Should PPC Clicks Ever Be A Goal?

From time to time, I like to check out the PPC thread on Reddit. Unlike some other online discussion sites, this has some pretty good questions and answers.

One of the threads I noticed asked the question, “What do you do when a client wants more clicks utilizing the same budget?” The poster was concerned about the lower traffic he was seeing when he reduced the CPC.

The answers given in the thread are quite good. Suggestions included:

  • Shifting budget to the display network
  • Track performance by ad position
  • Prune under-performing keywords
  • Try 3rd tier PPC engines
  • Research new long tail keywords
  • Try retargeting

These are great ways to lower PPC cost per click, although many of them may not deliver the same number of clicks.

Several commenters, though, rightly pointed out that clicks may not be the right metric to focus on. My favorite comment is this: “Clicks is the worst metric of all. It is your job to advise your client to go beyond. What is value to him? What is a conversion? How can you measure it? Can his website be improved conversion-wise (hint: it always can)? Otherwise, these discussions will keep happening over and over again: it is a race to the bottom (emphasis mine).”

I have to agree. It’s not unusual to see clients whose primary goal is site traffic, but they always leave me feeling like 1999 called and wants its hit counter back.

Sure, you can and should look for mid- and long-tail keywords that drive a decent amount of traffic at a low cost. Another thought would be to beef up on brand terms. Brand terms have the added bonus of not only traffic, but usually also a high conversion rate.

But getting more for the same money is just not always possible. After all, don’t we all want more for less? If you’re looking for a new house, wouldn’t you like to get the biggest one for your money?

Think about what that bigger house is going to be like, though. It might be in a not-so-nice neighborhood. It may look like a throwback to the 1950s and need a lot of cosmetic updating. Or worse, it may have serious deficiencies like a cracked foundation, water damage, or other problems.

It’s all about quality vs. quantity. So if a client comes to you and says they want more clicks for the same budget, remind them of a few things:

  • There is a limit to the number of low-cost keywords you can add to your account that will really drive traffic.
  • Tactics like trying 3rd tier engines may drive more clicks for the same budget, but are those the type of clicks you really want? I remember testing a few of the 3rd tiers like LookSmart back in the day, and while they drove tons of traffic, none of it converted. (When I did in-house PPC, we tested one engine in about 2005 that was abysmal – the name escapes me at the moment, and it probably doesn’t exist anymore, but we got probably 1,000 clicks and 0 conversions – on a site that converted at 5% or better at that time.) There is a lot to be said for quality.
  • Have a frank conversation about whether clicks should be the ultimate metric. I always tell clients that I can drive tons of PPC clicks to their site – all I have to do is put “Free iPads” in the ad copy. But unless your business model includes giving stuff away, that makes no sense.

I almost always steer clients away from clicks as a primary KPI. There has to be some type of conversion that’s being measured – or at minimum a CTR you’re trying to reach. Driving more traffic for the same budget is just unrealistic.

What do you think? Does it ever make sense to have clicks a primary KPI, and then ask for more of them for the same budget? Is it even possible to get more clicks for the same budget? Got any ideas that weren’t presented here? Share in the comments!

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Google Remarketing: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Remarketing has been all the rage for a couple of years now, and with good reason. How cool is it to be able to show a tailored message to people who already visited your website and took (or didn’t take) an action?

And yet, many advertisers weren’t utilizing remarketing due to 2 main barriers: ad creation and site tagging. While Google has pretty much always allowed text remarketing ads, they don’t perform as well, and don’t get as many impressions, as image ads. So, advertisers had to find a creative designer to put together remarketing ads – adding time and expense. And site tagging, as we all know, can be a huge obstacle for advertisers, especially those who outsource their site development.

Well, Google has removed both of these barriers, and now Google remarketing is literally as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Step 1: Install the Google Analytics remarketing tag.

In the early days of remarketing, advertisers had to create individual tags for each remarketing segment or audience, and site owners had to place them on individual pages. As a result, in my experience, few clients were taking advantage of remarketing.

A while back, Google released a revised Google Analytics script that enables anyone who uses GA to create remarketing lists within GA – without additional tagging. If you haven’t installed the new script on your site, do it now!

Once it’s on all of your site pages, you can set up remarketing segments for anything you can measure in GA: all PPC visitors, all visitors to a specific page, people who spent more than 5 minutes on the site, all visitors who put something in the cart but didn’t check out, etc. It’s hugely powerful. You can think up a segment and create it in a few minutes, and boom, you’re ready to go.

Note that if you want to combine segments, you’ll still need to do that in Adwords using Custom Combinations. Still, there’s no additional code to install!

Step 2: Discuss goals with your client or boss.

You’re probably tired of hearing me talk about goals, but it bears repeating: don’t launch a campaign without first getting clear on your goals! Sit down with your client or boss and discuss or review your objectives for remarketing. Are you trying to get repeat buyers? Are you trying to move initial leads further down the funnel? Are you just looking for reach and awareness?

For example, if awareness is your goal, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money setting up remarketing segments to try to convert shopping cart abandons. Be very clear on goals before you launch any remarketing campaigns.

Step 3: Create ads that match your goals and audience.

Once your segments are set up, you’re ready to build your ads. Just a couple weeks ago, Google released Ready Ads: the ability to create image ads, including animated Flash ads, with a few clicks. All you have to do is enter a page URL, and Google will pull images and copy from it. They’ll show you several different variations, sizes, and options. You have the ability to edit the copy and reject any you don’t like.

While Ready Ads aren’t as nice as ads created by a professional designer, they’re a huge, major step forward from the Display Ad Builder. I tried using Display Ad Builder in the past, and the ads looked like something a kindergartner cut and pasted. Ready Ads are actually quite nice – and you can set them up and push them live in minutes. You can literally think up a message for your audience, and with a few clicks, make a nice display ad!

That’s it! Remarketing as easy as 1, 2, 3. Since I’m feeling so positive and generous, here are 2 bonus tips.

Bonus Tip 1: Use frequency caps.

Frequency caps enable you to limit the number of impressions per visitor for a given time: day, week, etc. Use them, and set them low: 3-5 impressions per day. Trust me, nothing is worse than having a client say, “I’m seeing our ads all day long on every site I visit!”

Bonus Tip 2: PPC best practices still apply.

Don’t forget about basics like ad copy testing, bid management, and daily budgets. Standard display network best practices apply too: check those placement reports! Look at your performance by audience and make sure they’re all performing the way you want them to.

Are you ready to start Google remarketing? Are you already using it and loving it? Got any fun tips? Share in the comments!

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Google Partners: More Of The Same?

This week, Google announced their new Adwords agency program, Google Partners. It replaces the old Google Engage, and the rollout was much-ballyhooed by Google. They even sent out chocolates in an Advent calendar-type box, counting down to the Google Partners 2-hour livestream this past Wednesday.

While the chocolate was delicious, the livestream was not. Only about 20 minutes of the 2 hours was devoted to talking about benefits of the new program; the rest of the time was filled with speakers giving keynote-ish talks about sales. Chatter on the Twitter hashtag was not positive, to say the least.

Given the rocky start, I was not feeling bullish about Google Partners. Kicking things off by wasting 2 hours of busy agency PPC’ers time was not giving me the warm fuzzies.

Later on Wednesday, though, I got an email from a Googler who’d been assigned to our agency. The email was legit-looking, unlike emails we’d received recently that, honestly, we thought were spam. I agreed to a call with the Googler, eager to hear if we were actually getting an agency rep, or if we were just going to hear more sales pitches.

The call was yesterday. Overall, I’m feeling lukewarm about Google Partners – not ecstatic, but not as angry as I was a few months ago.

Some of the positives from the call:

Google has revived agency support for specific accounts.

They’ve essentially gone back to the model they had a year or two ago – assigning quarterly reps to specific accounts by vertical. To someone like me who’s done PPC for years, this wasn’t new – but it was a huge step forward from the previous “we can only help with large new business accounts” approach.

In addition, the rep told me that she could help with other clients not assigned to her – at a minimum, she’d try to find out if the other accounts had an assigned rep, or if there was some way she could help. This was definitely encouraging – instead of saying “I can’t help you with existing clients,” Google is now saying “Let me see how I can help you.” Huge step forward.

Roles are more clearly defined.

I’ve gotta hand it to the rep I spoke with – she was prepared. She’d reviewed the accounts that were assigned to her, and sent me a spreadsheet outlining the exact topics we’d be discussing and focusing on. She also sent me a helpful outline of who can help with what:

google roles
While the accounts she is assigned to are only a fraction of our client base, it’s a start.

The spreadsheet also included a resource list – sites we can go to for help with Google products, case studies, and other pitch materials. I was familiar with most of the sites, but it’s nice to have them all in one place.

The rep is local.

One of my biggest complaints over the years has been the weird way that Google assigned teams geographically. I live and work in Michigan, and Google has an office in Ann Arbor. Yet, despite my repeated insistence that they assign me a rep out of that office, we’d get stuck with someone in California – 3 hours behind us time-wise. I complained repeatedly that having to wait until 11am EST at the earliest to get someone on the phone was not helpful when we had a crisis; it didn’t matter.

Until now. The rep I spoke with yesterday is based in Ann Arbor. Yes! She even invited me to come meet with her. I’ll definitely take her up on that. While it may seem like a minor thing, the ability to meet with your rep face to face can’t be overstated.

The call wasn’t all rainbows and chocolates, though. There were some definite negatives:

We still have multiple points of contact for our agency.

I probably sound like a grumpy old lady, but I miss the old days where we had one rep for our entire agency. It was so nice to call someone we knew well, and who knew all of our accounts. Although the reps changed frequently, we often had the same rep for a year at a time.

It seems as though those days are gone forever. Google is still assigning reps on a quarterly basis. So, just about the time you get the person up to speed, they’re gone. Can you imagine if your clients switched agencies every quarter? How well do you think their campaigns would perform?

There’s still a heavy sales push.

The list of “optimizations” in the aforementioned spreadsheet was full of the same old stuff: use mobile, use sitelinks, use display, etc. The thing is, we DO use those things when they make sense for our clients. But some of our clients only have one landing page, for example. This means we can’t use sitelinks. A lot of our clients don’t have mobile sites; and they’re B2B to boot. So, no mobile for us.

The bottom line is, we’re agencies. We know that Google offers these things. If clients use them, it potentially makes us more money. And when we don’t use them, there’s a good reason why. Please, Google, stop pushing stuff we can’t use.

To sum it up, we’re back where we were a year ago.

Google Partners isn’t all that new. The service levels are back to where they were a year or so ago. It’s déjà vu all over again.

The only new thing I’ve heard so far is that Google can revoke your partnership if they think you’re not using “best practices.” Yikes. We all know how Google defines best practices: “Use all our stuff and bid as high as you can.”

In their defense, it’s still early. I’m hopeful that we can finally make some progress.

What’s your take on Google Partners? Is it a step in the right direction, or is it more of the same? Share in the comments!

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Bing Ads Is Like A Second Language

No matter how many languages you speak, chances are you only have one native tongue. Even children who are raised bilingual probably have one language they prefer speaking.  For those who learned a second language later in life, communication and understanding can be challenging at times. You can speak and understand the second language, and as you use it you get more fluent, but it’s still easier to speak your first language. You’ll probably get tripped up on idioms and idiosyncrasies in the second language, too.

Bing Ads feels like a second language to many PPC’ers, with its own idioms and idiosyncrasies. Here are a few that can be hard to understand.

Different Targeting Methods

I actually like the fact that you can set targeting at the ad group level in Bing Ads. It’s precisely the kind of control that we PPC’ers like. But like a favorite expression in a second language, it’s hard to remember exactly how to put the pieces together.

Also, sometimes targeting doesn’t import nicely from Adwords. And let’s face it – most of us create campaigns in Adwords and then import them to Bing. Adwords is our first language, so we draft everything there and then hit the “translate” button (in this case, the “Import from Google” button).

Different Negative Keyword Matching

Well, negative keyword matching isn’t really different in Bing Ads. We just have fewer options. Bing only has negative phrase match and negative exact match. There is no negative broad match. Since Bing’s traffic is usually more qualified, having fewer negative match options is ok; but we’re just used to having another way to “say” it, if you will.

Those Pesky Parameters

Parameters in Bing Ads remind me of that weird “S” in German that looks like a “B.” (I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even know what that’s called. I took Spanish in school.)

Parameters are actually really cool and allow advertisers to do things that you can’t do in Google. But they’re so unfamiliar to most PPC’ers that they don’t get used. I’d guess that English speakers writing in German forget to use that funny S, too.

Technical Issues

Nothing is more frustrating than technical problems. Just ask the zillions of people who tried to download iOS7 this week.

Adwords has their share of technical problems, for sure. (Red bar of death, anyone?) But when Bing Ads has them, the community goes crazy.

I’ve seen many examples of people having trouble downloading the new Bing Ads Editor. It’s weird, because I downloaded it earlier this week and haven’t had any trouble with it. Nonetheless, Bing doesn’t get any slack here. In a way, it’s unfair to Bing. It reminds me of a speaker who’s using a second language, complaining that others didn’t understand him. But it’s still frustrating when a new feature or release is announced and then doesn’t work.

But Bing Ads is a language worth learning.

Remember those old Avis ads, where they crowed about being #2 and trying harder? That’s Bing. They know they have a long way to go before they catch Google, and they’re working like crazy to not only catch up, but offer additional value.

First of all, the newly-released Bing Ads Editor is much more like Adwords Editor. They took out all the “foreign language” and it looks and feels more familiar. It’s faster and smoother to use.

Bing hasn’t made the dreadful switch to Enhanced Campaigns, and they’ve promised not to. I can’t tell you how happy I am about that.

And Bing Ads still offers mobile-only campaigns, as well as targeting for different mobile operating systems.

I firmly believe that Bing is a language worth learning and speaking.

What about you? Are you learning to speak Bing Ads? Or is your first language, Adwords, your best friend? Share in the comments!

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Why I Start New Hires on Adwords Editor

This week’s PPC Chat discussion centered on PPC Basics – a topic near and dear to my heart. I love training new PPC’ers on the fundamentals.

One of the questions was “Do you believe entry level PPCers should immediately have access to Google and Bing Editors? Why?” The ensuing conversation was interesting, and frankly, surprising.

I immediately answered with “Yes! It’s the first thing I train new PPC staff on!” But many others disagreed, saying the Editors were advanced tools that should be reserved for experienced PPC’ers.

I respectfully beg to differ. Here’s why I start new hires on Adwords Editor (and Bing Ads Editor, too).

At its core, I love starting off with Editors because they make it easy to understand account structure. Account structure is so important to PPC success that failing to understand it can lead to less-than-ideal results. And it’s just easier to see account structure in Editor.

adwords editor treeIn Editor, everything is stacked hierarchically in the left tree. You can’t see ad groups without clicking on campaigns, and you can’t see keywords without moving over to the tabs. It makes it easy to explain structure to a newbie without overwhelming them: you start at the high level (campaigns) and work your way down.

To experienced PPC’ers, this structure is second nature. To a newbie, it can be hard to comprehend. Editors reinforce account structure by forcing you to navigate through it.

Contrast Editor to the Adwords online UI.

adwords ui

What are all those tabs? What am I looking at? What does all that data mean? ::head explodes::

It’s so easy to get tripped up in the online UI. You can click right to keywords, but you’re seeing every keyword in the account! That’s confusing to a beginner – and overwhelming. And it doesn’t reinforce the fact that small, tightly themed ad groups are a best practice. If you’re seeing thousands of keywords at once, it’s hard to focus.

Then there’s the issue of screen load times. Both Google and Bing are light years ahead of where they were 5 years ago when it comes to page load speed – Bing, in particular, used to be nearly unusable due to slow page loads. Still, especially in large accounts, it takes time for pages to load, and those seconds add up fast.

Editors, on the other hand, don’t have that problem. When you’re learning and trying to find your way around, it’s nice to eliminate the added frustrating of waiting for a page to load, only to discover it wasn’t the page you wanted.

The other huge benefit of training newbies on Editors is that it’s error proof – as long as you don’t post anything. I put the fear of God into my trainees by scaring them off from the “post” button.

Think about it – you can do whatever you want in Editor, including adding new keywords, ad groups, ad copy, settings, whatever – and nothing goes live until you post! Playing around is one of the best ways to learn, and PPC is no exception. I give my trainees the freedom to play around in the Editors all they want, as long as they don’t hit “post.” Everything they do in Editors can be erased with one click of the “Revert” button.

When it comes to doing real PPC work, of course your new PPC’er will eventually have to post things. The beauty of using Editors is that you can check their work before it goes live. If they’re working in the UI, every change goes live immediately unless they remembered to set the campaign or ad group to Pause – creating a bigger margin for error than I’m comfortable with.

Of course, bulk changes are also way easier in Editors. I said in PPC Chat that years ago, before Editor, we literally had to hire an intern to update ad copy every time our prices changed (I was doing in-house e-commerce PPC at the time). Not very efficient.

Some PPC Chatters felt that the online UIs were necessary for newbies to understand PPC basics. I disagree with that. What basics can you find in the UI that aren’t in Editor? Unless they’re talking about online learning resources, all the PPC basics are in the Editor.

Of course, there are some tasks that can’t be done easily or at all in Editor. Search query reports are a big one. Reviewing SQRs is a great task for new PPC’ers, but they’ll have to run the report within the UIs.

That said, I have trainees export the data to Excel, review it, make recommendations, and then send to me for review before making changes. All they have to do in the UI is run the report.

Enhanced campaigns are also not well supported in Adwords Editor at this time. There are several features, including ad group sitelinks, which are not currently supported within Editor. But a new PPC’er should not be working with complicated Enhanced Campaigns features anyway, in my opinion.

I’m not at all saying that people should never learn or use the UI. I use both Bing and Google UIs daily. But for learning PPC, the UIs are overwhelming. Editors make it easier.

You’ll want to go read the streamcap from Tuesday’s conversation – the whole thing is required reading for PPC’ers new and old.

What do you think? Want to add to the discussion? Share your opinions in the comments!

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Do the PPC Engines Reward the Right Behaviors?

Years and years ago, when I was in graduate school, I read an article published in the Academy of Management Journal called “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B “. Originally written in 1975, the article was already a classic, even at that time. Still, as with most college reading assignments, I approached it with disdain, prepared to extract what I needed for the next class exam and then forget about it.

I was wrong. The article has stuck with me, all these years later.

The article’s basic premise: “Reward systems are fouled up in that the types of behavior that are rewarded are those which the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the behavior desired is not being rewarded at all.” An example given in the article is businesses who say they are committed to total quality, yet incent and reward employees for shipping products on schedule, even with errors and defects.

What does this have to do with PPC? A lot.

One example of “rewarding for A while hoping for B” in PPC is the quality score conundrum. Ever since Google rolled out quality score in 2008, advertisers have struggled in their attempts to improve it, often to their detriment. The pursuit of high quality scores is frequently at odds with PPC results goals.

Let’s say that an ecommerce advertiser is using PPC to generate sales. ROI is their primary key performance indicator (KPI) – in other words, the advertiser wants the most sales at the lowest cost. But let’s say this same advertiser is also trying to optimize for quality score, and that their PPC manager is measured and rewarded in part based on quality score improvement.

Both Google and Bing have openly stated that click-through rate (CTR) is the primary determinant of quality score. An advertiser must improve CTR in order to improve quality score. So, the PPC manager who is trying to improve their quality score needs to increase CTR.

In ecommerce, though, high CTR often does not correlate to high ROI. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see the best ROI on ads with the worst CTR!

Carefully crafted ad copy will, by design, discourage unqualified prospects from clicking. That’s why it’s a good idea to include product prices in your ad copy – to prevent clicks from tire-kickers who are clicking on ads to compare prices, with no intention to purchase at that moment. Including the price in the ad precludes clicks from price shoppers.

In this case, though, unfortunate PPC managers are faced with goals that are almost mutually exclusive. They need to improve quality score to make a client or boss happy, and yet improving quality score means increasing CTR – and reducing ROI. It’s a no-win situation, because if the PPC manager is rewarded for higher quality score, the company faces a potential decrease in ROI.

Enhanced campaigns are probably the most egregious case of “rewarding for A while hoping for B”. When Google announced enhanced campaigns, they touted the ease of management.

“Tired of maintaining separate campaigns for each device? Good news – now you can’t! Just use bid modifiers instead!” The same thing goes for geotargeting, dayparting, and other “features” of enhanced campaigns – by introducing bid modifiers, Google claims to have simplified account management.

Why did Google develop enhanced campaigns? The prevalent belief is that the current AdWords system had become unwieldy, with features bolted on to the point that it was taxing their system servers.

Enhanced campaigns are Google’s answer to a system that had become, in their opinion, needlessly bloated and complex. In other words, Google launched enhanced campaigns with the hope of reducing the number of campaigns in the AdWords system, thereby making it easier for advertisers.

Alas, Google fell into the “rewarding for A while hoping for B” trap. In their quest to reduce the number of campaigns, they’ve actually increased them.

Google rewards advertisers (or at least experienced advertisers) with a nearly endless number of levers to pull to improve performance and ROI. We PPC managers use every tool in our arsenal to weed out non-converting traffic and improve our conversion rates. We don’t want to pay a penny more for a conversion than we have to.

Enhanced campaigns took away some of our levers, namely separating campaigns by device. We’re forced to come up with crazy workarounds that, more often than not, require more campaigns, not less.

Employing bid modifiers created a similar conundrum, in that we now have to organize our campaigns by bid modifier. Where in the past we may have had two campaigns, we might now have 10: one for each geo, daypart, and device modification percentage.

Google hoped to simplify the AdWords system, but by rewarding PPC managers with multiple levers, they’ve instead complicated the system by an order of magnitude.

Many advertisers also unwittingly “reward for A while hoping for B”, often with distractions and pop-overs on landing pages that pull visitors away from the primary conversion action. Don’t make this mistake! Align your goals with your ad copy, landing pages, and website – and don’t reward visitors for something other than what you’re hoping for.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on June 25, 2013.

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Google Adwords is a Bad Parent

As many of you know, I’m the mom of twins. They’re 16 and about to start their junior year of high school. They’re great kids – smart, well-behaved, laid back – but at times they try my patience.

What does this have to do with PPC, you may ask? Stay with me – I’m getting there.

When they were younger, parents of older kids said, “Just wait till they’re teenagers. I thought I’d kill my kids when they were teens.” I was horrified to hear people saying this about their children.

But now, I understand. I don’t want to kill my teenagers, but there are days that I think to myself, “I can’t wait for them to go off to college.” The back-talking, arguing, and laying-about wears thin after a while. Not to mention the stress of having two inexperienced drivers in the household all of a sudden. I won’t even go there.

What keeps me sane is reminding myself that these behaviors are totally normal for teens. It’s part of growing up. Teens naturally challenge their parents on the road to independence – which parents ultimately want, right? We want our children to be ready to leave the nest when it’s time. Although we love having them around, we know that they must strike out on their own one day.

And I believe it works this way not only for the teenagers, but for their parents as well. The fact that they test us on a daily basis eases the blow of them leaving home. I felt the same way when they went to kindergarten. While the emotional part of me was sad that my kids were no longer babies, the rational part of me was tired of all-day daycare. The kids were past that and had gotten squirrely. I knew they were ready for the new challenges and opportunities that school would bring.

It’s the same thing with teens. They challenge parents as a way of teaching us that they’re ready for the next phase in life.

In the PPC world, Google is akin to a parent. They make the rules, and we PPC manager “children” must follow them or else. That’s fine. The absence of rules is chaos, and no one likes chaos.

But if Google makes the rules, why do they treat us like regressing toddlers? I’m sure you can guess that I’m talking about enhanced campaigns and the loss of control we’ve experienced as a result.

Search is a maturing industry. On the industry lifecycle scale, it’s still in growth mode, but it’s not a startup, either. PPC managers are becoming more and more sophisticated with campaign optimization.

So why has Google taken away our car keys?

Instead of truly enhancing things by offering bid multipliers for tablets and search partners, they’ve omitted search partner control (AGAIN) and taken away tablet bidding altogether. What a disaster. Just this week I lamented that one of my clients is paying $1.94 per click for desktop and $5.10 for tablets. Are you kidding me Google??? Why????

The complete lack of control over search partners continues to frustrate me, too. It feels like the times that I ask my children to do something over and over and over and over and they still don’t do it. But with my children, I can enact consequences for their disobedience. The only consequence I can impose on Google is to stop spending money there – which in most cases is cutting off my nose to spite my face. It makes no sense to stop advertising where all the traffic is.

So, I’m stuck with Google and its all-or-nothing setup. Either I advertise on all search partners, or none of them. I have no way to boost bids on high-performing partners and turn off low-performing partners. If search partners as a whole are doing better than Google search, I can’t increase my bids (and pay Google more money). And I’m stuck with tablets – either I accept the (frequently) poor performance or I turn off my campaigns altogether. Can anyone say Bing Ads?

And don’t get me started on the foolishness that is display placements on tablets. Google’s treating us like toddlers in this case. Sean Marshall did a great writeup over at PPC Associates on tablet display lunacy. His post is a must-read.

The kicker of all this is, Google already has Adwords Express for inexperienced advertisers. It’s pretty much a disaster as is, and I don’t recommend it, but if you’re looking to get started in PPC in a simple way, Google offers that. Why not put all the “basic” or “standard” features in Express, and then create an “advanced” version for the rest of us with all the levers and dials? Kind of like video games: there is a simple mode with just a few controls, and there is an advanced mode with lots of options. When I’m playing video games, I want to keep it simple; when I’m managing PPC, I want all the controls.

Google, please stop treating us like children. Many of us are PPC grownups. Please give us the control we’ve earned.

Are you as frustrated as I am with the lack of control in Adwords? Have a teenager that’s trying your patience? Just want to vent? Share in the comments!

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Google Has Become Yahoo

Google Adwords has been in the headlines a lot lately, and not in a good way. For some time now, PPC advertisers have been complaining about Adwords reps, and the lack of good ones. I even got in on the action back in May, complaining about a rep who reached out to us, only to turn out to be a thinly veiled sales guy. In that post, I lamented the good old days, when we all had Google reps that cared about our business and were there when we needed help or had questions.

That post is the most-commented post on my blog to date. It clearly struck a chord, with many other PPCers chiming in with their own horror stories.

Well, this week it got worse. Search Engine Land covered a story recounted by Martin MacDonald, who posted the audio of a Google rep who thought he’d hung up on one of his client’s voice mail, but really was being recorded the whole time. The story has been dubbed GoogleGate by the SEM community.

The audio is pretty damning. In the SEL article, Google came out and admitted that they use outside contractors. As an agency PPCer, I’d be the last person to complain about outsourcing. But if you’re going to outsource, it helps to use competent and professional people. And the idea of using outsource reps is to supplement your service, not do away with it altogether as Google has seemed to do. True Google reps who are marketing partners have all but disappeared in favor of hard-sell shills.

Read the comments on both the SEL and Martin MacDonald’s posts. They’re rife with accounts of people who had no option but to call Adwords general support, only to have the Adwords Help files quoted to them. I’ve had this happen many times myself. It’s frustrating as a PPC professional to have to educate the Google staff, instead of the other way around. After all, I wouldn’t call if I already knew the answer!

Ever hear the saying “Everything old is new again”? That’s what it’s looking like in search these days. Yahoo took the #1 spot in search in July, for the first time since 2011. How retro.

But I’m not bringing that up to reminisce. I’m bringing it up because Google is starting to remind me of Yahoo back in the old Yahoo Search Marketing days.

Back in 2009, I wrote a rant about Yahoo’s “optimizations.” To summarize, they were making changes to accounts without permission, and (supposedly) telling us after the fact. It caused quite a stir in the PPC community. And we all know what happened to Yahoo not long after – can you say Bing-Yahoo Alliance?

Well, if you read the comments on the SEL and MacDonald post, a lot of people expressed concern over outsourced Google reps contacting them for “optimization” help, and then asking them to sign a list of T&Cs that, among other things, allows Google to make changes “on behalf of” the advertiser without advance notice. I had to read those comments twice, because it sounded so familiar.

Yes, Google has resorted to the same tactics that got Yahoo in hot water 4 years ago. I sincerely hope that they don’t have the same outcome that Yahoo did. I guess time will tell.

What’s your prediction? Is this just a bump in Google’s yellow brick road, or is it a sign of serious troubles ahead? Share in the comments!

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The Most Important Element of PPC Ad Copy

One of my favorite tasks is writing PPC ad copy. I love the challenge of squeezing as much goodness as I can into 90 characters. I guess it’s in my blood after all these years of writing short, concise ad copy.

Recently, I was asked, “What’s the most important element of PPC ad copy? Is it the headline, the first description line, or what?” Of course, my kneejerk response was “It depends,” which is really the answer to just about any question related to PPC.

Still, the question got me thinking. Is there one element of PPC ad copy that’s more important than others in most cases?

If I had to give only one answer, I’d say the headline. After all, it’s the only part of a PPC ad that’s underlined, and if you include keywords in your headline, they’ll be bolded:

headline

But as I look at the ads in that screen shot, I start to think that other elements might be equally important.

Sitelinks

Surprisingly, the first ad on the page above isn’t using sitelinks, but the other two are. The Amazon sitelinks are great – they’re all relevant to the category (Kitchen & Dining, Small Appliances, Kitchen Tools & Gadgets) and season (Off to College). Target falls down a bit by focusing entirely on college back to school. The Magic Bullet is a product I’d be interested in, but I’m long past the college dorm move-in days.

Still, the use of sitelinks takes up more screen real estate, so that’s an important element.

Reviews

See how the review extension makes the Amazon ad stand out? Those nice red 4.5 stars are visually appealing to say the least. If you qualify for review extensions, they’re definitely important.

Call Extensions

2 of the 3 ads above include phone numbers. One of them is relatively local – although Jackson, MI is at least 30 minutes away from me, and there’s a Target within 10 miles. Still, the phone number can be another important element of a PPC ad, in addition to a great way to boost conversions.

Location Extensions

That Target ad also includes a location extension. While these make ads stand out on the page, I hesitate to say they’re the most important element because most advertisers cannot track in-store sales back to a PPC ad. And in the case of this ad, even if I decided to buy at Target, I wouldn’t drive half an hour to that Target – I’d go to the Target closer to me. Either way, location extensions do help ads to stand out.

All of these elements are great, but you have to be in a premium position to take advantage of most of them. What about when your ad ends up in the right rail, like some of the ads below?

right rail

When ads appear in the right rail, you have fewer options. And of course you don’t have control over whether your ad shows up on the top or the right. So you need to make your ad copy work no matter where on the page it happens to appear.

This is where basic ad copywriting comes into play. A good headline, ideally with the keyword included, is going to be critical. Including the keyword in the body of the ad is also important. But are other elements just as important?

Call to Action

A lot of advertisers forget to include a strong call to action at the end of the ad copy. That’s usually a mistake. It’s a good idea to tell searchers what you want them to do when they get to the landing page – and ideally it’ll be to convert: buy something, download a report, etc. So I’d have to say that the call to action is nearly as important, or maybe even more important, than the headline.

Copywriting Tips and Tricks

There are a few tricks that I’ve learned that work no matter where in the ad they appear. One is the word “free.” “Free” is the magic word when it comes to PPC. People absolutely love it, and ads with the word “free” are almost always going to get better results than ads without.

Another element is just a single character: the exclamation point. You’ll notice that ads across verticals, even in B2B verticals like the above example that tend to avoid marketing hype, use exclamations. There’s a good reason for that – it works.

I’ve run tests where the ads were identical except that one had an exclamation and one didn’t. The ad with an exclamation way outperformed the ad without.

So What’s The Answer?

You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? The most important element of PPC ad copy is the element that drives the best results, of course!

What’s your take? Is the headline the end-all? The call to action? Something I didn’t list? Share in the comments!

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My Top 10 PPC Blogs

This summer has been crazy month for me. I was on vacation for 10 straight days in July – the first time in years I’ve taken that much consecutive time off – and then another few days off last week. Of course, now I’m swamped at work. Add to that my life as a mom of two busy teenagers, and I barely have a minute to myself.

Being so busy means it’s hard to keep up with the latest PPC news. We all need a go-to source or two for PPC news and info for those times when we can’t keep up with Twitter and the like. While “mainstream” search news sites like Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land are awesome, sometimes I’m too busy to dig through all the posts to get at the PPC gems – especially if I’m looking for something specific. So, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 blogs that focus exclusively on PPC.

PPC Hero

These guys are prolific. With new posts nearly every day by a variety of authors, the PPC Hero team puts out great PPC content from beginner to advanced level.

Clix Marketing

The Clix Marketing blog has been off-again, on-again (haven’t we all?), but lately it’s been really “on.” They’re writing thought-provoking posts over there, so if you haven’t checked them out recently, go do it now!

PPC Chat

OK, technically this isn’t a blog, but you’ll find the weekly chat recaps here. If you’re like me and had weeks of meetings scheduled during PPC Chat time recently, don’t fret – you can read the screencaps here!

Certified Knowledge

With posts by Brad Geddes, a long-time PPC pro, you know you’ll find great content here. Brad doesn’t blog often, but when he does, you’ll want to bookmark it!

Inside Adwords

Yes, the Adwords blog puts that nice Google spin on their posts, but it’s still the place to learn about what’s new with Adwords. It’s also a good place to refer clients or bosses who want to learn more about PPC; their writers do a good job of explaining new features that advertisers might want to try.

Bing Ads Blog

Not to be outdone, Bing has a nice blog of their own. And the posts are written by real people, many of whom I’ve met so I know they actually exist. Bing also does nice analyses of data, along with real-world tips to optimize your Bing campaigns.

PPC Associates

While similar to PPC Hero, PPC Associates puts their unique stamp on PPC news and views. They also have a Facebook PPC blog that’s really good.

Get Found First

The Get Found First blog is another up-and-comer. When you see a new post here, you’ll want to drop everything and start reading. Their post this week on Google’s fishy cost per action metric is thought-provoking to say the least.

RKG Blog

RKG is the ultimate PPC geek’s haven. There are posts over there that I’ve read over and over and still can’t understand them. These guys are among the smartest people in PPC.

Acquisio

Acquisio is a PPC tool vendor, so you might think that their blog would try to sell you. Not so. They use a variety of guest bloggers in addition to their own super-smart staff to write about geeky PPC goodness.

There you have it – my top 10 PPC blogs. Of course, there are many other good blogs out there that I didn’t mention. What’s your favorite PPC blog? Share in the comments!

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