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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The Importance of Focus for Your PPC Strategy

Note From Melissa: I’m thrilled to have Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon as my guest blogger today, covering a topic near and dear to my heart: PPC strategy.

Anyone who works in marketing has certainly heard the advice to “know your audience.” It is such a well-known adage, that honestly it seems like it is often taken for granted when it comes to a lot of marketing strategy. This can be particularly true when it comes to PPC.

Does this scenario sound at all familiar to you?

PPC Pro to Client: Who is the target audience you are trying to reach with this campaign?

Client: We don’t really have a target audience. Anyone could be our client/customer.

PPC Pro: Well, for the sake of this strategy, if you had to narrow your focus to your ideal customer/client, who would that be?

Client: It’s really hard to say, since anyone could be our customer/client.

And around and around it goes…

After suppressing your eye roll, what do you do next?

Any marketer knows, at a bare minimum, there needs to be a target audience that is smaller than “everyone on earth” for any marketing effort. For companies without the resources of a huge brand, proper focus on reaching people who might actually buy what they are selling is even more important. Reaching people who are reasonably likely to buy what they are selling is even better!

When I have a client who is particularly resistant to letting go of the “but everyone is our audience” mentality, I will try asking them a simple question – how much are you willing to spend on clicks that have a zero to very slim chance of converting? $10? $100? $1,000? $10,000? Most clients will answer that question by saying they don’t want to spend any money on this type of click.  They want to pay for clicks for people who will actually buy stuff from them.

OK! We are almost there when it comes to really helping them realize the wisdom in not viewing PPC as a shotgun approach type of marketing. Obviously every click does not result in a sale, but with proper focus on targeting we will greatly increase the likelihood of clicks resulting in the desired conversion action.

Here is an example of a situation where a client moved from “everyone” to “targeted” in their approach to PPC:

WHO: A regional company who serves states east of the Mississippi

ORIGINAL PARAMETERS: Wanted to run their PPC nationally.

WHY DID THEY WANT THIS: Well, someone might be searching outside of the actual states that we serve but want our product in a state where we do sell it.

MY RESPONSE: OK, I get what you’re saying. But, are you willing to spend thousands of dollars in PPC advertising reaching people who you literally cannot sell to just to be sure you don’t maybe, possibly miss a tiny sliver of people who don’t fit what we’ve defined as your target audience for PPC?

END RESULT: Only running campaigns in their actual geographic region.

But let’s say that your client does have an idea of the types of people that make up their target audience. Is that entire set the right match for their PPC initiatives? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Here is an example of a client who further refined their keyword focus for PPC versus their SEO efforts:

WHO: A local home services company

ORIGINAL PARAMETERS: Wanted to target every possible type of term that related to their service, regardless of user intent for their paid search.

WHY DID THEY WANT THIS: All of these keywords are relevant to what we do.

MY RESPONSE: Yes, all of these keywords are relevant to your business. But, your industry is highly competitive and CPCs are high. Do you really want to spend upwards of $40 per click for people who are looking for information about how to do the repair work themselves or do you want to spend that money on someone who wants to have a service provider come to their house right now?

END RESULT: Campaigns focus on terms indicating immediate or emergency needs.

It all comes down to this when defining a target audience for your PPC efforts – who, exactly, are you willing to pay for this directly? I’m not saying that a larger pool of potential audience should be completely ignored, at all. But, reaching those who are not nearly as likely to convert is probably better executed through marketing channels other than PPC. For example, SEO or branding ads through display can be a much better method to try to capture some of the potential customers that don’t completely match your PPC target audience.

So, next time you’re meeting with a client and starting to talk about the target audience for a PPC campaign, remember that the answer can be different from the general “who is your target audience” question, and is for most clients.

Julie Friedman Bacchini is an expert in search marketing with over 15 years of experience in the digital space. She brings a strategic marketing perspective to all her projects, helping her clients boost their revenue and gain coveted market share. You can find her speaking at search and trade group conferences, blogging at, and on Twitter @NeptuneMoon.

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What’s In a Good PPC Report?

Whether you’re an in-house or agency PPC professional, chances are you’ll need to provide regular reports on campaign performance.

There is usually a lot of talk on SEM news sites and forums about the type of data available from the PPC engines; the metrics seem nearly endless. Stats are available on CTR, CPC, conversion rate, conversion rate by position, data by network (display vs. search vs. retargeting vs. social PPC, etc.), Google Analytics or other web analytics data… The list goes on.

But few people seem to discuss how and what data should be presented.

Numbers Need Context

Unfortunately, too many PPC reports just regurgitate a bunch of numbers from AdWords, adCenter, and web analytics. Clients and upper managers receive spreadsheet upon spreadsheet with impressions, clicks, CTR, conversions, conversion rate, and cost per conversion – and no context whatsoever. They look kind of like this:

report example
While PPC pros know what those numbers represent, even a seasoned professional will have a hard time deciding whether the numbers are “good” or “bad” without context – so imagine how your client, or chief marketing officer, feels when he or she gets this spreadsheet in their inbox. They’re probably full of more questions than answers:

•    What happened before this time frame?
•    What’s typical for this time of year?
•    What is the goal of this PPC campaign?
•    Are the numbers up, down, or sideways?
•    Why are the numbers up, down, or sideways?
•    What the heck does this mean, anyway?

A good PPC report relies less on the numbers themselves, and more on why the numbers are meaningful. One way to remember this is to ask yourself the question “So what?” when looking at data:

•    What insight can be drawn from this data?
•    Are key metrics following normal seasonal trends, or is something off the mark?
•    If something’s off the mark, why?
•    Did you run a particularly successful ad copy test?
•    Was there something in the news that spiked click-throughs, but didn’t drive conversions?
•    What’s going on, and what does it mean to the advertiser?

In fact, at gyro, all of our reports and most of our presentations include a What, So What, Now What section. This format helps us to focus on what’s important to the client, rather than charts and graphs.

If you must include charts with total impressions, clicks, and conversions, put them in an appendix at the end of the report. Some clients and bosses really do like to pore through raw data, so let them – but only after you’ve told the key story.

Or, show the data in a meaningful way, like this:
sample summary slideThis one slide in a report often tells business decision makers everything they need to know about their PPC campaign, in one easy-to-grasp view.

The new report function in Adwords is another way to quickly create meaningful charts and graphs.

Numbers Should Align with Goals

A surprising number of PPC campaigns are launched every day before campaign goals are defined. When I see a campaign with a mish-mash of keywords, the home page as the landing page, and no conversion tracking, I can be pretty confident the campaign has no goal.

A PPC campaign without goals is like grocery shopping without a list. You may come home with a cart full of groceries, and you may have gotten some deals – but did you buy what you really needed? Smart grocery shoppers never set foot in a store without a list, and smart PPC advertisers never log in to AdWords without a goal in mind.

To that end, a good PPC report should include a statement defining the campaign goals, and whether they were achieved.

•    Is there a target cost per conversion you’re trying to reach?
•    Are there certain products on which you were trying to increase sales this month?
•    Did you launch a campaign with new and different goals?

Every chart, graph, and narrative should be created with the following in mind: how does this information illustrate whether the goals were achieved?

PPC generates so much data that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds looking at “interesting” statistics. But just because something’s interesting doesn’t mean that it’s important. If it doesn’t relate to goals, leave it out!

Numbers Should Point to Recommendations

In many ways, PPC reports are kind of like looking in the rear-view mirror, reviewing what’s already happened. But that doesn’t mean the report should only reflect history.

A good PPC report should include recommendations and plans forward, so the client or boss knows what will happen next. In fact, the recommendations should form the basis of any conversations that come out of the report: the dialogue should be centered on next steps in the optimization process. This is the “Now What” portion of the report.

The next time you prepare a PPC report, keep these tips in mind. Your client, or your boss, will thank you.

What about you? What elements are must-haves in your PPC reports? Share in the comments!

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article appeared at Search Engine Watch on August 9, 2011.

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Using Bing Ads Intelligence To Improve Quality Score

PPC tools are an invaluable part of everyday life in the PPC world. One tool that serves multiple purposes is the Bing Ads Intelligence Excel plugin tool.

Not only can you use Bing Ads Intelligence for keyword research, but it’s also helpful in improving your quality scores.

You may be wondering how a keyword research tool can help you fix your quality scores. Let’s walk through the process for using Bing Ads Intelligence to improve quality score.

We’ll start with the keyword report shown below.

kw grid
Now, this report will be for Bing Ads data; if you’re like most advertisers, Bing probably only represents about 30% of your PPC traffic. You may be wondering, “Why bother with Bing when most of my traffic comes from Google?”

Well, while there are differences in the quality score algorithm between the two engines, it’s rare that a keyword with a poor quality score on Bing will have a high quality score on Google, and vice versa. For the remainder of this post, that’s our assumption.

Many advertisers have hundreds, if not thousands, of keywords, so prioritizing optimization efforts is a must.

Look at your average quality score and quality impact by campaign. While we know that averages lie, they are a good place to start prioritizing.

The easiest way to get average quality score by campaign is using pivot tables. The pivot table field list will look like this:

pivot field list
The table itself will look like this:

The highlighted rows are the campaigns with the worst average quality scores, so these are the ones we’ll focus on. (Note: I removed all keywords with quality scores of 0.)

In looking at the highlighted campaigns, 2 things are clear. First, the campaigns with the lowest average quality score are also the campaigns with the highest average quality impact. No surprise there. Second, the average landing page relevance is lower than the average keyword relevance, not only on the targeted campaigns, but on all campaigns. Now we’re getting closer to the problem!

Let’s go back to our low-QS campaign keyword report again. This time, we’ll isolate the keywords that have poor quality scores. I’m using actual keywords this time to make it easier to follow.

kw list
It’s important to note here that only the overall Quality Score is measured on a scale from 1 to 10. Keyword relevance is assessed by either 1 (Poor), 2 (No Problem), or 3 (Good). Landing page relevance is either 1 (Poor) or 2 (No Problem). So, all of the keywords above have a poor landing page relevance score; the keyword relevance is either “No Problem” or “Good.”

At this point, it would be easy to jump right in with a landing page optimization project. Not so fast! While that is the logical next step, Bing Ads Intelligence can help direct your optimization project.

Bing Ads Intelligence has many useful features, and the first one we’ll use for landing page assessment is the Keywords Categories tool:

kw categories
As I mentioned earlier, the great thing about Bing Ads Intelligence is that it runs right in Excel. We already have our low-QS keywords in Excel, so all we need to do is select the keywords we want to analyze, and click Keyword Categories. (You’ll be asked to sign in with your Bing Ads credentials first.)  The tool will create a new tab called Keyword Categories, and the results look like this:

kw categories result

What does it all mean? Well, you’ll see that most keywords have more than one category listed, which simply means that a single keyword fits in multiple categories.

The “Score” column is an indication of relevance: the higher the score, the more relevant the keyword is to the category.

Since this is an Excel tool, all the cool Excel features apply. Bing has even put the filters in for us! Using Filters, drill down to the top-scoring keywords:

top scoring kws

Now the problem with the landing page is becoming clearer. The most common category for the top-scoring keywords is “Computers_&_Electronics/Internet/Domain_Registration_&_Hosting.” In this example, that doesn’t describe the client’s business or offer accurately (not to mention the fact that domain registration & hosting is a highly competitive vertical). So, one of the goals of landing page optimization should be to make it clear what category the offer (and the company) is in. In other words, improve landing page relevance.

Another feature of Bing Ads Intelligence that will help you optimize your landing page is the Webpage Keywords function.

webpage keywords

To use this feature, paste your landing page URL into Excel, and then click the Webpage Keywords option. As with the Keyword Categories function, the tool will create a new tab and provide keyword suggestions based on webpage elements.

In the case of our client, the webpage keyword suggestions were all over the place:

webpage kws result

Clearly, we need to tighten up the theme of the page.

Of course, we can’t neglect the fact that there is work to be done on the PPC keyword side. Adding negatives, splitting keywords into more tightly-themed ad groups, and eliminating ambiguous keywords should all be on the optimization agenda.

But the great thing about Bing Ads Intelligence is the insight it offers into landing page optimization. How have you used Bing Ads Intelligence? Share in the comments!

Editor’s Note: Portions of this post appeared on Search Engine Watch on January 8, 2013.

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Why Context Matters In PPC Case Studies

I read a great article today called 6 Surprising B2B Facebook Marketing Case Studies. It talked about Facebook ads, and how well they can work for B2B.

I totally agree – we’ve seen the same thing for our clients. Everyone thinks LinkedIn is the best place for B2B, but we’ve found that the audience there is small, and CPCs are high; plus the interface is clunky at best. LinkedIn does work, but Facebook works just as well if not better.

But this post isn’t about Facebook vs. LinkedIn. It’s about context in PPC case studies.

The “surprising” case studies in the article mentioned above leave a lot to be desired. They all lack context and statistical significance.

Now before someone starts throwing virtual darts at me, let me say a few things. I thought the point of the article was well-taken, and I agreed with it. I’m sure the goal was to write a brief, punchy article with “snackable” talking points (and don’t get me started on how much I hate the word “snackable”). But I’m not a fan of numbers being bandied about without context. Thus, this post.

OK. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the case studies.

case 1

On the surface, this is a great example of why paid social (and paid search) is effective for attorneys. I used to have an attorney client, with similar success metrics. They only needed 1-2 cases per year to make PPC pay for itself.

But the attorney in the case study got one case, which does not a case study make. He could conceivably spend another $100,000 in a short time on Facebook and never get another case. The one case could totally have been luck. Or, his next case might be for $500 instead of $100,000. Does Facebook look so great in that instance?

The point is, one case isn’t statistically significant.

Now let’s look at cases 2, 4, 5, and 6.

case 3-6

The issue with all these examples is the same: there’s no context. Each case study mentions a cost per lead. If you’ve ever done lead generation, these CPL’s sound decent.

Decent compared to what?

We have no context for whether these numbers are good or bad for the clients in question. What’s the cost per lead for other channels? For case 6, what if paid search was driving leads and demos at $10 per signup? Facebook doesn’t look so hot in that case. Same thing goes for all the examples here.

For case 4, there’s enough data to back into some numbers. The industry event advertiser spent $21,758 to generate 305 registrations. That’s not a small investment for social PPC. The conversion rate was just over 1%, which isn’t bad for Facebook, but is pretty low compared with other channels (or is it? We don’t know since there’s no baseline included). CPC was $1.20, which is definitely lower than LinkedIn and probably lower than search, but what about display or remarketing? In my experience, $1.20 is high for both of those channels, even for B2B. And what’s the average cost per registration for this organization? Did the organization make money on a $71 cost per registration, or did they pay $71 for an event that cost $50 to register? I’m guessing registration cost more than $71, but again, we don’t know. So it’s hard to know whether Facebook was the right choice or not.

The cases aren’t all bad, though. Let’s look at #3.

case 3

This is actually valuable insight that a lot of advertisers and PPC pros don’t think about. Every PPC campaign is a test at the beginning – you’re taking a risk that it won’t perform. And every new business venture is certainly a risk. This business learned very cheaply that no one needed their product, by conducting market research on Facebook. Spending a few hundred dollars to save tens of thousands is pretty compelling. I’m actually thinking of recommending this tactic to clients who are thinking about launching new products or services – it’s a great way to test the waters.

Now, I’m sure there is more to the story for each of these case studies. I’d bet that the author has PowerPoint decks for each case with additional detail that he chose to leave out for the purpose of brevity.

Adding context wouldn’t have been difficult here, though; and it wouldn’t have taken away from the brevity of the article. Adding one sentence to Case 6 saying “The SaaS company’s average cost per demo was $150,” for instance, would stave off any questions or doubts in the reader’s mind.

I caution anyone who puts numbers out there to include context. It doesn’t take much space, and it makes your case even more powerful.

How do you present data in case studies when you’re talking to clients or prospects? Share in the comments!

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy

So often, PPC strategy seems to be an afterthought. In their haste to start looking for keywords and setting bids, advertisers overlook strategy development.

Don’t let this happen to you! Take the time to develop your PPC strategy before jumping into anything else.

In my experience, PPC strategy development falls into 4 categories:

•    Goals identification
•    Campaign setup
•    Conversion rate optimization
•    Content marketing

I include content marketing here, even though some may argue it’s a separate discipline. To me, content marketing is a crucial part of many PPC campaigns, and assembling the content into a PPC strategy isn’t trivial. So I’m including resources to help with that.

Goals Identification

I’ve said many times that identifying the goal of your PPC campaign is the first step. What business goal will your PPC campaign help you achieve? The answer will drive your entire strategy. Be sure to separate ideas from strategy, anticipate client questions, consider marketing basics, and determine conversion actions as part of your goal identification process.

Campaign Setup

It may seem like campaign setup isn’t really a strategy, but you must think strategically to properly set up your PPC campaigns. You’ll want to incorporate best practices, establish setup milestones, and establish a reporting cadence.  All of these activities will ensure that goals are being met, and they help make clients happy too.

Conversion Rate Optimization

A poorly-optimized website will render all the great PPC strategy in the world useless. Build in conversion rate optimization (CRO) activities to ensure your strategy will actually achieve the goal. Assign primary responsibility for CRO to make sure it actually gets done and someone is accountable for it. Periodically review landing page optimization best practices to ensure your CRO efforts will be successful.

Content Marketing

This is such a complex process that I wrote an entire series on content marketing and PPC. Knowing how content fits into your marketing mix, and taking the time to craft your PPC content marketing campaign, will help ensure that you meet your goals.

The Cheat Sheet

I’ve summarized the strategy elements into the ultimate cheat sheet for PPC strategy. Bookmark this post, and refer to it when you’re setting up a new campaign! Get the Ultimate Cheat Sheet for PPC Strategy.

Strategy Ultimate Cheat Sheet

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Bid Management: Is It Even Still A Thing?

When Google launched Adwords Select back in 2002, the self-serve pay per click model was new. Although GoTo existed before Adwords, it wasn’t as widely adopted. People flocked to this great new way of advertising that allowed them to pay only when someone clicked, rather than when impressions were served. It was a paradigm shift that changed online advertising forever.

One element of early PPC programs that managers quickly had to master was bid management. Bidding for the top of the page, which was actually possible in GoTo/Overture back then, didn’t make much sense to savvy advertisers. Instead, we wanted to pay only what the click was actually worth to us. High-converting terms, we reasoned, should have higher bids than low-converting terms.

I remember spending all day on bid management back in 2002-2003. I was doing in-house ecommerce, and we had hundreds of products, all with different profit margins. I had a fancy spreadsheet that calculated exactly what each click was worth, based on our profit margin and PPC conversion rates. Looking back, it was crazy – but it worked. PPC quickly became our biggest acquisition channel, and we made money on every sale.

Fast forward to today. Few PPC managers are manually managing bids, at least on any kind of scale. It’s time-consuming. It’s complicated. Done properly, it requires math and thinking. Lately I’ve been wondering, is manual bid management even a thing anymore?

I’m not sure it should be a thing, given today’s technology. Even back in the day, I used GoToast (which later became Atlas bid management and then eventually went away) to manage bids. I soon realized that we couldn’t come close to putting our entire product catalog online and still be able to manually keep up with the bidding wars that were happening in the old Overture system at that time. Now, we have both free and paid options for automating bids.

Adwords Scripts

Adwords Scripts launched in 2012 and revolutionized the way PPC is managed. Scripts can automate countless tasks, and one of them is bid management. And they’re free! If you know a little programming, you can even create a custom script that will manage bids exactly the way you want. If Scripts had been around in 2002, I wouldn’t have needed that complicated spreadsheet to calculate my bids – I would have just created a script.

Automated Bidding

Automated bidding was one of the features that actually launched following the much-vaunted April 22, 2014 announcement call. Automated bidding, like most things Google, is also free. Automated bidding is even easier to use than Scripts, and really leaves no excuse for doing manual bid management.

Just this week, Bing Ads matched Google by launching automated bidding. I expect this might actually get more people to start using Bing Ads, now that they won’t have to manually manage bids.

Bid Management Software

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: bid management software. Providers such as Acquisio, Kenshoo, Marin, and many others have been around for several years now. Most bid management platforms have an algorithm that will manage bids for you. All you need to do is set a budget, and the software takes it from there.

Acquisio, which we use at gyro, has their Bid and Budget Management tool, which optimizes bids in near-real time. Marin just launched Budget Optimizer, which tells advertisers what their monthly budgets should be.

Wow. Technology is amazing – albeit bid management software comes at a price – and yet, I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. My days of manually calculating bids in a spreadsheet seem far away. If you’re not automating bids in some way, you’re losing ground to competitors who are.

Do we even need to train new PPC managers on bid management, what with all this fancy software and automation?

I think the answer is yes. In order to properly use technology, you need to understand how it works. Letting a software package or, heaven forbid, Google, tell you what to bid is a scary proposition.

Now, I already admitted that we use bid management software. It saves me untold hours of manual work. But I still monitor bids and ROI on a daily basis. If you don’t understand the bid landscape, how can you make corrections or spot issues? Software and scripts can only go so far – the PPC manager still needs to pay attention to what’s happening.

What do you think? Is active bid management a thing of the past, or is it still a key skill for PPC managers? Share in the comments!

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The Many Layers of LinkedIn PPC

Note from Melissa: Robert Brady of Clix Marketing is here with another guest post on LinkedIn PPC!

Since LinkedIn launched in May of 2003 it has grown to become the de facto virtual resume for professionals. Want someone to know your job history and accomplishments with each position? Put it on LinkedIn. Want someone to know your education, skills, recommendations, awards and many other professional bullet points? Put it on LinkedIn.

This detailed information, provided by the users themselves, makes LinkedIn a gold mine for any marketer that can define their target customer (often called a persona) in work-related detail. For many B2B marketers this is easy.

LinkedIn Targeting 101

Many advertisers start with very rudimentary targeting. Here are the most popular options, which LinkedIn shows by default as someone creates a new campaign:

•    Location
•    Company Name
•    Company Size
•    Industry
•    Job Title
•    Job Function
•    Seniority

LinkedIn Targeting 101

By itself, this would be a powerful set of options to choose from. For example, let’s imagine that we’re putting on an education conference for California teachers.  Here are some ideas of how we could reach those people:

Location: California – 13.3 million LinkedIn users

Industry: Primary/Secondary Education – 58K LinkedIn users in California

•    California Department of Education – 1015 LinkedIn users in California
•    Los Angeles Unified School District – 29K LinkedIn users in California

Job Title: Teacher – 149K LinkedIn users in California

Job Function: Education – 623K LinkedIn users in California

Any of those would be a great place to start, but you could run into a couple problems. First, you might not get enough traffic. Second, you may want to be a little more specific with some of these. Let’s talk about how we can solve each problem.

Targeting For More Volume

To start off you’re going to want to click that blue “More targeting options” link you see in the image above. That will open a lot of new options for us to explore. It will look like this:

LinkedIn Targeting Volume

Now let’s look at some other ideas for this education conference:

•    Teaching – 347K LinkedIn users in California
•    Educational Technology – 42K LinkedIn users in California

•    National Education Association – 1091 LinkedIn users in California
•    Teacher’s Lounge – 9K LinkedIn users in California
•    Elementary group for teachers – 3K LinkedIn users in California

•    Bachelor of Education – 3K LinkedIn users in California
•    Master of Education – 18K LinkedIn users in California

As you can see, this allows you to target in even more ways to reach your potential audience because now you’re looking at them beyond just their job title and industry. Now you’re looking at groups they’ve identified with. You’re looking at skills that other people have endorsed them for. You’re looking at their actual degree (because LinkedIn is a digital resume, people put this information as well).

Targeting For Highly Qualified Traffic

Disclaimer: While “highly qualified traffic” sounds perfect you need to keep in mind that this is effectively display advertising. The placements are a little 3-pack of ads on the right side or a sponsored update that gets slipped into a user’s feed. These people didn’t go looking for you so the click-through rate (CTR) will be low and you need fairly large audiences. LinkedIn won’t let you advertise to an audience unless it has at least 1,000 people, but you’ll find that any audience under about 5K will struggle for clicks.

That said, how do you get this awesomely qualified traffic? Layering & exclusions.

•    Layering – This is quite simply combining 2 or more of the above targeting ideas. For example, “teaching” as a skill seems a little broad. Layer on top of that an Education job function and you’ve got someone with teaching skills that works in education. Much more qualified.
•    Exclusions – You’ll notice below each targeting option you can add targeting to exclude. Looking at our teaching skill target, you might use it but exclude “Biblical teaching” (it’s really in there). If the conference is for K-12 then you might exclude “College teaching” and “University teaching” as well.


As you can see LinkedIn offers a variety of ways to target your potential audience. You can stick to the basic location, company & job title areas, but I would recommend you also get into the additional “hidden” targeting options as well. Layer them together, exclude poor targets and you’ll find that you can reach highly qualified prospects with your advertising.

Robert Brady is Senior Manager: Software, SMB, Strategy for Clix Marketing. He has worked on PPC accounts of all sizes across many industries and has a soft spot for helping small businesses succeed with paid search. Robert  loves to share his expertise with others by blogging regularly on PPC topics on the Clix Marketing blog, Search Engine People & his personal blog, Righteous Marketing. You’ll also find his posts on, PPC Hero, and the Trafficado blog among others. He is also an active participant in #PPCchat on Twitter.

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Can Too Many Ads Ruin PPC Ad Copy Testing?

2 weeks ago, I wrote a post on PPC ad copy testing that ended up being my most popular post for April. One of the recommendations I made was to write a lot of ads, but only test 2 ads at a time, so you can get to statistical significance faster.

But Kirk Williams had another reason not to test multiple ad variations: profitability.

multiple ad variations

I’ll admit it had occurred to me that running too many ads could hurt profitability, but I’d never run the numbers. And Kirk’s numbers in the table above were made up. So I decided to dig through historical data to see if I had any actual figures to analyze.

We inherited a large account that had up to 12 ad variations running in some ad groups. It’s a high volume account, so that many ads made some sense – except for the fact that most of this client’s conversions come in over the phone, and phone calls can’t be tracked back to ad variations. So looking at just online form fills, each variation often had only 1-2 conversions, and some had none.

I decided to use the actual data to create hypothetical scenarios, where we assume that only the best 2 ads in the ad group ran at the same time.

Scenario 1, Actual Data

scenario 1 actual

In this scenario, there are 6 ads with wildly varying statistics. I should note here that the previous agency also used “optimize for clicks” in some campaigns, but not others. Anyway, there’s one version, Version 4, with a high conversion rate, but each variation had less than 10 conversions each.

Scenario 1, Hypothetical

scenario 1 hypo

Here I took the total number of impressions for the ad group and split them evenly, and then calculated the rest of the metrics based on actual CTR and conversion rate. It’s pretty clear which ad is the winner here – and it’s also clear, based on the actual statistics, that about $1,600 was wasted on ads that weren’t converting as well as the top 2.

But was this ad group a fluke? I looked at a second example to be sure.

Scenario 2, Actual

scenario 2 actual

Here we had 5 different ads. Version 1 had the most conversions, but also the lowest conversion rate. The ad that converted the best didn’t have many impressions. There’s no clear winner here either.

Scenario 2, Hypothetical:

scenario 2 hyp

The winning ad wins by a landslide here. Cost for the 2 ads was similar, but the winner converted at more than twice the rate of the 2nd-best ad.

The caveat with Scenario 2 is that, in the actual scenario, the winning ad had so few impressions that I hesitate to extrapolate its performance over more impressions and clicks. Often I see ads have “beginner’s luck” where they do very well initially, and then settle in to a more average performance. But even if the winner didn’t convert quite as well, it likely would have beat the contenders in this instance. And in this case, about 80% of the budget was spent on losing ads. I’d hate to have to tell that to the client.


Based on these examples, it’s pretty clear that, at least hypothetically, running 5-6 ads wastes more money than running 2 ads. I’m willing to hear examples to the contrary, though. I know at least a few of my readers know a lot more about statistical theory than I do – what say you? Is this a legit analysis, or are there holes? Share in the comments!

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Fail Fast, Learn Fast

Last week, I read a fascinating article on MediaPost about Google’s “planned failures.” The great gift of the internet and digital world, according to the Googlers quoted in the article, is the ability to fail fast. “The price of failing slow is high,” it says.

Google has had tons of failures. Some, like Froogle, morphed into something else over time. Some, like Google Reader, became outdated. Some, like Knol, just died. Many would say that other projects should die, such as self-driving cars or Google+.

Probably Google’s biggest, or at least most well-known, recent failure is Glass. I wrote about why it failed in MediaPost a while back.

Coming up with crazy projects is in Google’s DNA. Some of them work, some don’t – but most failed quickly. Fail fast, learn fast is their motto.

I like to apply the same principle to PPC. Not that I plan to fail, but we all know that not everything we try in PPC is going to work. Some keywords will drive hundreds of clicks without a single conversion. An ad copy variation isn’t going to convert. Some landing pages are less than ideal. Or you forgot to exclude mobile apps in a display campaign (don’t ask).

With even the most egregious PPC failures, though, we should always learn something – just like Google does. Google learned that people aren’t ready to wear weird glasses to take pictures and search for stuff. But you can bet they’ll take the best aspects of that technology and roll out with something else.

That’s what you need to do in PPC. Find the losers and pause them – but then study them to figure out why they were losers.

Found an ad that performed terribly? Why? Was the headline weak? Did it include ambiguous phrases? Was there an unfortunate instance of DKI in there somewhere? Did it lead to the wrong landing page? Use these learnings to fix what’s broken.

I always tell new PPC hires that almost nothing is permanent in PPC. That bad ad, keyword, or display placement can almost always be spotted very quickly – within a day or two if you’re doing your job well – and paused with (usually) minimal ill effects.

I’ll even report on bad stuff – clients need to know why things didn’t work. I don’t generally call attention to outright mistakes, but I do point out keywords that didn’t work or ad copy that didn’t resonate. One such conversation with a client recently led to the decision to create a new landing page that’s more relevant for a subset of client keywords. That’s a good thing! We failed fast and learned fast.

It’s also good to start strong to learn fast. We’ve all had clients who launch in the middle of the month, even though they may have assigned a full month’s budget. I almost never pro-rate the spend. For instance, if the budget is $10,000 and we launch on the 15th, I don’t aim to spend $5,000. I aim to spend $10,000. Fail fast, learn fast. That way, month 2 hits the ground with a fine-tuned campaign, instead of waiting 2 more weeks to learn stuff.

What about you? Do you fail fast and learn fast? Or are you more conservative? Share in the comments!

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