6 Milestones For Successful PPC Campaigns

When I train new PPC hires, one of the questions they often ask me is, “How long does it take to get a PPC campaign running well?” It’s a fair question, and the answer isn’t what you might think.

A good PPC campaign takes time to set up. It’s not immediate like Google Adwords would lead you to believe:

This is Google's idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They're wrong.

This is Google’s idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They’re wrong.

Here are 6 milestones that will take you on your way to a well-run campaign.

Research

Doing your homework is a must. Guessing at keywords and creating one ad that lands on the homepage is not the way to approach PPC. You’ll need to think about campaign goals first, and then do your keyword research.

Creating good ad copy is harder than ever with all the options out there today. Be sure to incorporate best practices.

Campaign structure is also vital for success. Plan for expansion, and create campaigns and ad groups that will make management and reporting easier.

Tracking

If you don’t measure results, how will you know if the campaign is running well? Tracking setup can be very simple, using only Google Analytics or the engine conversion tracking scripts, or it can be ridiculously complex, with content marketing and CMS integration, call tracking, social media, and other integration elements.

Set aside time to get the tracking right before you launch. Inaccurate tracking is worse than no tracking.

Approvals

Whether you’re in an agency dealing with clients, or in-house with a boss or CEO, someone will need to approve your campaign before it goes live. Chances are you’ll need someone else to set up the tracking on the website, too. Allow time for approvals – in my experience, a 2-day turnaround is lightning-fast, and it frequently takes a week or more for all approvals and tracking codes to be installed. Work that time into your launch plan.

And if you’re creating new landing pages, plan on at least a month to get them up and running. Even with marketing automation, I’ve found it takes several weeks to create new pages, QA them, and get them ready for traffic.

Relevant Data

One of the great things about PPC is its immediacy – you can start seeing data right away. But just because you can see data the first day doesn’t mean you should act on it.

Use the first days of a new campaign to trouble-shoot: ad disapprovals, broken links, and tracking issues are some of the roadblocks that can crop up in the early days of a new campaign. You should definitely look at the data to spot these challenges and fix them as soon as possible.

But don’t fall into the trap of viewing performance after a couple of days or weeks and making huge decisions on it. Most campaigns need at least a month to really get a feel for performance. The first couple weeks will have huge swings in key metrics – so it doesn’t make sense to decide the fate of keywords and ad copy while things are going back and forth. Give it time.

Optimization

Campaign optimization should be ongoing, of course, but it’s in the first month or two that the most learning happens. You’ll probably find a couple of keywords and ad variations that perform terribly. As long as you remove them quickly, usually there’s little to no harm done. Fail fast and learn fast should be your motto.

Reporting

Reporting is another way to get your campaign performing well. In a report, you must show results, highlight key wins, and point out issues and problems. Even though you’re looking at your PPC data on a regular basis, you’ll probably see something in the first report that you didn’t notice before. And that’s ok.

I always tell clients that their first report is going to be their worst report in terms of performance. It’s the baseline by which future performance is judged. And a good PPC report will facilitate a conversation between you and your client or boss that will help you get the campaign to perform better in the future.

Work toward these milestones as you set up your next PPC campaign. What milestones do you look for in a new campaign? Share in the comments!

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Hey Ask.com: Yes, That’s Google Arbitrage

Earlier this week, Susan Waldes caused quite a stir with her Search Engine Land post, Will Ask.com Google Arbitrage Ever Stop? Google arbitrage is the practice of advertisers buying Google Adwords ads for the sole purpose of driving traffic to their made-for-Adsense or other site where the primary goal is to generate ad revenue. Susan called out Ask.com for arbitrage practices, giving examples of how Ask.com buys traffic via PPC, and then sends it to their own search results pages – which are full of ads and links to other sites owned by the same entity that owns Ask.com.

Susan garnered the attention of Ask.com’s CEO Doug Leeds with her post. In fact, he wrote a rebuttal to Search Engine Land that was published yesterday.

Leeds claims that Ask.com is not engaging in arbitrage, but rather is “(providing) information from our own network of sites, or from around the web, that can answer (searcher’s) questions.”

Bullcrap.

I’ve long been tired of seeing Ask.com results clogging the PPC landscape. Instead of giving searchers the information they asked for, Ask ads take searchers to yet another search page – a terrible user experience that I can’t imagine Google is excited about if they really care about ad quality. (And that’s a topic for another post.)

So, I ran a couple searches. I decided to sidestep Google and try Bing instead. Here is the same search that Leeds performed in his rebuttal, on Bing:

bing SERP

 

You’ll notice that the ONLY ad at the top of the page is an Ask.com ad. And it’s a terrible ad. The whole premise of both the ad copy and sitelinks is, “Hey searcher, come to Ask.com to get answers to your questions!” Hey Ask.com, guess what? The searcher ALREADY ASKED A QUESTION! They want INFORMATION, not your crappy ads taking them to your crappy SERPs that do anything but answer the searcher’s questions.

(Not to mention the fact that the first ad on the right is an About.com ad – and About.com is owned by the same parent company as Ask.com, as Susan Waldes pointed out.)

Here’s the Ask.com landing page for that ad:

ask serp

I added the red box. What’s at the top of the page? Arbitrage ads! Ads that Ask.com is profiting from!

Let’s recap this process:

  • Ask.com buys ads on Bing
  • Ask’s ads take users to their crappy search engine results page
  • Users click on their ads
  • Ask makes money

What other possible goal could their Bing ads have but to drive profit from their own ads? Isn’t that the definition of search arbitrage?

In fact, look at the organic results on that Ask.com “landing page.” And look at the “ads” on the top right. All that stuff is driving traffic to Ask.com pages! Ask is taking their poor unsuspecting site visitors on a virtual wild goose chase through their various SERPs!

It’s kind of like voice mail hell – every option you choose just takes you to something else that still doesn’t answer your question. That’s the antithesis of a quality landing page, in my book.

What do you think? Is Ask.com the king of PPC arbitrage? Or are they justified in their actions? Is Doug Leeds admitting guilt with his rebuttal, or does he have a point? Share in the comments!

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6 Must-Bookmark PPC Resources

Way back in 2012, I published a post with my favorite PPC bookmarks. Well, 2 years is an eternity in PPC, so I thought I’d update the list. Here are my 6 favorite PPC resources that you need to bookmark in 2014.

3 of the links from 2012 are still on my list this year. If you’re not using these PPC resources, what are you waiting for?

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 timesaver and I use it at least weekly.

Ion Interactive’s Landing Page Checklist. While the original link from 2012 no longer exists, use this helpful post on their blog to ensure your PPC landing pages are designed for conversion.

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

Here are 3 great PPC resources I’ve found over the past couple years that I refer to again and again.

Visual Website Optimizer statistical significance tool. This downloadable spreadsheet will help you test ad copy efficiently.

How to Exclude Mobile Apps on the Google Display Network. This post by Bryant Garvin at the Get Found First blog is a must-bookmark for anyone using the Google Display Network.

Optmyzr Free Adwords Scripts. Started by former Googler Frederick Vallaeys, Optmyzr is an Adwords Scripts company. They offer some time-saving free scripts on their site.

Happy bookmarking! What are your favorite PPC resources? Share in the comments!

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PPC Experience: Necessary or Not?

In many careers, the longer you’re at it, the better you get. Think about teaching or coaching, for example. First-year teachers can be downright scary to parents, because they lack experience and may not know how to handle tough classroom situations. The same thing goes for customer service. I worked in customer service for 4 years, and I definitely got better at it the longer I did it.

But what about in PPC? After all, the only constant in the PPC world is change. Knowledge you had yesterday can be obsolete tomorrow – just look at what Enhanced Campaigns did to device-specific campaigns. So does experience matter?

Jeremyah Grigery posted that very question on PPC Chat this week:

Grigery
A flurry of fascinating conversation followed, with most contending that experience counts in many ways. Although performing actual PPC tasks may not require years of experience, knowing what tasks to perform does.

I believe that experience counts for a lot in PPC. Knowing the history of PPC helps veteran PPC’ers come up with workarounds in situations like Enhanced Campaigns – because in the early days, we had to use a LOT of workarounds! I like how Julie Bacchini put it:

Bacchini
A lot of people also talked about having general business savvy, which is something else that comes with time. We often find that junior staff (and this goes beyond PPC to all areas of the agency) are not experienced in dealing with clients, so they struggle with it. Let’s face it – client communication is a learned skill. When I first came to the agency world in 2007, I had a lot to learn, despite working in customer service for much of my career and in PPC for 5 years. So if you’re dealing with clients at all, experience definitely matters.

In fact, life experience helps – and that’s true of any job. Susan Wenograd said it best:

Wenograd
In fact, experience dealing with change is super important in PPC, as Tamsin Mehew points out:

Mehew
I’ve worked with people over the years who were very resistant to change. Any time a new process was put in place, they complained and resisted it. I’ve even dealt with a few people like this in the time I’ve done PPC, although they’re usually not fellow PPC’ers, but rather people in support roles. Nonetheless, learning to adapt to change makes a difference, so if you’ve had experience with it before, it’ll likely be easier to swallow.

So if you’re new to PPC or only have a year or two of experience, does that mean you’re doomed? Absolutely not! Willingness to learn, combined with a curious and positive attitude, is a good recipe for success in PPC. Some skills can be learned faster than others. I’ve found that daily PPC management tasks are easier to grasp, while dealing with clients and giving presentations are harder and take longer to master. But that’s a generalization: I’ve known people who were great with clients but shaky on the day-to-day. As with all things PPC, it depends!

Did you see the discussion about PPC experience on PPC Chat? What do you think? Does experience matter? Share in the comments!

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Think You’re Cut Out for Being A PPC Manager? Take This Quiz

So you wanna be a PPC manager. Do you think you can bring the goods? Here’s a quiz to see if you’re cut out for PPC:

1. You’ve run into a problem on the job that has you stumped. You:
a. Ask your boss for help
b. Look up the answer online
c. Move on – it’s probably not that big of a deal

2. You’re reading a book or article and you see a word or phrase that’s new to you. You’re not sure what it means. You:
a. Keep reading, making a note to ask someone about it later
b. Stop reading and dig out your smartphone to search for more information
c. Who has time to read?

3. At the weekly staff meeting, the boss announces that the entire office is being remodeled and all the desks will be moved around, creating a new seating arrangement. You:
a. Go along with it, but cringe inside at the thought of sitting next to people you don’t know well
b. Embrace the change, even though it may be challenging at first
c. Complain! Who needs the disruption of yet another office move?

4. You’re having trouble finding the answer to problem you were working on in Question 1. You:
a. Keep doggedly running Google searches in hopes of eventually finding the answer
b. Go to an online forum, discussion board, or Twitter and ask your question there
c. Fuhgeddaboudit

5. You’re talking to a colleague who doesn’t know a lot about your job, and they’re asking a lot of questions. You:
a. Answer them as quickly as you can
b. Patiently explain the concept in layman’s terms, pausing to check for understanding
c. Tell them to ask someone else

6. You’re at an amusement park with your best friend. He or she is bugging you to ride the latest thrill ride. You:
a. Hesitate, feeling the need to research the ride first
b. Run ahead to get in line for the ride
c. Tell him or her no thanks, it’s not your type of ride

7. Your boss has given you a new assignment, something you haven’t done before. You:
a. Ask a lot of questions, and check in with the boss daily for reassurance
b. Map out a plan, get the boss’s ok, and run with it from there
c. Ask the boss to assign the work to someone else

If you answered mostly B, congratulations! You’re ideally suited to be a PPC manager. The best PPC managers love to dig for the solutions to tricky challenges. They are constantly hungry for learning something new, and aren’t afraid to test it out on their own PPC account. They persist until they find out why performance has fallen off. They embrace change – let’s face it, PPC is a daily dose of something new! They love a new challenge and taking risks. And they’re patient, because most people don’t understand PPC. Whether you work in an agency or in-house, you’re going to have to explain what you do on a regular basis. And good PPC managers know when to ask for help, turning to the fantastic PPC community for help.

If you didn’t score well, don’t despair! You’ve just identified the areas you’ll need to work on in order to succeed as a PPC manager. (Although if you chose mostly C’s, you might want to consider an alternate career path.)

What about you? What traits do you look for when hiring new PPC managers? What do you still need to work on? What’s your favorite aspect of being a PPC manager? Share in the comments!

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PPC and Content Marketing: Audience Research

In an earlier post, I talked about the 4-step content audit, which helps marketers identify what content they have. Once you’ve finished your audit, it’s time to do some audience research.

Audience research in content marketing is as important as keyword research in search PPC. Audience segments will form the basis for your content marketing PPC campaigns.

The first step in researching your audience is to talk to your client, or your sales team if you’re in-house. Ask them about their ideal prospect: what job level they hold, what they like to do, what they’re passionate about, what need they are trying to fulfill.

If you want to get really granular, create marketing personas for your audience. It sounds hokey, but naming each segment of your customer base helps visualize your customer’s needs.

Once you have a good idea of who you’ll be marketing to, it’s time to jump into the engines. It’s easiest to do audience research in the social PPC platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Facebook is probably the first engine that comes to mind when thinking about audiences as opposed to keywords. Facebook targeting focuses primarily around interests and interest groups. A typical Facebook audience for a construction company might look like this:

facebook segment

If you’re a B2B advertiser, or are looking to target individuals associated with companies or job types, LinkedIn is ideal:

linkedin targeting

And with Twitter, you can target individual Twitter handles. It’s a little tougher to find users on Twitter, but if you know the companies or type of individuals you want to target, it’s not too bad.

While you’re doing your content marketing audience research, think outside the box. What do your users like to do? If you’re selling organic food, for instance, you might target those who are interested in environmental issues like recycling and green energy. They might be interested in your competitors – consider creating a segment targeting the competition’s fans! For B2B, targeting fans of industry conferences or trade shows is a good bet. Get creative!

Don’t forget about PPC keywords. Frequently, you’ll want to have a search campaign in addition to social campaigns. Remember, users may see you on a social channel, and then turn to a search engine for more information. Try to use keywords from the content itself, especially if you use product names, buzzwords, or themes in your content. Definitely include branded terms in your research as well. You might even consider keywords like “Company X Facebook” to reach those who saw your ads there.

Once you’ve identified your audience, think about how you want to segment them. This is where your content audit comes into play. Sometimes the segmentation will be obvious: if you have some content for architects and some for builders, separate your audiences that way.

Other times, though, it may not be so simple. In those cases, I often start with a larger audience initially. Then, I watch performance and segment based on that, rather than on audience attributes. Play around with your audience segments and test, test, test!

Audience research can be much more time-consuming than keyword research. But make sure to invest the time. Your content marketing PPC campaigns will be more successful with good audience research.

For some great tips on audience research and getting super-creative, I highly recommend Marty Weintraub’s book, Killer Facebook Ads. It’s a fun read and has some incredible tips on finding prospects with creative audience segments.

Got any killer audience research tips? Share in the comments!

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5 Resources For Mobile PPC

Recently, I had the pleasure of appearing on my good friend David Szetela’s recently revived podcast, PPC Rockstars. We chatted about many things: my band geekiness, speculation on Google’s upcoming April 22 annoucement, and much more. You can check out the episode in the Webmaster Radio archives here (it should be live later today).

We talked a lot about mobile PPC and what advertisers should be doing with mobile. Listen to the episode for many of our expert tips. Here are a few additional resources that you can use to help you on your journey to mobile PPC success.

Generating Local Business Beyond the Click on Web Marketing Today. I wrote this piece geared toward small local businesses who think PPC is too expensive or too expansive for their business. Yes, local businesses can succeed with PPC! This article will show you how.

5 Critical Factors for Optimized Mobile PPC Targeting by Joe Kerschbaum over at Search Engine Watch. Joe offers a rundown of best practices for any mobile PPC advertiser.

B2B Search: It’s Time To Go Mobile by me, again at Search Engine Watch. I’ve found that many B2B advertiser have been slow to embrace mobile. This article talks about why B2B needs to get on board with mobile PPC.

Do Mobile PPC Ads Even Work? by Dan Shewan at WordStream. This info-packed post, complete with awesome screenshots and illustrations, shows exactly how to get your mobile ads to perform well.

If you haven’t gotten on the mobile PPC train yet, these articles are your ticket!

What about you? What are your favorite tips and success stories for mobile PPC? Share in the comments!

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The History of PPC

Once in a while, it’s good to look back on where we came from. I didn’t start out in PPC – in fact it didn’t exist when I started working. My PPC career began in 2002 when Google announced the CPC version of Adwords.

But the history of PPC, surprisingly, doesn’t start with Google. It started with GoTo back in the late 1990s. GoTo turned into Overture, and then Yahoo bought them in 2003.

Recently, some of us on PPCchat started a new hashtag, #ppctbt. It’s an homage to Throwback Thursday, but specifically related to the history of PPC. It’s been fun to reminisce about all the retro PPC engines that aren’t around anymore: FindWhat, LookSmart, Kanoodle, Enhance, and many more.

Back in the day, when I did in-house SEM and CPCs were a lot lower, I tested so many of these early engines. We tested FindWhat (so-so), LookSmart (decent), Kanoodle (not good), Enhance (pretty bad), Findology (not good, although shockingly, they still exist – which I didn’t realize until today!), and Quigo (which wasn’t bad, although time-consuming to manage).

It’s so funny to look at that list and realize that I was actually able to manage all of those engines and not lose my mind! Although, if you think about it, today isn’t that different. We just have Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn instead of Kanoodle and FindWhat.

In those early days of history, PPC was so new that there was only a small group of professionals doing it. We hung out on search forums like IHelpYou, Search Engine Watch, and High Rankings, sharing tips and asking questions. In those days, I learned so much from Danny Sullivan, Andrew Goodman, Jill Whalen, Brad Geddes, Kevin Lee – and many others who’ve since left the SEM field.

It’s interesting to look back and see how much the space has changed. We didn’t have Twitter in 2002; in fact, the Search Engine Watch forums didn’t exist in 2002, and SES had just started (I’m still getting used to calling it ClickZ Live, folks). Few blog posts on PPC strategy existed. We learned by trial and error. It was great!

Lest I sound too much like PPC Moses, I’ll just say that it’s fun to see the industry evolve. PPC is both easier and harder than it used to be: easier, because the engines have improved so much usability-wise; and harder, because the competition is so fierce. 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying more than $2-$3 per click; now, $20-$30 CPCs are common.

But I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been a great ride so far!

What about you? What do you remember about the history of PPC? When did you get your start? Share in the comments, or on Twitter using #ppctbt – you don’t have to wait till Thursday to chime in!

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6 Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice

This has been the week for bad PPC advice around the web. First came yet another New York Times article filled with small business owners whining that Adwords doesn’t work. We’ve been down this road before with NYT, so I won’t go into it here. You can read my rant about their last article to see how I feel about that.

On the heels of that foolishness came this gem from WhiteShark Media. I got skeptical when 3 paragraphs in, it starts talking about a 40% conversion rate. If you’re getting a 40% conversion rate from PPC, you shouldn’t be writing blog posts – you should be figuring out how to spend as much as you can on PPC.

But I digress. This article was full of so much bad that I can only conclude it was written as linkbait. Let’s rebut each piece of bad advice.

It tells you to spend more money.

You know it’s a wrong-headed article when the first “tip” for improving PPC results is “increase your bids and budget.” Was this article guest-written by Google? That’s always Google’s first “optimization” recommendation, and it’s not a good one.

Now, if you indeed are getting a 40% conversion rate (ha ha), and you’re making a profit on those conversions, then you should absolutely spend more money. But if you’re not, then a safer approach is wiser. Spend what you can afford, and work to optimize every aspect of your campaign: keywords, ad copy, landing pages, etc.

It tells you to geotarget the world.

The advice to “target more geographies” is mind-boggling, frankly. Unless you started using PPC in only a small area to test the waters, you should never expand to other areas without a clear expansion strategy.

For example, if you are a small local business, you should only advertise in the areas near you. Running ads in California if you’re a small clothing store in Michigan makes no sense whatsoever. Same thing goes for national advertisers. Unless you’re equipped to sell to other countries, don’t do it!

Bottom line, you should only invest in the areas that fit your business strategy.

It recommends using broad match.

I have seen countless small businesses who say that Adwords doesn’t work. When I dig deeper, I find that they’re bidding on the broadest possible terms: broad-matched “women’s clothing” and the like. I don’t recommend that strategy for my largest, deepest-pocketed advertisers, much less most PPC clients. It just doesn’t make sense. Instead, you should use exact and phrase match terms, and modified broad match if you need to cast a wider net.

Now, if your search volume is very low, you may want to add a few more broad terms. But this needs to be done carefully and measured closely.

It suggests adding high-volume keywords.

The article advises finding keywords with high search volume. While I don’t think every advertiser should avoid high-volume terms, advertisers need to proceed with extreme caution. Have a plan in place when you add a high-volume term. Put it in its own ad group, or even its own campaign. Be sure to have realistic budget caps in place. And watch it like a hawk. It might work for you – but it might not. I’ve seen a single keyword spend 4 or 5 figures in a single day. Can you afford that kind of risk?

It says to focus on short-tail keywords.

Using short-tail terms, as the article advises, is usually not a good idea unless your budget is very large and you have an awareness strategy in place. Short-tail terms rarely convert well, and often have very competitive bids. You’ll be duking it out with everyone else who sells “women’s clothing” – and unless you’re a major national retailer, you probably can’t compete.

By sticking to longer-tail terms, you’ll moderate traffic and have a much better chance of driving conversions.

It says to include appealing promotions.

OK, the last bit of advice I actually agree with. Ad copy should contain language that compels qualified users to click. If you have a strong promotion running, use that. Focus on the unique benefits of your product or service. Include a sense of urgency (“Limited Time!”) and a strong call to action (“Buy Now!). Test different elements of your ad copy to see what works best.

A word of caution about promotions: Think long and hard before making promotions a part of your marketing strategy. While promotions can and do drive sales and profits, some businesses end up relying on deeper and deeper discounts to acquire customers. This becomes a race to the bottom and can hurt sales in the long run.

Remember, any time you see an article that equates “grow your business” with “spend more money,” be afraid. Be very afraid.

Did you read the NYT and/or the WhiteShark posts? What do you think? Share in the comments!

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Reader Poll: PPC Topics for 2014

Thanksgiving was last week, and people are still thinking about what they’re thankful for. I’m thankful for a lot of things: my family, my awesome job, my Michigan State Spartans, and much more.

I’m also very thankful for you, my blog readers. Without you, I’d be, well, talking to myself. Many of you I’ve never met; many others I have met in real life and we’ve become friends. Whichever camp you fall into, thank you.

Now is your chance to tell me what PPC topics you’d like to hear more about in 2014. Answer the poll below and let me know!

Got something special you’re thankful for? Share in the comments!

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