PPC and Content Marketing: Audience Research

In an earlier post, I talked about the 4-step content audit, which helps marketers identify what content they have. Once you’ve finished your audit, it’s time to do some audience research.

Audience research in content marketing is as important as keyword research in search PPC. Audience segments will form the basis for your content marketing PPC campaigns.

The first step in researching your audience is to talk to your client, or your sales team if you’re in-house. Ask them about their ideal prospect: what job level they hold, what they like to do, what they’re passionate about, what need they are trying to fulfill.

If you want to get really granular, create marketing personas for your audience. It sounds hokey, but naming each segment of your customer base helps visualize your customer’s needs.

Once you have a good idea of who you’ll be marketing to, it’s time to jump into the engines. It’s easiest to do audience research in the social PPC platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Facebook is probably the first engine that comes to mind when thinking about audiences as opposed to keywords. Facebook targeting focuses primarily around interests and interest groups. A typical Facebook audience for a construction company might look like this:

facebook segment

If you’re a B2B advertiser, or are looking to target individuals associated with companies or job types, LinkedIn is ideal:

linkedin targeting

And with Twitter, you can target individual Twitter handles. It’s a little tougher to find users on Twitter, but if you know the companies or type of individuals you want to target, it’s not too bad.

While you’re doing your content marketing audience research, think outside the box. What do your users like to do? If you’re selling organic food, for instance, you might target those who are interested in environmental issues like recycling and green energy. They might be interested in your competitors – consider creating a segment targeting the competition’s fans! For B2B, targeting fans of industry conferences or trade shows is a good bet. Get creative!

Don’t forget about PPC keywords. Frequently, you’ll want to have a search campaign in addition to social campaigns. Remember, users may see you on a social channel, and then turn to a search engine for more information. Try to use keywords from the content itself, especially if you use product names, buzzwords, or themes in your content. Definitely include branded terms in your research as well. You might even consider keywords like “Company X Facebook” to reach those who saw your ads there.

Once you’ve identified your audience, think about how you want to segment them. This is where your content audit comes into play. Sometimes the segmentation will be obvious: if you have some content for architects and some for builders, separate your audiences that way.

Other times, though, it may not be so simple. In those cases, I often start with a larger audience initially. Then, I watch performance and segment based on that, rather than on audience attributes. Play around with your audience segments and test, test, test!

Audience research can be much more time-consuming than keyword research. But make sure to invest the time. Your content marketing PPC campaigns will be more successful with good audience research.

For some great tips on audience research and getting super-creative, I highly recommend Marty Weintraub’s book, Killer Facebook Ads. It’s a fun read and has some incredible tips on finding prospects with creative audience segments.

Got any killer audience research tips? Share in the comments!

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Google: Too Big To Fail?

On Tuesday, Google made what was played up to be a huge announcement of new features. Search marketers feared they were in for another Enhanced Campaigns-type of blow; it turned out to be pretty benign.

Talk on Twitter during the announcement was interesting, though. Google led off with a “history of radio ads” narrative that was boring and, frankly, off-topic – which drew jeers from the Twitter crowd.  Then they talked about promoting apps – another underwhelming feature. Finally, they talked about some new bulk editing, experimenting, and reporting enhancements that look cool and truly useful. The final reactions on Twitter? Meh.

twitter reaction to google announcement

Much has been said about what ended up being an overreaction by search marketers prior to the announcement. Some of it rubbed us the wrong way. I maintain that our fears were warranted, given the disruption caused by Enhanced Campaigns last year.

But what struck me about the announcement is the fact that Google led with apps, as though this was the big thing that advertisers really cared about.

Based on my own needs and the chatter on Twitter, they’re wrong. I don’t have a single client who wants to advertise apps – in fact, I don’t think I have a single client who HAS an app. So why was Google pushing apps so hard?

Ever heard of Google Play?

Google is creating products that will serve their interests – not their customers’ needs. They’re headed towards a slippery slope.

The new reporting features also indicate that Google thinks they are bigger and better than the bid management and reporting platforms. Yet another slippery slope.

When companies start to believe they’re above the rules, they start walking into “too big to fail” territory. When companies think that “all your data are belong to us,” they start walking into “too big to fail” territory. When companies tout a huge “announcement,” only to push something that 90% of their customers don’t’ need, they start walking into “too big to fail” territory.

So what do you think? Is Google too big to fail? Are they oblivious to the needs of their customers, the advertisers? Were we fools for being concerned and worried about the announcement? Or did the announcement give you pause? Share in the comments!

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5 Resources For Mobile PPC

Recently, I had the pleasure of appearing on my good friend David Szetela’s recently revived podcast, PPC Rockstars. We chatted about many things: my band geekiness, speculation on Google’s upcoming April 22 annoucement, and much more. You can check out the episode in the Webmaster Radio archives here (it should be live later today).

We talked a lot about mobile PPC and what advertisers should be doing with mobile. Listen to the episode for many of our expert tips. Here are a few additional resources that you can use to help you on your journey to mobile PPC success.

Generating Local Business Beyond the Click on Web Marketing Today. I wrote this piece geared toward small local businesses who think PPC is too expensive or too expansive for their business. Yes, local businesses can succeed with PPC! This article will show you how.

5 Critical Factors for Optimized Mobile PPC Targeting by Joe Kerschbaum over at Search Engine Watch. Joe offers a rundown of best practices for any mobile PPC advertiser.

B2B Search: It’s Time To Go Mobile by me, again at Search Engine Watch. I’ve found that many B2B advertiser have been slow to embrace mobile. This article talks about why B2B needs to get on board with mobile PPC.

Do Mobile PPC Ads Even Work? by Dan Shewan at WordStream. This info-packed post, complete with awesome screenshots and illustrations, shows exactly how to get your mobile ads to perform well.

If you haven’t gotten on the mobile PPC train yet, these articles are your ticket!

What about you? What are your favorite tips and success stories for mobile PPC? Share in the comments!

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PPC In A Not-Provided World

not providedEarlier this week, Google dropped the bomb that we were expecting, but hoped wouldn’t come: Google will no longer pass search query strings in the referrer URL string. What this means is that the “search query” reports in Google Analytics and other packages will no longer contain data from Google.

First, let’s quell the still-persistent rumor that Adwords search query reports are going away. That’s false. Google has stated that SQRs will remain intact. Using search query reports for PPC keyword research is still an option.

Some are saying that the “not provided” announcement is no big deal because we can still get data from SQRs, or from the Google API. Even George Michie of RKG, normally a skeptic, isn’t too worried about not provided.

Others, though, are more upset.  Brad Geddes of Certified Knowledge is rightfully concerned with the dwindling amount of transparency coming from Google. He goes so far as to say that “all new hires should start working in Bing before AdWords so that they can learn how different users react per device so new marketers can be trained properly about setting up and managing campaigns and site flows by device.” That’s a pretty bold statement.

Bryant Garvin shares Brad’s concern, and surfaces another problem: advertisers with long sales cycles, or those who are using the search query in dynamic landing pages, are now out of luck. They won’t get as clear a picture into what queries are ultimately driving sales, and they’ll be forced to use keywords, rather than search queries, on dynamic landing pages. Anyone who’s done PPC for a while knows that search queries and keywords are often very different.

We knew this was coming eventually. As soon as Google took away search query data from SEO, we knew it was only a matter of time before they made the same move for PPC. At the time, some were unconcerned, saying we were relying too much on search queries to begin with.

And yet others lamented the fact that keyword research had already taken a hit with the new Keyword Planner – “not provided” was yet another blow to good search marketing.

The fact remains that we’re stuck with this whether we like it or not, just like we’re stuck bidding on tablets and lacking separate bids for search partners. For better or for worse, Google is the market leader and can do whatever they want.

But I’m dismayed at this recent turn of events. While I’m glad we’ll still have our search query reports, and I understand that there are privacy (and therefore, legal) issues at stake, I am not excited about the trend toward less, rather than more, transparency.

Bing, on the other hand, just keeps chipping away at the Google behemoth. They still allow mobile-only and tablet-only campaigns. They pass search query data in the referrer. They have visitors who never use Google and can’t be reached by Adwords. And they cost less – a lot less in many cases.

Is it time to give Bing Ads more of our money? I’m thinking yes.

For a nice roundup of articles about not-provided in PPC, check out Bryant Garvin’s blog or this post by Luke Alley over at Avalaunch Media.

What’s your take on “not provided”? Is your life ruined by it, or will it be business as usual for you? Are you thinking about moving money to Bing? Share in the comments!

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Preparing For The Adwords Certification Exams

3 years ago, I wrote a post about preparing for the Adwords Fundamentals exam. Looking back, it’s amazing how much has changed in 3 years. So, I figured I’d update my recommendations for preparing for the Adwords Certification Exams.

What’s Changed:

  • The exams are now free, but are associated with Google Partners. You need to sign up for Google Partners to take the tests – which is also new. Badges for individual qualifications have gone the way of the dinosaur. That said, free exams are a nice benefit for companies with multiple PPC managers, or for those who want to take more than one exam (there are 3 Adwords certification exams: Fundamentals, Advanced Search, and Advanced Display).
  • > Recommendation: If you’re an experienced PPC manager, take each Adwords Certification exam once without studying. Chances are, you’ll pass; and if you don’t, you can take them again for free, knowing which sections you need to bone up on.
  • The test runs in a browser, but it no longer locks your computer – leaving you free to open another browser for an “open book” test. The test is still timed, though, so if you’re very new to Adwords or are unsure of your test-taking skills, don’t expect to be able to look up the answer to every question.
  • > Recommendation: Have 2 different browsers open when you start the exam. As with most things Google, the test runs well in Chrome, so use that for the test, and either Firefox or Internet Explorer for the help files.
  • There is no way to mark questions you’re unsure about for further review. This one frustrates me. One of the most effective ways to take standardized tests is to complete the questions you’re certain about, mark those you’re not, and then go back and work those questions until time runs out. With a test using paper and pencil, that’s easy. Online, it’s tougher.
  • > Recommendation: Have a piece of scratch paper handy to write down the numbers of questions you’re not sure about. Then go back and review them.

What’s The Same:

  • The test is still timed, although you now have 120 minutes to complete it. While experienced PPC managers can easily finish much quicker (I think it took me 45 minutes tops), if you’re fairly new to PPC it might take you the whole time.
  • >Recommendation: Use your time wisely. Dredge up your ACT and SAT test-taking skills and don’t dwell too long on any one question, and don’t look up all the questions in the help files. Trust your knowledge!
  • Newer PPC managers will want to study for the exam, using Google’s study materials.
  • > Recommendation: Unless you’re brand-new to PPC, don’t review every section. Skip topics you already know and focus on those you’re not familiar with.
  • Standardized test-taking best practices still apply!
  • > Recommendation:
  • >> Skip questions you’re not sure of and come back to them
  • >> Your first impression is usually correct
  • >> On true/false questions, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right
  • >> And so on

You’re now up to date on the latest and greatest on preparing for the Adwords Certification exams. So are the exams worthwhile?

Caleb Hutchins over at WordStream wrote a great post this week pointing out the flaws with the Adwords Certification exams. It’s a must-read: the post itself and the comments are fascinating and discuss the pros and cons of the exams.

I tend to agree with Caleb that the exams are poorly-designed, biased toward Google, and a poor predictor of actual PPC management success. That said, being certified is a big deal for prospective clients. I’ve had countless prospects ask me if I’m certified – although I’d been doing PPC successfully for several years before the exams even existed! Still, it’s really all we have to say that we actually know what we’re doing.

Do you have any tips for passing the Adwords Certification exams? Got a beef with them you want to air out? Share in the comments!

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The History of PPC

Once in a while, it’s good to look back on where we came from. I didn’t start out in PPC – in fact it didn’t exist when I started working. My PPC career began in 2002 when Google announced the CPC version of Adwords.

But the history of PPC, surprisingly, doesn’t start with Google. It started with GoTo back in the late 1990s. GoTo turned into Overture, and then Yahoo bought them in 2003.

Recently, some of us on PPCchat started a new hashtag, #ppctbt. It’s an homage to Throwback Thursday, but specifically related to the history of PPC. It’s been fun to reminisce about all the retro PPC engines that aren’t around anymore: FindWhat, LookSmart, Kanoodle, Enhance, and many more.

Back in the day, when I did in-house SEM and CPCs were a lot lower, I tested so many of these early engines. We tested FindWhat (so-so), LookSmart (decent), Kanoodle (not good), Enhance (pretty bad), Findology (not good, although shockingly, they still exist – which I didn’t realize until today!), and Quigo (which wasn’t bad, although time-consuming to manage).

It’s so funny to look at that list and realize that I was actually able to manage all of those engines and not lose my mind! Although, if you think about it, today isn’t that different. We just have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn instead of Kanoodle and FindWhat.

In those early days of history, PPC was so new that there was only a small group of professionals doing it. We hung out on search forums like IHelpYou, Search Engine Watch, and High Rankings, sharing tips and asking questions. In those days, I learned so much from Danny Sullivan, Andrew Goodman, Jill Whalen, Brad Geddes, Kevin Lee – and many others who’ve since left the SEM field.

It’s interesting to look back and see how much the space has changed. We didn’t have Twitter in 2002; in fact, the Search Engine Watch forums didn’t exist in 2002, and SES had just started (I’m still getting used to calling it ClickZ Live, folks). Few blog posts on PPC strategy existed. We learned by trial and error. It was great!

Lest I sound too much like PPC Moses, I’ll just say that it’s fun to see the industry evolve. PPC is both easier and harder than it used to be: easier, because the engines have improved so much usability-wise; and harder, because the competition is so fierce. 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying more than $2-$3 per click; now, $20-$30 CPCs are common.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been a great ride so far!

What about you? What do you remember about the history of PPC? When did you get your start? Share in the comments, or on Twitter using #ppctbt – you don’t have to wait till Thursday to chime in!

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Google Guest Blogging Smackdown: Lessons Learned

This week, the SEO world was rocked when Google slapped a penalty on MyBlogGuest, a guest blogging network. The news shocked many who felt that MyBlogGuest was running a reputable content marketing and sharing service. I’ve been acquainted with Ann Smarty, the owner of MyBlogGuest, for years, and have followed her in social media. Everything she was doing seemed above-board – until the penalty brought that into question. (I still think she did nothing wrong, but Google begs to differ.)

Then yesterday, Google put the beatdown on Portent, a SEM firm based in Seattle. This news was even more surprising – I’ve been acquainted with Portent’s work for some time, and I count their PPC director, Elizabeth Marsten, as a friend. Their company does much more than SEO, and yet they were penalized. Mind-boggling.

I’m confident that both of these organizations will emerge from the fray stronger than before. Still, it’s a lesson we should all take to heart:

Don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket.

I’ve talked to several business owners over the years who were getting 90% or more of their business from Google, often from organic listings. Then suddenly, a Google update hits, and their business vanishes. Or they were using Adwords and doing fine, and then their sales tanked. While I never enjoy hearing these stories, I always wonder about the soundness of counting on one entity for most of your business leads.

In investing, the rule of thumb is to diversify your portfolio. Smart investment advisors will tell you that it’s never a good idea to invest all your savings in one place (Enron, anyone?).

PPC and SEM are no different. At a minimum, I recommend using both Google and Bing for PPC. Performance often varies widely, and Bing is frequently cheaper than Google. So if your Google results tank, hopefully Bing can keep you going until you figure out what’s wrong.

And that’s why businesses should use an integrated approach to marketing. Advertising in multiple channels, investing in landing page optimization, and measuring success are crucial components to long-term success in online marketing.

What do you think about the recent Google penalties? Too harsh, too soft, just right? What baskets do you put your online marketing dollars in? Share in the comments!

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PPC and Content Marketing: The 4-Step Content Audit

In an earlier post, I talked about content marketing and its rise to popularity. PPC can be a highly effective way to amplify your content marketing efforts. But first, you need to identify what content is available. Here are 4 steps to a successful content audit.

Step 1: Identify your content marketing goals

Long-time readers of this blog know that I always start with goals. If you don’t know what you want to do, how will you go about doing it? And “performing a content audit” isn’t a goal. Neither is “get started with content marketing.” Those are both tactics used to achieve a strategy, not the strategy itself.

The most common goals for content marketing are lead generation and awareness creation. Do you have a new product that needs awareness? Trying to establish thought leadership in your field? Need to drive your lead generation machine? Identifying your primary goal for content marketing drives the entire process, from what content you’ll use to the channels you’ll use to distribute content.

Step 2: Create a list of all available content.

It’s always easier to repurpose existing content than it is to create it from scratch. Create a list of all online assets, including white papers, press releases, online demos, articles on other platforms, and even photos and videos. Every piece of content your organization has created is fair game.

If possible, also look at how the content has performed, and the audience it has reached. This will help you determine what PPC channel to use, and how to craft ad copy and PPC audiences. Also, why not put your best foot forward and launch with the best content?

Step 3: Note whether the content is evergreen or time-sensitive.

Some content, such as overview videos, product brochures, and how-to blog posts never get old. This is content you can promote again and again. Other content is time-sensitive: promotions, licenses, and other factors can affect how long your content can stay in market. Note these limitations in your content list. Nothing is worse than paying to send traffic to your site to read an outdated brochure or view a promotion that’s expired.

Step 4: Include the format in your content list.

Content format is more important than you may think, for a couple of reasons. The first is obvious: it determines where the content can be advertised in PPC. If you want to use Google for keyword search, you won’t be able to use a video as your ad (although of course you can drive traffic from text ads to a landing page that includes your video).

Maybe more importantly, noting the content type will help you learn which types of content perform best on each channel. For instance, you may determine that videos perform best in Facebook promoted posts, but white papers perform best in Google Adwords.  Performance by content type is a key measurement for PPC and content marketing.

By following these 4 steps, your content audit is now a marketing tool that use can use to craft your content marketing campaigns.

What about you? What techniques have you used for a content audit? Share in the comments!

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The Importance Of The PPC Brain

On Sunday, February 23, I was in the midst of a mundane task: putting away laundry. A loose piece of blanket binding on the bed had gotten looped around my leg without my realizing it. As I started to walk toward my dresser, the loop basically pulled the rug out from under me. I took a header into the dresser.

My first thought was, “That’s the hardest I’ve ever hit my head.” And then the pain kicked in.

To make a long story short, my husband took me to the ER, where I was diagnosed with a concussion. In a lifetime of playing sports, including risky ones like skiing, I get a concussion in my own bedroom.

The doctor ordered a week of complete brain rest. I was not to watch TV, check email, play video games, or do anything but rest, really. I was dismayed at this news.

As it turned out, though, I really couldn’t do these things anyway. Even forming a complete sentence was challenging those first few days. If someone was talking to me, I had to literally shut my eyes to be able to process what they were saying – any visual stimulus made it impossible to focus on the spoken words.

As the days progressed, things got easier. I was able to read by Friday – thank goodness, as I’d gotten bored with sleeping all the time! By Monday, I was cleared to return to work.

I thought I was in good shape mentally. And yet, I found that doing simple, routine tasks like preparing a report or reviewing Adwords or Google Analytics data was painstakingly slow and difficult. I made a few silly mistakes, too – I caught them before it was too late, but they were mistakes I normally wouldn’t have made.

In short, my brain wasn’t 100%. While I was fine with physical activities like showering and making dinner, I struggled with mental tasks like focusing on PPC.

At that point I realized how dependent we are on brain power in PPC. I knew that my brain was one of my most reliable tools for PPC, and yet I took it for granted.

I know many of you agree. When I polled my Twitter friends about their must-have PPC tools, several of you said “my brain.” (That post is coming, I promise! I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live.) We rely on our ability to think, analyze, reason, and create successful PPC campaigns. And we don’t realize how powerful that brain power is until it’s lost.

Thankfully, after just one day things got better. On Tuesday, my brain worked faster, and I made fewer mistakes. I didn’t get as tired. My brain “muscle” was getting stronger. It came back fast once I was ready. Today, I feel like myself again.

The moral of the story here is that we all need to take a moment and be thankful for our brains. In this profession, they’re our most crucial tool. We don’t use hammers, saws, stethoscopes, or chemistry labs. We rely on our brains. Respect the PPC brain, my friends.

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6 Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice

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

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

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

It tells you to spend more money.

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

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

It tells you to geotarget the world.

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

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

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

It recommends using broad match.

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

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

It suggests adding high-volume keywords.

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

It says to focus on short-tail keywords.

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

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

It says to include appealing promotions.

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

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

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

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

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