Eliminating Ambiguity in PPC

Time for a pop quiz! What do the following have in common? You have 30 seconds to give your answer. Ready? Go!

•    Tesla
•    Madonna
•    Prince
•    Washington
•    Sam Adams
•    Chojuro

Did you figure it out? If you said “they’re all famous people,” you’re right. But only partially right.

All the names above are ambiguous. They have more than one meaning. Think about it: Madonna could be the singer, or the Mother of Christ, or a college, or a statue.

madonna search

When you say Tesla, do you mean the man, the band, or the coil?

tesla search

Prince and Washington have probably 100 meanings between the two of them. And so on.

In normal conversation, ambiguity is often eliminated by the context. If you’re talking about concerts you saw this summer, and you mentioned Madonna, it’s pretty clear who and what you’re talking about. Same thing goes for Tesla.

In PPC, though, the context is in the mind of the searcher. When we search for something, we know what we mean – but the search engine may not. As a result, especially with one-word queries, you fall into the ambiguity trap. You might be paying for visitors who weren’t searching for Madonna concert tickets – they were interested in information about the local Madonna University.

Celebrity names aren’t the only ambiguous search terms out there. In a recent conversation about ambiguous keywords on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter, Bryant Garvin pointed out the fact that all of the Choice Hotel brands have fairly generic names:

•    Comfort Inn
•    Comfort Suites
•    Quality Inn
•    Sleep Inn
•    Clarion
•    Cambria Suites
•    Mainstay Suites
•    Suburban
•    Econolodge
•    Rodeway Inn
•    Ascend Hotels

Now, this is by no means a dig at Choice Hotels. They’ve built great brands that are recognizable and familiar to travelers across the US. Still, every single brand name except maybe Econolodge has multiple meanings – and that’s where the challenge for PPC’ers comes in.

Fortunately, there are several techniques for clearing up ambiguity in PPC.

Don’t Bid on One-Word Keywords

This is going to be your best bet for steering clear of those irrelevant and ambiguous meanings. Just don’t do it!

Make sure you’re bidding on long-tail phrases. Tighten up your match types so you don’t get broad-matched to the irrelevant searches by accident. Don’t give the search engines the chance to show your ad on ambiguous searches!

But let’s do a reality check. I know there are times where bidding on single-word keywords is a must. Maybe it’s your brand name (e.g., Madonna, Tesla, Prince). Maybe your CEO is insisting that you show up for that one word, no matter the cost. Maybe a lot of people really are looking for you when they search for that word. Let’s talk about some ways to rein in the ambiguity.

Find Out All the Other Meanings of Your Keywords

This may seem obvious, but I’d be willing to bet that nearly every PPC professional has stumbled across new meanings for their keywords that they weren’t aware of. Just today, for example, I learned that “spice” is a slang drug term. Who knew?

Here’s where your keyword research tools come in. Scan through the list of results to see if any weird ones show up.

Google the term and see what appears in the SERPs. Ask your friends and coworkers if they’re aware of other meanings for the word. Go old school: get out your good old dictionary (or go to dictionary.com) and look up the word. Urban Dictionary is another great resource for alternative meanings of words and phrases.

Add the Irrelevant Meanings as Negatives

When you’re bidding on ambiguous terms, a huge negative keyword list is a must. Take all the irrelevant meanings of the word you can think of, and add them as negative keywords. Then add more.

A great source of common negative keywords can be found here. Add every single negative that doesn’t apply to you, so you can be sure to capture only the most relevant traffic.

You’ll also want to get into the habit of running search query reports. You may even want to run them daily (this can be automated – here’s how), at least at first. Relentlessly add every single irrelevant search query as a negative keyword.

Make Your Ad Copy Crystal Clear

Clear, concise ad copy is a best practice no matter what keywords you’re using. But with ambiguous terms, it’s vital to the success of your campaign.

Now is the time to go overboard with repetition. Repeating your keyword in context will go a long way in deterring irrelevant clicks on your ads.

For example, if you’re selling Madonna concert tickets, your ad could say:

•    Madonna Concert Tickets
•    Get Madonna Concert Tickets Here
•    Buy Madonna Concert Tickets Online

I know it looks and sounds ridiculous; but it will really drive home the fact that you’re not advertising about the Mother of Christ, college, or anything but Madonna the singer.

As with all PPC ad copy, testing is crucial. Test the ad above against another, more “normal” ad. See which performs better. Then test again.

With careful planning and testing, you can indeed eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, ambiguity in PPC.

What techniques have you used?

Author’s Note: Special thanks to #PPCchat participants Dennis Petretti, Bryant Garvin, Chris Kostecki, Luke Alley, and James Zolman for inspiring this post.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on August 28, 2012.

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PPC Targeting by Customer Intent

Many years ago, in business school, I took a bunch of marketing classes.  One of the basic tenets I learned was the customer buying cycle.

A common description of the buying cycle is the AIDA process:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Customers theoretically go through these phases as they make a buying decision.  The process may be very fast for impulse purchases, or it could take years for a complex, high-priced product or service.

In online marketing, we often describe buying phases as awareness, consideration, and demand generation.

I’m often surprised at how many PPC advertisers really don’t think about the buying cycle when crafting their campaigns. By targeting your PPC campaigns and landing pages to each phase of the buying cycle, you can really take your PPC performance to the next level.

At gyro, we’ve had good success with segmenting and targeting PPC traffic. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming weeks.  For now, here are some resources for you to learn more about targeting PPC campaigns to customer intent.

The first is a post from Search Engine Watch by Ted Rooke on leveraging customer intent.  It’s a step-by-step approach to understanding customer intent.

The other good resource I found recently was published on the Acquisio blog just a couple of days ago.  It’s by Greg Myers, and it covers the importance of keyword classification in PPC marketing.  Greg provides good explanations and useful visuals on understanding keyword classification.

How have you segmented your PPC traffic? Discuss in the comments!

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Using the Adwords Opportunities Tab

Has this ever happened to you?  You need to quickly increase or decrease PPC spend, and you’ve run out of ideas. You’ve tried everything you can think of, but there’s more work to be done, and you’re starting to panic.

Enter the Adwords Opportunities tab.  The Opportunities Tab is jam-packed with info on how to increase or reduce your spend, including:

  • Telling you if your budget is right for the amount of traffic your keywords are generating
  • Letting you know if any of your keywords bids are too low, or if they can be reduced without major sacrifice
  • Pointing out missed opportunities such as adding sitelinks to campaigns without them
  • Recommending new keywords to add to your account

There are 3 options in the Opportunities tab:

  • Increase traffic
  • Balance spend and traffic
  • Decrease spend

Adwords Opportunities Tab Overview

 Choose the option that’s right for you.  I’ve used all 3, and have gotten good suggestions for each option.

But I’ve also gotten bad suggestions.  Really bad suggestions.  PPC Hero has a good writeup on why you shouldn’t blindly implement the Opportunities Tab suggestions – give it a read.

If you do decide that the suggestions make sense, you have several options for implementation.  You can add keywords or change bids right from the Opportunities tab – very handy if you’re comfortable with the suggestions.

You can also download the recommended changes to Excel.  This is helpful if you need to edit keyword ideas – if you need to add keyword-level URLs, for example, or edit match types.

Finally, you can add the suggestions as an Experiment.  I love this feature.  Let’s say that the keyword recommendations are relevant, but you’re concerned you might get too much traffic and blow your budget.  Or let’s say you’re not sure if the keywords will work for you.  By adding the changes as an experiment, you can monitor results easily.  If the changes perform, you can roll them out to all traffic; but if they don’t, you’ve reduced the risk.

If you don’t like the recommendations in the Opportunities tab, you also have the option to remove them.

Adwords Opportunities Tab

Supposedly, Google will “remember” your choice and not show those suggestions again, although I’m not sure the process is flawless.  I’ve seen some really bad suggestions that I’ve rejected, only to see similarly bad suggestions come up later on.

Wordstream has a thorough post on the Opportunities tab, so check that out for additional information.

What do you think about the Opportunities tab?  Good, bad, or indifferent? Share in the comments!

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Beyond the Paid Best Of, Summer 2012 Edition

Here in the US, Labor Day weekend is upon us already – the holiday that marks the end of the summer.  It’s always a bittersweet time – while we all love summer vacation, it’s also nice to get a break from the heat and get back to a more “normal” routine.

As you look ahead into September, it’s a good time to review your PPC strategy as well.  Here are a couple of links to posts from this blog that readers found helpful.

Using Keyword Level URLs in PPC

This post was inspired by a PPCchat conversation.  Posts like this are some of my favorite posts to write, because it’s not just my opinion – the whole PPC community gets involved. Give this one a read to learn more about why you should consider using keyword level URLs in PPC.

12 Links Every PPC Pro Should Bookmark

I find it interesting to see which posts get the most pickup on Twitter and around the blogosphere – it’s usually not the ones I would have guessed.  This post was one I wrote in about 10 minutes, because that’s all the time I had – and it was hugely popular.  It just goes to show that you don’t need to spend hours slaving over a blog post every week!

So as you head into your holiday weekend, give these popular posts another read.  Did you read any other great PPC articles over the summer?  Share them in the comments!

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4 Ways to Kill Your PPC Health

Most medical experts agree that patients should take responsibility for their own health. While it’s a doctor’s job to help the patient get well, the patient needs to cooperate. When the doctor and patient don’t work together as a team, the patient’s health can suffer.

An agency/client PPC relationship is a lot like a doctor/patient relationship. Both parties are responsible for the health of the campaign, and they need to work together. Not doing so can lead to less than optimal PPC well-being.

Here are four ways clients and agencies can kill a campaign.

Diagnosing Without an Exam

Consider this scenario: Patient walks into the doctor’s office and says, “Doctor, my chest hurts. I need open heart surgery.” Doctor says “OK, let’s schedule the surgery now.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

You don’t need a medical degree to realize that the doctor in this example isn’t doing his or her job. What if the patient only has indigestion? Or what if they have bronchitis or pneumonia? Is open heart surgery going to fix either of these issues?

Yet in the PPC world, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve met with a client early in an engagement and the client says, “We need to launch a PPC campaign.” And too many PPC agencies say “OK, let’s open an AdWords account.”

The problem with this picture is that you haven’t figured out what marketing problem the client is trying to solve! What are their business goals? What are the pain points in their online marketing? What are the key performance indicators for their yet-to-be-launched PPC campaign? How will those KPIs be measured?

No reputable doctor would prescribe treatment for a patient without a thorough history and exam. Likewise, no reputable PPC company should launch a campaign without first establishing goals, KPIs, and tracking, along with a conversation about how PPC fits into the overall marketing mix.

Seeing Too Many Doctors

Most people would agree that medical specialists serve a necessary purpose. A general practitioner is probably not the best doctor to remove a tricky brain tumor, for example.

However, the doctors need to work together. They all need to understand the patient’s diseases, history, and treatment plans. When a patient runs from one doctor to the next without telling the others, it can have catastrophic results.

The same thing can happen in PPC. If too many people work on the account and don’t talk to one another, usually the campaigns don’t do very well. Or if the client makes changes to the account without telling the agency, performance can suffer.

Clear communication between all responsible parties will go a long way in ensuring that the campaign works as well as it possibly can.

Taking Medicines Because You Always Have

While there is a lot to be said for tried-and-true medications, sometimes they stop working. Either the patient gets better and doesn’t need the medication any more, or their body stops responding to it. Regular checkups are needed to make sure the current medications still make sense.

In PPC, regular meetings between the agency and client will help ensure that the campaign and marketing tactics are still working. For example:

  • Don’t bid on the same keywords for years at a time without reviewing them to make sure they still work and make sense.
  • Don’t settle for the same ad copy month after month without testing something new.
  • Work together as a team to continually question and review the current marketing plan and make sure the prescriptions are still working.

Not Telling the Doctor What Medications & Supplements You’re Taking

This is a common issue in the medical world. Patients either knowingly or unknowingly don’t tell their doctor what medications they’re taking, and this omission can have serious consequences. Medications can work together, or they can work against one another – and some combinations can be deadly!

Similarly, it’s not uncommon for PPC clients to forget to tell their agency about:

  • Sales or promotions taking place in other channels that could affect or benefit from PPC.
  • Products that are no longer available.
  • Website pages that have been changed or removed.
  • Shifts in overall marketing strategy.

Usually, the client isn’t being malicious – they really just forget to tell their PPC agency about these things. Yet these omissions can keep their PPC campaigns from achieving optimal health!

If you’re a client, be a good patient. Provide your agency “doctor” with a complete history and marketing picture. Communicate with them regularly.

If you’re an agency, be a good doctor. Ask questions so you understand the client’s marketing goals and KPIs. Communicate with them regularly.

By working as a team, you can ensure that your PPC campaigns stay healthy!

Editor’s Note:  This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on February 14, 2012.

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Using Call Extensions in PPC

When you think about PPC, you think about the online world:  online searches, online ads, and online websites where a conversion happens.  The offline world often doesn’t factor into the picture of PPC.

Of course, though, the offline world still exists, and business happens there on a daily basis.  Since the dawn of PPC, businesses have tried to find a way to cross the chasm between online and off.

One way to do that is by using call extensions in your PPC ads.  In a nutshell, call extensions are a Google Adwords feature that allows your phone number to appear automatically with your ad copy – without using precious space in the ad copy itself.

The cost for using call extensions depends on the device used to perform the search.  For mobile searches, call extensions appear at no extra charge, and the advertiser pays the normal CPC when the phone number is clicked to call.  On desktop and laptop computers, advertisers need to use a Google phone number, and there is a minimum charge of $1 per call.  You get a lot of cool analytics when you use the Google numbers, though – we’ll talk about that in a minute.

Wordstream has a great post covering all the basics of call extensions, so I won’t repeat all that here.  For a closer look at where call extensions might show up and what they look like, check out this post from PPC Hero.

Let’s talk about where the rubber meets the road with call extensions:  evaluating results.  As with a lot of new and shiny objects in the online world, a lot of advertisers get really excited about the fact that the feature exists, without thinking about whether the feature makes sense for their business and helps them get closer to their goals.

Obviously, if your business isn’t equipped to generate conversions over the phone, you shouldn’t use call extensions.  Even if you are equipped, it’s crucial to think about dayparting:  are you running call extensions at 2am when no one is there to answer the phone?  That’s probably not a good user experience, so daypart your campaigns accordingly.

OK, so you’ve ensured that you can convert over the phone and you’ve dayparted properly.  How do you tell if this is working or not?

Well, there are several considerations.  First off, unless you’ve purchased a system to tie phone orders into your web analytics platform, your phone conversions won’t show up there.  You’ll need another way to track them.  If you have a good phone tracking system already, and you’re using a unique phone number for PPC (which you absolutely should do), then this shouldn’t be an issue.

But not all businesses have such a fancy phone system.  While it’s a lot harder to get accurate conversion data without that, you can still tally sales manually.  This requires phone rep cooperation, but it can be done, especially if the reps are incentivized properly.

So you’ve decided to use a Google forwarding number.  What great data do you get in return?

Well, it’s pretty cool, actually.  Go to the Dimensions tab in Adwords and select “Call Details” for your view.

Then, export your report.  You’ll end up with the following fields by default:

•    Start time
•    End time
•    Status
•    Duration (seconds)
•    Caller area code
•    Phone cost
•    Call type
•    Campaign

Pretty cool, huh?  From there, you can analyze whether these calls were worthwhile, at least from a location (area code) and duration standpoint.

By converting seconds to minutes, you can chart the call length for easy analysis, like this:

So if you’re a B2B advertiser with a long sales cycle, and your goal is to generate consultative phone calls, a call duration of less than 1 minute (60 seconds in the report) is probably not good. 

There are many other analyses you can perform with this data – and it gets even more powerful when you marry it with your own call center reports.  The point is, if generating phone contacts is one of your goals, you definitely should be using call extensions.

How have you used call extensions in your campaigns?

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12 Links Every PPC Pro Should Bookmark

Every day, there is a plethora of great PPC info shared across the web:  on blogs, in social media, and in forums.  Most of it falls into the “that’s interesting” category, but nothing more.

Periodically, though, a post or tool is so good that I bookmark it and refer back to it often.  Here is my list of the 12 links every PPC pro should bookmark.

Modified Broad Match Tool from Acquisio: This tool enables you to paste a list of keywords, tell it which ones you want to add the broad match modifier, and spits them out with a keystroke. It’s a huge time saver and I use it at least weekly.

SplitTester: A tool to quickly get statistical significance & confidence levels. Great for PPC ad testing.

WebShare’s split testing tool: This tool combines CTR and conversion rate to tell you the overall winner of an ad test.

145 PPC Must Do’s for 2012 from PPC Hero: This was a New Year’s post that was actually very useful.  I’ve been working my way through the list for the past 6 months.  Not every tip will apply to every PPC account, but if you’re looking for new optimization ideas, this is the place.

Excel Hints for PPC from SEOptimise: PPC’ers live in Excel, so we’re always hungry for more Excel tips. This is a good bunch of hints.

Excel Formatting Tips from Search Engine Journal: If your reports look like they were done by a 5th grader, this post will help you fix that.

Excel Tips & Tricks from PPC Associates: Yet more awesome Excel tips for PPC’ers.


Ion Interactive’s Landing Page Checklist: I refer to this often when advising clients on landing page best practices.

PPC Task Checklist from PPC Hero: A great list of PPC tasks that will help all PPC pros, from novice to expert.

Google Analytics Advanced Segments Shares from Jill Whalen: A neat list of advanced segments that you can copy and use in your own Google Analytics accounts.

Google Analytics URL Builder: A good way to make sure your custom URLs for Google Analytics are formatted properly.

Auditing PPC Accounts Without Account Access from Fathom: A recent blog post to help PPC’ers over a common stumbling block: auditing a PPC account when you don’t have access to the account itself.

And there you have it – 12 must-have PPC bookmarks! I know there are more out there, so share your favorites in the comments!  I’ll compile them into a future blog post.

Editor’s Note:  The link to the Ion Interactive Landing Page checklist was incorrect and has now been corrected. Thanks to commenter Max Miller for pointing out the error!

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Using Keyword Level URLs in PPC

In PPC, we have almost unlimited choices in how we structure our accounts.  The flexibility is one of the reasons why I love PPC:  every account is different, and we can tailor the structure and settings to meet each advertiser’s needs.

One such customization is keyword-level destination URLs.  Both Adwords and adCenter, as well as nearly every 2nd tier PPC engine, provides the option to specify destination URLs at the keyword level, as opposed to the ad level (the default for most engines).

Astute readers may be wondering why keyword-level destination URLs are even necessary.  After all, if you’ve structured your account properly, with small, tightly-themed ad groups, you shouldn’t need to use distinct URLs on your keywords, right?

In general, that’s true.  However, there are situations even with small ad groups where keyword destination URLs make sense.

This was the subject of a recent impromptu discussion on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter.  John Lavin (@Johnnyjetfan) asked why anyone would use keyword destination URLs if the account is structured well.  The answers were, as usual, informative. Here is some of the feedback, and my commentary.

  • I have one client who uses them for their internal tracking (non-GA). So I have special URLs for each keyword.
    • Melissa’s comment:  Some clients use proprietary tracking systems other than Google Analytics (GA).  In many of these systems, parameters must be assigned to each keyword in order to pass that data to the analytics system.  Therefore, individual keyword destination URLs are necessary to get keyword-level data.
  • Sometimes we have keywords that don’t fit the mold of the landing page and don’t get enough volume to warrant a complete ad group.
    • Melissa’s comment:  While I’d probably still put those keywords in a separate ad group, this is yet another valid reason to use keyword destination URLs.
  • Happens often w/ Ecommerce where descriptive/feature words are better off sending customer to a point closer to the cart.
    • Melissa’s comment:  Absolutely.
  • You can also pass special variables to the landing pages on a keyword by keyword basis.
    • Melissa’s comment:  This is another fantastic use of keyword destination URLs.  For instance, you could use a URL parameter to pass a code or keyword that would then dynamically appear on the landing page.
  • Another advantage is you can amend your destination URLs anytime without having your ad trigger a review.
    • Melissa’s comment:  I hadn’t thought of this – and I like it!  Lately I’ve found that the editorial review process for ad copy is taking far too long, so anything I can do to avoid getting stuck in that purgatory is worth it!

As you can see, there are several instances where keyword destination URLs make a lot of sense, even when account structure is sound.  Many thanks to the PPC Chatters who made this post possible:

Johnnyjetfan
Chriskos
Askppc
Markkennedysem
Realicity
AndrewBaker72

Have you used keyword destination URLs in a new and different way? Share in the comments!

Editor’s Note:  I inadvertently left off one of the comment contributors, Andrew Baker.  I apologize for the oversight!  You’re on the list now.

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Picking a PPC Landing Page

Countless articles and blog posts have been written about setting up and managing PPC campaigns.  From keyword research, to ad copy development, to account structure, to networks, geotargeting, and on and on, there’s a plethora of info about dealing with the inner workings of the various PPC engines.

In all that detail – and let me be clear, all that detail is critically important – it’s easy to forget that keywords & ad copy are only the first step in a long journey to a conversion.

I’ve heard it said that the best PPC campaign in the world can’t fix a crappy website or a crappy landing page.  And I’m here to help you choose the right landing page for PPC success.

Choose the most relevant page for the query.

The most relevant page is almost never going to be your website’s homepage.  The exception to this would be branded terms that don’t give any additional info about what the searcher is looking for.  So if the search query is “brand X,” then the homepage is better than deeper pages that may not be relevant to the query.

But most search queries aren’t that vague.  Nearly every non-branded query is going to give some idea of what the searcher wants (and if it doesn’t, maybe you shouldn’t be bidding on it!).

Use this info to choose your landing page.  If the query is broad, you may want to use a category page as the landing page.

Let’s take the example of a clothing retailer that sells designer jeans:  Nordstrom.  (If you were at my Intro to PPC session at SES Chicago, this will sound familiar).  If the query is “designer jeans,” then don’t send them to the home page:

Instead, you’ll want to send the visitor to your jeans category page:

Often, though, the query is more specific.  People might search for “women’s seven for all mankind jeans,” for instance.

In those cases, give the user what they searched for!  Land them on the “Seven” category page.

Granted, they’ll still need to do some browsing on your site to find the exact pair and size they’re looking for, but it’s certainly better than dropping them on your home page, which may not even mention the product they looked for!

I know that once you see these examples, it seems obvious – yet I see countless PPC campaigns that either send all their traffic to the home page, or use a category page for specific queries (or vice versa).  Your visitors already performed one search – don’t make them search again!  By picking the right landing page, you’re giving yourself the best shot at getting that sale or lead.

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