The New and Improved Beyond the Paid

I know I haven’t blogged much lately. The end of summer always gets crazy for me. Every year, I say “Next year, I’m taking the whole month of August off,” but of course that’s not likely.

This year, though, I did something fun over my summer vacation – redid my blog! You’re probably saying “Duh – we can SEE that…”

Back in 2006 when I started this blog, I didn’t know if I was going to keep up with it. It was really just a fun experiment at the time. There weren’t many free options for blogs back then – really, Blogger was the only one. So that’s who I used.

Fast-forward to 2012, and I’m finally ready to take the plunge into WordPress. I’d used WordPress for client blogs & sites, so I was familiar with it; and I’d had my own domain for a long time, so I was ready.

I couldn’t have done this without the help of my good friend Meg Geddes, aka Netmeg. Not only is she a fellow Michigander, she’s a self-described WordPress mofo. She hooked me up with a great new host, a theme, and all the plugins and widgets I needed to make everything look cool – and she did it over a weekend. I can’t say enough about how awesome she is – even if she is a Michigan fan. (wink)

So, make yourself at home and explore! And let me know what you think!

Related Posts:

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!

Related Posts:

A 12-Step Program to Improve Your CTR

It’s common to hear veteran search marketers at conferences and in social media talking a lot about PPC conversion rate — so much so that those new to PPC may think that conversion rate is the end all.

Conversion rate is important, to be sure. I’d even say it’s very, very important. But before a PPC ad can generate a conversion, it needs to generate a click. PPC ads are no good if no one clicks on them.

If you’re new to PPC, or if you want to improve your click-through rate (CTR), here’s a 12-step program to help you.

Step 1: Bid on Relevant Keywords

PPC beginners are often tempted to bid on high-volume keyphrases that are only marginally related to their business. Take, for example, a hotel/casino that wants to bid on “Texas hold-em.” While people indeed play this game at a casino, it isn’t relevant if the goal is to sell hotel room nights.

Don’t fall into this trap. Searchers have gotten sophisticated. If your ad isn’t relevant to the search phrase, they just won’t click on it and your CTR will suffer.

Step 2: Bid on Specific, Not General, Keywords

This is related to Step 1, yet is slightly different. Taking the hotel/casino example, you might be tempted to bid on “hotels.” While this term has significant search volume, it’s too general and is unlikely to drive many, if any, clicks.

Step 3: Use 2, 3, or 4 Word Keyphrases

Years ago, one-word searches like “hotels” were common. Nowadays, searchers have become more specific in what they search for, and it’s common to see search queries with four or more words.

Jason Tabeling wrote an informative article with research showing that CTR was highest on keywords containing two, three, or four words. Our experience has been similar: one word is not specific enough, but more than five shows diminishing returns.

Step 4: Create Small, Tightly-Themed Ad Groups

Tightly-themed ad groups make it easy to write relevant ad copy that will generate clicks. A common rule of thumb is 10-15 keyword phrases per ad group.

This ensures that your ads will be relevant to the search phrase, and increases the chance of a click. This in turn will help drive a good quality score.

Step 5: Include the Keyphrase in Ad Copy Whenever Possible

If you’ve set up your ad groups as described in Step 4, this should be relatively easy to do. Search engines bold the search phrase in both organic and paid results, so including the keyphrase or keyphrases in the ad copy ensures they will be bolded, which helps your ad stand out. Ads that stand out get better CTR.

Step 6: Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) is a feature that automatically inserts your bidded keyphrase into your ad text. It’s a great way to make sure Step 5 above happens.

That said, use DKI with caution: make sure you’re not inserting misspellings or other awkward phrases into your ad copy!

Step 7: Include a Price in Your Ad Copy

An old adage in classified advertising says that if you don’t include a price in your ad, people will assume you’re selling something expensive.

Calm those fears by including the price in your ad upfront. Even better, include the price in the ad headline — it’ll attract attention and clicks.

Step 8: Include Action Words in Your Ad Copy

Including action words (e.g., exclusive, limited time, online only, 1-day sale, etc.) adds a sense of urgency to your offering. Adding urgency encourages click-throughs.

Step 9: Include Symbols in Your Ad Copy

If applicable, include symbols such as ©, ™, ®, and even the plus sign (+) or ellipses (…) can make a significant difference in CTR. Symbols make your ad stand out on the page.

Step 10: Use Ad Extensions

Google offers several different types of ad extensions: Location, Phone, Products, and Sitelinks. Take advantage of them. While these don’t display on every search, you’ll take up valuable screen real estate when they do show up.

Step 11: Be Creative With Your Ad Copy

Let’s face it: There’s not a lot of space in PPC ad copy. With only 25 characters for a headline and 70 for a description, it’s tempting to put “just the facts” in your ad copy and forget about being creative.

Don’t! When I’ve tested ad copy that I thought was too “wacky” to be effective, I’ve often been surprised by the results.

Remember, PPC often generates results in a short period of time, so if an ad isn’t working, you can always pause it. You might even try an ad like this:

Step 12: Engage in Ad Copy Testing

Ad copy testing is one of the biggest benefits of PPC, yet I’m always surprised by the number of advertisers who don’t take advantage of it. The most successful PPC advertisers are continually testing and refining ad copy — take a page from their book and set up your own tests now!
Go ahead — give a few of the 12 steps a try!

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Search Engine Watch on March 23, 2011.

Related Posts:

Personalized Coupons and the Science of Demand

As marketers gather more information about their customers, direct marketing gets more interesting. The amount of customer purchase data available nowadays is staggering.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the personalized coupons that print out along with your receipt at the grocery store. And many of you have probably received personalized coupons in the mail, as well. I know I do – I’ve started to get coupons in the mail from Meijer, where I buy most of my groceries.

On the one hand, this is really cool – no more clipping coupons from the newspaper inserts! Personalized coupons for stuff I actually buy – how awesome is that?

But there’s a problem. The coupons are clearly based on past purchase behavior.

Why is this a problem, you ask? After all, don’t you WANT coupons for stuff you’ve bought before?

Yes and no. Here’s an example. A few weeks ago, I bought a new laundry basket for my son. I’d guess most of us buy laundry baskets only once every few years. But what shows up in my mailbox last week? A coupon for $2 off a laundry basket – and the coupon expires in 30 days, no less. Nice try, but no dice.

I’ve gotten tons of coupons like this. Coupons for cereal I just bought – and I have to buy 4 boxes to get the savings. Even with teenagers in the house, we don’t eat THAT much cereal. Coupons for zip-top bags that I just bought by the hundreds. You get the picture. I don’t have enough storage space for all the stuff these retailers expect me to stock up on.

So what does this rant have to do with search? One of the things I love best about search is that it fulfills customer demand at the right time. No one searches for laundry baskets AFTER they just bought one – they search BEFORE they get ready to buy. THAT’S when I want the coupon. I want it before, not after!

It seems to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to do. I know Meijer has years of purchase history on me, because I’ve shopped there forever. And honestly, as big brother-ish as it seems, I’d rather they review my purchase history, figure out the patterns, and send me coupons at just the right time. How hard can that possibly be? Until retailers figure this out, we search marketers have it made.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Local Paid Inclusion, aka SEM Industry Histrionics

For whatever reason, the SEO and SEM community loves a good scandal. 7-8 years ago, when I was relatively new in the industry, it seemed as though there was a scandal every week: black hat SEO, cloaking, forum catfights…. it was crazy.

As the industry has matured, the kids have settled down. The daily shouting matches between SEOs have been reduced to a couple times a year.

This is one of those times.

A couple weeks ago, Bruce Clay, an industry stalwart and well-known white hatter, announced a new service called Local Paid Inclusion. In a very brief nutshell, this was going to be a service that, in partnership with Google, Yahoo, Bing, and major directories, would offer advertisers guaranteed paid placement at the top of local search listings.

Seriously? Who, in this day and age, would fall for this?

Anybody remember the old Real Keywords scam? Where advertisers could supposedly pay this shyster company thousands of dollars per year for “guaranteed #1 listings on up to 30 keywords,” when in reality the Real Keywords scamsters were just buying PPC ads?

No respectable SEM fell for that back in the day, and I’m honestly beyond shocked that Bruce Clay fell for something like that today. I’ve met Bruce several times over the years, and he has always been the pinnacle of reason, intelligence, ethics, and professionalism – almost a paragon that others could only hope to imitate.

Why, then, did he let himself and his company get involved in this huge kerfuffle???

And the bigger question, at least in my mind: Why are SEOs so dramatic? When’s the last time anyone in the PPC industry caused this kind of stir? Can you even think of one time where a PPC industry luminary got involved in something so shady that it caused all their peers to start hanging them out to dry on Twitter?

Don’t get me wrong – I still have a lot of respect for Bruce and the things he’s done for SEO and SEM. I have a lot of respect for the work most SEOs do. And it sounds like there may have been some substance to Bruce’s announcement. But clearly he jumped the gun, which is shocking given his experience and business acumen.

The way the SEO industry reacts to stuff like this never ceases to amaze me. What do you think about all this? Share in the comments!

For another interesting take on this issue, check out this Wordstream Blog post.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Top 3 PPC Stories from Beyond the Paid

Ah, the end of the year: the time when we all sit back and reflect on our accomplishments over the past 12 months. Or not, because most of us are way too busy. But I digress.

In the PPC world, there’s never a dull moment, so I can’t say that 2011 was the most eventful year ever. But there were definitely a few stories worth reviewing as we head into 2012. With that, here are my top 3 stories from 2011 – a la David Letterman.

#3. 10 PPC Experts to Follow on Twitter

Like Letterman, people seem to love “Top 10” lists. I agree that they’re fun – but usually they’re pointless, too. I wanted to create a list of PPC experts that would actually help the community get connected.

#2. Google’s SSL Change: A Bad Deal for PPC

So much has been written about this huge misstep by Google, you’re probably sick of seeing it. But it continues to annoy people, so it bears repeating. This is a bad, bad deal, and I hope 2012 brings the return of our organic search query data in Google Analytics.

And now, for the top story of 2011…..

#1. Microsoft adCenter Ignores Advertiser Feedback

I’m sure some of you think I love to beat up on adCenter, like they’re my favorite punching bag. Not so. There are many things to love about adCenter: quality traffic, helpful reps, features that Adwords lacks, and more. They even have an online suggestion box for advertiser feedback, unlike Google.

This seemed pretty cool to me, so shortly after it launched, I posted the suggestion to give us separate bids for Yahoo and Bing. After all, we PPC’ers are all about transparency and control.

At the time, this suggestion was the top vote-getter by a landslide. But did adCenter take it to heart?

Nope. They shot it down and put it on the “completed” list. So much for advertiser feedback.

What are your top PPC stories from 2011?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

I’m Dreaming Of Separate Bids for Search Partners

Seems like everybody has a PPC wishlist at this time of year. Earlier this week, my good friend Matt Van Wagner published a great post on Search Engine Land called 7 Things On My Google AdWords Wishlist For Santa. I agree with everything on his list, and hope that all of us PPCers find those fine gifts under our tree next weekend.

Yesterday, there was another fun SEL post from Conrad Saam called A Letter from Santa To The Search Community, which was also fun. Give both of these posts a read, if you haven’t already.

All these wishes are fine and good, but the one thing I’m wishing for this holiday is the ability to set separate bids for Google Search Partners. Why this hasn’t rolled out already is a mystery to me. If I had to guess, I’d say that Google doesn’t want to lose the revenue from search partners when people bid less for them. But partners don’t always perform worse than Google – in fact, I’ve seen many instances with our clients where partners actually perform better than Google.

We already have the ability to opt out of partners entirely – why not give us a chance to opt back in with separate bids? C’mon, Google – you quit sending out great holiday gifts years ago; can’t you at least grant us this one wish?

What’s on your PPC wish list this year?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Google is the Scrooge of SEM

Back in October, Google changed the way search queries were passed to web analytics, and not in a good way. I wrote about this at length at the time, so if you’ve been away from the web for a while and aren’t aware of this, go give it a read.

When the announcement was made, Google claimed that the percentage of searches performed by logged-in users was small, in the low single digits. But the data is showing otherwise. SEMs across the web are claiming that the percentage is much higher: as much as 20% in some cases. Think about that for a minute: You’re now losing organic search query data for 1 out of every 5 visitors to your website. Ouch.

However, as I said in my earlier article, the percent will naturally vary across websites, depending on the vertical, customer base, etc. So how does that make Google a Scrooge?

Well, shortly after they launched this hugely unpopular change, they rolled out Google Plus pages for businesses. Previously, the lack of business pages in Google Plus was a big hole in the service – businesses were clamoring for the ability to have a page for their business in Google Plus. And now they have that ability.

And how do users connect with businesses on Google Plus? Well, they have to have their own Google Plus account – and they have to be signed in to Google to connect. And most users, once logged in to Google, don’t bother to log back out before they start performing searches.

Uh oh. Do you see where this is headed?

And that, my friends, is a great big BAH HUMBUG to everyone who cares about search query data.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Google’s SSL Change: A Bad Deal for PPC

Earlier this week, Google announced a sweeping change to the way they pass referrer data to analytics. In a very brief nutshell, users who are logged in to Google will be routed to an https version of the Google search engine, and search queries from these users will not be passed in the referrer string to analytics packages for organic traffic.

This decision has rocked the search community more than anything I can remember in recent years, and the reaction is almost universally negative. Anyone who’s successfully done search for any length of time will tell you that one of the great things about search marketing (and I’m talking PPC and SEO here) is the amount of data you get. And Google just removed a big chunk of that data. (Google claims it’s not a big chunk, but that’s debatable.

The kicker is, this change only affects organic traffic. PPC referrals will still contain the referring query data. And this is what has SEOs really upset and crying “conspiracy:” the implication is that Google is trying to encourage websites to use Adwords, so they can get all their referrer info instead of only part of it.

Why should PPC’ers care about this? After all, we’ll still get our data. So who cares if the SEOs of the world are out of luck?

I care. And here’s why.

PPC and SEO work hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that no marketing channel should operate in a vacuum – especially search channels. For best results, PPC and SEO should work hand in hand. I often talk about PPC informing SEO, and Google’s change won’t affect that aspect of your integrated marketing strategy.

However, the information flows both ways. SEO can and should inform your PPC efforts, too. Search pros often recommend mining your organic data for new PPC keyphrases. With this change, your organic data is going to be less complete.

Transparency is key.

From day one, search pros have been asking for more transparency from the search engines. We want as much data as possible to inform our decision making process. We want to know what sites are driving traffic to our site, and whether those sites are converting. We want to know what search queries people are using to find us, and whether those queries are converting. We want to know where those searchers are located, what browser they’re using, and anything else we can learn about them.

This is not to say that we want this data down to the individual level, which is the basis for Google’s change. Google is claiming privacy concerns as the driving force behind their decision.

That’s a bunch of BS. Google has never shared individual user data in referrer strings. And even if they did, who cares? Looking at user data on an individual basis is a waste of time – it’s not statistically significant, and isn’t useful. Data is only useful in aggregate. I don’t care if one guy searched on “what is the best ever ppc blog written by some chick in Michigan” to find my site – but I do care if 100 people who were logged in to Google searched on that term to find me.

With this move, Google has decreased transparency, not increased it – thus going backwards in terms of providing useful and informative data.

PPC’ers should be very concerned about this move. I for one am wondering what they’ll take away from us next. How does this change affect you? Share in the comments!

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Can An Intern Do Your PPC?

Interns offer a lot to a business: in general, interns are eager to learn, hardworking, smart, and willing to work for little to no pay. Back in the day, I was a college intern in a local TV station sales department, getting my first taste of real-world marketing – for free.

A lot of SEM companies use interns to help with a variety of tasks. But can an intern run your PPC campaigns?

Of course, this is sort of a loaded question. It absolutely depends on the person. You might get lucky and find an intern who’s actually done some PPC. And of course an intern can help with a lot of PPC tasks. But run an entire campaign? Not so fast.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many companies hire an agency to set up and optimize their PPC campaigns – and then bring the whole thing in-house and give it to an intern. The logic goes something like this: “Well, the agency has this running really well, so we don’t need to pay them for this. We’ll just have an intern watch it for a few hours a week.”

This is a mistake. PPC is not a “set it and forget it” medium. It requires constant attention, monitoring, measuring, and testing. Far too many advertisers have assumed that PPC is really simple, and have ended up wasting thousands of dollars while they tried to figure out how to stop bleeding money. Handing off even a small PPC campaign to an inexperienced intern (or an inexperienced employee, for that matter) and leaving them to their own devices is a recipe for disaster.

What Interns Can Help With:

On the positive side, interns can be a great asset to a PPC team. At Fluency Media, we have used interns for a number of tasks that are invaluably helpful for our client’s PPC campaigns. Here are just a few great intern tasks:

Keyword research.

I personally love doing keyword research: it’s fun and informative, like finding buried treasure. However, it can also be hugely time consuming and tedious. I like to have interns do the initial keyword research and narrow down the list, and then I’ll review and refine further. It’s a great way for interns to learn the process, while still maintaining professional oversight of the final product.

Ad copy writing.

Let’s face it – at some point, even the most creative PPC manager will hit a type of writers block. I find this true especially for campaigns I’ve been managing for a long time – I flat-out run out of new copy ideas to test.

This is where your interns come in. Ask one or two of them to look at your client’s keywords and website, and have them come up with a few copy test ideas. The great thing about copy testing is that there are no wrong answers – as long as the ad is factual, meets editorial guidelines, and delivers on its promise on the landing page, almost anything goes. You can even turn this exercise into a friendly competition – test a couple interns’ ads against each other, or have them go up against you to see who “wins.” Unless your ego is huge, this can be a fun and creative way to breathe new life into a mature campaign.

Budget monitoring.

If you’re a PPC advertiser with a budget limit, someone is going to have to watch it daily to make sure you’re spending the right amount. We usually have one of our interns check our client budgets every day, and notify my which clients need attention. It’s a simple task, but it takes time – and it’s a great way for interns to learn how an individual advertiser’s campaign flows over time, putting them in a good position to take over an account once they have more experience.

Reporting.

I don’t recommend handing over client reporting entirely to an intern, but interns can contribute a lot in terms of pulling data, assembling charts, and acting as a second pair of eyes on your data. An astute intern will notice when trends don’t match up or when numbers don’t make sense – and this is really important for any busy PPC manager. Even if you’re really on top of your campaigns, things can sometimes slide through. Our interns have discovered issues with tracking codes and client-side slip-ups, and have saved me an uncomfortable conversation by pointing out these issues before a report ever leaves our office.

How have you used interns to help with your PPC campaigns?

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts