Using Adwords Labels To Organize Your PPC Campaigns

Ah, the new year. Time for New Year’s resolutions. Yesterday, the gym was packed with people, many of whom sadly will not last past Groundhog Day. Losing weight is the #1 New Year’s resolution.

But I’m not going to talk about that (although I could). I’m going to talk about the #2 resolution: getting organized.

We all have that one room in our house that’s disorganized. Stuff is everywhere, with no rhyme or reason. People often joke about tax records that are thrown into a shoe box. Ever tried to do your taxes that way? Ever tried to find a file on a computer with no subfolders? It can be done, but it’s time consuming.

The same thing goes for PPC accounts. Account organization is crucial for efficient PPC management, no matter the size of the account. For large accounts, it’s imperative.

Enter Adwords labels. Adwords labels help you organize your PPC account and quickly filter and view information in a number of different ways.

Campaign Organization

The traditional PPC account structure sometimes doesn’t go far enough to organize your account properly, especially for large accounts. You might have campaigns divided by network, country, language, product, and offer, for example. You can use campaign names for this: Search-US-English-WidgetA-FreeTrial, for instance. And this is exactly what I usually do. But what happens when you need to add even more dimensions to the mix? Super-long campaign names can get unwieldy. This is where labels come in. Add labels for the additional dimensions.

Results By Offer

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say that you’ve grouped campaigns by product line, and within each campaign you have multiple offers: purchase, trial, demo, and content download. And let’s say you want to see how each offer performs across the board. There are a number of ways to do this, of course, but one of the ways is to create a label for each offer. Then you can filter the data and view each offer’s stats individually.

Ad Test Groupings

One of my favorite ways to use Adwords labels is for ad copy tests across ad groups. If you’re running a pricing test across multiple products with different prices for each product, it’s nearly impossible to summarize that data in an Adwords report. But if you add labels to your ads, Price Point A, Price Point B, etc., summarizing the data is a cinch, especially if you throw it into a pivot table.

Remarketing List Organization

We all love remarketing. Large PPC accounts often have hundreds of remarketing lists. And Google doubles the number of lists by adding Similar Audiences – resulting in pages upon pages of lists to sort through. Adding labels to remarketing lists can help filter things down to a reasonable number. I label all Similar Audiences, just so I can filter them out when looking at my lists. I also create labels for lists specific to RLSA.

Other Uses

If you use any campaign automation, such as bid rules, you might want to label ad groups using them. Many advertisers use labels for locations, campaigns with bid adjustments, dayparting notations… the list is nearly endless.

Making use of Adwords labels will organize your account in a flash! Now, to get Bing to add them… How have you used Adwords labels to organize your PPC account? Share in the comments!

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Your Favorite Blog Posts Of 2015

Here we are, December 18. Christmas is a week from today, and PPC pros are either gearing up or winding down. Gearing up if you work in B2C ecommerce (in fact, you’ve been geared up for weeks), gearing down if you work in B2B like I do.

Last week I asked readers to vote on their favorite post of 2015. You didn’t disappoint! It’s always interesting to me what resonates with you – sometimes a post I think is great doesn’t get much reaction, while a post I dashed off in 15 minutes and thought wasn’t very good gets a lot of love and commentary.

With that, here are your 3 favorite blog posts of 2015:

Call-Only Ads Are Ruining Mobile Results – Based on the number of comments I got, this post struck a nerve with a lot of you. Call-only ads continue to be the bane of my existence, and I appreciate all of the feedback I’ve gotten from all of you on this topic, both here and on Twitter.

5 Challenges For PPC Lead Generation – Clearly I’m not the only one frustrated by the search engines’ focus on B2C and ecommerce, based on your votes. So many features and functions in PPC just don’t translate to B2B.

3 Sneaky Ways To Bid On Competitor Keywords – Who doesn’t love sticking it to the competition? Clearly you all love it! This post shared some of my favorite tactics, and a few of you shared some tips of your own.

I want to thank all of you for voting, and more importantly, for reading. Without you, I’d just be talking to myself. Which I do anyway :), but I appreciate all of your feedback and comments. You’ve helped me to be a better writer and a better PPC manager!

Updated! Here’s the replay of the Periscope I did earlier today talking about the top posts.

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Beyond The Paid 2015 Reader Poll

And just like that, it’s December. 2015 is coming to a close. What a year it was for me personally – my twins graduated from high school and enrolled at Michigan State, and I’m wrapping my 13th year in PPC. 13 years! Hard to believe.

Being December, it’s time for my third annual Beyond The Paid reader poll. I love getting feedback from my readers on hot PPC blog topics, as well as your favorite posts from this year. I’m always inspired to read your comments and feedback.

Without further ado, here is the Beyond the Paid 2015 Reader Poll!

PS: If you can’t see the poll, please leave a comment. I’ve had trouble with PollDaddy. 🙂


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Bing Ads Next: The Future Of Search

Last week, I had the extreme privilege of attending the third annual Bing Ads Next event. Bing shared their vision for the future of search, along with some big announcements. Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the event.

Bing Ads Editor for Mac

This is by far the top feature request on the Bing Ads User Voice forum, and has been since at least 2012. I had honestly thought it was never going to happen. But it is, and we even got to see a live demo to prove it! More on this huge announcement at Search Engine Land.

Extensions Are King

We saw previews of two new extensions. With Image Extensions, you can add an image to your ads:

image extensions
As we all know, pictures help boost click-through rates, so this is a big deal for advertisers.

We also saw the new ActionLink extensions:

action link extensions
These reminded me of the Facebook call to action buttons, which are quite useful. These are clearly e-commerce focused, with limited options for B2B, but it’s a good start.

Bing User Preference

This isn’t a feature, but it’s super important. One of the biggest comments the folks at Bing hear is, “We get great results from Bing – there just isn’t enough traffic.” That’s definitely true for my clients. Bing is making strides, though:

user preference
According to these stats, more people prefer Bing than Google. Wow.

Bing Predicts Is Growing

I talked about Bing Predicts last year, when it was new. Now, it’s become almost ubiquitous:

bing predicts
It’s scary-accurate, and is something Google doesn’t have at all.

Cool Data on User Intent by Hour

We’ve all made assumptions about when people use different devices, and what times of day the “serious” searches are taking place. Well, Bing has real data on this:

user intent by hour

This is a fascinating chart, especially the shopping portion. Great data to use for dayparting when launching a campaign, or when you don’t have enough of your own data to segment.

The Winding Conversion Path

The journey from initial search to purchase is a circuitous one, for sure:

conversion path

It moves from device to device, and across multiple different search queries. The takeaway for me here was that you need to be present on all devices, and use a variety of keywords to stay in front of your prospects. Remarketing and RLSA don’t hurt, either.

It was a great conference in an intimate setting, and as usual, I learned a lot. To read more about the event, check out this post by Erin Sagin at WordStream.

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PPC Blogs You Need To Be Reading Right Now

In an industry that moves as fast as PPC, reading industry blogs is a must. Sure, you can learn PPC from books, but the unfortunate aspect of PPC books is that portions of them are outdated as soon as they hit the shelves. Blogs are inherently more up to date, so they’re a great source of PPC news and views. And new blogs are constantly coming on to the scene. I wrote a post 2 years ago on the top PPC blogs, and it already needs updating. Here are the top PPC blogs you need to be reading right now.

Search Engine Land – as industry news sites go, Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land is the gold standard, with articles from nearly every PPC luminary out there.

The SEM Post – Curated by Jenn Slegg, The SEM Post covers just about everything that’s new and interesting in PPC and search in general. (Disclosure: I write a regular column for The SEM Post).

Inside Adwords blog – this is the place for Adwords product announcements and the official word from Google.

Bing Ads blog – Bing posts product announcements here, and also includes great industry stats, demographic info, and other interesting PPC stuff.

Neptune Moon – Julie Friedman Bacchini has one of the most fun blogs to read out there. An author after my own heart, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She wrote a great post for me a few weeks ago, too.

The Seer Interactive Blog – Covering all aspects of search and analytics, look to Seer for new PPC ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Merkle RKG Blog – these guys are the smartest folks in PPC. If you want to really nerd out and test the boundaries of your PPC technical chops, this is the place for you.

3Q Digital Blog – You’ll find how-to’s and helpful info here. I especially like all of their articles on Facebook Ads. – OK, this isn’t a traditional blog, but rather a collection of screencaps from the weekly PPCChats on Twitter. If you missed a chat, or want to refer back to one later, this is the place.

Are you reading all of these blogs? If not, what’s stopping you? What are your favorite PPC blogs – did I miss any? Share in the comments!


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Assembly-Line PPC Is Not PPC Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

slideshare tags

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


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On Hiring A PPC Professional

There are times you can do things yourself, and there are times you need to call in a pro. If you scrape your knee, you can probably bandage it up yourself and care for the wound at home. But if you break your leg, it’s time to call in a pro.

Back in early August, I started having hip pain. I didn’t injure myself that I was aware of – it just started hurting. Thinking I pulled a muscle at the gym, I backed off the intensity and waited for it to heal.

It didn’t. After a couple of weeks, I could barely walk due to the pain. I started searching Dr. Google for an explanation of, and solution to, the problem. According to Google, potential causes could be anything from a minor muscle strain to a serious injury like a torn labrum.

Dr. Google returned all kinds of exercise and therapy regimens. I tried a few. At best, they did nothing; a few made the pain worse. I finally decided to see a doctor.

The doctor said I had bursitis, and referred me to physical therapy. I’ve been going to therapy for a month now. It’s made a world of difference.

Am I completely healed? No. Do I know what I need to do to heal? I do now.

The PT is pretty sure the whole issue stemmed from an earlier injury. In late June, I went for what I thought was a short bike ride – just 6 miles. I hadn’t ridden in a long time and wanted to get back into it over the summer.

Halfway through the ride, my tailbone started hurting. And I was 3 miles from home. I had to tough it out and ride back. By the time I got home, it was killing me.

That tailbone still hurts, 4 months later. I bruised the bone. And in compensating for the pain, I threw off the whole mechanism in my body for sitting and walking. Using muscles for purposes other than what they were intended is what caused the hip pain. I would never have figured this out on my own, nor realized that the two were connected.

What’s the point of my physical tale of woe, and what does it have to do with PPC? The point is this: People hire professionals for difficult problems they can’t solve on their own, due to lack of knowledge or expertise. I had no idea why my hip was hurting. I knew my tailbone hurt, and there was nothing I could do about it. I never connected the two, nor did I know how to fix the problem.

Think about small business owners trying to do DIY PPC. Things might go well for a time, and then suddenly performance falls off. They’re spending money and they don’t understand why the results aren’t there. They start tinkering around and make things worse. Finally, they give up in economic pain and frustration and call a professional PPC manager.

Or at least we hope they do. Like the muscles and joints of our body, PPC is complicated. One issue, such as a bad landing page or irrelevant keyword, can throw your whole account into a tailspin. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’ll never be able to fix it. Like me trying to find the answer to my hip pain by Googling it, you’re lost as to how to fix your PPC account.

Don’t let this happen to you. Hire a professional PPC manager to rehabilitate your account. Your proverbial hip muscles will thank you.

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The Best Way To Charge For PPC Management

Much has been said and written about how agencies should charge for PPC management. A lively discussion usually ensues when the topic comes up in social media. So what is the best way to charge for PPC management, anyway?

Types Of Fee Structures

Pat East of PPC Hero did a great series of posts on the various ways to charge for PPC management, so I won’t go into them in detail here. In summary, the most common methods of charging for PPC management are:

•    Percent of spend
•    Hourly rate
•    Flat monthly fee
•    A hybrid of the above

Percent of Spend Is Common

In my conversations with PPC managers, percent of spend seems to be a common way to charge. Percent of spend is a holdover from the Mad Men days of ad agencies. Back in the old days, when I started working in advertising, agencies added an upcharge over what the media charged for space or time.

For example, if a print ad cost $100, the agency would charge $115 to place the ad – they’d pay the publication $100 and pocket $15. In reality, all the agency was doing was brokering space. They weren’t “managing” any media because really, what’s to manage? Unlike PPC, which requires daily oversight, placing newspaper or TV ads is one-and-done – you buy the space or time, send in your creative, and collect a check. Agencies charged separate fees for creative, so the percent of spend was there solely to cover their time to call the newspaper or TV station.

Early in my career, I worked in advertising for a couple radio stations and the local newspaper. We hated working with agencies because of the percent of spend upcharges. Often the clients didn’t want to pay any more than the space was worth, so the agency would come to us and beat us up for a lower price.

While PPC is much different from traditional media, the percent of spend model penalizes clients for increasing their budget. And it doesn’t account for the difficulty of account management. A competitive industry could have a huge spend for a relatively simple account to manage, while a less competitive industry could spend half as much, but require a lot more work in their account to reach enough of an audience to move the needle.

An account running paid social and paid search is going to take a lot more time to manage than an account running just paid search. And what happens when a client shifts budget from search to social? I’ve seen that happen before, and suddenly as an agency you’re in the hole – you’re spending a lot more time for the same fees.

Hybrid Models Are A Bit Better

At the agency I worked for before gyro, we used a hybrid pricing model. We charged a base fee plus a percent of spend. The base fee was intended to cover routine tasks that we’d be performing regardless of the size of the account: reporting, client calls, technology, etc.

In general, the model worked well, but clients frequently got upset when their fees went up with their budgets.  The base fee was still rooted in total spend – those who spent more were charged a higher base – so in essence the base wasn’t really a flat fee at all. And we still had challenges with fees not matching the workload, especially with smaller accounts that were often high-maintenance.

Flat Fee Is Easier

At gyro, we charge a flat fee. We estimate the amount of time and effort the account is going to take to manage, and arrive at the fee from there. Spend is factored in, but fees aren’t based solely on spend. Accounts with multiple programs or very complex campaigns might pay more than a simple account spending the same budget. If the client drastically changes their budget or the amount of work they’re asking us to do, we adjust the fees. We don’t change fees if the budget change is so small as to not impact the amount of work we’ll be doing.


Freelance PPC managers are a separate breed, to an extent. I’ve done some freelance work, and know a lot of people who do, too. I’ve charged both a flat fee and an hourly rate for freelance. I’m not a fan of hourly rates for agencies, but when I’m doing work outside of my “day job,” it seems to make sense. I’ll use the hourly rate for clients I’m managing indefinitely. For one-off projects, such as account audits, I usually charge a flat rate.

I’m sure some freelancers charge a percent of spend, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to do the work of calculating my fees every month, nor would I want my compensation to be at the whim of client budgets.

The Best Way To Charge

You know I’m going to say it – the best way to charge is whatever works for you. I personally am not a fan of percent of spend, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Nor does it mean that a flat rate is always right. Clients with flexible budgets can get frustrated with fees that are a moving, unpredictable target as they often are with flat rates; whereas with a percent of spend, they expect fluctuations in fees.

Whatever method you choose, be clear and transparent with your clients. Make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth and for the work you’re putting in. I see a lot of PPC pros who vastly undercharge and undervalue their time. We’re a special breed – make sure you’re paid for it!

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of the various fee structures? Share in the comments!

Hat tip to Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon for a conversation that gave me the idea for this blog post.

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Call-Only Ads: 3 Months In

Back in July, I wrote a post called Call-Only Ads Are Ruining Mobile Results. In that post, I shared data from a client who’d launched call-only ads, only to see mobile impressions, clicks, and conversions tank.

Based on my readers’ excellent feedback, we optimized and refined those campaigns. We turned mobile back on in the regular, non-call-only campaigns. We continued to work on bids. We were desperate.

Results did improve, but not to their former levels. Here’s an update on what’s happening with call-only campaigns and mobile in general.

Call-only campaigns have been live for about 10 weeks. So I looked at the last 10 weeks, and then 10 weeks before that, before call-only campaigns came into existence. Data here is for mobile traffic only.

Call-Only Campaign Impressions Are Low


Impressions ended up nearly equal post-call-only, but only because we added mobile back to the regular campaigns. Call-only campaign impression volume is less than half of what it was before. There’s no way we’d be able to even show up in the auction to generate clicks if we stuck with call-only campaigns, much less generate conversions from call-only.

Call-Only CPCs Are High


Yikes, check that out. CPCs for call-only are 58% higher than mobile CPCs were before. And this is with our bid management software attempting to keep call-only CPC down. It’s crazy to me that CPCs have gone up this much. Then again, this is Google we’re talking about….

CPAs More Than Doubled


This is where it gets really scary and, frankly, sad. Call-only CPAs are similar to what we saw before. And that makes sense, because we were using call-only extensions before. Users didn’t have the option to click through on a mobile device – we wanted the phone call instead. That’s how call-only campaigns work, too – at least in theory.

But look at mobile not-call-only. Yikes. Since we don’t have the option of forcing a phone call in the regular campaigns now, we’re stuck with letting users click through on mobile – which is pushing up our CPA dramatically. And no surprise – while the landing pages are responsive, the call to action is to fill out a form, which we know people don’t like to do on mobile. Sure, you can call from the landing page too, but it’s not obvious like it is in a call-only ad.

And before you suggest that we create call-only ads in the regular campaigns, we tried that too. I was thinking we could force mobile traffic to the call-only ads and desktop to the regular ads. But it didn’t work that way. The call-only ads got virtually no impressions while the regular ads got tons, even from mobile. There seems to be no way to get this thing to work the way it did before.

So, by all appearances we’re stuck. Mobile is hugely important to this client, so we can’t just shut it off. Using call-only campaigns killed our impressions, clicks, and conversions. And adding mobile back to regular campaigns killed our CPA. We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s a no-win situation.

Have any of you been able to find success with call-only campaigns at a good CPA? Is this yet another conspiracy by Google to improve mobile CPC? Have you found any hacks that work? Share in the comments!

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The Ideal Number Of Keywords Per Ad Group

A while back, one of our new hires asked a great question over IM about the number of keywords in an ad group. Here’s a paraphrased version of how the conversation went down:

New Hire: I’ve been told an ideal number of keywords in an ad group is around 15. If you have much more than 15, what are the chances all the words are relevant? Are smaller ad groups better, like in the 5 word range? Does it just make it more tedious to manage having a lot of small ad groups?

Melissa Mackey: Yeah, there comes a point of diminishing returns when you go below 10-15 keywords. That said, I’ve had 1-keyword ad groups for a very high volume term. It just depends – like a lot of things in PPC.

NH: Ok, so you look at diminishing returns and term popularity.

MM: Right, as a rule that works. Also, you might want to isolate smaller groups of keywords to improve quality score. So for example, if you have a few keywords with decent volume and poor quality score, you’d move them to try to improve it.

NH: What if you have a small ad group where one term gets impressions/clicks and the other one is extremely light?

MM: That’s usually ok as long as quality score is relatively similar.

Was I right about that? I’ll get to that in a second.

The “right” number of keywords in an ad group is a subject of much debate. I found a Quora thread that had as many different “right answers” as there were commenters in the thread.

Brad Geddes weighed in on the magic number of keywords in an ad group on the Certified Knowledge blog. Short answer? There is no magic number of keywords – it depends.

A poster on the Adwords Community forum does a good job of illustrating the concept, but then says 5-15 keywords is the right number.

I agree with him, to a point. I usually strive for no more than 15 keywords per ad group. But I also have ad groups with 50 keywords or more, and that’s fine too. It just depends.

The difference comes in whether the ad group is large because there is a large number of related terms out there, or whether the ad group is large simply due to laziness or lack of time. I recently did some keyword research around healthcare marketing, and there are a LOT of variations of “healthcare marketing” that are all closely related.

So how do you decide if you should split up a large ad group into smaller ones?

Look for similarities.

The first thing I do is look for similarities: in keyword theme, performance, or quality score. In fact, while I often say you shouldn’t optimize based on quality score alone, you can use it as a guide here in ad group development. Often the quality score will tell you what Google thinks is similar about the terms.

Quality score also helps you think about ad copy and landing page needs. If you have a bunch of relevant keywords with a low quality score and you’re not in an industry with traditionally low quality scores, then maybe your landing page isn’t relevant. Or maybe your ad copy needs to be tightened up. Creating new ad groups can be a way to deal with both issues.

Consider grouping by match type.

Sometimes it makes sense to group keywords by match type, to aid in keyword research and control cost per click by match type. I’ve found this especially effective for smaller accounts in niche markets where it’s hard to mine for new keywords simply by using search query reports. In larger accounts, grouping by match type just makes for unnecessary management time.

In fact, too many ad groups often become cumbersome to manage. Even a couple hundred ad groups can be super time consuming – I speak from experience on this. Single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) do make sense, but your entire account shouldn’t be full of them. You don’t want to end up in a situation like this:

twitter convo

This example is less about too many ad groups and more about an unreal number of negatives, but you get the point.

To me, the ideal number of keywords in an ad group is…. It depends. Surprise!

What’s your rule of thumb on number of keywords per ad group? Do you have a rule of thumb, or do you decide on the fly? Share in the comments!

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