Why Context Matters In PPC Case Studies

I read a great article today called 6 Surprising B2B Facebook Marketing Case Studies. It talked about Facebook ads, and how well they can work for B2B.

I totally agree – we’ve seen the same thing for our clients. Everyone thinks LinkedIn is the best place for B2B, but we’ve found that the audience there is small, and CPCs are high; plus the interface is clunky at best. LinkedIn does work, but Facebook works just as well if not better.

But this post isn’t about Facebook vs. LinkedIn. It’s about context in PPC case studies.

The “surprising” case studies in the article mentioned above leave a lot to be desired. They all lack context and statistical significance.

Now before someone starts throwing virtual darts at me, let me say a few things. I thought the point of the article was well-taken, and I agreed with it. I’m sure the goal was to write a brief, punchy article with “snackable” talking points (and don’t get me started on how much I hate the word “snackable”). But I’m not a fan of numbers being bandied about without context. Thus, this post.

OK. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the case studies.

case 1

On the surface, this is a great example of why paid social (and paid search) is effective for attorneys. I used to have an attorney client, with similar success metrics. They only needed 1-2 cases per year to make PPC pay for itself.

But the attorney in the case study got one case, which does not a case study make. He could conceivably spend another $100,000 in a short time on Facebook and never get another case. The one case could totally have been luck. Or, his next case might be for $500 instead of $100,000. Does Facebook look so great in that instance?

The point is, one case isn’t statistically significant.

Now let’s look at cases 2, 4, 5, and 6.

case 3-6

The issue with all these examples is the same: there’s no context. Each case study mentions a cost per lead. If you’ve ever done lead generation, these CPL’s sound decent.

Decent compared to what?

We have no context for whether these numbers are good or bad for the clients in question. What’s the cost per lead for other channels? For case 6, what if paid search was driving leads and demos at $10 per signup? Facebook doesn’t look so hot in that case. Same thing goes for all the examples here.

For case 4, there’s enough data to back into some numbers. The industry event advertiser spent $21,758 to generate 305 registrations. That’s not a small investment for social PPC. The conversion rate was just over 1%, which isn’t bad for Facebook, but is pretty low compared with other channels (or is it? We don’t know since there’s no baseline included). CPC was $1.20, which is definitely lower than LinkedIn and probably lower than search, but what about display or remarketing? In my experience, $1.20 is high for both of those channels, even for B2B. And what’s the average cost per registration for this organization? Did the organization make money on a $71 cost per registration, or did they pay $71 for an event that cost $50 to register? I’m guessing registration cost more than $71, but again, we don’t know. So it’s hard to know whether Facebook was the right choice or not.

The cases aren’t all bad, though. Let’s look at #3.

case 3

This is actually valuable insight that a lot of advertisers and PPC pros don’t think about. Every PPC campaign is a test at the beginning – you’re taking a risk that it won’t perform. And every new business venture is certainly a risk. This business learned very cheaply that no one needed their product, by conducting market research on Facebook. Spending a few hundred dollars to save tens of thousands is pretty compelling. I’m actually thinking of recommending this tactic to clients who are thinking about launching new products or services – it’s a great way to test the waters.

Now, I’m sure there is more to the story for each of these case studies. I’d bet that the author has PowerPoint decks for each case with additional detail that he chose to leave out for the purpose of brevity.

Adding context wouldn’t have been difficult here, though; and it wouldn’t have taken away from the brevity of the article. Adding one sentence to Case 6 saying “The SaaS company’s average cost per demo was $150,” for instance, would stave off any questions or doubts in the reader’s mind.

I caution anyone who puts numbers out there to include context. It doesn’t take much space, and it makes your case even more powerful.

How do you present data in case studies when you’re talking to clients or prospects? Share in the comments!

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy

So often, PPC strategy seems to be an afterthought. In their haste to start looking for keywords and setting bids, advertisers overlook strategy development.

Don’t let this happen to you! Take the time to develop your PPC strategy before jumping into anything else.

In my experience, PPC strategy development falls into 4 categories:

•    Goals identification
•    Campaign setup
•    Conversion rate optimization
•    Content marketing

I include content marketing here, even though some may argue it’s a separate discipline. To me, content marketing is a crucial part of many PPC campaigns, and assembling the content into a PPC strategy isn’t trivial. So I’m including resources to help with that.

Goals Identification

I’ve said many times that identifying the goal of your PPC campaign is the first step. What business goal will your PPC campaign help you achieve? The answer will drive your entire strategy. Be sure to separate ideas from strategy, anticipate client questions, consider marketing basics, and determine conversion actions as part of your goal identification process.

Campaign Setup

It may seem like campaign setup isn’t really a strategy, but you must think strategically to properly set up your PPC campaigns. You’ll want to incorporate best practices, establish setup milestones, and establish a reporting cadence.  All of these activities will ensure that goals are being met, and they help make clients happy too.

Conversion Rate Optimization

A poorly-optimized website will render all the great PPC strategy in the world useless. Build in conversion rate optimization (CRO) activities to ensure your strategy will actually achieve the goal. Assign primary responsibility for CRO to make sure it actually gets done and someone is accountable for it. Periodically review landing page optimization best practices to ensure your CRO efforts will be successful.

Content Marketing

This is such a complex process that I wrote an entire series on content marketing and PPC. Knowing how content fits into your marketing mix, and taking the time to craft your PPC content marketing campaign, will help ensure that you meet your goals.

The Cheat Sheet

I’ve summarized the strategy elements into the ultimate cheat sheet for PPC strategy. Bookmark this post, and refer to it when you’re setting up a new campaign! Get the Ultimate Cheat Sheet for PPC Strategy.

Strategy Ultimate Cheat Sheet

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Bid Management: Is It Even Still A Thing?

When Google launched Adwords Select back in 2002, the self-serve pay per click model was new. Although GoTo existed before Adwords, it wasn’t as widely adopted. People flocked to this great new way of advertising that allowed them to pay only when someone clicked, rather than when impressions were served. It was a paradigm shift that changed online advertising forever.

One element of early PPC programs that managers quickly had to master was bid management. Bidding for the top of the page, which was actually possible in GoTo/Overture back then, didn’t make much sense to savvy advertisers. Instead, we wanted to pay only what the click was actually worth to us. High-converting terms, we reasoned, should have higher bids than low-converting terms.

I remember spending all day on bid management back in 2002-2003. I was doing in-house ecommerce, and we had hundreds of products, all with different profit margins. I had a fancy spreadsheet that calculated exactly what each click was worth, based on our profit margin and PPC conversion rates. Looking back, it was crazy – but it worked. PPC quickly became our biggest acquisition channel, and we made money on every sale.

Fast forward to today. Few PPC managers are manually managing bids, at least on any kind of scale. It’s time-consuming. It’s complicated. Done properly, it requires math and thinking. Lately I’ve been wondering, is manual bid management even a thing anymore?

I’m not sure it should be a thing, given today’s technology. Even back in the day, I used GoToast (which later became Atlas bid management and then eventually went away) to manage bids. I soon realized that we couldn’t come close to putting our entire product catalog online and still be able to manually keep up with the bidding wars that were happening in the old Overture system at that time. Now, we have both free and paid options for automating bids.

Adwords Scripts

Adwords Scripts launched in 2012 and revolutionized the way PPC is managed. Scripts can automate countless tasks, and one of them is bid management. And they’re free! If you know a little programming, you can even create a custom script that will manage bids exactly the way you want. If Scripts had been around in 2002, I wouldn’t have needed that complicated spreadsheet to calculate my bids – I would have just created a script.

Automated Bidding

Automated bidding was one of the features that actually launched following the much-vaunted April 22, 2014 announcement call. Automated bidding, like most things Google, is also free. Automated bidding is even easier to use than Scripts, and really leaves no excuse for doing manual bid management.

Just this week, Bing Ads matched Google by launching automated bidding. I expect this might actually get more people to start using Bing Ads, now that they won’t have to manually manage bids.

Bid Management Software

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: bid management software. Providers such as Acquisio, Kenshoo, Marin, and many others have been around for several years now. Most bid management platforms have an algorithm that will manage bids for you. All you need to do is set a budget, and the software takes it from there.

Acquisio, which we use at gyro, has their Bid and Budget Management tool, which optimizes bids in near-real time. Marin just launched Budget Optimizer, which tells advertisers what their monthly budgets should be.

Wow. Technology is amazing – albeit bid management software comes at a price – and yet, I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. My days of manually calculating bids in a spreadsheet seem far away. If you’re not automating bids in some way, you’re losing ground to competitors who are.

Do we even need to train new PPC managers on bid management, what with all this fancy software and automation?

I think the answer is yes. In order to properly use technology, you need to understand how it works. Letting a software package or, heaven forbid, Google, tell you what to bid is a scary proposition.

Now, I already admitted that we use bid management software. It saves me untold hours of manual work. But I still monitor bids and ROI on a daily basis. If you don’t understand the bid landscape, how can you make corrections or spot issues? Software and scripts can only go so far – the PPC manager still needs to pay attention to what’s happening.

What do you think? Is active bid management a thing of the past, or is it still a key skill for PPC managers? Share in the comments!

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Dynamic Keyword Insertion: Use It, Or Lose It?

Earlier this week, a few of us on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter were discussing dynamic keyword insertion. The different opinions were interesting.

Some people were not fans of using DKI at all:

no dki
Others, like me, use it a lot. The conversation then twisted and turned to a discussion of whether it’s ok to use DKI for competitor ads or not.

It was so interesting that I decided to expand beyond Twitter’s 140 characters here.

DKI must be used correctly.

There’s a huge misconception out there that DKI inserts the user query into the ad. It doesn’t – it inserts the keyword you’re bidding on. So one key is to make sure you’re bidding on keywords that you’re ok having in your ad copy.

Misspellings, for example, can be great keywords but terrible for DKI. If I’m going to use DKI, I put misspelled keywords in their own ad group and don’t use DKI there.

You’ll also want tightly-themed ad groups. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to write ad copy that makes sense for 50 different keywords.

Tread with caution when using DKI for competitor names.

Part of the Twitter conversation centered around using DKI for competitors. I have done this successfully on more than one account, without repercussions. In my experience, the engines usually end up using your default text anyway, not the competitor terms.

But others had different experiences:
competitor dki
These are all valid considerations. Discuss the strategy with your client or boss before trying DKI with competitor keywords. When I worked in-house, my boss loved the fact that we were doing this. I’ve had clients who love it too. But I’ve had other clients who said no way – they didn’t want ill will with their competition.

Test, test, test.

As with most things PPC, DKI is worth testing. We inherited a client who was using DKI across the board. We immediately decided to test ads without it. What a mistake. Click-through rate plummeted like a cement block – I mean, CTRs were 1/10 what they were with DKI. That test didn’t last long.

Test DKI in different parts of the ad, too. I see it most commonly used in headlines, but you can use it anywhere. Try it in the middle of the ad, or even in the display URL. The results may surprise you.

Of course, there are other pros and cons to using DKI, as this Wordstream article points out.

What’s your take on DKI? Love it, hate it, don’t care? Share in the comments?

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Can Too Many Ads Ruin PPC Ad Copy Testing?

2 weeks ago, I wrote a post on PPC ad copy testing that ended up being my most popular post for April. One of the recommendations I made was to write a lot of ads, but only test 2 ads at a time, so you can get to statistical significance faster.

But Kirk Williams had another reason not to test multiple ad variations: profitability.

multiple ad variations

I’ll admit it had occurred to me that running too many ads could hurt profitability, but I’d never run the numbers. And Kirk’s numbers in the table above were made up. So I decided to dig through historical data to see if I had any actual figures to analyze.

We inherited a large account that had up to 12 ad variations running in some ad groups. It’s a high volume account, so that many ads made some sense – except for the fact that most of this client’s conversions come in over the phone, and phone calls can’t be tracked back to ad variations. So looking at just online form fills, each variation often had only 1-2 conversions, and some had none.

I decided to use the actual data to create hypothetical scenarios, where we assume that only the best 2 ads in the ad group ran at the same time.

Scenario 1, Actual Data

scenario 1 actual

In this scenario, there are 6 ads with wildly varying statistics. I should note here that the previous agency also used “optimize for clicks” in some campaigns, but not others. Anyway, there’s one version, Version 4, with a high conversion rate, but each variation had less than 10 conversions each.

Scenario 1, Hypothetical

scenario 1 hypo

Here I took the total number of impressions for the ad group and split them evenly, and then calculated the rest of the metrics based on actual CTR and conversion rate. It’s pretty clear which ad is the winner here – and it’s also clear, based on the actual statistics, that about $1,600 was wasted on ads that weren’t converting as well as the top 2.

But was this ad group a fluke? I looked at a second example to be sure.

Scenario 2, Actual

scenario 2 actual

Here we had 5 different ads. Version 1 had the most conversions, but also the lowest conversion rate. The ad that converted the best didn’t have many impressions. There’s no clear winner here either.

Scenario 2, Hypothetical:

scenario 2 hyp

The winning ad wins by a landslide here. Cost for the 2 ads was similar, but the winner converted at more than twice the rate of the 2nd-best ad.

The caveat with Scenario 2 is that, in the actual scenario, the winning ad had so few impressions that I hesitate to extrapolate its performance over more impressions and clicks. Often I see ads have “beginner’s luck” where they do very well initially, and then settle in to a more average performance. But even if the winner didn’t convert quite as well, it likely would have beat the contenders in this instance. And in this case, about 80% of the budget was spent on losing ads. I’d hate to have to tell that to the client.

Conclusion

Based on these examples, it’s pretty clear that, at least hypothetically, running 5-6 ads wastes more money than running 2 ads. I’m willing to hear examples to the contrary, though. I know at least a few of my readers know a lot more about statistical theory than I do – what say you? Is this a legit analysis, or are there holes? Share in the comments!

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PPC Ad Copy Creation: Where To Start?

Last week’s post on ad copy testing prompted some thought-provoking discussion in the comments. My friend Jerry Nordstrom asked:

When you are creating ad variations what is your primary driver of each iteration?
Keyword intent? Keyword volume? Overall ad intent? Dynamic or Mobile only ads?

This was such a good question that I thought it deserved its own post. Here’s how I approach PPC ad copy creation.

Make sure your ad groups are tightly themed.

This may sound like it has nothing to do with ad copy, but it actually has everything to do with it. If your ad groups contain large groups of diverse keywords, writing relevant ad copy is going to be darn near impossible. With small, tightly themed ad groups, the ad copy nearly writes itself.

Let the overall intent drive your call to action.

Even now in 2015, I see a lot of ads that lack a strong call to action. They’re either full of semi-boring facts and features, or they’re trying to be funny and creative – yet they forgot the most important part, which is to tell the searcher what you want them to do! Go back to your campaign goals, review your landing page, and then tell people what you want them to do in the ad copy.

Incorporate the keyword into the copy whenever possible.

I’ve seen this done well, and done poorly. Keywords for the sake of keywords, or excessive use of dynamic keyword insertion, puts ad copy into eBay territory. But I do recommend getting the keyword into the ad if you can. It may sound old-school, but getting that bolded copy you get when the keyword shows up in the ad is still valuable.

Take keyword volume into account.

This isn’t a primary driver for me, but I do usually focus on the highest-volume keyword in the ad group when writing PPC ad copy. It’s efficient, for one thing; and it tends to perform best.

Take device and user actions on said device into account.

You probably know by now that the clients I work on are primarily B2B lead generation advertisers. Many of our clients get most of their leads over the phone. So when I’m writing mobile ad copy, I make sure to use something like “Call Us!” as a call to action. For desktop ads, I’ll say “Learn More” or “Get The Free Report” or something along those lines.

Some advertisers will find that mobile users are looking for something totally different from desktop users. Take “dominos pizza,” for example. Desktop searchers might be looking for a menu, a location nearby, or even information on the company headquarters. But mobile searchers probably are starving and want to order a pizza right now. Craft your device-specific PPC ad copy carefully.

All of the above are just starting points, mind you. Always test and refine – what works for me, or even one campaign in an account, may not work in another. Test, test, test!

How do you craft PPC ad copy? What’s your #1 go-to tip? Share in the comments!

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PPC Ad Copy Testing: 2015 Edition

I love PPC ad copy testing. It’s one of my favorite aspects of PPC. Where else can you systematically test different elements of ad text and learn what works the best – all in a relatively short period of time?

Like with many things in PPC, ad copy testing has evolved over the years. I’ve written about it a few times, and every time I look back at those articles, I realize how much has changed – and how much I’ve learned since then.

Here’s my 2015 approach to PPC ad copy testing.

Mind your campaign settings.

Google continues to insist that “optimize for clicks” and “optimize for conversions” are the “ideal settings” for ad rotation:

ad rotation

They’re still wrong. I always recommend “rotate indefinitely” unless your goal is site traffic (which it shouldn’t be).

Create a bunch of ads for each ad group.

I used to create 2 ads, run with those, and then scramble to think of new copy to test. I started my PPC career in an in-house setting, so winging it with ad testing is usually fine. When I started working in an agency, with enterprise-level clients, I realized that winging it wouldn’t cut it. Clients need to review and approve ad copy before it runs.

Now, I create as many variations as I can think of: at least 5 per ad group and 10 or more if I can. Think of everything you might want to test. Here are some ideas:

Testing Matrix
Send the whole shebang to your client or boss for approval. It’s much more efficient this way.

Test only 2 ads at once.

At this point, you may be thinking “wait a minute – why did I create 10 ads if I’m only going to run 2?” Simple: You now have new ads at the ready to swap in when a winning ad emerges.

By testing only 2 ads at once, you’ll reach statistical significance much sooner than you would if you test 5-10 ads all at the same time. You’ll also learn what’s working: did DKI perform better? Did one call to action work better than another? Then you can use this knowledge in your upcoming tests. The result? Higher conversion rates, faster.

Create an ad testing matrix.

I illustrated how to do this in an article for Search Engine Watch, so I won’t repeat it here. Suffice it to say that systematic, rather than random, ad testing is best.

Review results regularly.

How regularly depends on how much traffic you get. For high-volume ad groups, you might want to review ad test data weekly or even daily (although weekly is usually best to get a full view of performance over days of the week, especially weekends). For lower-volume ad groups, monthly may be too frequent. Find the cadence that works for you.

As for how to review results, my process has evolved dramatically over the 13 years I’ve been doing PPC. I used to use spreadsheets and manual summing, and then I’d pick the ad with the highest conversion rate. That’s problematic for a number of reasons, the biggest being the lack of statistical significance.

Then I started using statistical significance calculators, some of which have come and gone (anyone besides me still lamenting the demise of SuperSplitTester?). My current favorite manual calculator is the one from Visual Website Optimizer. Download it and use it!

My very favorite ad testing tool, though, has to be AdAlysis. It’s a paid tool, but you’ll recoup its modest cost many times over in the hours you’ll save in calculating significance. Check out this geeky goodness:

(click to see the whole thing)

At a glance, you can see which of your ads has reached significance on several metrics: CTR, conversion rate, conversions per impression, cost per converted click, conversion value/cost, and conversion value/impression. Whew! It also shows the impact on campaign performance if you pause the losing ad. Projections: done.

You can also do multi-ad group testing with AdAlysis. So if you have multiple ads with the same headline or call to action across ad groups, you can lump them together to gauge the overall impact of each element. I’ve done account-wide call-to-action testing with AdAlysis, for instance.

Its only downfall is that it only works for Adwords at the moment. So you’ll still need to analyze Bing and social ads manually.

(I’m not paid for this endorsement, by the way – I just love the product!)

Rinse and repeat.

This is my final tip in all the PPC ad copy testing articles I’ve written, and even in 2015 it needs to be said. So many ad tests are set up and never analyzed. Don’t let that happen to you! You’re better off not testing – at least you won’t see how much money you wasted on an underperforming ad.

Always review your test results and, at a minimum, pause the losers.

What are your favorite PPC ad copy testing techniques? Share in the comments!

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Facebook PPC: Not Just For Teenagers

I often hear people say, “I don’t want to use Facebook ads because I don’t want to reach teenagers or college students. I want to reach 25-65 year old decision makers.”

5-10 years ago, teenagers were the primary audience on Facebook. Today, though, it’s a much different story – nearly everyone, even grandparents, has a Facebook account.

And Facebook Ads aren’t what they used to be either. I remember trying to guess what B2B decision makers’ interests were so I could try to target them on Facebook. Ads were designed to drive clicks or “likes” and that was it – not good for most business objectives.

Fast forward to 2015. As of this writing, Facebook has 10 different objectives you can use for your ads.

facebook targeting

These objectives cover nearly every goal you might have for your Facebook PPC campaign. Recently, I decided to put some of the objectives to the test. Here’s what I found.

Background

I do social media on a volunteer basis for a local community band I’m in. We’ve used Facebook ads for a few years now to promote our big concert events. In the past, I’d just do a “boost post” or post engagement type of campaign. We got decent results, but this year I decided to try 3 different objectives: Event Responses, Post Engagement, and Website Clicks.

I created an event for the upcoming concert, and also wrote a Facebook post about it. We had a landing page with details about the concert on our band website, so I used that page for the website clicks campaign. The campaigns were geotargeted to Michigan, and I layered on interest targeting for those interested in community bands to fine-tune the audience.

I also decided to try letting Facebook set CPCs based on the objectives, rather than managing them manually. This was a big step for me – normally, I’m not a fan of letting the PPC engines control my bids, but I wanted to see what would happen.

We ran the ads for about 3 weeks prior to the event, and split our budget evenly across the 3 campaigns.

Results

First, let’s look at the basics: impressions and clicks.

impressions & clicks

This is exciting on its own: nearly 32,000 people saw our ads, we got nearly 600 clicks, and a 1.80% CTR. For social PPC, that’s huge – I consider anything over 1% to be very good.

Remember, though, that a click in social PPC is usually a click on anything in the ad that can be clicked. For Facebook, that includes post likes, shares, comments, and link clicks. And we didn’t just want people to “like” the post – we wanted them to plan to come to the event!

Let’s look at some metrics that give a better indication of intent. Did each campaign achieve its objective?

engagements
I’d say the answer is yes. The event response campaign had 63 engagements, most of which were event responses. If all of those people came to the concert, the entire campaign would have been a success based on that alone.

The post engagement campaign had a whopping 178 engagements, and also generated 21 website clicks and 15 page likes. So it drove people to the website, even though that wasn’t the objective, and we also found more people who like the page and will see announcements for future concerts. Plus, hopefully some of the 178 who engaged with the post came to the concert too.

The website clicks campaign also did what it was supposed to. It drove 108 clicks to the site. If only a fraction of those people came to the concert, we’d be happy.

Put them all together and it adds up to a successful campaign in terms of user actions.

But how much did all this cost?

Cost

Now, you really can’t beat that. Less than $150 for 129 clicks to the site, 19 new likes and 50 event responses? What a deal! $0.26 per click is a bargain, too – it’s been a while since I’ve seen $0.26 CPCs in search.

The huge eye-opener here is that these were bids managed by the Facebook algorithm, not by my bid management prowess. I’m not sure I could have done any better, and I might have done worse. I was amazed to find that we got such great CPCs by letting Facebook do their thing. It took a lot less time to manage, and was highly successful.

Conclusion

The campaign was a rousing success – not only in the number of responses we got, but also what I learned from it. Part of the reason I tried the 3 different campaigns was to test how well they each worked. Sure, I’ve used Facebook PPC frequently for “official” client business, but usually with a defined objective – for example, the client wants to drive website clicks, so we choose that objective. I never tested multiple objectives side by side to see how they’d perform. I have to say, I’m really impressed.

Have you seen similar results from objective-based Facebook Ads campaigns? Did they deliver what they were supposed to at a great cost? Share in the comments!

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Fail Fast, Learn Fast

Last week, I read a fascinating article on MediaPost about Google’s “planned failures.” The great gift of the internet and digital world, according to the Googlers quoted in the article, is the ability to fail fast. “The price of failing slow is high,” it says.

Google has had tons of failures. Some, like Froogle, morphed into something else over time. Some, like Google Reader, became outdated. Some, like Knol, just died. Many would say that other projects should die, such as self-driving cars or Google+.

Probably Google’s biggest, or at least most well-known, recent failure is Glass. I wrote about why it failed in MediaPost a while back.

Coming up with crazy projects is in Google’s DNA. Some of them work, some don’t – but most failed quickly. Fail fast, learn fast is their motto.

I like to apply the same principle to PPC. Not that I plan to fail, but we all know that not everything we try in PPC is going to work. Some keywords will drive hundreds of clicks without a single conversion. An ad copy variation isn’t going to convert. Some landing pages are less than ideal. Or you forgot to exclude mobile apps in a display campaign (don’t ask).

With even the most egregious PPC failures, though, we should always learn something – just like Google does. Google learned that people aren’t ready to wear weird glasses to take pictures and search for stuff. But you can bet they’ll take the best aspects of that technology and roll out with something else.

That’s what you need to do in PPC. Find the losers and pause them – but then study them to figure out why they were losers.

Found an ad that performed terribly? Why? Was the headline weak? Did it include ambiguous phrases? Was there an unfortunate instance of DKI in there somewhere? Did it lead to the wrong landing page? Use these learnings to fix what’s broken.

I always tell new PPC hires that almost nothing is permanent in PPC. That bad ad, keyword, or display placement can almost always be spotted very quickly – within a day or two if you’re doing your job well – and paused with (usually) minimal ill effects.

I’ll even report on bad stuff – clients need to know why things didn’t work. I don’t generally call attention to outright mistakes, but I do point out keywords that didn’t work or ad copy that didn’t resonate. One such conversation with a client recently led to the decision to create a new landing page that’s more relevant for a subset of client keywords. That’s a good thing! We failed fast and learned fast.

It’s also good to start strong to learn fast. We’ve all had clients who launch in the middle of the month, even though they may have assigned a full month’s budget. I almost never pro-rate the spend. For instance, if the budget is $10,000 and we launch on the 15th, I don’t aim to spend $5,000. I aim to spend $10,000. Fail fast, learn fast. That way, month 2 hits the ground with a fine-tuned campaign, instead of waiting 2 more weeks to learn stuff.

What about you? Do you fail fast and learn fast? Or are you more conservative? Share in the comments!

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4 Unconventional Ways To Do PPC Keyword Research

Ah, keyword research. It’s probably the most fundamental element of PPC, and one of the first things we all learned how to do. When I started doing PPC in 2002, keyword research tools were few and far between. I’m not sure Google even had a tool – or if they did, it was very rudimentary. I remember the GoTo/Overture keyword tool being more robust than Google’s, which is hard to believe now. We used paid tools like Wordtracker for PPC keyword research back in those days.

But enough of the walk down memory lane. Nowadays, PPC keyword research seems straightforward – just go to the Google or Bing keyword tool and take it from there. Or if you want to get really crazy, you might use Bing Ads Intelligence. These are great starting points, and I usually begin here as well. But there are a few drawbacks to using those tools:

•    Suggestions are intended to maximize the engine’s revenue, not yours
•    Your competitors are likely using the same tools and ending up with the same keywords
•    Sometimes, the suggestions are flat-out terrible

So what’s a good PPC manager to do? Here are 4 unconventional ways to do PPC keyword research.

Competitor Tools

Using a tool like SEMrush, Spyfu or Adgooroo, you can learn what keywords your competitors are bidding on. While the competition may have started their keyword research process with a Google or Bing tool, chances are that if they’ve been using PPC for a while, they’ve added new terms to their list that the tools didn’t uncover. Piggy-back off their efforts by using a competitor research tool to find your competitors’ keyword lists.

Here’s an example from SEMrush for Verizon:

semrush
Sure, a lot of the keywords on the list are branded terms – no surprise there. But as you dig down, you’ll see other terms that might work for you. Note the misspelling of “Verison” – that’s a gold mine in and of itself. If you’re up for bidding on competitor terms, misspellings can perform quite well.

While most competitor tools require a monthly subscription, they usually offer some type of free trial or free limited use. Here’s a snapshot from Spyfu’s free option:

spyfu
The traffic info alone is valuable, and you can use the short list of keywords as a jumping-off point for further research.

Google News and Google Alerts

This one takes a little more work, but can pay off big. Set up Google Alerts for your brand, and read everything that comes through on it for a week or so. Set them up for competitors too. The idea is to learn how others talk about your brand and the products and services you offer. You might refer to your products as one thing, while your customers search for another.

The other great thing about Google Alerts is that it captures up-to-the-minute info on how people talk about you. This will help surface new keywords or phrases that are just coming into vogue.

Take some time to comb through Google News on your brand, and on key products as well. This is important not only for positive keywords, but for negatives as well. If a crime takes place at one of your places of business, for instance, you don’t want your ad showing up for searches for info on the crime investigation. Same thing goes for any key employees of your company that might be in the news, good or bad. Searches for these types of things generally do not lead to conversions, so add the phrases or names as negatives.

An added side bonus of watching Alerts and News is that you might find gems about your company that would be good to share in social media, and maybe even paid social.

Assist Keywords

This technique is a bit riskier, but can pay off with big rewards. If you’re using multi-channel funnels in Google Analytics, you can run a report that shows which keywords “assisted” a conversion – that is, keywords that people use on their way to completing a conversion.

People might search on broader keywords before eventually converting. Drill down in your multi-channel funnel report by filtering for organic search traffic only, and then find the keywords that generated assists:

mcf
In this list, you can see that most of the keywords come up (not provided). That’s a frustrating matter for another post. But there are still several gems here: actual search terms that generated assists, but few to no last-click conversions. These are the terms you want to add to your keyword list.

You usually won’t find many keywords this way, but some of these might be valuable terms that you wouldn’t find using other keyword tools.

Use PPC engine opportunities as negative keywords.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago, so I won’t go into the detailed how-to here. Suffice it to say that what the engines think are “opportunities” for keywords might not be ideal for your account, and many may not even be relevant. Instead of just rejecting the ideas, use them for negative keywords! I’ve found this to be a quick way to add lots of negatives without combing through search query reports.

Bonus resources!

If you’re looking for more keyword research tools, check out this post from Portent and this one from PPC Hero.

What’s your go-to keyword research hack? Share in the comments!

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