Using Competitive PPC Intelligence Effectively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Attribution, Custom Columns, and Guessing Help My Ecommerce Accounts

Editor’s Note: I’m on vacation this week, so I’ve asked Kirk Williams to fill in and blog for me. You’re going to love this entertaining and thought-provoking post!


The word strikes fear in my heart.

And hope.

Let’s call it a hopeful fear. Or maybe a fearful hope?

Attribution is amazing and powerful and awesome but we’re (I’m) still trying to figure it out, right? Like the cookie jar just out of reach of the grasping toddler hands, attribution is something I often can’t get my mind around when it comes to making actionable account decisions.

Now, before all you “I understand all of everything everywhere for all time” people hop in with your buzzwordy explanations, I don’t mean that I don’t understand the concept and importance of attribution.

I get it, attribution is essential for business survival. Last-click needs to rightfully die. A holistic marketing approach (buzzword alert) needs to rightfully arrive as the savior of PPC efforts.


What I mean is that I can’t always grasp what to actually do in my account with the attribution information I receive. OK, so X campaign had a touch on 30 other conversions last week. Report to client, check. Uhhhhhh…. now what?

The goal of this post is to make an effort at beginning to address the question when it comes to attribution data in your ecommerce account: “Now what?”

Attribution + Custom Columns = Holistic Bidding Decisions

When it comes to making decisions in my accounts, the AdWords UI still reigns supreme. Thankfully, they have been stepping up their game in terms of the data we can utilize in our columns. The reason why columns are so important for me, is because I use them as my primary way of rapidly observing, analyzing, and acting upon data.

In the recent past, Google added attribution into its columns as another signal we could use to make better decisions. I believe there is a way to use this attribution data for better decisions, and we’ll cover that, but I want to note one thing first.

Qualification: If you are looking for a specific formula in this post, you’re not going to find it. There are great bidding formulas out there (read Wijnand Meijer’s massive tome on bidding here: The Complete AdWords Audit Part 13: Bid Management), that discuss scientific formulas and brilliance beyond my capabilities.  Perhaps someone will even read this post and figure out some scientific formulaic way to do what I discuss here (Great! Share if you do, please!). My purpose in this post is less to provide a formula then it is to plant an idea. I want to get your brain thinking about how you can actually utilize attribution for bidding decisions in one way, and then to apply that in your accounts as you see fit.

Good to go? No more qualifications?

Here goes.

Utilizing custom columns and attribution columns to broaden my understanding of conversion impact in AdWords is one example of a way I use attribution to take a tangible, specific, action in my accounts.

STEP 1 – I go into AdWords and select the attribution columns for click assisted conversions and impression assisted conversions. It may be helpful for you to include the click assisted conversion value (revenue) as well.



STEP 2 – I create a custom column for “All Conversion Touches” in which I add Last Click Conversions, Click Assisted Conversions, and Impression Assisted Conversions. This helps me see at a glance, how much of any sort of conversion impact an AdWords element has.

create columns


Yes, you are correct, but please stick with me. I think it may make sense later why I believe it’s ok to lump these together.

Make sure to add in the Custom Column to your Dashboard (I like to add it in last).


STEP 3 – Pull some data, and analyze it. As an example, take these Shopping campaigns I pulled from a client (with permission to show them to you).


This should give you an idea of what the data actually looks like right in the UI where you can see it. See how the attribution columns broaden our understanding of the impact on our campaigns?  Cool, huh?

But…. what do you do with this? That’s the question we started out with, right?  How will this actually help you make a decision to bid, set a negative keyword, pause an ad group, or a myriad of other optimization actions at your fingertips?

Taking ACTION on Attribution

Here is where the rubber meets the road. How are you actually going to make a bidding decision in which attribution was taking into account?  Well, by working some advanced formula into something, RIGHT???  JUST GIVE ME A FORMULA, KIRK.

Nope. You’re going to guess.

*cue more shouting at me*

Now, before you tar and feather me, please allow me to defend myself with this scenario.

You have sorted your top spend ad groups in AdWords, and are trying to figure out where to prioritize your time. Maybe you even use a filter (because you are a top-notch PPCer) to highlight the ad groups that have brought in $0 total conversion value and +$300 spend. When you apply that, you see 5 ad groups in your view.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Because you are a holistic (there’s that word again) marketer, you are keeping one eye on your attribution and custom columns and you see something fascinating.

Of those evil 5, 2 of those ad groups are showing strong click & impression assisted conversions. While the last click conversions are at 0, the click and impression assisted conversions are through the roof on these 2 ad groups. It’s interesting (you surmise to yourself), because those ad groups are of keywords that are probably more top of funnel in the sales process anyway, so perhaps it makes sense that they are assisting without directly converting.

Armed with this new knowledge, you decide you are NOT going to pause these 2 ad groups. Instead, you start digging around a little more, try a new ad test, perhaps raise the bid 5% (just to see what happens).


You just took action in your account based on attribution data.

Without this attribution information, you would have most likely reduced bids, or even paused those keywords/ad groups that are providing a significant source of top-of-funnel, brand-introduction traffic.

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is using attribution to actually affect the way you manage an account.

Humanity, FTW

I’d like to point out something else. Another thing this is doing, if you didn’t notice, is empowering you to make a smarter decision. There’s not a formula, because it’s kind of a squishy thing, right? In many ways, the attribution data (and our understanding of it, and how we can apply it, and…) we get is still squishy. So if you try to set a hard rule on squishy data, you get something that resembles this smushed banana more than it does a great new automated bidding adjustment.

Img source:

(Img source:

That’s why I said it’s basically a guess, and that’s why your value as a PPCer is still there. In my opinion, the squishiness of data is where the truly great (human) PPCer will shine (or fail miserably, we’ve all done it). You have all this data, but what should you do about it? A smart PPCer who really knows his/her account, will be able to make a great decision based upon that data and intuitively know whether to try to limp that keyword along a little more, kill it off, bid it lower, or even expand its presence. This means you can breathe a sigh of relief, the robots haven’t won quite yet.

So, while I don’t have a formula for what to do here, hopefully I’ve armed you with a little more knowledge moving forward to make better, smarter bidding decisions in which you are beginning to think beyond the last click conversion for the good of your account.

There are likely many ways you can think of to use attribution in a tangible way, great! Please share them in the comments below.

Kirk Williams is the owner of ZATO, his PPC Marketing agency and has been working in Paid Search since 2010. He has published articles on Search Engine Land, Moz, PPC Hero, Wordstream, and the Bing Ads blog, but is probably more well known for the dumb PPC memes he shares on Twitter. In 2015, Kirk was named 1 of the Top 5 Rising Stars of PPC and in 2016, he was named the #7 Most Influential PPCer by PPC Hero. Kirk loves to talk PPC and has spoken at SMX, Hero Conference, SLC Digital Marketing Conference, and State of Search.

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8 Reasons Why PPC Campaigns Fail

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a PPC pro – someone who does PPC for a living. At a minimum, you have some kind of interest in PPC: if you’re not doing it for a living, maybe you’re trying to learn, or maybe you do SEO or some other kind of internet marketing and want to understand PPC as part of the marketing mix.

Every PPC professional has had at least one campaign that failed in some way. It didn’t meet the expectations of your client or boss. In the agency world, it’s common nowadays to inherit existing PPC accounts that were poorly managed in one way or another and failed to meet client expectations.

So what are the reasons why PPC campaigns fail? Is it just incompetence on the part of the PPC manager.

Not always.

Sure, there’s some incompetence out there, as there is in any field. We’ve all seen accounts with a single campaign that’s full of broad match keywords driving to the homepage. But that’s not common. Here are some of the common reasons I’ve seen PPC campaigns fail.

Lack of goals.

As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Setting goals is a basic tenet of any marketing plan, and yet it’s common to see advertisers whose stated goal is “we need to get ads on Google.” Sorry, but “getting ads on Google” is not a marketing strategy or goal.

Lack of conversion tracking.

What good is setting a destination if you don’t know when you’ve arrived there? Without proper conversion tracking, you’re flying blind. You’ll never know if you achieved your goal or not. It always surprises me when we see accounts with no conversion tracking whatsoever. It shocks me when clients resist putting tracking codes on their website – and yet it happens more often than I’d like to admit.

Refusing to put conversion tracking on your website is like refusing to use a cash register at your store checkout. Sure, you could just have employees stuff all the cash in a drawer – but at the end of the day, how would you know how many units you sold? How can you tell if employees are skimming from the till? Without a tracking system, you won’t. Same thing goes for PPC.

Poor campaign structure.

I alluded to this earlier – the horror story of a single campaign full of broad match. But PPC campaign structure problems go beyond the obvious. We inherited an account that looked great on the surface: its campaigns were set up by geo location and by brand or non-brand keywords. Problem was, the brand campaigns had non-brand keywords in them, and vice versa.

Campaign structure is only as good as the person managing it. You must follow it.

Poor landing pages.

So many PPC advertisers have great campaigns, with great structure, keywords, and ad copy – and then they fall down on landing pages. Having poor landing pages while spending money on PPC ads is the equivalent of buying a Super Bowl ad for a dirty, disorganized store with mean sales clerks. It doesn’t make sense.

Use landing page best practices to ensure that your online store is clean, well-organized, and ready to convert.

Bad ad copy.

Good campaign structure and landing pages are critical to success, but so is good ad copy. In just a few characters, your ad copy must convey what it is you’re offering, what you want users to do, and why they should do it. It’s a tough challenge, and many advertisers fail.

Ensure your ad copy is as good as it can be by using this cheat sheet.

Campaigns aren’t managed actively, or aren’t managed well.

PPC is not a “set it and forget it” medium. Setting up good campaigns is only the beginning. Successful PPC managers spend most of their time optimizing keywords, ad copy, bids, and many other elements of PPC.

A lot of businesses wrongly assume that a junior-level marketing staffer can manage their PPC campaigns on a part-time basis. Unless that person has PPC experience, this is almost always a failing proposition. Hiring an experienced PPC manager, whether to work in house or in an agency, is the best option for most advertisers.

You’ve done all this, and the campaign is still failing.

What now? Sometimes, despite our best efforts, campaigns continue to underperform. What can be done? Check out this post on how to solve the biggest problems in PPC.

PPC isn’t for every business.

It’s rare, but every once in a while there is a business or campaign that just doesn’t work. At this point, you may have to face the reality that PPC isn’t right for this business. Just make sure you’ve tried all options before conceding defeat.

What are some of the reasons you’ve seen PPC campaigns fail? Share in the comments!

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Voice Search and PPC Relevance: A Match Made in Hell

Voice search has come on strong in the past year or so. Bing Ads has been ahead of the pack on voice search, predicting a year ago that it would be big. Purna Virji of Bing Ads talked a lot about voice search in her recent Reddit AMA, as well.

I’ve definitely noticed more obvious voice queries in our clients’ search query reports lately. The much-ballyhooed “near me” searches are showing up in droves in several client accounts. We’re also seeing really long search queries, with 15-20 words not uncommon. Queries that start with “give me the number for” or “can I get the name of” or “what’s the company on First and Main” are prevalent, as well.

Voice search is obviously cool and efficient for the user. It’s so easy to say “OK Google” and start asking a question in natural language. Cars nowadays are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity to mobile phones, giving drivers the opportunity to perform voice searches without taking their eyes off the road. My teenagers almost never type a search query into their phones – they either use OK Google or Siri. It’s the stuff of Star Trek: “Computer! Identify that flying object!”

As search marketers, though, voice search is wreaking a bit of havoc. The search engines, despite their outward support of voice search, seem to have trouble handling lengthy voice queries. Our clients’ ads have shown on some highly irrelevant queries that are obviously voice searches.

The challenge is multiplied if you’re using call-only ads. Call-only ads are great in that they display a nice big “Call” button:

Call Extensions Mobile

But when call-only ads show on irrelevant voice searches, they tend to generate unqualified phone calls – wasting client call center resources on top of wasted click costs.

Another issue is that the engine’s negative keyword functionality hasn’t kept up with voice search. Negative keywords don’t work when the negative term appears more than 10 words into a search query. So if you have “free” as a negative keyword, and someone voice-searches “what’s the name of the company on fifth and main that offers free haircuts to kids,” your ad will still show – even if you’re not offering free haircuts. This is becoming a bigger and bigger problem for our clients.

Another huge issue is close variants. Close variants have always been a problem, but with voice search, we’re seeing even bigger challenges.

Take the example of “company” vs. “companies.” In theory, search queries with either word should perform the same. A search for “business phone company” should perform the same as “business phone companies.”

The problem is, with voice search, the two are very different. Let’s look at an example.

Consider these two queries:

what’s the name of the business phone company on 5th avenue
business phone companies that can help my small business

The first query is clearly someone who is looking for a specific business. They just can’t remember its name. If you’re that business, you’re in luck. If you’re not, you’re going to get a lot of clicks and/or phone calls from people looking for a competitor! Not cool.

The second query is clearly from a user who is looking for a business phone company. If you’re that advertiser, this is exactly the prospect you want. It’s an obvious lead-generation question that should convert well.

And yet, if you’re bidding on “business phone companies,” your ad will serve for both queries, because of close variants.

I’ve become increasingly frustrated with this as time goes on. There’s no way to keep your ad from showing on irrelevant searches, and the irrelevant searches are becoming more frequent due to voice search – leading to worsening ROI from paid search.

We can only hope that the engines will reconsider their stand on close variants and give us the option to choose to include them once again. Otherwise, I can envision paid search quickly becoming too expensive with too low an ROI for many advertisers.

What do you think? Is voice search helping your PPC performance, or hurting it? Share in the comments!

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Ad Blockers and PPC

Ad blockers. A 2-word phrase that can strike fear into the hearts of PPC professionals. After all, we make our living from online advertising. The advent of technology that blocks our lifeblood is concerning to say the least.

Ad blockers work by detecting advertising code on a website, leaving blank space. They can also speed up page load times, especially on mobile devices, where content is often painfully slow to load. This is one of the reasons ad blockers have been adopted at a high rate – Smashing Magazine claims that 75% of their readers use them, and the iOS ad blocker app has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.

From a user standpoint, it’s pretty easy to see the appeal of ad blockers. I’m so tired of interstitials and pop-overs interrupting me when I’m trying to read an article online. On mobile, it’s often impossible to close or move the interstitials – which leads me to abandon the site entirely. It’s frustrating as a user.

And the web has indeed slowed to a crawl with all the tracking scripts running on many sites. Ad blockers can strip many of these tracking codes, speeding up the user experience – and killing the advertiser’s ability to track user behavior.

As I was researching for this post, I started to think about the definition of an ad. It’s clear that ad blockers define ads as third parties running ads on a website using javascript for Adsense or other ad syndicators. But what about ads for your own content? Aren’t those ads just the same?

Earlier this week, Ad Age ran an article called Three Reasons Why Ad Blockers Are Good for Advertising. They talk about over-saturation of the market, poor targeting, and the need for a better experience – all valid points.

But they contradicted themselves with the experience on their own website! When I first landed on the article, I was served a huge interstitial:

ad age interstitial

Sorry Ad Age – I don’t want to sign up for your “free” full access that you’re going to start charging me for after my “free” 14 day trial. I just want to read one article.

Once I got rid of the interstitial, I was treated to one of the most unappealing visual presentations of a web article that I’ve seen in a long time:

ad age ads

Look at that awful page. I had to scroll every sentence or two just to keep reading. Why? Because it was full of ads FOR THEIR OWN STUFF. Small Agency Guide! Look Book! Sign me up for the email that I just rejected on your stupid popup!

Is this what we’ve replaced “ads” with? Ads for our own crap? Is this the answer to the ad blocker problem? Is this a better experience??

Clearly, both the advertisers and the publishers need to do better. As PPC advertisers, we need to use better targeting. Use frequency caps. Resist the temptation to keep people on remarketing lists forever. Insist that clients use tag managers and limit the number of scripts running on landing pages. Maybe consider reducing your investment in display and remarketing and beef up search and RLSA – but only if display and remarketing aren’t performing. Base decisions on data, not a few outliers.

And publishers, don’t substitute ads for ads. Don’t frustrate and annoy your readers with silly popovers and ads filling the margins of your content. A bad on-site experience is just as responsible for the increase in ad blocker adoption as bad ads are. We’re all in this together. And it’s all about the user.

What say you? Are ad blockers impacting your PPC performance? Do publishers need to do better? Are ad blockers a “sky is falling” non-issue? Share in the comments!

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Ad Copy

When people think about PPC, they often think about keywords first. But good ad copy is just as important to a successful PPC campaign. With only 90 characters to work with, writing good PPC ad copy is harder than you think.

What is the goal of each ad group?

Think about the goal of each ad group. Is it to sell products? Generate leads? What specifically are you offering and what do you want people to do when they get to the landing page? Your goal will help you craft ad copy that encourages users to do what you want them to do.
Read more: Ideas Are Not Strategy

Write the call to action first.

Few PPC pros write ads this way, but they should. Writing the call to action first forces you to craft ad copy around it. It also ensures enough space to say what you need to say! Some calls to action are long -“Download The White Paper Now,” for example – so you need to make sure you have enough space, or at least know you need to write a shorter call to action.
Read more: PPC Ad Copy Creation: Where To Start?

Research the competition.

You can use a tool like SEMrush or AdGooRoo, or you can just perform a few ad hoc searches on your keywords. Find out what your competitors are talking about and what they’re offering. If they all offer free shipping, you’ll need to think seriously about doing the same thing. Sometimes, researching the competition yields ideas on how to differentiate your business from all the others in the space. Are you the only company that allows purchases without a credit card? Say so! Do you ship faster than others? Put that in your ad copy.
Read more: 3 Sneaky Ways To Bid On Competitor Keywords

Determine your unique selling proposition (USP).

What’s unique about your company? Why should people buy from you? This is your unique selling proposition, the differentiator for your business. By the way, slogans such as “Just Do It” aren’t USPs. There’s a place for slogans, but not in ad copy. Save them for callout extensions and put a true USP in your ad copy.
Read more: Why PPC and SEO Engagements Fail

Include elements to encourage conversions.

In PPC, ad copy must do two things: stand out to encourage clicks, and make the offer clear to encourage conversions. Include elements such as numbers, keywords, and urgency statements (“Limited time offer!”) to encourage users not only to click, but to convert.
Read more: Pay-per-click: 5 Tips for Successful Ad Copy

Test, test, test.

Your job doesn’t end once you’ve written one ad. It’s just started. Write at least 3-4 ads for each ad group. You’re not going to put all 4 ads into market now, but you’ll need them for testing. Once one ad wins, pause the loser and rotate in another ad you’ve already written. One of the great things about PPC is the ability to test ad copy. Use it! Learn from it!
Read more: PPC Ad Copy Testing: 2015 Edition

The Ultimate PPC Ad Copy Cheat Sheet

PPC Ad Copy cheat sheet

Download the cheat sheet in Excel here: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For PPC Ad Copy

What are your ultimate PPC ad copy writing tips? Share in the comments!

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PPC Professionals: The Mechanics of Digital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PPC Blogs You Need To Be Reading Right Now

In an industry that moves as fast as PPC, reading industry blogs is a must. Sure, you can learn PPC from books, but the unfortunate aspect of PPC books is that portions of them are outdated as soon as they hit the shelves. Blogs are inherently more up to date, so they’re a great source of PPC news and views. And new blogs are constantly coming on to the scene. I wrote a post 2 years ago on the top PPC blogs, and it already needs updating. Here are the top PPC blogs you need to be reading right now.

Search Engine Land – as industry news sites go, Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land is the gold standard, with articles from nearly every PPC luminary out there.

The SEM Post – Curated by Jenn Slegg, The SEM Post covers just about everything that’s new and interesting in PPC and search in general. (Disclosure: I write a regular column for The SEM Post).

Inside Adwords blog – this is the place for Adwords product announcements and the official word from Google.

Bing Ads blog – Bing posts product announcements here, and also includes great industry stats, demographic info, and other interesting PPC stuff.

Neptune Moon – Julie Friedman Bacchini has one of the most fun blogs to read out there. An author after my own heart, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She wrote a great post for me a few weeks ago, too.

The Seer Interactive Blog – Covering all aspects of search and analytics, look to Seer for new PPC ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Merkle RKG Blog – these guys are the smartest folks in PPC. If you want to really nerd out and test the boundaries of your PPC technical chops, this is the place for you.

3Q Digital Blog – You’ll find how-to’s and helpful info here. I especially like all of their articles on Facebook Ads. – OK, this isn’t a traditional blog, but rather a collection of screencaps from the weekly PPCChats on Twitter. If you missed a chat, or want to refer back to one later, this is the place.

Are you reading all of these blogs? If not, what’s stopping you? What are your favorite PPC blogs – did I miss any? 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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5 Challenges for PPC Lead Generation

One of the great things about PPC is it can be used for nearly every business: those selling products online via ecommerce, and those trying to drive leads. Each type of marketing has its own challenges. Here are 5 challenges for lead generation PPC.

Nothing is sold.

When people talk about PPC, they often talk about shopping carts, shopping feeds, revenue per sale, and other aspects of ecommerce PPC. These facets are crucial for ecommerce PPC advertisers to understand – and none of them apply to lead generation.

When you’re driving leads, there is no shopping cart. Sure, there are lead forms, but it’s a one-step process. Cart abandons just don’t happen. (You can have form abandons, but that’s not the same thing.) Revenue per sale doesn’t exist either, because you’re not driving sales online.

Of course, lead generation PPC advertisers can and should still focus on metrics like conversion rate and cost per conversion, and back-end metrics like lead-to-close (more on that in a minute). But sometimes it feels as though we’re speaking a different language than that of ecommerce.

Lead generation advertisers can’t use Shopping feeds.

When you’re not selling anything online, you can’t use Google Shopping and all the cool features it offers, like shopping ads, seller ratings, dynamic search ads, and countdowns in ad copy. There are a lot of features, especially in Google, that lead gen advertisers just can’t use. (More on that in a minute too.)

Landing pages can be a challenge.

Successful online stores have tons of landing pages that are already optimized for conversion. When an ecommerce site is ready to start PPC, they usually have many pages that can be used, as is, as landing pages.

Not so for lead generation PPC. Sure, some sites have well-designed landing pages and contact forms, but a surprising number do not. Often, a lead generation PPC launch is delayed while the advertiser creates a landing page that can actually generate a lead. And that’s just one page. Creating multiple landing pages can be a mammoth undertaking for lead gen advertisers.

Only initial responses are visible in the PPC accounts.

Most sophisticated lead generation advertisers have a good back-end system that tracks leads all the way through to the sale. Systems like Salesforce and Bizible help immensely with this. (Salesforce has a great lead-gen optimized landing page, by the way!)

But even the most complex lead tracking system won’t display data in your Adwords or Bing Ads account. You’ll only see the initial form fills (and possibly calls) in your account. You might have a PPC campaign that’s generating lots of initial leads, but few sales – in which case, you should de-prioritize it, not bid it higher as you’d be tempted to do by looking at the initial lead data.

That means that tools like Conversion Optimizer and other bid algorithms are potentially optimizing for the wrong thing. Even if you do get data from your client or boss on what keywords or campaigns ultimately drove sales, it’s usually a manual process to tie that back to the original data and calculate your lead-to-close percentage and cost. It’s not impossible – and it’s important to do – but it’s a challenge for nearly every PPC lead generation advertiser.

PPC tools and features are often at odds with lead generation.

Recently, I wrote a post titled 3 Signs That Google Hates B2B Advertisers. The gist of the post is that, as I alluded to earlier, many of Google’s features are geared toward ecommerce rather than lead generation. The same is true for Bing, and even Facebook and Twitter, although the social engines have quite a few features for lead generation.

So how do you overcome these challenges? Certainly it doesn’t make sense to abandon PPC, as it can be the largest source of qualified leads for advertisers. Really, you just need to understand all the features and functions, and use them appropriately. There are some features you won’t be able to take advantage of, but that’s ok.

All the best practices of PPC still apply: understand your goals, test, test, and test again; create good campaign structure, and understand your buyer journey. Try to get data from your client on how leads are progressing through the cycle. Optimize your landing pages. And ignore the new stuff that Google introduces for ecommerce advertisers.

I actually enjoy the challenge of generating leads in PPC. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a client’s lead volume increase so much that they tell you to pause PPC while they catch up!

What about you? Have you run into challenges with lead generation PPC? How have you overcome them? Share in the comments!

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