Last week, a series of articles in the Boss’s Blog section of the New York Times was the source of much discussion amongst the PPC social media community. Titled “My Adwords Debacle,” it’s a series of posts describing a small business owner’s disappointment with sales trends in his Adwords account. The first post is here; from there you can find links to the remaining installments.
To summarize, the author had been running his own Adwords campaign for a long time, with good success. Late last year, he added a new product and he believes this was the beginning of the end of his good ROI. He outlines several tactics he used to try to combat the falling sales – most of which are good tactics. But in the end, he basically concludes that Adwords sucked a bunch of his money for 5 months until he restructured his campaigns.
I won’t detail all the mistakes the author made in managing his campaigns – it would take too long. And in his defense, it’s hard to accurately call out mistakes without looking at his account.
Based on the article, he sounds like a pretty knowledgeable guy when it comes to PPC. He even wrote a follow-up post outlining why he manages his own campaigns.
I have to say, most of his reasons for going DIY are pretty legit. He doesn’t think he’ll get a positive ROI after paying agency fees, and he actually enjoys PPC. Can’t argue with that.
But I still maintain that the problem could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if he’d hired a pro instead of plugging away on his own. Let’s face it – theoretically, I can put a new roof on my house. I can buy all the raw materials and put in the sweat equity. But would it be as good a roof as the pros would do? Would the job get done as quickly? Would I know what potential pitfalls to look out for during a roof installation and be able to sidestep them? Would my roof keep my family warm and dry inside? We all know the answer to all these questions is no. Would I end up hiring a pro in the end to fix my mess? Heck yes. The same thing goes for PPC.
Here’s where I think the author really slipped up: account structure and website optimization.
Most amateurs underestimate the importance of good PPC account structure. A lot of PPC DIY’ers initially set up their account very simply: with one campaign and maybe a handful of ad groups. Little thought is put into how the account will need to be managed not only today, but in the future.
What usually ends up happening in these cases is PPC account structure that resembles a Jenga tower. It’s full of campaigns with no rhyme or reason, ad groups without tight themes, and keywords that overlap (even with the use of negatives, which the author used). Not only does this impact quality score (which the author doesn’t mention even once in any of his posts – although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand or pay attention to it), but it impacts overall results.
When diverse ad groups and keywords are all lumped together, poor results can be difficult to spot. And when you’re a business owner, you’re not spending all day poring over your Adwords account to find anomalies. I’d be willing to bet the author was lucky to spend an hour or two a week in Adwords. That may be OK if the account is performing well, but results can go south quickly – and if you’re not paying attention to the right details, results can be in the South Pole before you know it.
The other issue that the author doesn’t go into is his website and overall sales flow optimization. I can’t blame him, because it would be off-topic for his blog series. But it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle.
He does say that Adwords was generating the same volume of leads, but they weren’t closing as many of them, ostensibly because the leads were lower-quality and less qualified than before. But was something else going on too? Did the fact that he added a totally new product throw off his sales team? Were they unprepared to deal with a different kind of customer? Why weren’t they closing sales?
And what about the website? Did he look at web analytics to see what was happening when visitors from Adwords arrived at the site? We know he was watching conversion data, but what about all the actions that happen between the initial visit on the landing page and the ultimate conversion (or lack thereof)?
For that matter, is he positive that everything on his site was functioning properly? Anyone who’s done agency PPC for a while can tell horror stories about PPC campaigns that tanked because the client changed a landing page URL or discontinued a product and forgot to tell the PPC agency. Was something broken between the new product page and the shopping cart or lead form, and the author didn’t realize it?
Speaking of the website, what optimization did the author do, if any? It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on website traffic drivers (including Adwords) and forget about website optimization.
The average conversion rate online has hovered somewhere around 2% for years now. That means that 98% of site visitors aren’t converting. If you can increase conversion rates to a mere 5%, you’ve just increased your sales or leads by a factor of 2.5 – and often it’s just small tweaks that can drive this kind of improvement.
For an interesting discussion that echoes a lot of what I’ve said here, check out this thread in the Adwords Community forum.
As a final point, I have to disagree with a couple of points in the “why I do my own Adwords” post.
The first one is this: the author says he “could have [written] about how I responded to a big problem with a multi-pronged counterattack involving my marketing, my sales operations, our shop management, and my own financial planning. That’s what actually happened — I tried everything I could think of, and each change probably had some effect on the ultimate result.”
This is definitely one of the mistakes he made. I’ve written before about how making too many changes makes it impossible to determine what’s working and what’s not. I realize this is a small business owner who can’t afford to spend months testing individual variables – but he spent 5 months and a decent chunk of change as it was! A systematic approach to the issue, combined with professional help, would undoubtedly have helped ease the financial pain in the end, and likely would have taken much less time. If it took me 5 months to turn around a failing PPC program, I and my agency would be fired!
The other problematic comment in his post is this: “I need to understand [Adwords] to think about how to keep the entire marketing operation working. If I outsource that piece of it, I am handing over a very important piece of our sales operation to people who neither know nor care about how the rest of the process works.”
He’s obviously been talking to the wrong Adwords consultants (which is abundantly clear given the anecdotes he gives in this post). I can tell you that every single PPC consultant that I’d recommend cares very deeply about their clients’ overall business. He’s right that PPC can’t run in a vacuum. That’s why a good PPC consultant will spend hours with business owners and stakeholders learning about every step in the sales process. Good PPC’ers will meet with salespeople to see how they get their jobs done and learn who the best customers are. And good PPC’ers will have regular meetings with stakeholders to discuss not only impressions and clicks, but the client’s business as a whole. We want to know what’s new, what’s old, what’s good, and what’s bad about everything, not just Adwords.
PPC isn’t just about buying keywords and setting bids – it’s about getting the most leads for the best cost and at the best profit. And like a new roof, while not impossible, it’s something that’s tough to do yourself.
Did you read the NYT series on the “Adwords Debacle?” What did you think?