Channels Are Not Strategy

Earlier this week, TechCrunch published an article by Samuel Scott called How Google Analytics ruined marketing. It’s a lengthy but important article saying that’s because Google Analytics (and all web analytics packages, for that matter) force marketers into looking at performance by channel, instead of focusing on strategy and objectives.

In the years before web analytics, the article says, no one talked about “television marketing;” yet people today constantly talk about “Facebook marketing,” “content marketing,” and even “social media marketing.” These, the author states, are not strategies.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve written about strategy so many times that I created an entire section on this blog for it. And yet, on what feels like a daily basis, I hear marketers talking about “Facebook marketing” and the like as a strategy.

Here’s the thing: a strategy is a means for achieving a business goal. According to Wikipedia, “marketing strategy has the fundamental goal of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.” If you read the rest of that Wikipedia page, it reads like a college textbook on marketing. It takes me back to my undergrad and master’s degree days.

The point is, we’ve forgotten what we learned in school. Channels aren’t strategy.

Lots of marketers mistake tactics or tools for strategy. Sometimes they get stuck on a particular creative idea, and want that idea to become their “strategy.” But ideas aren’t strategy. They’re ideas, and creative is an important part of any marketing mix. But the strategy should help a business achieve goals – not be an end in itself.

The same thing goes for calling “Facebook marketing” a strategy. It’s not.

That’s not the worst of it. Even the TechCrunch author got it wrong! Here’s his example:

techcrunch strategy
This isn’t strategy either! SEO is a channel, not a strategy. Take a step back: why did the person create informational material in the first place? No one creates information material for the fun of it. They’re doing it to sell stuff! That’s the strategy, not SEO.

When decision-makers think about marketing strategy (and spending their money on any type of marketing efforts), they have questions in their mind. Back in 2014, I wrote about 7 Things About PPC Strategy Your Clients Want to Know. In the post, the first thing mentioned is campaign goals. What are we trying to accomplish? And “be on Facebook” or “get to the top of Google” aren’t goals. You can spend a bunch of money marketing on Facebook or bidding high on Google, only to find it didn’t generate a single sale. This is why channels aren’t strategy. They don’t achieve goals.

Another question in the client’s mind is “how do we know if we’ve succeeded?” Well, if your strategy is “Facebook marketing,” you’ve succeeded the second you put a post on Facebook. And if that’s true, then every crappy company who’s posting to a Facebook page is succeeding. We all know that’s absurd.

Remember, a strategy includes goals and objectives. Sure, your strategy may be to “use Facebook to reach our target audience and generate sales of blue widgets” or “engage in SEO to improve visibility of key product pages to increase sales.” But the strategy isn’t “Facebook marketing” or “SEO.” Those are tactics – means to an end.

To make sure your strategy stands up, check out my Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy.

What do you think? Do you find that marketers understand strategy, or are clients coming to you saying “we want to be on Facebook”? Share in the comments!

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Bid Management In 2016

Last year, I wrote a post called Bid Management: Is It Even Still a Thing? In that post, I talked about all the bid management tools PPC managers have at their disposal, from Adwords Scripts to automated bidding in the engines to bid management software. I wondered, with all the tools available to us, whether manual bidding had become a thing of the past. Do people even focus on bid management, or do they let tools do the work?

A quick Google search for “bid management” indicates that it is still very much a thing:

bid management serp

3 PPC ads, plus an organic listing and an irrelevant Wikipedia definition, show above the fold. 2 of the ads are for agencies (including my local friends at Netvantage), and one is for a bid management platform. So clearly, people are searching for help with bid management.

There certainly is no shortage of bid management tools out there. Just last week, Google launched Adwords Smart Bidding, which uses “powerful machine learning” and device performance optimization, among other things.

So is automated bid management really better than manual bid management? My answer, as with many things PPC, is it depends.

When Automated Bidding Makes Sense:

•    In large accounts, it’s nearly impossible to manually manage bids. It’s inefficient and leads to sub-optimal performance. Some type of automated bidding, whether through a paid tool, scripts, or engine optimization, is necessary. I like third party tools, since they’re more robust than the free tools, and include features like budget management that are harder to do with free tools.
•    When you have high click or conversion volume. Even in smaller accounts, if you have a lot of conversions, using the “target CPA” rules in Adwords and Bing can really improve performance and make bid management easier. You’ll still need to monitor your bids, but you won’t need to actively manage them on a daily basis.
•    When your goal is ad position or impressions. Using rules like “bid to position” makes manual bid management unnecessary, if these things are your goal. It’s rare that bidding to position makes sense – I always recommend against it – but in competitive situations on brand terms, for instance, it can be important.

When Manual Bidding Makes Sense:

•    For small accounts with low budgets. If you have an account with a fairly small number of keywords, and a limited budget, you can often just set your bids and check them every couple of days. Your budget cap will keep you from overspending, and if you’re limited by budget, making tons of bid changes isn’t really necessary.
•    When you have little competition. This is pretty darn rare these days, but there are some niche industries where there are few competitors advertising. If no one is bidding against you, bid management is simple.
•    When automation fails. It’s rare, but I’ve had instances where bid management tools have failed, either by killing volume while trying to meet a CPA goal, or by creating a ton more work for me in reviewing reports from a script. Sometimes the bid or competitive situation is too complicated for a tool algorithm or script to understand, and requires a human touch.

What do you think? Do you prefer automated bid management for most of your accounts, or do you still like the control that manual bidding offers? When do you prefer one over the other? Share in the comments!

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8 Reasons Why PPC Campaigns Fail

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a PPC pro – someone who does PPC for a living. At a minimum, you have some kind of interest in PPC: if you’re not doing it for a living, maybe you’re trying to learn, or maybe you do SEO or some other kind of internet marketing and want to understand PPC as part of the marketing mix.

Every PPC professional has had at least one campaign that failed in some way. It didn’t meet the expectations of your client or boss. In the agency world, it’s common nowadays to inherit existing PPC accounts that were poorly managed in one way or another and failed to meet client expectations.

So what are the reasons why PPC campaigns fail? Is it just incompetence on the part of the PPC manager.

Not always.

Sure, there’s some incompetence out there, as there is in any field. We’ve all seen accounts with a single campaign that’s full of broad match keywords driving to the homepage. But that’s not common. Here are some of the common reasons I’ve seen PPC campaigns fail.

Lack of goals.

As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Setting goals is a basic tenet of any marketing plan, and yet it’s common to see advertisers whose stated goal is “we need to get ads on Google.” Sorry, but “getting ads on Google” is not a marketing strategy or goal.

Lack of conversion tracking.

What good is setting a destination if you don’t know when you’ve arrived there? Without proper conversion tracking, you’re flying blind. You’ll never know if you achieved your goal or not. It always surprises me when we see accounts with no conversion tracking whatsoever. It shocks me when clients resist putting tracking codes on their website – and yet it happens more often than I’d like to admit.

Refusing to put conversion tracking on your website is like refusing to use a cash register at your store checkout. Sure, you could just have employees stuff all the cash in a drawer – but at the end of the day, how would you know how many units you sold? How can you tell if employees are skimming from the till? Without a tracking system, you won’t. Same thing goes for PPC.

Poor campaign structure.

I alluded to this earlier – the horror story of a single campaign full of broad match. But PPC campaign structure problems go beyond the obvious. We inherited an account that looked great on the surface: its campaigns were set up by geo location and by brand or non-brand keywords. Problem was, the brand campaigns had non-brand keywords in them, and vice versa.

Campaign structure is only as good as the person managing it. You must follow it.

Poor landing pages.

So many PPC advertisers have great campaigns, with great structure, keywords, and ad copy – and then they fall down on landing pages. Having poor landing pages while spending money on PPC ads is the equivalent of buying a Super Bowl ad for a dirty, disorganized store with mean sales clerks. It doesn’t make sense.

Use landing page best practices to ensure that your online store is clean, well-organized, and ready to convert.

Bad ad copy.

Good campaign structure and landing pages are critical to success, but so is good ad copy. In just a few characters, your ad copy must convey what it is you’re offering, what you want users to do, and why they should do it. It’s a tough challenge, and many advertisers fail.

Ensure your ad copy is as good as it can be by using this cheat sheet.

Campaigns aren’t managed actively, or aren’t managed well.

PPC is not a “set it and forget it” medium. Setting up good campaigns is only the beginning. Successful PPC managers spend most of their time optimizing keywords, ad copy, bids, and many other elements of PPC.

A lot of businesses wrongly assume that a junior-level marketing staffer can manage their PPC campaigns on a part-time basis. Unless that person has PPC experience, this is almost always a failing proposition. Hiring an experienced PPC manager, whether to work in house or in an agency, is the best option for most advertisers.

You’ve done all this, and the campaign is still failing.

What now? Sometimes, despite our best efforts, campaigns continue to underperform. What can be done? Check out this post on how to solve the biggest problems in PPC.

PPC isn’t for every business.

It’s rare, but every once in a while there is a business or campaign that just doesn’t work. At this point, you may have to face the reality that PPC isn’t right for this business. Just make sure you’ve tried all options before conceding defeat.

What are some of the reasons you’ve seen PPC campaigns fail? Share in the comments!

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SMX Advanced 2016: My Presentation

Yesterday, I presented at SMX Advanced on Conversion Rates and the Laws of Diminishing Astonishment. It was a great panel, and I’m excited to share my deck with my readers. Enjoy!

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Voice Search and PPC Relevance: A Match Made in Hell

Voice search has come on strong in the past year or so. Bing Ads has been ahead of the pack on voice search, predicting a year ago that it would be big. Purna Virji of Bing Ads talked a lot about voice search in her recent Reddit AMA, as well.

I’ve definitely noticed more obvious voice queries in our clients’ search query reports lately. The much-ballyhooed “near me” searches are showing up in droves in several client accounts. We’re also seeing really long search queries, with 15-20 words not uncommon. Queries that start with “give me the number for” or “can I get the name of” or “what’s the company on First and Main” are prevalent, as well.

Voice search is obviously cool and efficient for the user. It’s so easy to say “OK Google” and start asking a question in natural language. Cars nowadays are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones, giving drivers the opportunity to perform voice searches without taking their eyes off the road. My teenagers almost never type a search query into their phones – they either use OK Google or Siri. It’s the stuff of Star Trek: “Computer! Identify that flying object!”

As search marketers, though, voice search is wreaking a bit of havoc. The search engines, despite their outward support of voice search, seem to have trouble handling lengthy voice queries. Our clients’ ads have shown on some highly irrelevant queries that are obviously voice searches.

The challenge is multiplied if you’re using call-only ads. Call-only ads are great in that they display a nice big “Call” button:

Call Extensions Mobile

But when call-only ads show on irrelevant voice searches, they tend to generate unqualified phone calls – wasting client call center resources on top of wasted click costs.

Another issue is that the engine’s negative keyword functionality hasn’t kept up with voice search. Negative keywords don’t work when the negative term appears more than 10 words into a search query. So if you have “free” as a negative keyword, and someone voice-searches “what’s the name of the company on fifth and main that offers free haircuts to kids,” your ad will still show – even if you’re not offering free haircuts. This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for our clients.

Another huge issue is close variants. Close variants have always been a problem, but with voice search, we’re seeing even bigger challenges.

Take the example of “company” vs. “companies.” In theory, search queries with either word should perform the same. A search for “business phone company” should perform the same as “business phone companies.”

The problem is, with voice search, the two are very different. Let’s look at an example.

Consider these two queries:

what’s the name of the business phone company on 5th avenue
business phone companies that can help my small business

The first query is clearly someone who is looking for a specific business. They just can’t remember its name. If you’re that business, you’re in luck. If you’re not, you’re going to get a lot of clicks and/or phone calls from people looking for a competitor! Not cool.

The second query is clearly from a user who is looking for a business phone company. If you’re that advertiser, this is exactly the prospect you want. It’s an obvious lead-generation question that should convert well.

And yet, if you’re bidding on “business phone companies,” your ad will serve for both queries, because of close variants.

I’ve become increasingly frustrated with this as time goes on. There’s no way to keep your ad from showing on irrelevant searches, and the irrelevant searches are becoming more frequent due to voice search – leading to worsening ROI from paid search.

We can only hope that the engines will reconsider their stand on close variants and give us the option to choose to include them once again. Otherwise, I can envision paid search quickly becoming too expensive with too low an ROI for many advertisers.

What do you think? Is voice search helping your PPC performance, or hurting it? Share in the comments!

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4 Biggest e-Commerce PPC Mistakes

Editor’s Note: Today’s awesome guest post comes from Point It’s Maddie Cary! Enjoy this in-depth post on e-commerce PPC.

Managing e-Commerce PPC campaigns can be a blast! There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with the immediacy of tracked revenue that gives you a little kick in your step. Different KPIs come into play like Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), Average Order Value (AOV), and Profit Margin that present new optimization opportunities. Each of these metrics adds a new lens to view your paid search strategy through – are we seeing a decent return on our investment? What’s the average amount our customers are paying when they checkout? Are we actually profitable in our SEM efforts?

But building long-term successful e-Commerce campaigns can be challenging, especially if you’re in a highly competitive retail environment. Trying to build a program that not only is profitable, but can maintain profit at scale across multiple online stores, product lines, or business groups can make any great PPC marketer to want to pull out their hair.

Don’t fret, it is possible! Especially if you start out on the right foot and go into it with some knowledge about what common e-Commerce PPC pitfalls to avoid. Below are some of the biggest mistakes myself or others have made and learned from when running e-Commerce campaigns in paid search:

#1: Lackluster or Broken Product Feeds

treat yo self gif

Shopping campaign click and ad spend share is on the rise QoQ, and e-Commerce advertisers know they can’t ignore this tactic if they want to grow their revenue. But more often than not, brands launch Shopping ads with product feeds that are barely filled out, let alone optimized to incentivize searchers to click through and buy. No matter what you try to convince yourself of, consumers aren’t drawn to product ads with SKU-heavy titles, stock product photos, and irrelevant product details.

Your product feed is the core of your Shopping strategy – you wouldn’t launch a search campaign with janky keywords or broken tracking parameters! So before you start driving a car with a flat tire, consider what steps you can take to optimize your product feed. (and good news, Google recently announced Merchant Center rules, making it a lot easier to optimize your feed directly in Merchant Center!)

•    Does your feed contain all of your available products?
Don’t pre-filter your feed, but load all products into your Merchant Center. You can use a bidding methodology to favor higher priority products and organize product targets within your Shopping campaign structure

•    Do your product titles and descriptions contain phrases people will actually search for?
Do you have products called “Sandy Pants” that really are Khaki or Tan colored? How do you think a majority of consumers will search for that you offer but maybe aren’t showing ads on because of fancy marketing or brand terminology you’re using? Take into consideration how you could revamp synonyms in your product details to match to more searches.

•    Are all fields properly filled out?
Don’t auto-populate feed categories with all the same value, or even worse, leave non-required product feed categories completely blank. The more you leave unfilled, the more you tie your hands and limit what you can do from targeting standpoint within your Shopping campaigns (which means leaving revenue on the table).

•    Does your product image stand out or blend into the crowd?
Do a search for a computer monitor or a type of Nikes right now. More often than not, a majority of the Shopping ad results will all be using the same stock image. Test different image angles or views to stand out on the SERP and try to get that CTR boost vs. your competitors in the product ad block!

•    Are you utilizing Automated Shopping Extensions?
This free Shopping campaign feature launched back in July 2015 allows you to automatically highlight your offering to searchers, such as free shipping or price changes noted within your feed. It’s another great way to get a leg up on the competition and further stand out on the SERP.

#2: Poorly Thought Out Location Targeting

map dart gif

Does setting up your locations strategy for your campaigns make you feel like you’re throwing a dart at a map? Not all geo targeting is created equally, especially when it comes to optimizing e-Commerce campaigns. Far too many times I’ve found a client’s e-Commerce campaigns targeting cities, regions, or countries that they can’t deliver to or sell in. Before you begin launching e-commerce PPC across locations, answer this question: can you deliver or sell your product in that geo?

•    Yes I can!
Alright, you’re already off to a great start! Focus on a lower-funnel, high intent keyword strategy to achieve the best ROI

•    Maybe?
Maybe you can offer products in the geo, but aren’t sure if it’s worth investing there yet. If you can fulfill purchases in a timely fashion without negatively impacting the perception of your brand, it’s likely worth testing out

•    No, I can’t
You can’t deliver, can’t sell – some sort of roadblock? Then running e-commerce PPC campaigns targeting that geo is not the right fit for you. Don’t actively target and/or add as a location exclusion!

Targeting the wrong geo isn’t the only place where PPCers make mistakes when approaching location targeting for e-Commerce. It’s also important to understand and leverage how geos you target perform differently and shape your bidding strategy accordingly. Pull a user location report from your dimensions tab to get a sense of where the majority of your orders & revenue are taking place. Test layering geo-bid modifiers for better performing cities, regions, or states to stay aggressive and see where you can further move the needle on profitable revenue.

#3: Running “Fluffy” Ad Copy

fluffy gif

Any marketing you run is a reflection of your brand, which includes your brand image and voice. But don’t let brand messaging “fluff” cannibalize the limited ad text you have available in PPC ads. The copy you run in magazines, TV, or even Display ads may not resonate with your ideal searcher – the one who is ready to buy!

Searchers are motivated by pricing, free shipping, promotional offers, and strong CTAs, especially when comparison shopping between sites. A 2015 report from Mintel found that 69% of US online adults shop online at least monthly, with 48% of online shoppers admitting to increasing the size of their orders to hit the free shipping threshold.

Running product-brand focused PPC means doing an ongoing balancing act between protecting the brand voice vs. best growth-driven paid search practices. While it’s important to ensure that how you message and present your products is in line with brand guidelines, don’t sacrifice revenue in order to do so. Following through on some of the below e-Commerce ad copy principles will help increase CTR, improve Quality Score relevancy, and create trust with you consumers who engage with your ads.

•    Pricing info should be prominent (headline when you can), transparent (don’t try to hide tax details or cents), and whenever possible, competitive.
•    Save characters to call out free shipping or minimum cart size amounts
•    Use strong CTAs like “Buy Now” or “Order Today”
•    Create & maintain promo calendars for your PPC activities so that you’re highlighting available online offers to those searching
•    Mostly importantly, follow through on what you offer in your copy! Make sure all of the above is clearly messaged on the landing experience you direct them to!

#4: Under-utilizing Audience Targeting

audience gif

Part of running any successful PPC campaign is knowing your target audience (and of course, persuading them to convert). An additional crucial element for all e-Commerce PPC accounts is a well-thought our remarketing plan. Consumers may bounce between sites as they peruse sales, product assortment, or prices. They may also make multiple searchers during their research process, including on you brand vs. non-brand keywords, as well as using or not using purchase-intent verbs in their search terms.

How searchers interact with your site tells you a lot about them, and it’s data you should be utilizing across your PPC efforts. Don’t limit yourself to just Standard Remarketing banners, but be sure to also set up RLSA campaigns to layer on rich audience data on top of keyword search intent to get the smartest bang for your buck.

The most important step in setting up remarketing is determining what audiences make the most sense for producing the best revenue results. Below are some audiences every e-Commerce account should be testing (including some audiences commonly opted out of!):

•    Abandoned Shopping Cart
Do you have a sizable audience pool of folks who made it all the way to filling the shopping cart and just didn’t click “buy”? Target this audience who almost pulled out their credit card and consider offering them something that would incentivize them to buy, including discounted shipping or a coupon

•    Product Page Visitors
What products are your highest sellers or see the best conversion rate? What searchers are visiting that site but not converting? This is an audience which you can target with ads specific to their expressed product interests and show ads to bring them back in to learn more or convert

•    Repeat Purchase Products
Do you sell products that need to be refilled, restocked, or repurchased in a shorter window (maybe 60-90 days?) Build an audience of those who purchased the products and set up remarketing campaigns prepped to message to them right before they may be looking to stock back up.

•    Sales Page Visitors
If someone engaged with your Sales Page, whether they converted or not – it means they are either interested and/or regularly aware of your discounts and reductions. Consider messaging to these searchers differently in RLSA, highlighting specific promotions or biggest discounts available to pull them back into the site.

•    Non-Converters
This one may seem like a pretty straight forward audience, and one many e-Commerce PPC marketers target. It’s also likely one of your largest available pools, so a good one to test out across your remarketing tactics and then narrow down further by layering on additional parameters based on pages visited, duration on site, or other site actions.

•    Previous Converters
Many e-Commerce advertisers may immediately opt to exclude any previous converters – why would we dedicate marketing dollars to people who have already ordered, which is what we wanted them to do? Don’t devalue the repeat purchaser or loyal brand buyer, who already has a strong association with your company and will likely come back, whether that be through a remarketing banner or while doing a search on your brand name. Be sure to be there with a remarketing ad when they do

•    Blog Visitors
Similar to previous converters, those reading & following your blog likely are dedicated to your brand. Consider remarketing to your audiences built on what blog pages they visit or how often they’re visiting, possibly offering them incentives, loyalty program sign-ups, or early promo exclusives to continue fostering that brand love and on-going content engagement and sharing.

On-Going e-Commerce PPC Success

The above is just the start of the many different tips, tricks, and best practices to create a successful e-Commerce PPC strategy. If you’re able to implement even some of the above, you’ll set yourself up for a more relevant online shopping experiences for your target search audience, as well as elevate your PPC brand presence in your e-Commerce space to the next level.

What are your biggest learnings from running e-Commerce campaigns? Share in the comments!

Maddie Cary is the Director of Paid Search at Point It Digital Marketing in Seattle. Her role involves overseeing and developing an amazing team of PPC account managers, while also running the global SEM program for Point It’s largest client. In 2015, she won the US Search Award for “Young Search Professional”, as well as was acknowledged as a “Rising Star in PPC” by both SearchEngineLand & PPC Hero. You can also find her speaking & learning at great conferences like SMX, HeroConf, & PubCon, or writing monthly posts for the Wordstream blog. Outside of PPC, her biggest loves are her family, friends, and her idol, Queen Beyoncé.

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Lead Generation On Steroids: Using Audience Targeting For Max Impact

Pay per click advertising (PPC) is known for being highly targetable and trackable. And yet, with click costs continuing to rise, reaching the right audience in paid search and paid social is more important than ever – posing a challenge for many advertisers. For B2B advertisers using PPC for lead generation, it’s more important than ever to understand how to reach a B2B audience and meet lead generation goals at an acceptable cost.

PPC for B2B lead generation poses different challenges from B2C ecommerce. In lead generation, nothing is sold online. Instead, advertisers are using PPC to drive leads, which will then be nurtured and ultimately passed on to salespeople for follow up. The time from lead to sale varies by industry, but can take as long as 6 months to a year.

Reaching the right audience can also be a challenge. Searchers don’t self-identify as business decision makers looking for solutions. Many search queries are ambiguous, and could come from either a business or a consumer. For example, a search for “Windows software” could come from an individual looking to purchase Windows for their home PC, or from a business with 1,000 laptops needing the software.

In addition, B2B keywords are often much more competitive and expensive than B2C keywords. CPCs of $20-30 are common, with $50-$100 not unheard of.

Businesses, therefore, need to be laser-focused with PPC targeting. That’s why audience targeting is so important for lead generation.

Why Audience Targeting?

Audience targeting really started with paid social. In the early days of paid social, ads on social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn were targeted by audience. The challenge with social PPC in the early days was that it lacked intent. We knew we were targeting the right people, but we didn’t know if they were in the market for our product.

Search PPC, on the other hand, offered clear intent – but no idea who was doing the searching.

Google began to change the game in 2010 when they launched remarketing: a way to target people via the Google Display Network who’d previously visited your site. While remarketing is more targeted than regular Google Display ads, it still lacks the intent of search.

Then, two years ago, Google changed the game with the launch of Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA). RLSA combines the power of audience targeting with the power of search intent. Advertisers can serve one search ad to users who’ve never visited their website and another to users who have.

We’ll go into more detail on RLSA later in the post.

How Paid Search Works Well

Paid search has been so successful for a reason. Search is a deliberate activity. People don’t hang out on search engines all day – they go there with a specific task or question in mind. They’re telling us what they need, and as advertisers it’s our job to answer. With search, unlike social, the users tell us what they are looking for.

Many searches are highly commercial in nature. Consider this Google Suggest example:

sample google search
If a user searches for “where can I buy,” they’re ready to purchase. If you’re Cards Against Humanity, the post office, a dry ice vendor, or a drone seller, wouldn’t you want a targeted ad for your product to appear on these searches?

This is the sweet spot for paid search: the ability to use keywords to serve ads at the precise moment a user raises their hand. It’s why so many advertisers love paid search.

Gaps In Paid Search

Ecommerce PPC is fairly straightforward – the advertiser’s job is simply to answer the “where can I buy” question. But for lead generation, many search queries aren’t clear.

Consider the “Windows software” example from earlier. Here’s what the search engine results page looks like for that query:

ambiguous query
The search engine result has everything but the kitchen sink. There are ads for programmers: Microsoft Azure and Nektra. There are shopping results that are clearly geared toward consumers buying one instance of Windows. And there are ads from Softmart and Office Depot that clearly are geared to B2B.

It’s easy to see the challenge for both users and advertisers on an ambiguous query like “Windows software.” Users have to wade through ads that may not be intended for them. And advertisers have to compete with other advertisers who are targeting a totally different audience.

How Paid Social Works Well

Paid social is, in many ways, the opposite of paid search. We know exactly who the user is: their age, where they live and work, their job title, their interests, and so much more. We tell social channels everything about ourselves, and most of that info can be used to target ads. The audience picture is clear.

And people hang out on social media all day, even B2B buyers. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social engines are online gathering places for friends and business associates. Search engines are like a gas station – a place you go for a specific task, and leave as soon as the task is complete. Social media is more like the bar Cheers, where all your friends hang out and everybody knows your name. You hang out for a long time and come back frequently.

There’s no audience ambiguity in paid social, so it’s easy to target a B2B audience. Let’s say you sell software, and want to target design engineers. Targeting on Facebook is easy:

FB Audience

LinkedIn targeting is easy too:

LI audience
It’s easy to see how specific advertisers can get with paid social targeting.

Gaps In Paid Social

The challenges with paid social are the opposite of paid search. It’s great to know exactly who the users are. But as an advertiser, you don’t know their intent, or if they’re even in the market for your product. The lack of intent can lead to frustration for advertisers who may get lots of traffic on their paid social ads, but few conversions.

So what’s an advertiser to do? Are we relegated to choosing between dealing with audience ambiguity in search, or lack of intent in social?

This is where custom audiences come in.

Audience-Based Marketing With Customer Match and Custom Audiences

Wouldn’t it be great to combine the power of audience targeting with the power of search? Wouldn’t it be great to narrow down a paid social audience to previous customers or people who’ve interacted with your website before?

Both of these tactics are possible, thanks to audience-based marketing.

Audience-based marketing is exactly what it sounds like: targeting a specific audience with your marketing. Layering audiences onto paid search and paid social helps target the right people and drive ROI.

About 3 years ago, Facebook launched Custom Audiences, a feature that allows advertisers to create a Facebook audience from phone numbers, email addresses, or Facebook user IDs. Custom audiences were a boon for B2B advertisers for whom Facebook’s traditional targeting options left them wanting. Instead of trying to guess about their audience’s interests, B2B advertisers could now upload a list of prospect emails or phone numbers, and use that as their audience.

Twitter soon followed suit with Tailored Audiences, which allows advertisers to create lists based on Twitter handles, email addresses, web visitors (via a website tag), or mobile app users. One of the best ways for B2B advertisers to find success on Twitter is to target users in their field. Many businesses and business influencers are heavy Twitter users, and advertisers can target these users and their followers.

Here’s an example of potential targets for an advertiser in the food manufacturing industry:

twitter audience
For expanded reach, advertisers can choose the “also target users like your followers” option.

What about search? In 2015, Google launched Custom Audiences, a feature that allows advertisers to upload a list of emails to use as an audience for remarketing or RLSA. Custom audiences solve the problem of ambiguous searches by only serving ads to a known audience: existing customers, for example, or a list of sales prospects who’ve signed up for your emails. Custom audiences will take B2B search marketing to the next level.

Which Option Is Right For My Business?

Your individual business goals will help you determine which tactics are right for you. Does your audience tend to hang out on social media like Facebook or Twitter? Or do they eschew social media and stick to search?

The size of your audience is also a factor. Most search and social engines require a minimum audience of 1,000 users, so if you don’t have that many email addresses on file, you won’t be able to take advantage of custom audiences or customer match. If that’s the case, you may want to try other tactics to start building your email list so you can use customer match in the future.

Cost is also a factor in determining what will be most effective. CPCs for B2B keywords on Google and Bing are often in the $20-30+ range. Can you afford to pay $30 for every click?

Social CPCs are much lower, but even within paid social, CPCs vary across engines. While LinkedIn is known for reaching a B2B audience, CPCs there are in the $7-8 range – and they’re even higher if you want to target C-level executives. Remember, conversion rates on paid social are often significantly lower than on paid search (unless you’re using custom audiences), so you may find worse ROI from LinkedIn than from paid search.

CPCs on Facebook and Twitter are lower, in the $1-2 range. Depending on your audience and your business goals, Facebook and Twitter can drive a high volume of qualified traffic.

As with all things paid search, testing and measuring is critical. Try various channels and tactics and measure like crazy to find the pockets that are working for your business.

In Summary

There are more targeting options for B2B lead generation advertisers than ever before. With careful planning and the use of tactics like custom audiences and customer match, B2B advertisers can find laser-focused lead generation from paid search and paid social.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Acquisio Blog on April 5, 2016.

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How to Solve the 3 Biggest PPC Problems

Even the best PPC managers run into problems from time to time. But PPC problems aren’t really problems if you know how to solve them.

High Traffic, Low Conversions

Novice PPC managers and new advertisers will inevitably have a campaign or ad group that drives a lot of traffic, but few to no conversions. Remember, rarely will generating clicks be your goal – the goal is to drive conversion actions on your website.

But novice PPC managers will often fall into the trap of believing the search engines: focusing on high CTR and traffic. The default setting for search campaigns in both Google and Bing is “optimize for clicks,” rewarding the ads with the highest CTR.

Forget all that. Focus on your goal, which is driving conversions. If you have a campaign or ad group with high traffic and low conversions, first look at traffic by keyword. Is one keyword driving the bulk of non-converting clicks? If so, pause it right away. Did you accidentally use broad match when you meant to use exact match, or mistakenly add a keyword like “keyword”? (Don’t ask how I know this.)

Maybe you have an ad that isn’t performing – likely because it’s making a promise that’s not delivered on the landing page. Pause that ad.

Or maybe your landing page isn’t performing well. This is probably the most common reason I see for high traffic and low conversion rates – terrible landing pages. Take a long hard look at your landing pages and your website. You may even want to pause your PPC campaigns until you can fix the issues on your website.

Don’t forget to check and make sure your ads are driving to the right page, and that the page and any associated conversion tracking is working. It’s not unusual to find broken landing pages or tracking codes.

Low Quality Scores

Quality score is one of the most misunderstood metrics in terms of its importance. While I don’t believe you should optimize for quality score as one of your key KPIs, you shouldn’t ignore it either.

If you have a lot of low quality score keywords in your account, you have a problem. The problem may be as simple as being in an industry that has traditionally low quality scores  – a lot of B2B advertisers fall into this category. But if you’re an ecommerce advertiser, or you’re seeing low quality scores on brand terms, you have a problem.

Use the ad diagnostic tool to see where the problem lies. Is it your landing pages, CTR, relevance, or a combination of all three? The ad diagnostic tool will give you a starting point.

Then set about fixing the issues. If you have low quality score keywords that aren’t generating much traffic, or aren’t converting, just pause them. If they’re super relevant, or if they’re converting, consider moving them to their own ad group. Write very specific ad copy that includes the keyword. Use the very best landing page. Often these steps will boost quality score.

If your landing page is the problem, you can use Bing Ads Intelligence to help diagnose the issue.

Poor Landing Pages

This relates to the first two PPC problems – can you sense a theme here? Landing pages are often a huge issue, and yet are the last thing PPC pros focus on sometimes.

If your landing pages are poor, you’ll have trouble getting good ROI. Fixing your landing pages is a must. As mentioned earlier, you may have to pause your PPC campaigns temporarily while you fix your landing pages and website.

Look critically at all elements of the page. Does the page try to do too much? Is it cluttered, with no area of focus? Does it lack a headline and clear call to action? Try putting something in the cart and checking out. Are all the steps logical? Are there any barriers to conversion? Features like email signup interstitials and other popups are popular, and yet can distract a user from actually buying from you. Remove these from your landing pages, or wait to serve them until after the person has checked out.

With a little sleuthing, you can solve the biggest PPC problems. How do you solve tricky PPC problems? Share in the comments!

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Why SMB Retailers Don’t Do Search

Retail, or online shopping, is an integral part of Google and Bing’s success in PPC. Amazon and eBay are probably the best-known and most ever-present retailers in PPC, but countless others are selling millions of dollars of products via PPC every day. I got my start in search doing in-house PPC for an ecommerce site.

Despite all the activity by huge online retailers, a study released by BIA Kelsey shows that SMB retailers “only spend about $700 annually on paid search.”

$700 annually is nothing in the search world. Why aren’t these SMBs taking advantage of PPC, one of the most effective direct marketing channels out there?

Retail search is hard.

A few years ago, PPC was less complicated. You picked keywords, wrote ad copy, set your bids, and you were off and running. Nowadays, there is more competition in paid search, and limited inventory. There are only so many impressions for “Nike running shoes,” and hundreds of retailers selling them. It takes time, attention, and know-how to be successful in retail PPC.

Website optimization has gone to the next level, too. Tools like Unbounce and Optimizely have made it easy and inexpensive for even novice website owners to run multivariate tests. Ecommerce tools like Magento and Shopify have streamlined the back end of ecommerce, including shopping cart software. While these tools have made some tasks easier, they’ve also leveled the playing field – making small businesses that don’t use these tools look unprofessional.

And anyone who’s ever tried to set up a Google Shopping feed can tell you that feed setup alone is enough to make even seasoned PPC pros give up. Google Shopping is a powerful tool for ecommerce vendors, but it requires different skills and optimization tactics than traditional keyword PPC. It’s nearly impossible for a small mom-and-pop store owner to master both Shopping and keyword search, and SMBs can’t afford to hire agencies to do this for them.

Retail search is time-consuming to manage.

Let’s take 2 examples. If you’re a small hair salon with a website, chances are you have one conversion: booking an appointment. You might bid on keywords that describe the various services you offer in the salon, but those will stay relatively static over time, and the goal is to drive appointments. PPC for this type of small business is straightforward.

Now, let’s say you’re a small women’s clothing retailer. Even though you only sell to women, you probably have multiple items available for sale. And each item comes in different sizes, styles, and colors. You don’t just have women’s sweaters: you have women’s cotton cardigans in sizes 2-16 and a variety of colors; women’s crewneck wool sweaters in sizes 2-18 in navy, gray, and green; women’s cashmere sleeveless sweaters in sizes 2-16 in 5 colors, etc. You probably also sell pants, skirts, blouses, blazers, shoes, and accessories – each in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. It’s easy to see how running PPC for even a focused small business like this would quickly become a full-time job.

So what do small retailers do for marketing? According to the study, most SMBs in the retail space spend their money on social media.

Social Seems Easier

If you’re a small retailer, you may have an hour a day to spend on marketing (and that’s if you’re lucky). What are you going to do with that hour? Are you going to do keyword research, write ad copy, review bids, set up a shopping feed, look at search query reports, and create reporting dashboards? Or are you going to write a few Facebook posts and schedule them for publication?

Social media, especially Facebook, feels familiar to most people these days. Even our grandparents are on Facebook. For retailers, it’s easy to talk about a product or promotion, add a link, and call it a day – after all, you’re probably in Facebook anyway checking your personal feed. What better way to tell people about your business than by posting photos and links on Facebook?

Even Facebook Ads seem easier than search PPC – and SMB retailers spend 11.2% of their budget on Facebook ads, compared to 2.7% on paid search.

Facebook ads can be targeted locally. While search ads can, too, search ads feel more complicated. And Facebook ads can be targeted by interest. The small women’s clothing retailer in our earlier example can easily run Facebook ads targeting women ages 25-45, within a 20 mile radius of their store, who like fashion, are professionals, etc. For Facebook ads, you just describe your target customer and set that as targeting. No keywords, bids, or other “hard” stuff to worry about.

Still, less than 30% of SMB retailers are using Facebook ads. Most of them are just doing organic Facebook posts. And who sees those? Current customers and a few of their friends, maybe?

SMB Retailers Focused on Current Customers

According to the study, “retail SMBs are more invested in customer lists than SMBs in other verticals”. Marketing to current customers, especially in retail consumable goods, is smart. It’s easier to woo a returning customer than to acquire a new one. SMB retailers are also using mobile marketing such as mobile coupons and text messages.

It’s great to see that SMBs are taking advantage of mobile marketing, and paying attention to current customers. Many larger businesses could learn from them.

But there needs to be a balance between marketing to current customers and acquiring the customers in the first place. Search is probably one of the most efficient ways to attract new customers – but only if you know what you’re doing. The knowledge gap is why most retailers don’t use search.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on The SEM Post on July 16, 2015.

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Does PPC Work For All Businesses?

Matt Umbro started an interesting discussion last week with his post titled Why SMBs Should Not Run AdWords Accounts. He defines SMBs as advertisers with a budget of $500 per month or less, and says that’s not enough budget to compete and be successful.

Mark Kennedy wrote a detailed counterpoint on the topic called Paid Search Can Work for SMBs – Even the Little Guys! Both Matt and Mark’s posts were well thought out and made good arguments.

Believe it or not, I’ve been mulling this topic for some time, after I saw this question on Quora: Does Google AdWords work for all businesses? The answers to the question range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but one poster sums it up well:

“(Adwords) also only really works if you know what the hell you’re doing… It’s so easy to burn through budgets very quickly and pay for clicks from people who never had any intention of becoming a lead or purchasing anything from you.

All the clients I’ve had have attempted some form of PPC themselves, realised they thought it was simple but they’ve spent a whole load of money on something they don’t understand. I’ve then gone into the account, showed them the type of keywords people have entered which they have paid for – this tends to shock them because they thought they were bidding on exact match keywords. They also tend to lack conversion tracking (if there is no measure of what is success, how can you be successful?).”

I’ve written before about why inexperienced people should not attempt to DIY PPC. It’s too expensive and there are too many pitfalls, as the Quora poster says above. No matter what your budget, if you haven’t outlined clear goals and set up conversion tracking, Adwords or any other PPC program will not work for you.

But what about the small business question? Should small businesses use Adwords?

I’ve run small PPC campaigns a few times in my career. Some were agency clients, and some were side jobs I took on. I have to be honest: I haven’t found $500/month clients to be very profitable, for me or for them. In his post, Mark Kennedy offers several examples of small clients who used geotargeting and other tactics to their advantage.

That’s great, and it makes sense – but I’ve found that Facebook works much better in most of these instances. Clicks on Facebook are significantly cheaper than clicks on Adwords or even Bing, so your money goes a lot further. Even direct ecommerce or lead generation is more efficient on Facebook at small budgets, in my opinion. Matt Umbro also mentioned Facebook as a good alternative for small advertisers.

Mark Kennedy also talks about how to charge for small clients. This is where the problem lies, in my opinion. Mark says he charges about $75 per month for $500 clients. Even if you only charge $75 per hour for your time (which is low for this industry), that only gives you an hour per month to work on that client’s account. In his post, Mark says “Phone calls that are just a quick question turn into hour-long conversations. An email with one question turns into a trail of follow-ups.”

That’s been my experience as well – small clients are less sophisticated, and need more hand-holding. They often don’t understand basic marketing principles, much less the nuances of Adwords. They frequently have issues on their website that need troubleshooting – and lack an in-house developer to fix them, leaving me to answer web dev questions (which, trust me, is not a good use of their time based on my limited dev knowledge!).

So if you spend an hour on the phone answering quick questions, you’re done for the month – or you start losing money on a client that’s already paying you at the low end of the rate scale. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now if you’re running a small PPC campaign part time as an in-house marketer, and you have some PPC knowledge, a $500 budget might work. But in my opinion, there are better uses of your $500.

It’s been interesting to watch the conversation on PPCChat on this topic. What’s your take? Share in the comments!

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