Google Remarketing: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Remarketing has been all the rage for a couple of years now, and with good reason. How cool is it to be able to show a tailored message to people who already visited your website and took (or didn’t take) an action?

And yet, many advertisers weren’t utilizing remarketing due to 2 main barriers: ad creation and site tagging. While Google has pretty much always allowed text remarketing ads, they don’t perform as well, and don’t get as many impressions, as image ads. So, advertisers had to find a creative designer to put together remarketing ads – adding time and expense. And site tagging, as we all know, can be a huge obstacle for advertisers, especially those who outsource their site development.

Well, Google has removed both of these barriers, and now Google remarketing is literally as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Step 1: Install the Google Analytics remarketing tag.

In the early days of remarketing, advertisers had to create individual tags for each remarketing segment or audience, and site owners had to place them on individual pages. As a result, in my experience, few clients were taking advantage of remarketing.

A while back, Google released a revised Google Analytics script that enables anyone who uses GA to create remarketing lists within GA – without additional tagging. If you haven’t installed the new script on your site, do it now!

Once it’s on all of your site pages, you can set up remarketing segments for anything you can measure in GA: all PPC visitors, all visitors to a specific page, people who spent more than 5 minutes on the site, all visitors who put something in the cart but didn’t check out, etc. It’s hugely powerful. You can think up a segment and create it in a few minutes, and boom, you’re ready to go.

Note that if you want to combine segments, you’ll still need to do that in Adwords using Custom Combinations. Still, there’s no additional code to install!

Step 2: Discuss goals with your client or boss.

You’re probably tired of hearing me talk about goals, but it bears repeating: don’t launch a campaign without first getting clear on your goals! Sit down with your client or boss and discuss or review your objectives for remarketing. Are you trying to get repeat buyers? Are you trying to move initial leads further down the funnel? Are you just looking for reach and awareness?

For example, if awareness is your goal, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and money setting up remarketing segments to try to convert shopping cart abandons. Be very clear on goals before you launch any remarketing campaigns.

Step 3: Create ads that match your goals and audience.

Once your segments are set up, you’re ready to build your ads. Just a couple weeks ago, Google released Ready Ads: the ability to create image ads, including animated Flash ads, with a few clicks. All you have to do is enter a page URL, and Google will pull images and copy from it. They’ll show you several different variations, sizes, and options. You have the ability to edit the copy and reject any you don’t like.

While Ready Ads aren’t as nice as ads created by a professional designer, they’re a huge, major step forward from the Display Ad Builder. I tried using Display Ad Builder in the past, and the ads looked like something a kindergartner cut and pasted. Ready Ads are actually quite nice – and you can set them up and push them live in minutes. You can literally think up a message for your audience, and with a few clicks, make a nice display ad!

That’s it! Remarketing as easy as 1, 2, 3. Since I’m feeling so positive and generous, here are 2 bonus tips.

Bonus Tip 1: Use frequency caps.

Frequency caps enable you to limit the number of impressions per visitor for a given time: day, week, etc. Use them, and set them low: 3-5 impressions per day. Trust me, nothing is worse than having a client say, “I’m seeing our ads all day long on every site I visit!”

Bonus Tip 2: PPC best practices still apply.

Don’t forget about basics like ad copy testing, bid management, and daily budgets. Standard display network best practices apply too: check those placement reports! Look at your performance by audience and make sure they’re all performing the way you want them to.

Are you ready to start Google remarketing? Are you already using it and loving it? Got any fun tips? Share in the comments!

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Do the PPC Engines Reward the Right Behaviors?

Years and years ago, when I was in graduate school, I read an article published in the Academy of Management Journal called “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B “. Originally written in 1975, the article was already a classic, even at that time. Still, as with most college reading assignments, I approached it with disdain, prepared to extract what I needed for the next class exam and then forget about it.

I was wrong. The article has stuck with me, all these years later.

The article’s basic premise: “Reward systems are fouled up in that the types of behavior that are rewarded are those which the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the behavior desired is not being rewarded at all.” An example given in the article is businesses who say they are committed to total quality, yet incent and reward employees for shipping products on schedule, even with errors and defects.

What does this have to do with PPC? A lot.

One example of “rewarding for A while hoping for B” in PPC is the quality score conundrum. Ever since Google rolled out quality score in 2008, advertisers have struggled in their attempts to improve it, often to their detriment. The pursuit of high quality scores is frequently at odds with PPC results goals.

Let’s say that an ecommerce advertiser is using PPC to generate sales. ROI is their primary key performance indicator (KPI) – in other words, the advertiser wants the most sales at the lowest cost. But let’s say this same advertiser is also trying to optimize for quality score, and that their PPC manager is measured and rewarded in part based on quality score improvement.

Both Google and Bing have openly stated that click-through rate (CTR) is the primary determinant of quality score. An advertiser must improve CTR in order to improve quality score. So, the PPC manager who is trying to improve their quality score needs to increase CTR.

In ecommerce, though, high CTR often does not correlate to high ROI. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see the best ROI on ads with the worst CTR!

Carefully crafted ad copy will, by design, discourage unqualified prospects from clicking. That’s why it’s a good idea to include product prices in your ad copy – to prevent clicks from tire-kickers who are clicking on ads to compare prices, with no intention to purchase at that moment. Including the price in the ad precludes clicks from price shoppers.

In this case, though, unfortunate PPC managers are faced with goals that are almost mutually exclusive. They need to improve quality score to make a client or boss happy, and yet improving quality score means increasing CTR – and reducing ROI. It’s a no-win situation, because if the PPC manager is rewarded for higher quality score, the company faces a potential decrease in ROI.

Enhanced campaigns are probably the most egregious case of “rewarding for A while hoping for B”. When Google announced enhanced campaigns, they touted the ease of management.

“Tired of maintaining separate campaigns for each device? Good news – now you can’t! Just use bid modifiers instead!” The same thing goes for geotargeting, dayparting, and other “features” of enhanced campaigns – by introducing bid modifiers, Google claims to have simplified account management.

Why did Google develop enhanced campaigns? The prevalent belief is that the current AdWords system had become unwieldy, with features bolted on to the point that it was taxing their system servers.

Enhanced campaigns are Google’s answer to a system that had become, in their opinion, needlessly bloated and complex. In other words, Google launched enhanced campaigns with the hope of reducing the number of campaigns in the AdWords system, thereby making it easier for advertisers.

Alas, Google fell into the “rewarding for A while hoping for B” trap. In their quest to reduce the number of campaigns, they’ve actually increased them.

Google rewards advertisers (or at least experienced advertisers) with a nearly endless number of levers to pull to improve performance and ROI. We PPC managers use every tool in our arsenal to weed out non-converting traffic and improve our conversion rates. We don’t want to pay a penny more for a conversion than we have to.

Enhanced campaigns took away some of our levers, namely separating campaigns by device. We’re forced to come up with crazy workarounds that, more often than not, require more campaigns, not less.

Employing bid modifiers created a similar conundrum, in that we now have to organize our campaigns by bid modifier. Where in the past we may have had two campaigns, we might now have 10: one for each geo, daypart, and device modification percentage.

Google hoped to simplify the AdWords system, but by rewarding PPC managers with multiple levers, they’ve instead complicated the system by an order of magnitude.

Many advertisers also unwittingly “reward for A while hoping for B”, often with distractions and pop-overs on landing pages that pull visitors away from the primary conversion action. Don’t make this mistake! Align your goals with your ad copy, landing pages, and website – and don’t reward visitors for something other than what you’re hoping for.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on June 25, 2013.

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How Big Is Your PPC Data Set?

Big data is all the rage these days. I’ve written about big data in PPC before. This isn’t a post on big data per se – but this week I’ve felt the need to talk about how much data is needed to make good decisions in PPC.

Let’s start on the micro side. A couple years ago, I wrote a post on PPC testing and why days are not data. I stole that phrase from my friend Andrew Goodman, but it’s so good that I find myself using it frequently, including every day this week.

Teaching people and clients about PPC is a passion of mine. I love to help others learn about the career that I love. Sometimes, though, the great aspects of PPC such as quick launches, instant data, and cool reporting get overstated. Suddenly you have a client or boss who wants a daily detailed report on his or her PPC campaign progress.

I don’t advocate that. I talk about that at length in my Days are not Data post, but in a nutshell, a one-day snapshot is full of too many normal fluctuations to be meaningful. Those unfamiliar with the ebb and flow of PPC get too bogged down with the daily deluge, causing unnecessary worry and alarm.

I try to remind these folks that they hired a PPC pro for a reason. We DO watch the data on a daily basis and adjust as needed. We just don’t make pass-or-fail judgments on one day’s worth of stats.

Now let’s look at the big data set of the coin. I wrote a post for Search Engine Watch this week called Do the PPC Engines Reward the Right Behaviors? It was a fun post to write – I’d been mulling it over in my head for literally a year, and finally the time was right to write the post.

In the post, I stated that Enhanced Campaigns are a case of Google rewarding for A while hoping for B – rewarding advertisers with lots of levers, while hoping they’ll create fewer campaigns.

While the number of comments and feedback on the post weren’t overwhelming, they were definitely interesting. Most people agreed that Google made things worse for advertisers and themselves with Enhanced Campaigns.

But Larry Kim disagreed with me. He has been out there trumpeting the nirvana of Enhanced Campaigns ever since they were in beta. Therefore, I wasn’t at all surprised with his stance.

I have a ton of respect for Larry and have no problem with what he said. But I still disagree.

Enhanced campaigns are fine for smaller advertisers with simple settings and campaigns. They’re good for local advertisers who previously had trouble hyper-targeting their PPC.

But for those of us running complex campaigns with diverse goals and objectives, Enhanced Campaigns are a nightmare. Several large PPC companies have written about their tribulations with Enhanced Campaigns, including higher CPCs and worsening performance across millions of dollars of spend. Matt Van Wagner is moving budget to Bing because of them. We’re seeing weirdness with our clients who’ve transitioned, including the same CPC spikes that others are claiming.

I’m not questioning the veracity of Larry’s data. I’m sure it’s accurate for his client set. But for most of us, the PPC big data says that Enhanced Campaigns are bad news.

What do you think about PPC data? When is enough enough? Share in the comments!

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3 Big PPC Mistakes Even Pros Make

Everyone makes mistakes. You’ve heard that saying a thousand times, and yet it still rings true.

Even seasoned professionals make mistakes; and usually mistakes are the best way to learn.

Still, especially when you’re new at something, it’s encouraging to know that even the pros mess up at times. Every golfer loves it when Tiger Woods shanks a drive, for example.

I asked PPC pros to share their biggest PPC mistakes (anonymously, of course). One long-time PPC manager sent me three mistakes and said they’d made all of them in the last year! I know I’ve made my share over the years, too.

With that, here are the mistakes people made, and how to avoid them.

1. Budget Mistakes

“One of my team members uploaded a new campaign with a budget of $5,000/day, not $500/day. Campaign went live over a weekend and spent a ton.”

“PPC mistakes I have made: spending budgets too fast and forgetting to add new budget for the start of a new month (using Manager Defined Spend).”

One of the great things about PPC is that you can decide how much you want to spend. As an advertiser, you can decide to spend $5 per day or $50,000 per day – and you control the budget limits.

The problems arise when simple typos are made in budgets, or when an agency manager forgets to add new budget to their MDS (which I have done myself).

How to avoid budget mistakes: Have someone else double-check your entries, and put a reminder on your calendar for the last Friday of each month to reset your MDS budgets.

2. Bidding Mistakes

“My biggest PPC mistake: late one night I accidentally increased bids on two keywords… I meant to type 11 cents, but I typed 11 dollars. By the next day the account had racked up $7,000 in unwanted charges!”

“I tried changing bids only to remember that the client has automated bidding for those keywords – after spending time setting up all the new bids.”

“Biggest mistake: Forgetting a decimal point on a bid. Fortunately, it wasn’t for a client account. Unfortunately, it was for me. Ka-Ching.”

“Someone I worked with once put a popular head term on broad match with a £80 bid instead of a £0.80 bid.”

I’d be willing to bet that every PPC manager has made a bidding mistake at least once. It’s easy to type $30 when you really meant $0.30 – or vice versa – and the results can be disastrous in a short period of time.

I once set up a bunch of new keywords for a client in a very competitive vertical, and couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting any traffic. Turns out I’d set the bids at $0.50 instead of $50!

How to avoid bidding mistakes: It’s hard to completely avoid them, but using an offline editor like AdWords Editor or Bing Ads Editor helps, because you can check your work before the changes go live. Also, make sure to check your campaigns the next day – you’ll easily spot anomalies before they get too far out of control.

3. Network Targeting Mistakes

“Not turning off content network for a new campaign, set to single word broad match. Not always a mistake, but this time it was.”

“With all the teams I’ve managed, the favorite rookie mistake has always been content network =on. Have seen £00s wasted on that.”

Google doesn’t do novice PPC marketers any favors with their campaign defaults. PPC best practices such as separating search and content (display) and proper geo-targeting are overridden by Google’s default settings, which target “All Countries and Languages” and “All Networks.”

google network default

How to avoid network targeting mistakes: Make sure all new hires are trained in best practices for PPC settings, and be sure to check their work early on. Using a desktop editor makes it easier to double-check all campaign settings before pushing campaigns live. After the changes are live, check the settings again in the online interface to make sure everything is the way it should be. Schedule a report, segmented by network and campaign, to be sent to your email the day after the campaign goes live. If you’re seeing traffic in the wrong place, you’ll know what to fix.

Summary

Hopefully this post has taught you two things: that even the most experienced PPC managers make mistakes, and how to avoid those pitfalls!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at Search Engine Watch on February 5, 2013.

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International PPC: How to Go Global

This week, I had the enormous pleasure of hosting PPC Chat. It was my first time hosting, and I had a blast! Credit goes to Matt Umbro for helping me prepare ahead of time – Matt, you made my job easy!

Anyway, we talked about International PPC and I learned a ton. I’ve managed international PPC campaigns before, but have always felt like I could be doing it better than I was. And as we all know, the world is getting smaller and more and more companies are going global, so it’s time to get on the international PPC bandwagon.

Here are my key takeaways from the chat.

Enlist the help of native speakers for ad copy & keyword creation and optimization.

Sure, you can use Google Translate for this, but that’s probably worse than running ads in just English. Not only will the ads read awkwardly, but you might inadvertently make cultural faux pas. We’ve all heard the legend about the Chevy Nova selling poorly in Latin America. Don’t be that advertiser. Either use client resources to vet your ad copy, or hire an international contractor to help you.

International PPC rollout strategies vary.

Answers to the question “When you launch internationally, do you start with an entire account, or one campaign at a time?” were widely varied. The majority of chatters said they launched gradually, one campaign at a time, to control spend and results. James Svoboda said it best: “Campaign at a time. Too many ‘WTF is happening to conversion rates’ scenarios can happen.” Indeed.

While many chatters agreed with James, Jessica Fisher had a different strategy: “I just roll them all out with low budgets and conservative settings. Takes less time & you never know what will/will not convert.” This also made a lot of sense to me: the low budget minimizes risk, and you’ll learn faster.

My advice? Work with your client or boss and decide which approach you’re most comfortable with. Depending on your goals and objectives, either strategy could work for you.

You must support the languages in which you’re advertising.

The “quote of the chat” came from my friend Carrie Hill: “If you cannot support the conversion in another language – why are you targeting it w/ PPC?” This is something that we’ve struggled with. Advertisers want to create ad copy in native languages, which makes a lot of sense – but their website is in English only, and they don’t have customer service reps who speak other languages!

Think about that for a second. You’re running ads in the Netherlands, in Dutch. Your keywords are also Dutch. So a Dutch-speaking person searches, sees your ad, clicks on it – and ends up on an English-language site. Strike one – you’ve already alienated him. Then Mr. Van Customer calls your international 800 number in hopes he can reach another Dutch speaker. Strike two – your CS reps don’t speak Dutch, either. If he’s really persistent, he might go back to your site and find a contact link, and he sends you an email – in Dutch, which no one can read or respond to. Strike three.

Sure, we can all use Google Translate, and it’s better than nothing. But we’ve all seen those awkward translations it spits back, too. The point is, you must support the language!

If you can’t, you’re better off running ads in English. That way you can still reach English-speaking customers in other countries, without alienating others.

If you missed Tuesday’s chat, you can check out the streamcap. Did you participate in the International PPC chat? What are your best international PPC tips? Share in the comments!

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Partner PPC – Doing It Right

In the world of business, there are makers and sellers: companies who make products, and companies who sell them. Sometimes they’re one and the same, and other times they’re different. If you buy plastic bags for your retail store, chances are you’re not buying them from the bag manufacturer, but from a vendor who bought the bags and then resells them to you. It’s common practice, and it’s good for business.

Years ago, in another life, I sold radio and newspaper advertising for a living. We frequently dealt with co-op advertising, where a product manufacturer would agree to pay for a portion of a reseller’s ad, provided the reseller included certain elements about the manufacturer – their logo, name, slogan, etc.

Nowadays, I find myself working on similar programs for PPC. We usually call them partner programs, although they go by different names. Still, the premise is the same: working with a reseller to promote a manufacturer’s product or service.

Like with most things PPC, there is a right way to do partner PPC and a wrong way. The wrong way is for the partner to go rogue, trying to bid on manufacturer trademarks without permission. I once had a client whose resellers were doing just that – using PPC effectively to sell their products, to the point that the client lost nearly all control over them, including the prices they were charging. The resellers were using PPC for acquisition, with rock-bottom prices that undercut the manufacturer themselves. Needless to say, this was a challenging situation for all involved.

So what’s the right way to do partner PPC?

Work together.

Too often, partner PPC ends up as a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Resellers decide to start bidding against manufacturers, never talking with one another – and soon, no one is getting good results from PPC.

Avoid this trap by calling a meeting with resellers and manufacturers and work out a program. Decide on the parameters first! Advertising is a business deal, so it makes sense to have a contract or at least program guidelines for participation.

Decide who gets what keywords.

Many vendors selling the same thing to the same audience means many different advertisers bidding on the same keywords. Depending on the partner program setup, you may even be sending traffic to the same display URL.

For these and other reasons, it’s crucial to decide who gets to bid on what keywords. Many partner programs work well with a “divide and conquer” strategy, where the keyword list is divided as evenly as possible across all partners. Other times, if traffic goes to partner sites, it can be possible for multiple partners to bid on the same keywords. Decide what makes sense, and stick to it. Periodically run reports to make sure duplicate keywords haven’t slipped into the mix.

Keyword coordination takes time, but it’s worth the investment in better performance for all involved.

Get trademark approvals in place ahead of time.

A huge benefit of working with a well-known manufacturer is using their name in your ad copy. But often, the manufacturer has applied for trademark protection with Google, meaning partners won’t be allowed to use the terms in ad copy. There are several workarounds for this, all involving the trademark owner giving express permission to companies to use their trademark. Get all this done before launching PPC! It’s frustrating and time-consuming to set up a campaign and get approvals, only to have all your ads declined for trademark use.

Get tracking and reporting in place.

Tracking is important no matter what kind of PPC you’re doing, but it can be especially challenging in partner situations where you’re sending traffic from multiple accounts to the same website. Make sure your analytics package can handle this, and be sure to use tracking URLs so you know whose traffic is whose!

A word of caution:  If you’re an agency managing multiple partner campaigns, be very clear about what type of reporting partners will receive. I once worked on a national program that had one manufacturer and 20 partners – and I managed all of the campaigns. The partner budgets were relatively small – but reporting time isn’t usually dependent on advertiser spend! We had to be very clear about the kinds of reports we’d provide to partners (and to the manufacturer), and how to handle requests for extra reporting. Luckily, we were able to use automated reports that didn’t take much time to create. Otherwise, you’ll find your workload increasing for every partner you take on!

With advance planning, and a true partnership attitude, partner PPC can be very lucrative for both the supplier and the partner. Have you done partner PPC? What are your favorite tips? Share in the comments!

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My 5 Favorite PPC Management Tools, 2013 Edition

Back in 2008, I wrote a post about my 5 favorite PPC management tools. I decided to revisit that post to see how much has changed in the last few years. Interestingly, despite all the improvements and new toys out there, the tools I liked in 2008 are still pretty much the tools I like now.

Tool #1: Excel

I loved it then, and I love it now. Although there are fancy bid management systems and calculators out there, I still spend most of my time in Excel. There’s no better way to sort and filter data than in Excel. It’s still my number 1 PPC management tool.

Tool #2: Google Keyword Tool

Google recently made several improvements to the keyword tool that are really quite nice. I actually like the ad group suggestions – while they’re not perfect, they’re still a great timesaver when launching new campaigns.

keyword tool

Google recently launched a keyword planner tool, which is pretty cool. Check out Wordstream’s overview to learn more.

Tool #3: A good analytics program.

Where would we be without web analytics? I’ve written often about using web analytics for PPC – and analytics are perhaps more important today than they were in 2008.

However, in my 2008 post I mention several analytics packages that have all but gone away: NetTracker, ClickTracks, Atlas… I believe NetTracker is still around, but I don’t know anyone who uses them anymore. ClickTracks and Atlas are gone entirely. These days, it seems as though everyone is either using Google Analytics or Omniture. Who would have thought?

Tool #4: The search engines themselves.

I have to say, I find myself relying less on direct engine research than I did in 2008. Personalized search has really made it tough to see what others see when they perform a search. I find myself relying more heavily on keyword research tools and competitor research tools than I did back in the day. That said, there is still no substitute for performing actual searches to get a feel for the search landscape.

Tool #5: My own brain.

Indeed. PPC has become so complicated, especially in the world of Enhanced Campaigns, that it’s nearly impossible to do it yourself. Companies must hire a PPC professional to effectively manage their campaigns. The days of small business owners setting up a small Adwords campaign and seeing great ROI are, sadly, long gone.

Bonus Tool: The PPC community.

In 2008 when I wrote the original post, I wasn’t active on Twitter. Twitter was very new and was mostly used by people sharing what they were eating for lunch.

Fast forward to 2013, and Twitter has become my newsreader. Not only that, it’s my go-to place to ask questions and share information with the community. The advent of PPC Chat has not only helped me get answers to my questions, but has also led to some invaluable friendships. I can’t imagine life without PPC Chat!

What are your must-have PPC management tools? Share in the comments!

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8 Killer Landing Page Optimization Tips for PPC

Earlier this week, I asked some of the best minds in search to give me their #1 landing page optimization tip. You’ll want to bookmark this post, because these experts came through with flying colors! Use these landing page optimization tips as a reference when building new PPC landing pages to make sure you have the best chance of converting!

#1: Maintain relevance. The headline & supporting statements have to be aligned with the ad/source/intent of each visitor segment. From Andrew Miller.

#2: Focus on your offer. Build & optimize the messaging & imagery for it. If done well, then the landing page foundation is set. From James Svoboda.

#3: Speed is key. If landing page elements take too long to load, the prospect will move on. Work with developers to lighten load times. From Chris Kostecki.

#4: Make sure your tone & language match your target audience. Best offers & calls to action won’t work if people don’t understand them. From Julie Bacchini.

#5: The page should make sense and capture attention in a few seconds. If it doesn’t, that’s a problem. People skim. From Jeremy Brown.

#6: People are lazy! Increase conversion by prepopulating lead generation forms using search query & IP address info. From PPC Associates.

#7: Don’t make changes to your landing page too early. Base your change decisions on statistically significant data. From Stu Draper.

#8: Get Rid of Distractions! If you want someone to purchase, don’t distract them with floating newsletter signups. From Bryant Garvin.

Bonus Resource #1: KISSMetrics has a nice list of considerations for landing page optimization for PPC that they’ve creatively put into an acronym for CONVERTS.

Bonus Resource #2: Unbounce put out a cool infographic on landing page optimization for PPC just yesterday. If you’re a fan of visuals, give this one a look.

What’s your favorite landing page optimization tip for PPC? Share in the comments!

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3 Tips for Taking Over an Existing PPC Account

Whether you work at a PPC agency or in house, chances are you’ll be taking over an existing PPC account at some point in your career. Gone are the days when few people had existing accounts – even advertisers who’ve been dark in PPC for a while probably have an old account sitting around that they want to revive.

There are plenty of good articles on the web about account transitions. I even wrote one myself. But sometimes, especially in the agency world, an account gets dumped on you with little notice, and you’re tasked with “fixing” it fast. With that, here are my top 3 tips for taking over an existing PPC account.

Discuss goals with key stakeholders.

Both the PPC Hero article and my SEW post talk about goal-setting, but it’s so important and so frequently overlooked that I must mention it again here. Even if the account you’re taking over has good conversion tracking in place, and even if you’re lucky enough to get copies of reports from the previous agency or account manager, set up 30 minutes to sit down with key stakeholders and talk about goals.

I once took over a B2B account where the client was tracking email signups as the primary conversion. In talking with them about their goals for PPC, I found out that they didn’t even have an email newsletter, and that email leads had to be hand-entered into their CRM! The previous agency had been optimizing for a KPI that didn’t move the needle for this client. We quickly identified other conversions that were more important to the client’s business. If I hadn’t had that goals conversation, I’d have been optimizing for the wrong thing, too.

Perform an account audit.

PPC audits are an invaluable tool for finding gaps and issues with an account. I’ve written and spoken about audits several times. At no time is an audit more important than when you’re taking over a PPC account for the first time. Use Joe Kerschbaum’s 10-minute audit spreadsheet and work through it. When you find problem areas, dig deeper. Have another PPC manager look at the account too, if you can. The initial audit will be your roadmap for the first 1-3 months of the PPC engagement.

I don’t think I’ve taken over a single PPC account that didn’t have at least one or two low-hanging fruit fixes I could make right away. Nothing makes you look like a PPC rockstar more than boosting performance by double digits in your first month.

Check the conversion tracking codes.

It seems obvious, but don’t overlook this step. You’ll want to audit not only the account itself, but the conversion tracking codes. Put through a few test conversions and make sure they show up on the back end. Go into the site’s source code and read through the actual tracking code. Make sure everything is working the way it should be in terms of tracking the goals you identified in the beginning.

Even experienced PPC pros get tripped up by bad conversion tracking codes. Make code audits part of your startup process, and your clients (or boss) will thank you. You might even be able to help them clean up their codes a bit. One of our clients did a tracking audit recently, and discovered that they have 15 different tracking scripts running on their pages. Wow.

If you’re taking over an enterprise account, they might have good reasons for having so many scripts. Again, talk this over with the client – maybe they need a tag management system.

Using these 3 tips will help you avoid potential disasters with new PPC accounts. What are your favorite tips for taking over a PPC account?

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Using Web Analytics for PPC Optimization

If you know anything at all about PPC, you know that campaign optimization is one of the most important tasks a PPC manager can perform. Managers spend most of their day tweaking bids, ad copy, campaign settings, networks, keywords, negative keywords, and many other data points within the PPC engines.

Campaign optimization is absolutely essential to PPC success. But if you’re spending all your time in the AdWords and Bing Ads interfaces, you’re missing a big part of the PPC optimization picture.

The Rest of the PPC Story

PPC metrics like CTR, conversion rate, cost per conversion, CPC, etc. are crucial elements that can’t be ignored. This data tells us what is happening with an account: how much traffic it’s generating, how many sales or leads it’s driving, and how much all of that cost. We get a great picture of what is happening.

The problem is, often we don’t know why.

That’s where web analytics come in. Web analytics tell us what PPC visitors did once they arrived at the website.

“Now wait a minute!” you might be thinking. “I’m using AdWords conversion tracking, so I can see conversions! Don’t those happen on the website?”

The answer is absolutely yes. And if you’re not tracking conversions via either the free PPC engine tracking scripts or a third-party tool, then shame on you.

But does that data tell you why someone converted? How many visits to the site did it take for that conversion to happen? What other pages did they view? Were they already a customer making a repeat purchase, or was this their first visit?

PPC conversion tracking can’t answer those questions. But web analytics can.

Key Analytics Measures for PPC

Even the most rudimentary web analytics measures can tell us something about our PPC campaigns. The following metrics can be found in any web analytics program. I’ll focus on Google Analytics, because it’s so ubiquitous – but you certainly don’t have to be using Google Analytics to get these numbers.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who visited one page and then left the site.

bounce rate

Usually, a high bounce rate is considered a bad thing. If you’re an ecommerce site, and 80 percent of your PPC visitors are bouncing, that’s not good – it means that only 20 percent of people are bothering to go beyond the landing page.

But what if you’re using PPC to generate leads, and you have a lead form right on the page? Visitors could conceivably fill out the form and convert right there, without going to another page. In this case, it’s a low bounce rate that’s bad – it means no one is converting!

As you look at bounce rate, think about your campaign goals, and what the numbers mean.

Average Time on Site

Average time on site measures how long visitors spend on your website, in minutes.

average time on site

It probably takes at least 4-5 minutes to complete an online order on an ecommerce site, so if you’re an ecommerce PPC advertiser, a longer time on site is good.

What about the one-page lead form, though? Best practices for online lead forms indicate that shorter forms are best. If it takes 4-5 minutes to fill out your form, you’re using the wrong form. In this case, shorter times on site are a good thing!

Number of Pages Visited

This metric is exactly what it sounds like: the average number of pages visited on your site.

pages per visit

Most ecommerce shopping carts are at least 4-5 pages. Add 1-2 pages for your landing page and any additional items the visitor might be interested in, and you’re looking at a good average of 5-7 pages per visit at a minimum.

I bet you know what I’m going to say here. For the one-page lead form, if your average number of pages visited is 5-7, you’ve probably lost the lead. An average of 1.5 is probably good in this case.

Are you seeing a pattern here? In order to accurately evaluate the meaning of web analytics metrics, it’s crucial to think about your PPC campaign goals. Good ecommerce metrics will be very different from good lead generation metrics.

2 Final Caveats

As with all aggregated data sets, web analytics represent averages. And as we all know, averages lie.

While spending a lot of time analyzing what one or two visitors to your site did probably isn’t efficient, it does pay to break your data out into segments. For now, just remember that averages may not tell the whole story.

On the flip side, watch out for outliers. Let’s say that your ecommerce campaigns have an average time on site of 7 minutes, but you have one campaign with an average time on site of 22 minutes. While on the surface that might sound good, it’s probably not – in all likelihood, it means your poor site visitors are trying in vain to find something and aren’t succeeding. So if your underperforming campaign has outlier metrics like this, it’s probably time to optimize your conversion path a bit.

Now go take a look at your bounce rate, average time on site, and number of pages visited. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on September 25, 2012.

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