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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PPC: Anything But Routine

Robert Brady wrote a great post this week over at the Clix Marketing blog called How Valuable Are PPC Skills Anyway? I love the perspective he shared on PPC skills and commoditization – something that’s been talked about a lot in the search blogosphere of late.

Some people have wondered whether automation will eventually put PPC professionals out of a job. It’s a fair point. Look at the manufacturing industry, where many jobs have been taken over by machines and robots, and others have been shipped overseas, where labor is cheap. Could the same thing happen in PPC?

In his article, Robert postulates that routine PPC tasks can be done via automation. If you’re just doing routine tasks, your job may be in jeopardy. There are tools out there that can do bid management, budget management, keyword research, ad testing, and many other routine tasks.

But if you’re actually working on strategy, and overseeing the work that the tools do, then your job should be secure. Check out this graph that Robert referenced in his post:

graph
Back in 1983, when I graduated high school, the same number of people were employed in routine cognitive and non-routine cognitive jobs. Over the past 30 years, the number of routine cognitive jobs hasn’t grown – the line is nearly flat. But non-routine cognitive jobs have grown – and at a faster rate than the other 3 job types.

Strategic PPC is non-routine cognitive work. I can’t tell you the last time I did the same thing 2 days in a row. It doesn’t happen. Are there routine tasks I perform? Sure. Do I do the exact same thing every day for every account? Absolutely not!

There is a place for routine work in every job out there. But if you’re spending every day doing routine tasks, your job may be taken over by automation someday soon.

It’s my hope that all PPC professionals end up doing non-routine cognitive work. It’s what makes this industry so much fun. It’s also my hope that search marketing conferences start focusing less on how-to tactics and more on strategy. It’s in PPC strategy that our value lies.

Do yourself a favor and check out Robert’s post if you haven’t already. And if you’re practicing or teaching assembly line PPC, you might want to start thinking about PPC strategy a little more. Check out the “pay per click strategy” section on this blog. Read blogs by others. Focus on objectives. Ask “why” every day. In short, make sure you’re doing non-routine cognitive work.

Did you read Robert’s article? How do you balance routine PPC tasks with non-routine PPC strategy? Share in the comments!

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Let’s Not Kill B2B Whitepapers Just Yet

A couple weeks ago, my friend Kirk Williams wrote a thought-provoking post on the Wordstream blog called Can We Please Kill the Whitepaper in B2B PPC?. When I saw the title, my hackles went up. I started to think: “Kirk, how could you?”, because Kirk is one of my favorite people in PPC.

As I read the post, I found myself agreeing with him. What he’s really saying is we need to kill bad whitepapers in PPC. Bad whitepapers, according to Kirk, are “all too often nothing more than repurposed sales material.”

I agree.

The whole reason for using B2B whitepapers in PPC is to generate awareness and consideration for your product or service. B2B whitepapers are often used in the early stages of the buying cycle, when users are in research mode. No one wants to be sold to when they’re trying to do research. We all know how annoying it is when we’re trying to browse for a new appliance, car, or other considered purchase and some salesperson pounces on us with a hard sell. We don’t like it. Neither do B2B prospects. Repurposed sales material posing as a whitepaper is not helpful and should definitely die.

But good B2B whitepapers are a great fit for PPC. Our clients have created whitepapers offering opinions on news in their industry, checklists for businesses to consider when making a purchase, overviews of how to use their product, and many other valuable topics. The key is to create whitepapers that answer questions the prospect may have as they’re doing research.

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re doing in-house PPC, and your campaigns have grown to the point that you’re thinking about bid management software. This is not an inexpensive purchase, and there are many technical aspects to consider. You probably have 100 questions about what bid management software does and how it can work for your business.

Do you want to read sales brochures at this point? Of course not. You want to read case studies and information on how bid management software has helped businesses like yours.

That’s where the whitepaper comes in. A good whitepaper on bid management will explain what it is, what it can and cannot do, and how businesses can benefit. It will not be a sales brochure.

In his article, Kirk listed several alternatives to the whitepaper. They’re all great. We’ve found, though, that in situations where the user is early in the research process, free trials and discounts are too far from where the buyer is in his or her journey. Buyers at the early stages need something informative that doesn’t feel like a big commitment. Good whitepapers are just the thing.

Should bad B2B whitepapers die? Absolutely. Should all B2B whitepapers die? Of course not! Whitepapers are useful tools that belong in every B2B marketer’s arsenal. And I think that’s exactly what Kirk was saying in his article.

What do you think? Are whitepapers helpful to you as a B2B marketer or B2B buyer? Or should they be killed off? Share in the comments!

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PPC Professionals: The Mechanics of Digital

Earlier this week, I took my car to the shop for an oil change and tire rotation. 30 minutes and $30 later, it was done. Easy.

When I was a kid, it was common for people to change their own oil. Cars were simpler then. My first car was a 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Yes, I’m dating myself. But I loved that car. It looked just like this one except it was powder blue. It was awesome. I wish I still had it.

Anyway, back then cars were simple. You could easily change the oil, the filter, the air filter (which I did myself many times, it was a 5 minute job), the spark plugs (which I also changed), and many other parts to keep it running. The mechanics of it were simple.

Fast forward to cars now. I now drive a 2011 GMC Acadia Denali. I love this car too. It’s big and bossy and has lots of fun toys, including satellite radio, OnStar, and a fancy nav display.

I can’t fix a single thing in this car.

The engine is crammed into a third of the space of the engine in my Gran Torino. Everything’s hooked up to computers. I’m afraid to even open the hood, much less try to tinker with anything under there.

Keeping PPC running well is a lot like keeping a car running well. When I started doing PPC in 2002, it was simple: keywords and ad copy. No Google Display network. No remarketing. No social PPC. No multi-device fancy stuff. Just keywords and ad copy. PPC was easy for a novice to do, and do well. I fell into it as a special project, and we made money the first day, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. I was, in essence, changing my own oil.

Nowadays, PPC is complicated, just like my Acadia. It’s easy to mess up royally and cost yourself thousands of dollars. There’s way more competition than there was in 2002, so CPCs are higher. There’s Bing and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram…. the head spins just thinking about it.

PPC is not DIY. It hasn’t been for a long time. I know that if I try to mess around with anything under the hood of my Acadia, I’ll screw it up and it’ll be an expensive mistake. The same thing goes for amateur PPC managers. It’s cheaper and better in the long run to hire PPC professionals.

What do you think? Can PPC still be done DIY? Or do you need a pro to succeed? Share in the comments!

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Assembly-Line PPC Is Not PPC Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

slideshare tags

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

 

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On Hiring A PPC Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Ideal Number Of Keywords Per Ad Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for similarities.

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

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

Consider grouping by match type.

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

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

twitter convo

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

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

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

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