills and commoditization – something that’s been talked about a lot in the search blogosphere of late.

Some people have wondered whether automation will eventually put PPC professionals out of a job. It’s a fair point. Look at the manufacturing industry, where many jobs have been taken over by machines and robots, and others have been shipped overseas, where labor is cheap. Could the same thing happen in PPC?

In his article, Robert postulates that routine PPC tasks can be done via automation. If you’re just doing routine tasks, your job may be in jeopardy. There are tools out there that can do bid management, budget management, keyword research, ad testing, and many other routine tasks.

But if you’re actually working on strategy, and overseeing the work that the tools do, then your job should be secure. Check out this graph that Robert referenced in his post:

graph
Back in 1983, when I graduated high school, the same number of people were employed in routine cognitive and non-routine cognitive jobs. Over the past 30 years, the number of routine cognitive jobs hasn’t grown – the line is nearly flat. But non-routine cognitive jobs have grown – and at a faster rate than the other 3 job types.

Strategic PPC is non-routine cognitive work. I can’t tell you the last time I did the same thing 2 days in a row. It doesn’t happen. Are there routine tasks I perform? Sure. Do I do the exact same thing every day for every account? Absolutely not!

There is a place for routine work in every job out there. But if you’re spending every day doing routine tasks, your job may be taken over by automation someday soon.

It’s my hope that all PPC professionals end up doing non-routine cognitive work. It’s what makes this industry so much fun. It’s also my hope that search marketing conferences start focusing less on how-to tactics and more on strategy. It’s in PPC strategy that our value lies.

Do yourself a favor and check out Robert’s post if you haven’t already. And if you’re practicing or teaching assembly line PPC, you might want to start thinking about PPC strategy a little more. Check out the “pay per click strategy” section on this blog. Read blogs by others. Focus on objectives. Ask “why” every day. In short, make sure you’re doing non-routine cognitive work.

Did you read Robert’s article? How do you balance routine PPC tasks with non-routine PPC strategy? Share in the comments!

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PPC Advice For My 18 Year Old Self

I’ve seen a lot of posts out there recently with people giving advice to their 18-year-old selves. One I liked featured some of the top college basketball seniors, including one of my favorites, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

Tomorrow, my twins will turn 19. I don’t expect either of them to go into PPC – they’re not interested in it – but nonetheless, I was inspired to share PPC advice for my 18 year old self.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

I was an 18 year old hotshot. I did well in school and was good at a lot of things: sports, music, writing, and more. I thought I’d be a huge success right out the gate.

Not even close.

The very next year, when I was 19, I took accounting. It was the hardest class I had ever and would ever take – including grad school, and that’s saying something. I studied for hours every night just to get a 2.5 in the class.

A couple years later, my first job was a disaster. It wasn’t a good fit for me. I failed at it.

But failing is learning. I learn far more from failing than I do from succeeding. At 18, I was afraid to fail. I can’t say I love it now, but I’m not afraid to fail. 18 year olds, don’t be afraid to fail. It’ll teach you a great lesson.

Technology will evolve into something you can’t imagine right now.

Let’s face it – I’ll be 50 next month. I was 18 in 1984. Google wasn’t even a gleam in Larry and Sergey’s eyes – in fact, Larry Page was an 11 year old student right here in East Lansing. The internet itself didn’t exist, at least not publicly. Computers existed, but were not commonly used. We had a Commodore 64 at home, but I didn’t have one at college. No one did. We hand-wrote term papers and then typed them on a typewriter. DVDs and iPods didn’t exist either – we rented VHS tapes and listened to music on Walkmans.

Just the other day I was talking to my daughter about VHS tapes – she had watched the movie “Be Kind, Rewind”  in her film class at MSU and thought it was funny. Even at 18, she remembers using a portable CD player and watching kids shows like Veggie Tales on VHS. A ton has changed in her lifetime, not to mention mine.

My point is, the career you end up with may not even exist right now. Mine sure didn’t. Go with the flow. Learn skills that translate across jobs: writing, thinking, and analyzing will get you a long way in whatever career you choose.

Be curious and ask why.

PPC is like CSI – performance fluctuations are often a mystery begging to be solved. The answers are not going to be fed to you – you’ll need to dig them out. Learn how to research and ask questions. You should always be asking “why” – why isn’t this keyword performing? Why did that ad perform better? Why didn’t this feature work the way I thought it would?

Critical thinking is a crucial PPC skill as well. Don’t believe the hype and hyperbole in the blogosphere – read, understand, test, and think for yourself. Don’t fall for gimmicks like “great PPC hacks” and “this feature is a unicorn” and other hyperbole. Some things you read or hear might work great; others will be a disaster for the accounts you’re managing. Learn to spot the BS.

Find mentors and sponsors.

This advice goes whether you decide on a career in PPC or anything else. Find a mentor or teacher who will take you under their wing and show you the ropes. In every job I’ve ever held, I’ve tried to find someone to emulate. Sometimes it’s been a manager or boss. Sometimes it’s been a more senior coworker. In PPC, it’s often been colleagues I’ve met at conferences or online. The point is, find someone who is willing to answer your questions and give advice. Find someone whose actions you respect, and emulate them.

Also be on the lookout for what I call “reverse role models” – those who show you what not to do. We’ve all had bad bosses and coworkers over the years. Take note of the things that upset you and make sure you don’t do them!

My husband and I have always tried to teach our kids that there are good and bad people out there. You will not always get along with everyone. You’ll have bad teachers, bad classmates, bad sports coaches, and bad neighbors. Learn how to deal with these people in a mature and professional manner. We’ve never allowed our kids to quit or switch just because of a bad teacher or classmate. We’ve helped them learn to deal.

(Let me caveat this by saying we haven’t forced them to tolerate abuse of any kind. There is a time for parents to step in, too – and part of being a parent is knowing when to draw the line.)

Do what you love.

This is perhaps the most important advice I can give. When I was 18, I wanted to be the next Jane Pauley. I loved television and everything about it. I was a telecommunications major at Michigan State and was convinced I had the smarts and the skills. I’d wanted to do this for as long as I could remember.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. I’m not the anchor of NBC Nightly News. By the middle of my junior year of college, I realized I needed to be more realistic. But I didn’t give up on what I loved. My first job was in broadcast – selling advertising for a local radio station.

I learned that I hated selling, but I loved advertising. I eventually got into marketing for a local company. It was there that I got into search when Adwords launched their CPC program in 2002. I’m doing what I love, even though my job now is something I couldn’t even have dreamed of at 18 in 1984.

The moral of the story is, don’t give up on your dreams – but find something practical to pay the bills in the meantime. And be open to new directions.

The Final Word

So much has changed since I was 18 – it’s literally a different world. What was once the stuff of Star Trek fantasy is now a reality. It’s amazing. So to all the 18 year olds out there, enjoy the ride.

What would you tell your 18 year old self? Share in the comments!

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