PPC In-House or Agency: Decisions, Decisions, Part II

Last week, I wrote about the pros and cons of in-house PPC management. I’d like to thank all of you who commented on Twitter and linked to the article – it’s gratifying to know that I can help sort out some of these things for you!

In Part II of this 2-part series, I’ll cover the pros and cons of agency PPC management.

(And it bears repeating: let me make it clear that this is my personal blog. As such, the opinions expressed in this and every post here are mine, and do not necessarily reflect those of past or present employers.)

Agency Pros:

  • Experience. Chances are they’ve done this before. Lots of times. They’ll be ready to hit the ground running with best practices, instead of spending a lot of budget trying to, as someone on Twitter said last week, “get a clue.”
  • Contacts at the major search engines. Any agency worth their salt has a dedicated account team at both Google and Yahoo/Bing – meaning they have a direct line to help and support within the search engines.
  • Contacts in the SEM industry. Again, most agencies worth their salt attend at least one or two search marketing conferences per year. The really good ones not only attend the shows, they speak at the shows. They’re plugged in to what’s going on in the industry – and your account will benefit from their connections.
  • Multi-channel integration. Many (although certainly not all) digital agencies can manage not only your PPC program, but your SEO, social media, display, email, and sometimes even traditional media. This holistic view gives them a “big-picture” perspective that can get lost when these programs are siloed across several in-house departments.
  • Accountability. As an outsourced vendor, it’s in the agency’s best interest to be good stewards of your PPC budget. If they’re not, it’s pretty easy for you to pick up your ball and go to another agency – or go home and do it in-house.

Agency cons:

  • Cost. This depends on how you look at it: of course, it costs money to pay a full-time in-house PPC staffer. But an agency is going to charge you to manage their PPC budget, resulting in either a higher PPC budget, or a reduced spend with the search engines.
  • Communication can be an issue. Good agencies know how to work around this, but sometimes it’s hard for a client to know just what the agency is doing.
  • Accountability. Yes, I know I listed this in the “pros” column, but hear me out. An in-house PPC manager has to report to your company’s management team. If they do a poor job, chances are good they’ll be fired – and have to look for another job. But an agency manager likely works for several clients. Unless they’re grossly negligent, doing a poor or even mediocre job on your PPC account probably won’t’ cost them *their* job. It may cost the agency your business, but that person will probably just keep on working there.
  • Depth of account manager expertise. While it’s absolutely not the case at many agencies, sometimes the day-to-day management of your account will be handled by a junior staffer (or even an intern). While junior staff is almost always monitored by senior staff, if it’s important to have your account managed by a seasoned PPC pro, it’s not guaranteed at an agency.

Like I said, there’s no one right answer. I’ve done both, and I strongly believe in both approaches. If you’re wrestling with this idea, I recommend listening to this episode of the Best Search Strategies show. Jamie and Brian (both are super-smart acquaintances of mine) give a thorough overview of questions and considerations to review when you’re deciding on in-house or agency.

And as always, let me know your thoughts!

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How Not To Do Online Marketing

Last Friday was a fun day on Twitter – it was #shittyadviceday. I’m not sure who started it – when I logged in to Twitter at around 8 a.m. EST, some of my European SEM friends were already having fun with the hashtag.

The basic concept is to tweet something SEM-related that’s bad advice. In other words, if you read the tweets, you should absolutely do the opposite of the #shittyadvice that was provided. Here are a few of my favorites:




If you want to see more, just search for #shittyadviceday on Twitter Search.

What #shittyadviceday tips can you add?

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Busy Week In The PPC World

It’s been a busy 7 days in PPC land, at least for me. One of the things that’s kept me busy is the Adwords Professional exam. My certification was set to expire at the end of this month, so I needed to re-take the exam. I’ve been using Google Adwords since its inception in 2002, so the exam wasn’t difficult, but it did take time. (By the way, I passed with 97%!)

Speaking of the Adwords exam, I wrote about why you should become a Google Adwords Certified Professional at Search Engine Watch last week. If you’re not certified, check it out.

Also keeping me busy this week is reading about the approval of the Microsoft-Yahoo Search Alliance. While nothing’s changed yet, the alliance could prove to be interesting over the next 12 months. I for one am looking forward to saving time and effort managing campaigns in the two very different interfaces.

For more on the merger, take a look at John Lee’s post on the Clix Marketing Blog. He pretty much took the words out of my mouth with that post. It’s great stuff!

And with that, I’m off to the rat race!

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Effective PPC Landing Pages

This week, search marketers are voting on the best SEM articles of 2009 in the annual SEMMY Award competition. If you’re involved in SEM at all, I highly recommend you read every single finalist’s article. They’re authored by a Who’s Who of SEM, and are a great “continuing education” resource for the industry.

If you’re doing PPC, I suggest you go to the Design & Usability category and read every article. “Why not the PPC category,” you may ask? Well, of course the PPC category is important, as well. However, I’ve found, especially lately, that many PPC advertisers need serious help with their landing pages.

Apparently Steve Baldwin from Did-It agrees with me. His MediaPost column from earlier this week covers 6 common landing page errors he found recently while he was searching for a particular item he wanted to buy. I don’t often side with Steve – it seems that frequently, his articles are intentionally contentious and take the “devil’s advocate” point of view. But this time, he’s spot on.

I wrote about good PPC landing pages for the Fluency Media blog a while back. You’ll find many of my recommendations are the same ones that are in Steve’s article. (Hey, maybe he copied me! Ha ha!)

Getting back to the SEMMYs, my favorite Design & Usability article is 25 Point Website Usability Checklist by Dr. Peter J. Meyers. It’s a comprehensive list of design & usability elements that every website owner should review before launching a new site or a site redesign. He covers accessibility, navigation, content, and other important website and landing page elements. Bookmark this article, and look at it the next time you’re designing a landing page.

There is one PPC SEMMY nominee covering landing pages, from my Twitter friend Saad Kamal. (BTW, even though it’s not quite Friday, he definitely gets one of my Follow Friday recommendations!) Saad’s article, entitled 9 Effective Tips for a Better Landing Page, gives very specific and detailed instructions on how to craft a landing page especially for PPC. Of course, his tips are great for web pages in general, but are especially helpful when it comes to PPC-specific landing pages. If you follow his suggestions, I guarantee you’ll get good conversion rates.

What are your best PPC landing page secrets? Share them in the comments!

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PPC Happenings Around The Web

If you’re not currently participating in online SEM forums and/or reading SEM blogs, I strongly suggest you start doing so! Here are a few hot topics around the web this week.

Google Account Issues: There are a couple of threads on the Adwords Help forum dealing with some pretty serious issues with advertiser accounts. First is a thread about people having trouble canceling their accounts and getting refunds. Theoretically, one can cancel an Adwords account at any time, but apparently it’s not that simple

In another thread, an advertiser acting in an agency capacity got into a dispute with their client, and to make a long story short, Google handed their account over to the client – leaving the agency guy in the lurch with a lot of unpaid client work. It seems as though whoever pays the Adwords bill is considered the account owner, but it’s still unclear. I’m hoping Google clarifies their policy soon.

PPC Budget Strategy: The Search Engine Watch Forum is one of my favorite SEM forums. It’s been around for a long time, and I met a lot of my best friends in the industry there. There’s a thought-provoking thread going on now that started out as a discussion of budget strategy, but is morphing into more granular territory. Discussion continues on how to get the best ROI, match type bidding strategies, and other gems.

Changes To The Adwords Certification Exam: Google is apparently changing the Adwords Professional certification exam, turning it into four exams instead of one. Coverage is at Search Engine Roundtable.

Make a point to read up on these news items, and add your thoughts!

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The Top 3 PPC Innovations of 2009

Well, the New Year is here and believe it or not, it’s 2010. I know, everybody makes “top” lists around this time of year, but there were some great PPC innovations in 2009 that I can’t let go by without mentioning.

#1 – The New Adwords Interface. Around mid-year, Google released a beta version of a very different Adwords user interface. Early on, it was much maligned for issues such as horizontal scrolling and instability. Google, in its usual fashion, took the criticism in stride and gradually made improvements (I guess that’s the point of a beta, right?). At the end of July, the interface came out of beta and everyone was ported over whether they liked it or not.

I was one of the early detractors of the new interface, but I have to say that now that I’m used to it, it’s one of the greatest PPC innovations not only of 2009, but of the past 5 years. I love the graphs that show trends in impressions, clicks, conversion rate, and/or a number of other metrics – enabling users to spot issues instantly. And many functions that once required running and poring over multiple reports now can be performed right in the interface. Placement performance reports are nearly a thing of the past – I can see how individual content sites are performing right in the interface. Search query reports also can be run in-line. You can even segment by day of week, network, or device – right in the interface. I sound like a broken record, but it’s really cool and a huge time saver.

#2 -Bing. While Microsoft’s rollout of their new “decision engine” isn’t strictly a PPC move, it’s definitely had a ripple effect on PPC. While market share for Bing is still paltry compared to Google, it’s growing – and PPC advertisers are seeing increased traffic as a result. While some of our Fluency Media advertisers haven’t seen a lift, others have – especially those in the travel vertical. Bing is really a pretty good search engine, and I expect big things from them in 2010.

#3 – Yahoo’s so-called auto-optimization debacle. Way back in January 2009, Yahoo changed their Terms and Conditions, allowing them to “auto-optimize” PPC accounts. The PPC engines have offered optimization recommendations for years. Our Google reps regularly provide optimization suggestions for our clients’ accounts. The difference with Yahoo is that they (1) created new campaigns without input from the account manager, and (2) implemented the campaigns live without permission, or even knowledge, of the account manager.

This caused a huge stir in the SEM industry, with recognized experts denouncing the practice. While Yahoo tried to defend themselves, no one was buying it.

Personally, I was able to get our rep to opt us out of auto-optimization, but it was a terrible experience all around.

Well, those are my top 3 of 2009 – what were yours? Share them in the comments!

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Searching For Black Friday Deals

This Friday, millions of Americans will get up at the crack of dawn, preparing to find big deals and shop till they drop. It’s a long-standing tradition, and in the past few years has been dubbed “Black Friday.” I’ve never been a big fan of shopping the day after Thanksgiving – in my experience, it’s crowded and frustrating. That said, I know plenty of people who live for this.

This year, I’ve noticed an interesting trend – Black Friday ads leaking out early online. In previous years, I remember a couple ads leaking out, but this year it’s rampant. Deals are all over Twitter, Facebook, and the SERPs, as well as in PPC ads.

I’m glad to see PPC marketers on top of the trend. Here are some examples of great ads:

Also interesting is the fact that the second and third advertisers are both using “Black Friday 2009″ in their display URL. It’s brilliant – it adds relevance and urgency to the ads.

JCPenney has another PPC ad that I love. They’re offering a free wake-up call on Black Friday:


I love it! If I were a really die-hard marketer, I’d sign up for the call just to see what type of promotions they may be working into the message. It’s creative, and super-smart – I’d bet there will be a bigger-than-usual line at Penney’s on Friday.

Despite the great PPC marketing, I will be sleeping blissfully on Friday morning. There will be plenty more deals to be had before the holidays.

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More Popular PPC Pitfalls

A while back, I outlined some of the most popular PPC pitfalls in a Search Engine Watch article. I pointed out two things advertisers do that they shouldn’t do, and one they don’t do that they should.

Here are some more PPC advertiser “don’ts”:

Don’t optimize for click-through rate alone. Click-through rate is important – it’s the most leveraged facet of Quality Score, after all. However, if you’re optimizing for click-through rate alone, you may be paying for a lot of non-converting clicks. Instead, focus on both click-through and conversion rate. Make sure you’re getting as many converting clicks as possible from your PPC campaigns.

Don’t bid on broad, general keywords. While it’s possible to successfully bid on broad terms like “dvd players,” it’s difficult to do – especially for PPC beginners. It’s also a huge budget drain, as broad terms are usually super-competitive. Don’t fall into that trap. Choose more specific keywords at first, like “buy dvd players,” “dvd player reviews,” “discount dvd players,” or whatever makes sense for your business. Develop a successful campaign with these terms, and then decide whether you want to take the leap into broader phrases.

Don’t set your maximum cost per click too low. Many people erroneously believe that the max CPC is the amount you’ll have to pay for each click. Not true. The max cpc is actually one component of the Quality Score algorithm. In fact, in the “old days” of PPC, ad position in Google was determined by click-through rate multiplied by max CPC. It’s more complicated than that nowadays, but max CPC is still important. If you set your maximum at $0.12, I can almost guarantee that you’ll see few impressions and even fewer clicks on your ads. Granted, you won’t ever pay more than 12 cents per click, but you won’t get enough clicks to make it worth your while.

Instead, use the Google Traffic Estimator to find out what the estimated max CPC is for your keywords – and set your bids there. Once you’ve built up a good Quality Score, you can ease your bids down to a more comfortable level. But don’t start out too low, or you’ll see little to no traffic.

If you’re just getting started in PPC, make sure to avoid these pitfalls. If you’re a PPC veteran, it never hurts to review your campaigns to see if you’ve fallen into any of these traps. It’s never too late to take care of these issues and increase your conversions as a result.

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PPC And The Advertising Revolution

20 years ago this month, I started working for the Lansing State Journal in the Classified Department. Back then, ads were placed by phone. I was one of 10-15 reps manning the phones at any given time. Our job was to help people write an ad that would be seen by the right people, with a call to action that would get those readers to do what the advertiser wanted them to do. Oh, and we had limited space in which to do it – we charged by the line, so advertisers wanted as brief an ad as possible.

Fast forward to 2002. I had been doing offline marketing for MagazineLine when Google Adwords launched their self-serve program. I was tasked with testing the program to see if we could get any sales from it. They chose me for the project because of – you guessed it – my background in classified ads.

Believe it or not, my point here isn’t to walk down memory lane, fun as that is. :) The point is to remind all you PPC advertisers that PPC is a lot like the classifieds.

When I was composing classifieds for the paper, I had to make sure the ad was published under the right classification. I couldn’t put an ad for a 1999 Pontiac Montana in the Help Wanted section. While doing that might get attention, especially during a recession when lots of people were looking at the job ads, it was a poor user experience for the reader, and the ad likely wouldn’t be seen by the right people. We actually had a policy that prohibited us from placing an ad in the wrong classification.

So it goes with choosing the right keywords. Sure, you can bid on “britney spears naked” even if you’re selling cars – but your Quality Score would be very low (if the ad was approved at all). Make sure you’re putting your ad under the right classification by choosing relevant keywords.

I also had to help classified advertisers describe their product or service succinctly, and make sure to include a call to action. In the newspaper, the call to action was almost always a phone number or an address (to visit or to send a resume). Every once in a while, someone would give me lots of great information for their ad, and forget the phone number. It didn’t happen very often, and they’d laugh ashamedly when I politely pointed out the omission.

That’s why I’m continually surprised at how many PPC advertisers forget the call to action. You wouldn’t pay for a classified ad to sell your car and leave out your phone number, would you? Don’t do it in your PPC ads! Tell people what you want them to do.

Sometimes, we’d hear from a classified advertiser who was unhappy with their ad because they “didn’t get any calls.” Upon questioning, we’d find out they were never home to answer the phone, and they didn’t have an answering machine. (Remember, this was 1989!) The promise of the ad wasn’t fulfilled on the back end – even if I wanted to buy their car, I couldn’t get a hold of them to test drive it.

Yet again, I’m frequently surprised by how many people do just that on their landing pages. They have a great PPC ad with a strong call to action – and then they send PPC traffic to their home page, with the advertised product or service nowhere to be found. It’s just as frustrating as calling a phone number and getting no answer.

I’m really lucky to have had the experience at the newspaper. While I had no idea at the time, it prepared me to be a successful PPC marketer. With a little forethought, you can be too!

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Microsoft and Yahoo Seal The Deal

After nearly 18 months of deliberation, the Microsoft-Yahoo deal is finally complete. Needless to say, the blogosphere and Twitter-sphere is all a-buzz, so I won’t go on and on here. You can read more, including my comments, at Search Engine Watch (and every other SEM blog in the world). If you’re on Twitter, there is lots of live coverage of the MSFT-YAHOO phone call. Danny Sullivan’s tweets (@dannysullivan) are particularly entertaining.

Now, the fun begins. Once the dust has settled, what do you think will happen in the PPC arena? Or in search in general? Does MicroHoo have a shot?

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