Should PPC Clicks Ever Be A Goal?

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From time to time, I like to check out the PPC thread on Reddit. Unlike some other online discussion sites, this has some pretty good questions and answers.

One of the threads I noticed asked the question, “What do you do when a client wants more clicks utilizing the same budget?” The poster was concerned about the lower traffic he was seeing when he reduced the CPC.

The answers given in the thread are quite good. Suggestions included:

  • Shifting budget to the display network
  • Track performance by ad position
  • Prune under-performing keywords
  • Try 3rd tier PPC engines
  • Research new long tail keywords
  • Try retargeting

These are great ways to lower PPC cost per click, although many of them may not deliver the same number of clicks.

Several commenters, though, rightly pointed out that clicks may not be the right metric to focus on. My favorite comment is this: “Clicks is the worst metric of all. It is your job to advise your client to go beyond. What is value to him? What is a conversion? How can you measure it? Can his website be improved conversion-wise (hint: it always can)? Otherwise, these discussions will keep happening over and over again: it is a race to the bottom (emphasis mine).”

I have to agree. It’s not unusual to see clients whose primary goal is site traffic, but they always leave me feeling like 1999 called and wants its hit counter back.

Sure, you can and should look for mid- and long-tail keywords that drive a decent amount of traffic at a low cost. Another thought would be to beef up on brand terms. Brand terms have the added bonus of not only traffic, but usually also a high conversion rate.

But getting more for the same money is just not always possible. After all, don’t we all want more for less? If you’re looking for a new house, wouldn’t you like to get the biggest one for your money?

Think about what that bigger house is going to be like, though. It might be in a not-so-nice neighborhood. It may look like a throwback to the 1950s and need a lot of cosmetic updating. Or worse, it may have serious deficiencies like a cracked foundation, water damage, or other problems.

It’s all about quality vs. quantity. So if a client comes to you and says they want more clicks for the same budget, remind them of a few things:

  • There is a limit to the number of low-cost keywords you can add to your account that will really drive traffic.
  • Tactics like trying 3rd tier engines may drive more clicks for the same budget, but are those the type of clicks you really want? I remember testing a few of the 3rd tiers like LookSmart back in the day, and while they drove tons of traffic, none of it converted. (When I did in-house PPC, we tested one engine in about 2005 that was abysmal – the name escapes me at the moment, and it probably doesn’t exist anymore, but we got probably 1,000 clicks and 0 conversions – on a site that converted at 5% or better at that time.) There is a lot to be said for quality.
  • Have a frank conversation about whether clicks should be the ultimate metric. I always tell clients that I can drive tons of PPC clicks to their site – all I have to do is put “Free iPads” in the ad copy. But unless your business model includes giving stuff away, that makes no sense.

I almost always steer clients away from clicks as a primary KPI. There has to be some type of conversion that’s being measured – or at minimum a CTR you’re trying to reach. Driving more traffic for the same budget is just unrealistic.

What do you think? Does it ever make sense to have clicks a primary KPI, and then ask for more of them for the same budget? Is it even possible to get more clicks for the same budget? Got any ideas that weren’t presented here? Share in the comments!

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  1. I had ONE client where clicks were a goal and it made sense. They were a site that made money off CPM based advertising. But, to measure quality, we still had a page view per visit metric tied together.

    Wil (SEER’s founder) was always famous for saying “you can’t pay your rent in rankings” for SEO’s. You usually can’t pay your rent in clicks either.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Well said, Aaron. There are some instances where clicks make sense, but they’re rare. Clicks don’t pay the bills!

  2. Working in the pharma space, I do work with some clients where they do not have actions that can be taken on site. Site are often very informational based. We do educate our clients on why on site performance metrics can be a better judge of performance than clicks and CPC, but some are so drawn to ‘brand awareness’ that the conversation if a struggle.

    I agree that front end metrics should not be a KPI but should be utilized at diagnostic metrics.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      We have some “brand awareness” clients too, but we usually measure those campaigns on impressions, impression share, and CTR – not clicks. I think there’s a difference: impressions = reach; imp share = penetration; CTR = ad resonance; clicks = almost nothing.

  3. I’ve got one PPC client in the financial services vertical with a, ummm, “technically challenged” website. They found out that they are not ranking organically for their “business type” keywords in their area. (we’re just doing PPC mind you) And by business type I mean “coffee shop”, “hardware store”, “beauty salon”, etc., in combination with location keywords. We decided to build a SMALL PPC campaign around these types of keywords to inject their brand into the local search conversation.

    PPC was launched. QS, CTR, Avg. CPC, and other pre-visit metrics looked good. Especially for the small budget that we had going to this. fyi- part of the technical challenges is the lack of conversion tracking on their main site:(

    About a month into it we received an email from the client wondering why their Brand name was not the headline (title) of the ads. I wrote up a long educational email about how CTR affects QS, and QS is the metric that visually represents Ad Rank and CPC.

    The response I received back was, ummm, specific input about what metrics they really cared about… Branding and Ad Impressions.

    New plan: Branded Ad Headlines!

    Here are the Pre & Post-Branding stats. Monthly ad impressions have remained relatively steady for both.

    Pre-Branding Monthly Averages
    – Avg. Position: 1.1
    – Avg. CTR: 10.03%
    – Avg. CPC: $1.03

    Post-Branding Monthly Averages – similar impression volume, 70% fewer clicks.
    – Avg. Position: 2.2
    – Avg. CTR: 3.12%
    – Avg. CPC: $1.57

    So, I repose the question to you: Should PPC Impressions Ever Be A Goal?

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Interesting case study, James. See my above reply to Justin re. impressions – sometimes impressions are a goal, but they’re not my favorite goal, for sure. It’s no fun to optimize a campaign for impressions – I always get fulfilled by seeing client RESULTS (i.e. conversions) improving, not impressions. If you want impressions, run a Facebook campaign. 😀

  4. Another great post!

    Your line about the hit counters of old, made me laugh out loud – oh how I remember those days…

    Clicks matter in the sense that you can’t convert anything if they don’t first click. But, clicks in and of themselves are not generally terribly meaningful. I totally agree that you can easily write ad copy that will get tons of clicks, but if you’re paying for those clicks, don’t you want them to have a chance of turning into actual dollars?!?

    Like you, we strive for the best quality clicks for the client’s end goal. It is all about that end result really. If client’s bottom line is not positively impacted, what is the point?

    I do realize that sometimes the end goal can be a little, as we call it, squishy (branding is a perfect example). But generally, PPC has a real non-squishy conversion as the goal that either happens or does not.

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