26 Free Must-Have Tools for PPC Success

Nearly every craft uses tools to get the job done. Carpenters have hammers and saws. Doctors have expensive medical devices like MRI machines and tests. Writers have a computer (or a typewriter, or pen and paper).

PPC is no different. While it’s certainly possible to manage PPC using only the AdWords and Bing Ads online interfaces, doing so will be less than optimal.

I asked 20 PPC experts to share their must-have PPC tools. They responded with gusto. Here are their top recommendations for 26 free, must-have tools for PPC success.

When it comes to free tools, Google is king. One-third of the tools on the list are from Google!

1. AdWords Editor

A few of us old-timers remember life before AdWords Editor. It wasn’t fun. I was doing in-house PPC at the time, and we actually hired an intern to update ad copy for us, it was that arduous to do manually. With Adwords Editor and its many bulk editing features, those days disappeared. Several experts mentioned Editor, most with a comment like “Duh! It’s essential.”

2. Google Analytics

The AdWords and Bing interfaces only go so far. They don’t tell you what happens after the ad click. Use Google Analytics to gauge bounce rate, pages visited, and many other analytical gems that will help optimize your marketing efforts.

3. AdWords Scripts

We’ve recently started using AdWords Scripts, and it’s become obvious they’re a must-have. Use them for exception reporting, daily stats, and client reporting – amongst other things.

4. Google Plugin for Eclipse

Use this plugin to help develop AdWords Scripts. (Recommended by Leo Sussan.)

5. Google Documents

I love creating shared Google Docs for internal and external use. It’s even possible to have multiple users editing them at once – something you can’t do with Microsoft Office. (Suggested by Larry Kim of Wordstream.)

6. Google Drive

Google Drive is great for storing Google Docs and other files. (Suggested by my coworker Ben Nusekabel)

7. FTP for Google Merchant accounts

Who wants to update thousands of product listing ads manually? Use FTP to send your merchant feed to Google automatically. (Recommended by Matt Vaillancourt.)

8. Google Suggest

Google Suggest is a fun and enlightening way to do keyword research. (Recommended by Aaron Levy of SEER Interactive.)

9. Bing Ads Editor

Not to be outdone, Bing Ads has some great free tools of its own. While Bing Ads Editor isn’t as robust as AdWords Editor, it’s still a must-have PPC tool for those using Bing Ads.

10. Bing Ads Intelligence

I love this Excel plugin for keyword research. It’ll show search volume, create ad groups, and provide demographic data – all in Excel.

11. Facebook Power Editor

If you’re running more than one simple Facebook Ads campaign, you need to be using Power Editor. It’s like AdWords Editor for Facebook. Use it to create audiences, play around with targeting, and create an image bank for your campaigns.

12. Excel

OK, it’s free if your computer has Microsoft Office, which 90 percent or so of us do. Excel is necessary to analyze and manipulate PPC data. Many of the experts named it a must-have.

13. Excellent Analytics Plugin for Excel

Use this plugin to pull Google Analytics data into Excel and make reporting easier. I’m definitely going to check this one out. (Recommended by Arianne Donoghue.)

14. Statistical Significance Spreadsheet

This is a simple, yet often overlooked, way to streamline tracking of ad copy and landing page tests. (Recommended by Andrew Bethel.)

15. Analysis ToolPak for Excel

Use the free Excel plugin Analysis ToolPak to add advanced hypothesis testing to Excel at no cost. (Another recommendation from Sussan.)

16. Uber Suggest

Use Uber Suggest for keyword research. I’ve even used Uber Suggest for blog topic idea generation. (Another great recommendation from Levy.)

17. Keyword Wrapper

Use this easy-to-use tool to quickly create keyword sets in all match types. Build out your keyword list in minutes with this tool. (Recommended by Mark Kennedy of SEOM.)

18. Phrase Builder

Enter a few words, and Phrase Builder will mash them up into keywords. (Another tool recommended by Kennedy.)

19. Soovle

Soovle serves up common searches on a multitude of sites, including YouTube, Answers.com, and Amazon, in addition to the usual search engine subjects. (Yet another keyword tool from Levy.)

20. Convertable

Convertable is a free lead generation tracking service (in beta). If you aren’t ready to give Salesforce a try, check out Convertable.

21. SplitTester

SplitTester is my favorite free online statistical significance tester. Just plug in clicks and CTR (or conversion rate) for 2 ad variations to see which one is the winner, and at what level of significance.

A Few More PPC Tools

Several experts suggested tools that are fixtures in any office, and yet are essential for PPC. Microsoft Outlook and Spotify were two that Lisa Sanner from PointIt finds necessary. I have to agree.

Finally, no list would be complete without the tools that each and every PPC expert uses every day:

  •     Experience (Sanner)
  •     People (e.g., sales teams, live chats) (Sanner)
  •     My brain (Michael Madew) and Matt Vaillancourt)

Special thanks to Aaron Levy, Andrew Bethel, Arianne Donoghue, Ben Nusekabel, David Szetela, Larry Kim, Leo Sussan, Lisa Sanner, Mark Kennedy, Martin Roettgerding, Matt Umbro, Matt Vaillancourt, and Michael Madew for contributing your suggestions.

In addition to these free tools, here are 18 Must-Have Paid Tools for PPC Success.

Hopefully you’ve learned of a few new helpful free PPC tools from this list! What are your must-have PPC tools?

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on March 11, 2014. It was so popular there that I had to share it with my readers! Enjoy!

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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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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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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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3 Ways To Profit From The Google Display Network

Earlier this week, there was an interesting conversation on Twitter about the Google Display Network. IntelligentPPC made the bold statement that one should avoid the GDN like the plague. Many members of PPCchat disagreed, myself included. Check this link for an example of the debate that ensued.

If you’re running search and display campaigns together, then you certainly will lose money. The two are not the same and optimization tactics are totally different. But if you’re running distinct campaigns in display, then you absolutely can profit from it. Here are 3 ways to profit from the Google Display Network.

Promote a new product.

One of the rare times that keyword search falls down is in new product launches. Let’s say you’ve developed a great new product that’s totally revolutionary. So revolutionary that no one is searching for it. If no one is searching for it, keyword search won’t be much help to you. I’ve seen this time and again – low search volume for new products.

The problem is lack of awareness. If people don’t know about it, they won’t search for it.

Enter the GDN.

By running carefully crafted display ads targeting the right audience, the GDN will help increase awareness of your new product amongst your target audience. From there, people will buy – either directly from the display ads, or from searches performed later on.

We recently did this with one of our clients. They developed a product that was unique. No one was searching for it. We created image display ads with pictures showing the product in use. The ads led users to a video demonstration on the client site.

Not only did we increase traffic and ultimately search volume for the product, we also saw direct and profitable sales from display.

Get on prime web properties through the back door.

Let’s face it – targeting B2B customers with keyword search can be challenging. Right now I have a client who’s trying to reach B2B decision makers to get them to use their product. Problem is, their product is also something consumers search for. They don’t want to reach consumers, so we’ve used negative keywords to eliminate most of those searches – and now the client’s search volume is very low.

Immediately I started thinking “LinkedIn Ads.” But CPCs on LinkedIn are high – the audience for this client has a minimum CPC of $4.50, and you’ll need to bid much higher to get a good position.

Enter the GDN.

Yes, LinkedIn is part of the GDN. And you can craft a GDN campaign to show ads on LinkedIn for a lower cost than going through LinkedIn directly. You can even get image display ads onto LinkedIn this way – something that costs 5 figures when working directly with LinkedIn.

Build killer remarketing lists.

Awareness is a key component of any marketing strategy. If you’re only using keyword search, you’re missing those who don’t know about your product. Sure, you might hook some of them with broad, generic terms – but at what cost? I’ve seen broad keywords in the $30-$50 per click range. With conversion rates of 1% or lower, that’s usually not very profitable.

Enter the GDN.

Use the GDN to create awareness of your brand and your product. Then, create a remarketing list comprised of those who came to your site from the GDN but didn’t convert. Then remarket to them with a compelling offer.

By using the 2-step GDN/remarketing process, instead of paying $30 for a visitor with a 1% conversion rate, you can now pay $2 or $3 per click. That’s 10 visits from the GDN for one from search – and now they’re familiar with you because of the remarketing component. That means they’re more likely to buy. At a lower cost than from keyword search.

So should you avoid the GDN like the plague? Go for it – I’ll be happy to take the customers you’re leaving on the table.

How have you used the GDN to make a profit? 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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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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