6 Ways To Spot Bad PPC Advice

This has been the week for bad PPC advice around the web. First came yet another New York Times article filled with small business owners whining that Adwords doesn’t work. We’ve been down this road before with NYT, so I won’t go into it here. You can read my rant about their last article to see how I feel about that.

On the heels of that foolishness came this gem from WhiteShark Media. I got skeptical when 3 paragraphs in, it starts talking about a 40% conversion rate. If you’re getting a 40% conversion rate from PPC, you shouldn’t be writing blog posts – you should be figuring out how to spend as much as you can on PPC.

But I digress. This article was full of so much bad that I can only conclude it was written as linkbait. Let’s rebut each piece of bad advice.

It tells you to spend more money.

You know it’s a wrong-headed article when the first “tip” for improving PPC results is “increase your bids and budget.” Was this article guest-written by Google? That’s always Google’s first “optimization” recommendation, and it’s not a good one.

Now, if you indeed are getting a 40% conversion rate (ha ha), and you’re making a profit on those conversions, then you should absolutely spend more money. But if you’re not, then a safer approach is wiser. Spend what you can afford, and work to optimize every aspect of your campaign: keywords, ad copy, landing pages, etc.

It tells you to geotarget the world.

The advice to “target more geographies” is mind-boggling, frankly. Unless you started using PPC in only a small area to test the waters, you should never expand to other areas without a clear expansion strategy.

For example, if you are a small local business, you should only advertise in the areas near you. Running ads in California if you’re a small clothing store in Michigan makes no sense whatsoever. Same thing goes for national advertisers. Unless you’re equipped to sell to other countries, don’t do it!

Bottom line, you should only invest in the areas that fit your business strategy.

It recommends using broad match.

I have seen countless small businesses who say that Adwords doesn’t work. When I dig deeper, I find that they’re bidding on the broadest possible terms: broad-matched “women’s clothing” and the like. I don’t recommend that strategy for my largest, deepest-pocketed advertisers, much less most PPC clients. It just doesn’t make sense. Instead, you should use exact and phrase match terms, and modified broad match if you need to cast a wider net.

Now, if your search volume is very low, you may want to add a few more broad terms. But this needs to be done carefully and measured closely.

It suggests adding high-volume keywords.

The article advises finding keywords with high search volume. While I don’t think every advertiser should avoid high-volume terms, advertisers need to proceed with extreme caution. Have a plan in place when you add a high-volume term. Put it in its own ad group, or even its own campaign. Be sure to have realistic budget caps in place. And watch it like a hawk. It might work for you – but it might not. I’ve seen a single keyword spend 4 or 5 figures in a single day. Can you afford that kind of risk?

It says to focus on short-tail keywords.

Using short-tail terms, as the article advises, is usually not a good idea unless your budget is very large and you have an awareness strategy in place. Short-tail terms rarely convert well, and often have very competitive bids. You’ll be duking it out with everyone else who sells “women’s clothing” – and unless you’re a major national retailer, you probably can’t compete.

By sticking to longer-tail terms, you’ll moderate traffic and have a much better chance of driving conversions.

It says to include appealing promotions.

OK, the last bit of advice I actually agree with. Ad copy should contain language that compels qualified users to click. If you have a strong promotion running, use that. Focus on the unique benefits of your product or service. Include a sense of urgency (“Limited Time!”) and a strong call to action (“Buy Now!). Test different elements of your ad copy to see what works best.

A word of caution about promotions: Think long and hard before making promotions a part of your marketing strategy. While promotions can and do drive sales and profits, some businesses end up relying on deeper and deeper discounts to acquire customers. This becomes a race to the bottom and can hurt sales in the long run.

Remember, any time you see an article that equates “grow your business” with “spend more money,” be afraid. Be very afraid.

Did you read the NYT and/or the WhiteShark posts? What do you think? Share in the comments!

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Using Web Analytics for PPC Optimization

If you know anything at all about PPC, you know that campaign optimization is one of the most important tasks a PPC manager can perform. Managers spend most of their day tweaking bids, ad copy, campaign settings, networks, keywords, negative keywords, and many other data points within the PPC engines.

Campaign optimization is absolutely essential to PPC success. But if you’re spending all your time in the AdWords and Bing Ads interfaces, you’re missing a big part of the PPC optimization picture.

The Rest of the PPC Story

PPC metrics like CTR, conversion rate, cost per conversion, CPC, etc. are crucial elements that can’t be ignored. This data tells us what is happening with an account: how much traffic it’s generating, how many sales or leads it’s driving, and how much all of that cost. We get a great picture of what is happening.

The problem is, often we don’t know why.

That’s where web analytics come in. Web analytics tell us what PPC visitors did once they arrived at the website.

“Now wait a minute!” you might be thinking. “I’m using AdWords conversion tracking, so I can see conversions! Don’t those happen on the website?”

The answer is absolutely yes. And if you’re not tracking conversions via either the free PPC engine tracking scripts or a third-party tool, then shame on you.

But does that data tell you why someone converted? How many visits to the site did it take for that conversion to happen? What other pages did they view? Were they already a customer making a repeat purchase, or was this their first visit?

PPC conversion tracking can’t answer those questions. But web analytics can.

Key Analytics Measures for PPC

Even the most rudimentary web analytics measures can tell us something about our PPC campaigns. The following metrics can be found in any web analytics program. I’ll focus on Google Analytics, because it’s so ubiquitous – but you certainly don’t have to be using Google Analytics to get these numbers.

Bounce Rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who visited one page and then left the site.

bounce rate

Usually, a high bounce rate is considered a bad thing. If you’re an ecommerce site, and 80 percent of your PPC visitors are bouncing, that’s not good – it means that only 20 percent of people are bothering to go beyond the landing page.

But what if you’re using PPC to generate leads, and you have a lead form right on the page? Visitors could conceivably fill out the form and convert right there, without going to another page. In this case, it’s a low bounce rate that’s bad – it means no one is converting!

As you look at bounce rate, think about your campaign goals, and what the numbers mean.

Average Time on Site

Average time on site measures how long visitors spend on your website, in minutes.

average time on site

It probably takes at least 4-5 minutes to complete an online order on an ecommerce site, so if you’re an ecommerce PPC advertiser, a longer time on site is good.

What about the one-page lead form, though? Best practices for online lead forms indicate that shorter forms are best. If it takes 4-5 minutes to fill out your form, you’re using the wrong form. In this case, shorter times on site are a good thing!

Number of Pages Visited

This metric is exactly what it sounds like: the average number of pages visited on your site.

pages per visit

Most ecommerce shopping carts are at least 4-5 pages. Add 1-2 pages for your landing page and any additional items the visitor might be interested in, and you’re looking at a good average of 5-7 pages per visit at a minimum.

I bet you know what I’m going to say here. For the one-page lead form, if your average number of pages visited is 5-7, you’ve probably lost the lead. An average of 1.5 is probably good in this case.

Are you seeing a pattern here? In order to accurately evaluate the meaning of web analytics metrics, it’s crucial to think about your PPC campaign goals. Good ecommerce metrics will be very different from good lead generation metrics.

2 Final Caveats

As with all aggregated data sets, web analytics represent averages. And as we all know, averages lie.

While spending a lot of time analyzing what one or two visitors to your site did probably isn’t efficient, it does pay to break your data out into segments. For now, just remember that averages may not tell the whole story.

On the flip side, watch out for outliers. Let’s say that your ecommerce campaigns have an average time on site of 7 minutes, but you have one campaign with an average time on site of 22 minutes. While on the surface that might sound good, it’s probably not – in all likelihood, it means your poor site visitors are trying in vain to find something and aren’t succeeding. So if your underperforming campaign has outlier metrics like this, it’s probably time to optimize your conversion path a bit.

Now go take a look at your bounce rate, average time on site, and number of pages visited. You might be surprised at what you learn!

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on September 25, 2012.

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12 Links Every PPC Pro Should Bookmark

Every day, there is a plethora of great PPC info shared across the web:  on blogs, in social media, and in forums.  Most of it falls into the “that’s interesting” category, but nothing more.

Periodically, though, a post or tool is so good that I bookmark it and refer back to it often.  Here is my list of the 12 links every PPC pro should bookmark.

Modified Broad Match Tool from Acquisio: This tool enables you to paste a list of keywords, tell it which ones you want to add the broad match modifier, and spits them out with a keystroke. It’s a huge time saver and I use it at least weekly.

SplitTester: A tool to quickly get statistical significance & confidence levels. Great for PPC ad testing.

WebShare’s split testing tool: This tool combines CTR and conversion rate to tell you the overall winner of an ad test.

145 PPC Must Do’s for 2012 from PPC Hero: This was a New Year’s post that was actually very useful.  I’ve been working my way through the list for the past 6 months.  Not every tip will apply to every PPC account, but if you’re looking for new optimization ideas, this is the place.

Excel Hints for PPC from SEOptimise: PPC’ers live in Excel, so we’re always hungry for more Excel tips. This is a good bunch of hints.

Excel Formatting Tips from Search Engine Journal: If your reports look like they were done by a 5th grader, this post will help you fix that.

Excel Tips & Tricks from PPC Associates: Yet more awesome Excel tips for PPC’ers.


Ion Interactive’s Landing Page Checklist: I refer to this often when advising clients on landing page best practices.

PPC Task Checklist from PPC Hero: A great list of PPC tasks that will help all PPC pros, from novice to expert.

Google Analytics Advanced Segments Shares from Jill Whalen: A neat list of advanced segments that you can copy and use in your own Google Analytics accounts.

Google Analytics URL Builder: A good way to make sure your custom URLs for Google Analytics are formatted properly.

Auditing PPC Accounts Without Account Access from Fathom: A recent blog post to help PPC’ers over a common stumbling block: auditing a PPC account when you don’t have access to the account itself.

And there you have it – 12 must-have PPC bookmarks! I know there are more out there, so share your favorites in the comments!  I’ll compile them into a future blog post.

Editor’s Note:  The link to the Ion Interactive Landing Page checklist was incorrect and has now been corrected. Thanks to commenter Max Miller for pointing out the error!

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The Dos and Don’ts of PPC Testing, Or, “Days Are Not Data”

Last week, I wrote about the new Adwords option to optimize for conversions, and I talked a bit about testing principles. In my experience, PPC testing is one of the most misunderstood aspects of PPC. I’m always surprised by how many advertisers don’t test at all – which is, to be blunt, a huge missed opportunity. Yet many advertisers just put one ad variation into each ad group and let it go, never knowing whether it’s really the best variation or not. Wouldn’t you rather know what ad message generates the most traffic & conversions for your money?

I’ve also frequently seen inexperienced advertisers overreact to normal daily variations in performance. Even the best-managed campaign will have ups and downs on any given day; traffic, conversions, CTR, and any other metric can vary, sometimes wildly, on a day to day basis.

At a recent SES, my good friend Andrew Goodman made what was probably an offhand comment in one of his presentations, yet it stuck with me because it was so profound and true: “Days are not data.”

I love it – it’s brilliant. And true. You don’t need to be a statistician to realize that day-to-day fluctuations do not represent statistical significance in any way. Yet I regularly hear from clients, and even PPC managers-in-training, when results go up or down in a day’s time. These fluctuations, especially at the keyword level, should almost never be cause for alarm.

So how do you know when you have meaningful data? Here are some rules of thumb, based on best practices and years of experience.

Look at a large enough set of data.

If an ad group or keyword got 2 clicks yesterday and 10 clicks today, I can tell you right now that you don’t need to worry about it. Not only are the total numbers too small to be significant, at a minimum you should be looking at week over week data. I’ve written about dayparting recently, and the whole premise behind dayparting is that performance varies from day to day. So don’t make any judgments until you have at least a full week of data, if not more.

Another good rule of thumb is to make sure your data set has at least 100 clicks. You may need more than a week to amass that much info. Be patient – it’s worth the wait to know you’re looking at significant data.

Don’t guess – use statistical tools.

At SMX Advanced last year, I spoke about evaluating PPC tests using SuperSplitTester, which is my favorite easy-to-use statistical tool. But you don’t have to use that one. Just use any tool – but make sure to run the numbers and don’t guess. I’ve used SuperSplitTester enough to guess the winning ad correctly a lot of the time, but not all the time. Don’t guess – your clients and/or employer will thank you.

Evaluate test data systematically.

Yeah, that sounds like a stats prof talking, but what I really mean is set a schedule to review test data, and stick with it. We’ve found that a monthly review is enough for most advertisers when you’re talking about ad tests – even our high-volume clients often don’t reach statistical significance before a full month has passed. Having a set schedule to follow not only ensures the work will get done, but also ensures that the test periods are relatively similar from month to month.

And if you’re really freaked out, only change 1-2 things at once.

One of our clients recently shifted their business goals and strategy, which required a pretty big shift in their PPC campaigns, as well. We launched 3 new campaigns all at once. (I don’t always advise this, but in this case it made the most sense.) When I checked it the day after launch, spend had gone through the roof. Like a good PPC tester, I didn’t panic – but I did lower the campaign daily budgets a bit, just to improve my comfort level. What I didn’t do is go in and start pausing keywords and ad variations, and making a bunch of bid changes – it’s too early for that. The point is, if you’re freaked out, do make a couple changes, but then give it at least a couple days to gauge the effect.

Using systematic, smart testing processes will really pay off in PPC campaign success, I promise!

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Adwords Finally Adds “Optimize for Conversions” Option

Ever since the dawn of Adwords, advertisers have had the option to run more than one ad variation per ad group. This is one of the features that makes Adwords so attractive – the ability to test different ad copy and landing pages against a set of keywords and learn which performs the best.

Until this week, though, there was always a problem with the definition of “performance.” For Google, and for a handful of advertisers, “performance” is defined as “click-through rate” – the ad that generates the most traffic. But for most advertisers, “performance” is defined as “conversion rate” – the ad that generates the most desired actions, commonly known as conversions.

Until this week, Adwords offered 2 options for serving multiple ads: Optimize or Rotate. Rotate is simple to define: your ads will rotate evenly among impressions, with each variation getting approximately the same number of impressions. So if you have 2 ads, each will display on about 500 out of 1,000 impressions.

By default, the Optimize setting is turned on – changing it requires editing your Campaign Settings. And “Optimize” sounds great: after all, everyone wants to optimize their campaigns, right? Ha, wrong. Optimize (until this week) rotated ads based on click-through rate: the as with the highest CTR would, over time, be displayed on a larger proportion of impressions. It’s not uncommon to see as much as 80-90% of impressions going to one ad with “optimize,” meaning the ad with the lowest CTR barely gets shown. It’s also not uncommon for the ad with the best CTR to be the ad with the worst conversion rate – so you end up spending a lot of money for not very many conversions. Not good.

But what if you were an advertiser who wanted to drive traffic, with conversion optimization as a secondary goal? What if your ad test is just starting out? What if you’re a new advertiser and you don’t even realize you have a choice?

Good testing principles indicate that all test variants should be shown to test samples that are relatively equal in size and demographic. For instance, if an ad only shows to females age 18-34, there’s a good chance the results won’t translate to men age 45-54. So you want to divide up your sample 50/50, and make it random. But if your Adwords ads are set to “Optimize,” that’s most likely not going to happen.

Never fear, though – Adwords to the rescue! This week, Google launched a third option: Optimize for Conversions. Finally, after years and years of advertisers asking for a way to serve the best-converting ad more often, Google came through! Right?

Sort of. As with many Adwords features, there are a few caveats. First, note in the documentation this important caveat: “If there isn’t sufficient conversion data to determine which ad will provide the most conversions, ads will rotate using ‘Optimize for clicks’ data.” Yikes. It’s pretty obvious that most ads will amass a statistically significant number of clicks long before they reach a statistically significant number of conversions. So really, any new test is doomed to start Optimizing for CTR – thus messing up your conversion test results from the start.

Also, the word on the street (or at least on Twitter) is that Optimize for Conversions will optimize based on conversion rate, not number of conversions. So you may have an ad that gets a great conversion rate, but not many clicks; or vice versa. Either way, the system could be making the wrong decision about what’s working for you.

So for now, I’m sticking with “Rotate,” even though Google warns me every time that it’ll ruin my results.

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