PPC And The Advertising Revolution

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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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  1. Very cool post. Never thought of comparing PPC to classifieds but now that you mention it I think that's a very apt comparison.

    Nice observation too on bidders who use non relevant off the wall headlines to attract clicks.

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