PPC Experience: Necessary or Not?

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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:

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:

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:

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

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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  1. We forget sometimes that PPC is nothing more than a vehicle for a marketing message. In the same way as a newspaper carries ads, or the radio, or TV – it is another medium.

    No-one would presume to be able to run a large TV campaign with only a year’s experience. Or a magazine campaign for a large fashion launch. And yet, there are plenty of people who feel that knowing how something works means you can use it effectively.

    I know how an airplane works (more or less) but you wouldn’t want me taking over the controls at 30,000 feet. The experience we have is built around understanding visitor profiles, marketing messages, writing convincing copy, data analysis (and not just pivot tables – looking at the picture within the data). It is being able to understand the client’s business model and develop a marketing strategy that she can embrace. You do not get this overnight.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      That’s a good point, Steve. And it also explains why small business owners need to tread very carefully when running their own PPC campaigns. It’s not as easy as people seem to think it is – and then they complain when they lose their shirts on poorly-executed campaigns. And then the NYT writes about it… sigh. Thanks for your insightful comment!

    • Well said, Steve!

  2. Great post, as always! Thanks for including my tweet too.

    I don’t think this is exclusive to PPC by any means, but experience in your field and in life has high value. As I said in my tweet, it provides context for everything. I’ve been working on the web for 15 years. I’ve seen a lot, including the inevitable cycles like everyone outsourcing their SEM and then bringing it back in house and then outsourcing again. Because I have been through this cycle numerous times, I know what to expect and how to deal with it. When Enhanced Campaigns happened, my understanding of business, marketing and PPC allowed me to assess the situation, figure out how it would impact each of my accounts and create a plan to move forward in the new environment to keep my clients happy and profitable.

    That is not to say that a less experienced person could not have good instincts or handle situations well – I whole heartedly believe they can. In fact, I think the best teams often combine members with different skill strengths, personalities and levels of experience. We all (well, almost all anyway!) have something of value to bring to the table.

    I think a related issue, in our field in particular (though it applies to the web in general as well), is the perception that what we do does not require a particularly high level of expertise. I do think that a lot of business owners and marketing department people lack a fundamental understanding of the complexity involved in running an optimized and continuously managed PPC effort. Thank you AdWords for making the world think “it only takes 5 minutes” and “anyone can do it successfully”.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      “…just enter your credit card to get started.” Yep, couldn’t agree more with your comments! I am glad we have a breadth of experience on our team. Some of the newer staff are way better at technical tasks: AdWords Scripts, tracking scripts, Excel hacks, etc. than I am. Not that I can’t learn those things, but to those who have lived their entire lives online, much of that is second nature, where it isn’t for me. The internet didn’t exist when I started working. 🙂

  3. Well said, Mel! I think there are two things at work with experience in PPC:

    1. There’s a human element that comes with being good at PPC. Data is important, but you have to have a strong marketing mind to rise above your typical provider. You have to understand how consumers think, different personas, not to mention having a thorough understanding of what your client’s account offers and how/why PPC may or may not be a good fit. You don’t learn that stuff without falling off the bike and skinning your knees a few times. It’s less about the “raise this bid, add this keyword” and more about the maturity that comes from the years where you didn’t know half as much as you thought you did.

    2. Something else that I think is inherently a problem with AdWords (not just for practitioners thinking they’re experts, but also clients as well) is Google makes it so accessible. “Just sign up! Here’s your voucher!” creates this aura of simplification that simply isn’t true when it comes to paid search. It seduces folks into thinking it’s just plug and play, so why on Earth would you pay an expert when all they’re doing is bidding on keywords, huh?? 😉

  4. I think I knew the answer to this question before reading past the headline. And that’s just because of my experience.

  5. Michelle Morehouse says

    In my opinion, there’s a distinct difference between “experience” and “skills”. Experience is having the knowledge to what to do. It takes time to build but is more than just surface information. Experience is that inherent knowledge you get with doing the high level things over and over again. Client communication, building a testing strategy, knowing when larger changes need to be made in the conversion process rather than changing keyword bids all fall under experience in my book.

    Having skills, on the other hand, means you have the ability to execute tasks based on your experience. If you logged into an AdWords account today for the first time in 3 years, you might have a bit of a time trying to make the changes you want. So to Jeremyah’s point, I think there is a level to the 1-2 years mark making a difference, but it’s not experience, it’s skills. As you said in another comment, small business owners need to tread lightly. If they ran a campaign a few years ago and think PPC is like riding a bike, well, that’s going to be a painful piece of road rash.

    Basically, experience is a well crafted bloody mary mix and skills are the vodka. Both are valuable separately, but their best when mixed. 🙂

  6. Jeremyah Grigery says

    Great post! In my original tweet, I was really trying to highlight the point that young aspiring PPCers should be encouraged that they can come in and make a positive impact in this industry fairly quickly if they’re willing to put in the work. Most industries have newbies fetching coffee, and an ever-changing digital landscape allows for huge opportunity for fast personal growth if you’re willing to put in the time.

    Saying experience is “almost irrelevant” was certainly a poor choice of words. Experience in this industry is critical for developing custom strategies for clients that fit their specific goals, not having knee-jerk reactions to changes within Adwords (like Enhanced Campaigns), client relations, etc. I was more trying to highlight the opportunity for young PPCers, not discount years of valuable experience for those who have been in the industry for many years. It’s just difficult to articulate that in 140 characters 🙂

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Thanks for your comment, Jeremyah, and thank you for the tweet that inspired this post! I agree that it’s hard on Twitter to ask good questions or make bold statements sometimes due to the character limits. You are absolutely correct that PPC is a great industry to learn, exactly for the reasons you state – in many ways it is easy to “catch up” because everything changes so fast. In no time, you’ll be equal to or even ahead of others in the field in terms of executional knowledge. For those, like you, who are willing to put in the time, ask questions, and network, it’s a huge opportunity indeed. Posting questions to #ppcchat is a great way to learn and grow. You are on the right track – keep up the good work!


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