3 PPC Features That Aren’t Ready For Prime Time – 2017 Edition

Almost exactly 2 years ago, I wrote about 3 PPC features that weren’t ready for prime time – the new (at that time) Adwords Editor, Bing Ads UET, and LinkedIn Ads.

The first two features have come a long way in 2 years. The issues I talked about with Adwords Editor stopped soon after, and I finally got used to it, even though I liked the old Editor better. I’ve gotten used to its quirks, though, and now that the Bing Ads Editor has followed the same format, it’s become my everyday workflow.

The developers and UI engineers at Bing Ads have gone to great lengths to make UET easier to use. The setup is much more intuitive than it was 2 years ago. It’s as easy to use as Google Analytics.

As for LinkedIn Ads? Keep reading. Here are 3 PPC features that aren’t ready for prime time, the 2017 edition.

LinkedIn Ads

LinkedIn Ads should be a no-brainer for B2B advertisers. In fact, it’s the paid social channel that our clients think of first – everyone wants to advertise in LinkedIn.

The problem is, their UI is horrible. Their reporting is horrible. Their CPCs are astronomical compared to other channels like Facebook – and Facebook’s B2B targeting now rivals LinkedIn’s.

I complained about LinkedIn in 2013 and again in 2015. Here it is 2017, and I’m still complaining about them. I had hoped that when Microsoft bought them, things would improve. That’s still possible – the details of the purchase are still being worked through legal. But right now, it’s a mess to use – and has been for 4 years at least.

Twitter Ads

I used to like Twitter Ads. We’ve used them effectively for several clients over the years. But they haven’t kept pace with the times. The ads interface, even the new one, is clunky to use. Reporting is horrible – as bad as LinkedIn’s. Targeting on Twitter Ads is awful. Unless you know the exact Twitter handles you want to target, you’re basically shooting in the dark. Keyword targeting is a joke. There isn’t any real B2B targeting. Behavior targeting is totally B2C focused, and even then is missing key categories.

Check out the business types available:


A whopping 2 types! Are they kidding?

And what about job titles?

If you’re not targeting executives or the C-suite, forget it. And these poor people are bombarded with ad messages as it is.

There is so much potential here, but the limited targeting and broad reach just doesn’t work for most advertisers. On top of that, their conversion tracking tags don’t seem to work – or at least we can never get them to work. You’re relegated to tracking in GA, or not at all.

Bing Ads Remarketing

Sorry, Bing Ads – I love you guys, I really do, but the remarketing program leaves a lot to be desired. At this point, only RLSA is available in Bing – retargeting visitors as they perform searches. RLSA is a high-performing, but very low volume, tactic. With Bing’s smaller audience to begin with, compared to Google, it’s hard to move the needle with RLSA on Bing for all but the largest advertisers.

Also, up until a week ago, Bing Ads didn’t offer exclusions for remarketing. Sorry guys – that’s a huge miss. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote about how not to do remarketing, and one of the no-no’s was failing to exclude those who already converted. Up until a week ago, this wasn’t possible with Bing remarketing.

As I was thinking about the 2017 culprits, I realized that, in general, the search engines have gotten much better about making sure features work well before releasing them. I struggled to think of the last time an engine released a feature that was a nightmare to use. Sure, there have been boneheaded releases like automatically including phone numbers in ads, whether you want them or not, but this is an opt-out-or-you’re-stuck-with-it thing, not a feature we’re trying to actively use. So either the engines have made it easier on us, or we’re all getting more skilled. Probably a little bit of both.

What PPC features have you noticed that aren’t ready for prime time? Do you agree with my list? Share in the comments!

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PPC Remarketing: What Not To Do, 2017 Edition

More than two years ago, I wrote a post on PPC Remarketing: What Not To Do. It was one of the most-commented posts on this blog, with differing opinions on what makes sense.

Two years later, advertisers are still doing remarketing wrong. Now, I get that it’s still a somewhat new-ish concept, and not everyone is doing advanced remarketing yet. And that’s ok – we all have to start somewhere. But when I see basic mistakes being made by large companies, it makes me cringe.

Here’s the example I saw today that prompted this:

This was at the very top of the page, above a news article I was reading. The good news? It’s a huge banner – you can’t miss it. How did I know it was a remarketing ad?

Because I’ve already booked a stay here.

Next week, I’m speaking at a client convention in Los Angeles. I booked my hotel over a month ago. Earlier this week, I dug out the reservation confirmation email, and clicked through a link to prepare for my stay. And now I’m being bombarded by ads asking me to book this hotel in LA! How many stays do they think I’m going to be booking?

Clearly, this is how not to do PPC remarketing. Don’t target people who clicked through a reservation confirmation email and ask them to book!

Of course, as I’m known to do, I posted a comment on #ppcchat. I loved the responses I got:

I agree with Julie – I’d love to see the stats on how many remarketing ads just run without any parameters or audiences. I can see serving ads for a perk, as Julie suggests, such as a rewards signup. Or a dining offer at one of the hotel restaurants. Or 25% off a massage in the spa. Or whatever – the point is, remarketing would be highly effective to the already-converted audience as an upsell. It’s not at all effective to ask those who’ve already booked a room to book a room.

It’s so simple to set up an exclusion for people who converted. As mentioned earlier, the hotel could set up a PPC remarketing audience of users who visited the site from a confirmation email referral. Failing that, they could exclude everyone who viewed the reservation confirmation page.

There are exceptions, though, as Steve Seeley pointed out:

Fair enough – and I agree, some agencies and/or advertisers don’t link their AdWords and Google Analytics accounts. I get that there are reasons why this happens. But if you can’t do remarketing correctly, you shouldn’t be doing it!

We then got into interesting use cases for PPC:

I’ve seen similar situations to the one Jason describes: getting remarketed with ads for a product I just bought. Again, it’s not hard, as Richard Fergie suggests, to drop a long cookie and delay showing ads until you’re likely to be ready to repurchase. Tires do wear out, as do clothes and shoes; food gets consumed; etc. Learn your buying cycle or buyer journey and show ads at the appropriate time. Yes, it takes some research and some time to set up, but this is really what remarketing is designed for – not harassing people with irrelevant ads, but showing them ads that are useful.

I love the conversations we have on #ppcchat. I always learn something and get great ideas. Just as I was smiling from all the cool interaction, I got this:

Sigh.

Have you seen any what-not-to-do remarketing ads lately? Got any tips for the right way to do PPC remarketing? Share in the comments!

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The Importance of Audiences In PPC

Happy New Year to all my readers! Every year I do a reader poll to see what you want me to write about. This year, the topic with the most votes was audiences in PPC.

It seems like everyone is talking about audiences. In the annual “what’s next for search in 2017” posts, every single one included multiple mentions of audiences and their importance to PPC.

Take this quote from Brad Geddes in the adStage blog:

And this, from Marc Poirier on Search Engine Journal:

These and other predictions posts are worth a read – there’s great content beyond that of audiences. But the point is, audiences are here to stay, and they’re big.

Julie Friedman Bacchini wrote a great post earlier this week about the demise of keywords. While I don’t think keywords are going away any time soon, we are in for a different reality when it comes to search.

For one thing, social PPC is here to stay, and audience targeting is the focal point. It’s true that you can use keywords to target social ads, but keyword targeting alone is insufficient for social PPC success. You must layer audiences onto the mix.

Remarketing is here to stay too, and it’s a great example of using audiences in PPC. In fact, remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) is a match made in heaven of search intent and audience targeting combined.

Why are audiences so important in PPC? After all, in the early days, we didn’t think about audiences at all.

Audiences bring us back to the basics of marketing. Eons ago, in business school, I learned about the 4 P’s of marketing: people, place, price, and promotion. In search, the “people” piece was historically the least thought-about aspect. Do we really care who’s searching, as long as they click and convert?

Turns out, we do need to care. Search has evolved over the years: it’s become much more competitive and expensive, for one thing. Advertisers who were happy to pay for lots of non-converting traffic at $0.05 per click are probably not real happy about that traffic at $5 per click. Search had to evolve in order for advertisers to maintain profit. And that’s where audiences come in.

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be writing more about audiences in PPC and the various ways they can be used to take your campaigns to the next level. I’ll talk about audiences in search, in paid social, and in remarketing. I’m hoping to get a few guest bloggers on board to offer their views on audiences in PPC. And of course, as always, I want to hear from you! Have audiences become super important for you in your PPC efforts, or are you just dipping your toes in? Share in the comments!

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Where Facebook Ads Are Beating Google

Now and then, we see talk in the blogosphere about Facebook Ads being the next best thing in online advertising. For years, I viewed that sentiment with skepticism. How could a social network, with no search or intent, ever perform better than Google?

Well, Facebook recently launched a Shop function. And while it hasn’t taken off in a big way yet, it could. Just think about all the data Facebook has that Google doesn’t.

Here’s the kicker, though. As I was setting up a new Facebook Ads campaign this week, it hit me. Facebook makes advertising easy by focusing on advertiser goals: what do you want to accomplish?

facebook ads objectives
Just look at this. Not only are the goals stated in plain English (reach people near your business, collect leads for your business, increase conversions on your website, etc.), but Facebook has grouped the objectives along the buyer journey.

Think about that for a second.

Nearly every advertiser we work with understands at least a little about how users go about deciding to buy from them. Whether their product is an impulse buy or a long-term consideration deal, the advertiser knows where they fall.

And most of the time, the advertiser knows what they want to do, even if it’s in basic terms: “We need to increase sales.” “No one knows about us, so we need to create awareness.” “We want people to attend our event later this month.” Simple.

Not only does Facebook make it easy to choose your objective, they tailor the campaign setup experience to your objective. Different objectives have different ad options. While this may seem confusing or complex to those of us used to setting up Adwords campaigns, for a novice advertiser it’s much more intuitive. There are fewer levers to pull, but also fewer choices to try to understand.

Facebook also optimizes campaigns for your objectives. More often than not these days, I just set my Facebook Ads campaigns to optimize for my objective. Why bother dealing with bid management when you don’t need to? We get great CPCs and reach on Facebook even when we use auto-optimize.

Why is that? Well for one thing, Facebook has frequency – something Google Search doesn’t have. People don’t always search for the same thing over and over, but on Facebook, you can see the same ad multiple times, making it harder to forget. And Facebook knows who we are – which can be a huge hurdle for search, where you have the intent portion, but no idea whether the person searching falls into your target audience.

Let’s contrast the Facebook experience with Adwords. Here’s the first page in Adwords signup:

adwords-signup-1
Yikes, an email opt-in. Not the best start. Before I even know whether I want to do this or not, Google is asking for my email address. Facebook already has it, since you need an email address to sign up. It’s the same thing, but feels different to the user.

And then there’s Adwords Step 2:

adwords-signup-2

Hoo boy. Complicated language about a campaign (what’s that??), a budget (whoa), “choose a target audience,” which doesn’t look like a target audience from the mindset of a novice advertiser, and “set your bid.”

Think about this for a second. Two of the three steps have to do with money – before I even see what I’m getting or who I’m reaching, I have to tell Google how much I’m willing to spend each day and for every click – and “Adwords automatically sets your bids to help you get as many clicks as possible within your budget.” And I pay for every one of those clicks!

Can you see the difference here? Facebook focuses on the experience – they don’t ask for a budget until everything is set up, and if you choose to let them optimize, you never see a bid at all. Instead, Facebook thinks about campaigns the way advertisers do – by objective and audience.

Looking at it another way, let’s say I’m talking to a new prospect who is thinking about doing online advertising. Do I go in and immediately ask them to opt in to our agency emails, and then immediately ask them what their budget is? Or do I ask them what their goals and objectives are, and talk about their target audience? Which of these approaches is going to win me the sale?

Exactly.

Now of course I love Adwords. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. And Adwords campaigns are some of the most effective around. We have countless options: text, image, video ads; remarketing, Google Display… the list goes on. In the hands of an experienced professional, Adwords is a beautiful thing indeed.

But to the advertiser, it’s confusing. How many hours do we all spend each week just trying to explain Adwords to clients? Yet everyone understands Facebook, because they use it every day; and because it makes marketing sense to them.

And who knows? We may see Facebook overtake Google at some point.

What do you think? Is Facebook’s approach more logical than Google’s? Will Facebook Ads continue to grow in importance, or will Google remain king? Share in the comments!

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Using Competitive PPC Intelligence Effectively

Earlier this week, an interesting discussion started on the PPCChat hashtag on Twitter regarding the use of competitive PPC intelligence obtained from tools such as SEMrush, SpyFu, and iSpionage, as well as visiting competitor websites. I commented that I was doing competitor research, and wondered how many remarketing ads I’d see as a result.

A few PPCChat’ers suggested some ways to avoid being retargeted. Shashikant Kore recommended using the incognito window of Chrome. Dan Nicholson said he uses a separate Google account or user in Chrome to avoid that problem. These are great suggestions if you don’t want to be followed around by irrelevant remarketing ads.

The discussion then turned to competitor landing page reviews. Julie Bacchini asked:  “Is it one of your standard practices to visit competitor sites too to see their remarketing?” John Ellis replied, “Yes, not only visit the site, but explore different pages to get the most variety possible.”

I do this as well – at a minimum, I’ll visit competitor landing pages and take screen shots to share with our clients. Often, we get ideas from competitor landing pages – or at least we learn what not to do!

But what if you want to see what competitors are doing with remarketing? There are definitely instances where this would be helpful, especially if your clients are asking for this information.

Julie Bacchini said she subscribes to email lists of competitors and follows them on social media. I’ve done this before, or I’ll set up Google Alerts for the competitor name to see what shows up.

Steve Seeley took it a step further: “I do the same, then target Gmail users with their domain and advertise better offers.” Great idea (and very sneaky!)

We then got into a lengthy and detailed conversation about the accuracy of competitor PPC intelligence on traffic volume and spend. Timothy Jensen put the following out there:

General PSA: don’t ever rely on a competitor tool for competitor spend estimates that are anywhere close to accurate.

I agreed, saying we use the data directionally, rather than as the exact amount. For example, if the tool says your client is spending $10,000 per month and Competitor A is spending $50,000 per month, you can assume that Competitor A is outspending your client by a factor of 5 to 1.

But Kirk Williams argued that even directional data can be off the mark: “When I analyzed my clients it ranged from like -200% to +500% in accuracy.” Jason Channell countered by saying he’d tested several of the tools against campaigns where he knew the spend, and the tool was accurate within plus or minus 20%. That’s been my experience as well. I can live with a margin of +/- 20%.

So why is Kirk seeing estimates that are that far off? It could be that some competitors (or his clients) are using dayparting, geotargeting, or even device targeting that’s throwing off the tools. Remember, competitive PPC intelligence tools scrape the SERPs and estimate – they don’t actually KNOW what everyone is spending. They scrape and guess. So things like geotargeting can throw off the accuracy, or even cause the tools to report no spend at all.

If tools are really so inaccurate, should we even use them? The consensus seemed to be that yes, competitor intelligence tools still have value, especially those that show the ads and keywords competitors are using (most tools do this). As far as spend goes, Kirk Williams had a great idea: just say “tool estimates aren’t exact, but it does look like you’re on the low end of spend.” I always include a caveat in any competitor report saying the numbers are estimates only.

Finally, I loved the suggestion from Kevin Cronin: “I try to shift conversation from competitor spend to ‘is this the right channel/targeting for you? If yes, take advantage.’” I’ve written many a post on this blog about PPC strategy, and that’s what Kevin’s point gets to – what is your ultimate goal anyway? Focus on that and not your competitors. One of the great aspects of PPC is that the “little guys” can compete with advertisers with deeper pockets, simply by sticking to their own goals and finding their niche.

How do you use competitive PPC intelligence data? Do you find it to be wildly inaccurate, or is it good enough? Share in the comments!

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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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