PPC Campaign Setup Best Practices

Everyone who works in PPC management will have to set up at least a few new PPC campaigns. Setup seems easy, especially if you read what the engines tell you. But there are several tricky default settings that can trip you up.

It’s easy to make mistakes in campaign setup that can negatively impact performance. Here are some PPC campaign setup best practices to follow.

Campaign Setup Basics

Experienced PPC managers may take the basics for granted – after all, we’ve looked at these settings hundreds of times, right? But that doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes. I recently set a campaign’s geotargeting to the entire US when it was supposed to be geotargeted to a few cities. Be sure to look at the following settings to ensure they mesh with your campaign goals:

  • Billing & Currency
  • Account Timezone
  • Geographic Distribution
  • Language
  • Campaign Budget
  • Ad Distribution
  • Ad Rotation

For an overview of all these settings, here’s an article I wrote for Web Marketing Today.

Campaign Setup Strategies

Once you understand the various settings that are available, you need to think about campaign strategy. What makes the most sense for each campaign? Review some of the choices you have in terms of ad rotation, budget delivery, etc.

Also, think long and hard about mobile. Do you have a mobile version of your site? Is your site responsive and works well on mobile? Can users take conversion actions on a mobile device? Don’t just automatically include or exclude mobile – think about how it fits with campaign strategy.

Audit and QA

Even the most experienced PPC managers make mistakes in campaign setup. I’ve set the wrong budget, opted campaigns into display by mistake, set wrong geos, added “keyword” to my keyword list, and messed up destination URLs and tagging. It happens to the best of us.

The worst possible thing that can happen is to have a client, or your boss, find your mistakes. While some things will inevitably slip through the cracks despite your best efforts, putting an audit and quality assurance (QA) process in place will help you to avoid the most egregious errors.

One key to successful QA is to have someone else check your work. We recently did a huge launch of new landing pages for a client with a very large campaign. On top of that, we had to manually tag our URLs. It was a complicated process with a big margin for error. We had multiple sets of eyes on the destination URLs to make sure everything was set up correctly. We checked, and then checked again. And I had others help me, because after I’d stared at it for multiple 10-hour days straight, it was hard to find my own mistakes.

Another key to correcting errors is to do regular audits. We’ve all made changes to accounts in good faith, only to realize we messed something up in the process. Auditing your campaigns on a weekly or monthly basis will help keep errors from perpetuating over time.

My favorite audit tool is Joe Kerschbaum’s 10-Minute Audit spreadsheet. He presented it at SMX Advanced 2012 on a panel we were both speaking on, and I’ve used it ever since. Even though it’s 2 years old, it still holds up – the only thing that’s changed is device segmentation (sadly). Even still, you should think about mobile as I mentioned above. Are you using mobile-preferred ads? Call extensions? Other tactics for mobile success? Use the audit spreadsheet to find mistakes quickly.

Again, it’s best to have someone else audit the campaigns you manage. While I’ve used it on my own campaigns, it’s easy to miss things. If you work on a team, take turns auditing each other’s campaigns each month. You’ll be glad you did.

What are your favorite campaign setup best practices? Share in the comments!

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Must-Read Posts On PPC And Other Topics

I’ve been bookmarking great PPC posts like a madwoman the past few days, and some of the posts are too good not to share. Here are my must-read posts on PPC, and on a couple other topics that PPC managers will find useful.

Excellent Bidding in PPC by Lauryan Feijen. This long but worth-the-read post covers how to effectively bid on keywords for best results. If you’re looking to meet your PPC goals, check this one out.

Multi-Ad Group Testing by AdAlysis. This video is intended for users of Brad Geddes’s AdAlysis tool, but it’s worth a watch for anyone looking to streamline ad copy testing across large accounts. You could apply the principles outlined in the video to a pivot table and gain similar insights with a few calculations, although it would take significantly more time than it takes in AdAlysis.

Incidentally, I’m a huge fan of AdAlysis. If you manage multiple accounts or have a large account with multiple ad tests, this tool is a must for saving time on test analysis.

Google AdWords Remarketing Lists For Search Ads (RLSA): The Ultimate Guide by Lisa Raehsler. An oldie but a goodie, this Search Engine Watch post is a must-read primer for anyone looking to take advantage of the power of remarketing lists for search ads.

The next 2 posts are on giving great presentations. Even if you don’t speak at search conferences, you probably have to give presentations to clients, or to co-workers if you work in-house. I bookmarked these 2 posts because they’re loaded with tips that I can use right away to make my presentations better.

Making Great Presentations by Ian Lurie. A true lesson in the “less is more” philosophy, Ian’s Slideshare deck will have you fine-tuning your PowerPoint decks in no time.

Free Resources For Great Presentations by my friend Aaron Levy. Aaron gave this presentation at his alma mater, Villanova University – but the lessons in this post apply to far more than just college students. Everyone can benefit from the resources he offers up in this killer post. (Disclosure: Aaron credits me with providing ideas for his presentation, and I did send him a few tips – but this post has given me way more than I gave it!)

Give these great posts a read or view – you won’t be disappointed. Got any great PPC articles to share? Post in the comments!

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6 Milestones For Successful PPC Campaigns

When I train new PPC hires, one of the questions they often ask me is, “How long does it take to get a PPC campaign running well?” It’s a fair question, and the answer isn’t what you might think.

A good PPC campaign takes time to set up. It’s not immediate like Google Adwords would lead you to believe:

This is Google's idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They're wrong.

This is Google’s idea of how quickly a campaign can go live. They’re wrong.

Here are 6 milestones that will take you on your way to a well-run campaign.

Research

Doing your homework is a must. Guessing at keywords and creating one ad that lands on the homepage is not the way to approach PPC. You’ll need to think about campaign goals first, and then do your keyword research.

Creating good ad copy is harder than ever with all the options out there today. Be sure to incorporate best practices.

Campaign structure is also vital for success. Plan for expansion, and create campaigns and ad groups that will make management and reporting easier.

Tracking

If you don’t measure results, how will you know if the campaign is running well? Tracking setup can be very simple, using only Google Analytics or the engine conversion tracking scripts, or it can be ridiculously complex, with content marketing and CMS integration, call tracking, social media, and other integration elements.

Set aside time to get the tracking right before you launch. Inaccurate tracking is worse than no tracking.

Approvals

Whether you’re in an agency dealing with clients, or in-house with a boss or CEO, someone will need to approve your campaign before it goes live. Chances are you’ll need someone else to set up the tracking on the website, too. Allow time for approvals – in my experience, a 2-day turnaround is lightning-fast, and it frequently takes a week or more for all approvals and tracking codes to be installed. Work that time into your launch plan.

And if you’re creating new landing pages, plan on at least a month to get them up and running. Even with marketing automation, I’ve found it takes several weeks to create new pages, QA them, and get them ready for traffic.

Relevant Data

One of the great things about PPC is its immediacy – you can start seeing data right away. But just because you can see data the first day doesn’t mean you should act on it.

Use the first days of a new campaign to trouble-shoot: ad disapprovals, broken links, and tracking issues are some of the roadblocks that can crop up in the early days of a new campaign. You should definitely look at the data to spot these challenges and fix them as soon as possible.

But don’t fall into the trap of viewing performance after a couple of days or weeks and making huge decisions on it. Most campaigns need at least a month to really get a feel for performance. The first couple weeks will have huge swings in key metrics – so it doesn’t make sense to decide the fate of keywords and ad copy while things are going back and forth. Give it time.

Optimization

Campaign optimization should be ongoing, of course, but it’s in the first month or two that the most learning happens. You’ll probably find a couple of keywords and ad variations that perform terribly. As long as you remove them quickly, usually there’s little to no harm done. Fail fast and learn fast should be your motto.

Reporting

Reporting is another way to get your campaign performing well. In a report, you must show results, highlight key wins, and point out issues and problems. Even though you’re looking at your PPC data on a regular basis, you’ll probably see something in the first report that you didn’t notice before. And that’s ok.

I always tell clients that their first report is going to be their worst report in terms of performance. It’s the baseline by which future performance is judged. And a good PPC report will facilitate a conversation between you and your client or boss that will help you get the campaign to perform better in the future.

Work toward these milestones as you set up your next PPC campaign. What milestones do you look for in a new campaign? Share in the comments!

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7 Things About PPC Strategy Your Clients Want to Know

So, you’ve landed a new client (or gotten approval to start an in-house PPC campaign) and you’re ready to open up a new Adwords account. You’ve read all the PPC blogs about campaign settings and setup; or maybe you’re an experienced PPC marketer and you’re itching to pull the trigger.

While you’re thinking about ad group structure, campaign settings, and ad copy, your client or boss has questions about PPC strategy. Here are 7 things about PPC strategy that your clients want to know.

1 – Campaign goals.

Ideally, you’ll have discussed goals before you kick off the campaign, and structured your campaigns accordingly. Every conversation you have with the client should center on goals: why the questions you’re asking pertain to their main pain points and needs, and how you plan to achieve their goals.

Sometimes strategies need to shift or change, and if you’re the one driving that change, the client wants to know that too. For instance, if you decide to test the Google Display Network, the client will want to know how that fits with their overall strategy. It’s easy to get excited about testing something and forget to get client or decision-maker buy-in. Keep the lines of communication open for best results.

2 – How you’re going to get more leads for less cost.

This is what it comes down to, right? Sales or leads are foremost on most clients’ minds. All your PPC reports should include optimization recommendations that illustrate how you’ll increase leads and improve cost per lead. Clients care less about the keywords you’re bidding on, and more about making their cash register ring.

3 – How they compare against competitors.

It’s rare for a client not to care about their competition. Market positioning vis-à-vis the competition was probably part of your pitch process – but it needs to be reviewed frequently. Clients are often obsessed with their competitors’ every move. Proactively watching the competition helps the PPC manager to be prepared for threats and opportunities, too.

Use a tool like SEMrush or Spyfu to easily keep tabs on your clients’ competitors. I can guarantee your clients want to know what they’re doing.

4 – Why you picked the keywords you did.

I said earlier that clients care less about keywords and leads, and that’s true. But it doesn’t mean they don’t care about keywords at all. They do need to know what you’re bidding on and why. It’s a good idea to periodically send your clients a list of keywords that are driving traffic, whether it’s the top 10 or 100 or 1,000 terms. Have a conversation with them about why you chose the keywords you did. I often find that clients don’t understand how keywords work, and will ask why you’re not bidding on product attributes or ingredients (I once had a deli restaurant client who wanted to bid on “poblano peppers”), slogans, and other phrases that, to a PPC manager, aren’t even keywords. Take the time to explain why you chose the terms you did.

5 – Why you need a new or improved landing page.

Ah, landing pages. They’re so often the bane of my existence. It’s common for clients or bosses to ask why you need to create new landing pages, or why you need to edit your existing pages. It’s crucial to walk them through the reasons why you need a killer landing page. Nothing is more frustrating for both the PPC manager and the client than settling for a subpar landing page (or, heaven forbid, the home page) and then wondering why results are terrible.

6 – When you will see results.

Ah, PPC reporting. Another potential bane of the PPC manager’s existence. While we may despise reporting, it’s not negotiable – clients and bosses need reports.

New clients will be very anxious about when they’ll see results on their new PPC campaign. Lay out a reporting schedule early on, and agree on what will be reported. Don’t forget to set expectations: I tell new clients that the first month is always going to be the worst month in terms of performance. Frequently, there are tracking issues, keywords you shouldn’t have been bidding on, and landing page issues that don’t get resolved in the first month. Figure out how long the benchmark period will last and set the expectation with the client.

We tell new clients that the first 4-8 weeks are the time that we do a lot of learning and tuning. While we make every effort to set campaigns up for success, not everything we try will work. That’s the point of testing – to fail fast and learn fast. Clients just want to know when they can see the cash register ring, so set the expectations up front.

7 – How do we know if we’ve succeeded?

The answer to this question goes beyond “well, your sales/leads went up.” What is the desired cost per lead? How many leads or sales are you expecting from the program? How does PPC affect other channels? What KPIs will tell us that we’ve gotten what we wanted out of PPC? Be prepared to answer all these questions, or work with your client to answer them. And when you do succeed, shout it from the rooftops!

Are there PPC strategy questions your clients ask that I haven’t covered? Share in the comments!

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PPC for Content Marketing: Buyer Journey

In earlier articles about content marketing, I talked about the content audit, audience research,  and timing. In this installment, we’ll cover the buyer journey, and how content works with PPC along the way.

So what is the buyer journey anyway? At gyro, we define the buyer journey as the stages a potential buyer goes through on their way to making a purchase decision. In general, the buyer journey starts with awareness, and moves through consideration, decision, and demand generation.

You’ve probably heard about the buyer journey stages before, and how content fits into them. But how does PPC work with each stage?

Let’s step back for a minute and think about keywords. Keywords also follow the buyer journey. Think about someone who is buying a house, for example. Someone who is at the beginning of the journey may just search for “houses for sale in Chicago,” for example. They may not even include the location in the query and just search for “houses for sale.” As they move through their decision process, searches will get more long-tail: “3 bedroom 2 story in Lincoln Park,” for example.

At a high level, when structuring your PPC campaigns, you’ll need to match the landing page content with the search query. So for the “houses for sale” query, you’ll show them a broad page with general info about houses for sale in Chicago, from which they can narrow their search. Or maybe you’ll serve up a brochure or white paper about buying your first home.

On the more specific queries, you can show them individual houses that match their search queries: a page of 3 bedroom, 2 story homes, or if you don’t have any, the option to sign up for email notifications for when a new listing comes on the market.

The point is to think about matching your content to the buyer journey. Early-stage searchers will want to see content that informs and educates: white papers about your product or service, informational videos, etc. Mid-stage searchers may be interested in buyer’s guides and e-newsletters. And those near a decision will want to see product reviews, demos, and free trials.

Use your content audit to map content to your PPC campaigns, ad groups, and keywords. I like to create a spreadsheet with campaigns, ad groups, and relevant content. The spreadsheet will guide your landing page creation.

To Gate or Not To Gate

Whether or not to gate assets behind a registration wall is usually a lively discussion between clients and PPC & content experts. There are pros and cons to every approach. My general feeling is that if your goal is lead generation, you should gate most, if not all, of your content. Some are in favor of leaving awareness content ungated, and then gating consideration and decision content. I’m ok with that approach if you include remarketing as part of your strategy. If you need to drive leads, and you paid for visitors to come to your page via PPC, it usually doesn’t make sense to let them “get away” without collecting their lead information. Tagging them for remarketing later on is a good way to do this without forcing a form fill on them.

As with all things PPC, test it! Create multiple versions of your landing pages, and test the impact of gating vs. not gating. Make sure to track your visitors all the way through your sales pipeline, not just the initial lead. You might find that your first-time lead conversion rate is lower with gated content, but you get more qualified leads that ultimately filter through the funnel.

Test The Content

It’s also important to test different types of content to see what performs best at each stage. What makes sense for one advertiser may not be effective for another.  We’ve found that informational content like white papers work best for awareness, but that’s not true for every advertiser. Test and track each content type very carefully.

And, as I mentioned earlier, try to track your leads all the way through the buying cycle. Use a CRM system to help you close the loop – there are several good ones out there at different price points. Following leads all the way through to close will tell you not only what drove leads, but what drove sales – all the way back to the keyword.

Finally, make sure your keywords, ad copy, and landing pages align, as mentioned earlier. By thinking about your potential customers and how they search throughout the buyer journey, you can create a PPC campaign that ultimately drives a good volume of leads.

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Why Sitelinks Are A PPC Worst Practice

A few months ago, one of my coworkers asked me a thought-provoking question that I’ve been ruminating on ever since. She asked, “Does Google’s increased push on the use of sitelinks contradict their best practice to make ad groups as specific as possible and to drive users to the most relevant page? Say I’m advertising blue widgets. Long-standing best practices would be to have a very specific ad group pertaining only blue widgets and using my blue widgets page as the destination URL. Now instead of just being able to send them to my blue widgets page, I’m being pushed to include less relevant pages to keep my ad at the top of the page – Widgets, Widget History, Widget FAQs, etc. If your campaigns and ad groups are properly organized, sitelinks are only useful in limited circumstances.”

I thought this was an interesting perspective – one that I agree with. With our B2B clients, I usually don’t use sitelinks, for this very reason. The client has specific goals for each product or service, and we structure our campaigns and ad groups accordingly. The client doesn’t want us sending traffic to other pages within their website – these pages may not be optimized for conversion, or they distract the visitor from taking the action that the client really wants them to take.

Also, there are times when 6-10 or even 1-2 relevant links besides the landing page just don’t exist. Again, the client has a specific product or service they want us to promote. Maybe they even have a budget dedicated to that product or service. They not only don’t have other pages for us to send traffic to, but they don’t want us using their budget for that traffic!

This problem is more common for B2B advertisers, to be sure. I discussed it with Jeremy Brown in a post back in 2012.

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered the pitfalls of sitelinks. Back in 2011, I wrote a post for Search Engine Watch about the not-so-great aspects of sitelinks. While 3 years is an eternity in search, and Google has fixed most of the issues mentioned in that post, there are still shortfalls. Conversion tracking is still a challenge.

And Google doesn’t make it easy to see how individual sitelinks are performing. Take a look at this example:

sitelink data

At first glance, it looks as though the Contact Us sitelink has driven 8 conversions. Not so fast:

this vs other

In reality, no one is clicking on “Contact Us” – they’re all clicking on the ad itself.

This isn’t unusual, but to new PPC manager, or to clients looking at their own data, it’s misleading and confusing to say the least.

But I digress. I’m not the only one who thinks sitelinks might just be a worst practice. Andrew Goodman, in his famous rant “Why I Hate Sitelinks,” lists 11 reasons why he believes sitelinks are problematic. #1 on the list really resonates with me: “Where is the testing? Where are the key performance indicators (KPIs)? It’s impractical and/or irrelevant to test them; you can’t get actionable feedback.” Indeed.

I’m not totally anti-sitelinks. Sitelinks, and ad extensions in general, are a great way to take up more screen real estate. For advertisers with a robust catalog of related products and pages, sitelinks make a lot of sense. But they’re not for everyone, especially those with tightly-themed ad groups or those with only 1-2 relevant landing pages.

What do you think? Are sitelinks the love of your PPC life, or are they a worst practice? Share in the comments!

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PPC Experience: Necessary or Not?

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:

Grigery
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:

Bacchini
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:

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

Mehew
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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26 Free Must-Have Tools for PPC Success

Nearly every craft uses tools to get the job done. Carpenters have hammers and saws. Doctors have expensive medical devices like MRI machines and tests. Writers have a computer (or a typewriter, or pen and paper).

PPC is no different. While it’s certainly possible to manage PPC using only the AdWords and Bing Ads online interfaces, doing so will be less than optimal.

I asked 20 PPC experts to share their must-have PPC tools. They responded with gusto. Here are their top recommendations for 26 free, must-have tools for PPC success.

When it comes to free tools, Google is king. One-third of the tools on the list are from Google!

1. AdWords Editor

A few of us old-timers remember life before AdWords Editor. It wasn’t fun. I was doing in-house PPC at the time, and we actually hired an intern to update ad copy for us, it was that arduous to do manually. With Adwords Editor and its many bulk editing features, those days disappeared. Several experts mentioned Editor, most with a comment like “Duh! It’s essential.”

2. Google Analytics

The AdWords and Bing interfaces only go so far. They don’t tell you what happens after the ad click. Use Google Analytics to gauge bounce rate, pages visited, and many other analytical gems that will help optimize your marketing efforts.

3. AdWords Scripts

We’ve recently started using AdWords Scripts, and it’s become obvious they’re a must-have. Use them for exception reporting, daily stats, and client reporting – amongst other things.

4. Google Plugin for Eclipse

Use this plugin to help develop AdWords Scripts. (Recommended by Leo Sussan.)

5. Google Documents

I love creating shared Google Docs for internal and external use. It’s even possible to have multiple users editing them at once – something you can’t do with Microsoft Office. (Suggested by Larry Kim of Wordstream.)

6. Google Drive

Google Drive is great for storing Google Docs and other files. (Suggested by my coworker Ben Nusekabel)

7. FTP for Google Merchant accounts

Who wants to update thousands of product listing ads manually? Use FTP to send your merchant feed to Google automatically. (Recommended by Matt Vaillancourt.)

8. Google Suggest

Google Suggest is a fun and enlightening way to do keyword research. (Recommended by Aaron Levy of SEER Interactive.)

9. Bing Ads Editor

Not to be outdone, Bing Ads has some great free tools of its own. While Bing Ads Editor isn’t as robust as AdWords Editor, it’s still a must-have PPC tool for those using Bing Ads.

10. Bing Ads Intelligence

I love this Excel plugin for keyword research. It’ll show search volume, create ad groups, and provide demographic data – all in Excel.

11. Facebook Power Editor

If you’re running more than one simple Facebook Ads campaign, you need to be using Power Editor. It’s like AdWords Editor for Facebook. Use it to create audiences, play around with targeting, and create an image bank for your campaigns.

12. Excel

OK, it’s free if your computer has Microsoft Office, which 90 percent or so of us do. Excel is necessary to analyze and manipulate PPC data. Many of the experts named it a must-have.

13. Excellent Analytics Plugin for Excel

Use this plugin to pull Google Analytics data into Excel and make reporting easier. I’m definitely going to check this one out. (Recommended by Arianne Donoghue.)

14. Statistical Significance Spreadsheet

This is a simple, yet often overlooked, way to streamline tracking of ad copy and landing page tests. (Recommended by Andrew Bethel.)

15. Analysis ToolPak for Excel

Use the free Excel plugin Analysis ToolPak to add advanced hypothesis testing to Excel at no cost. (Another recommendation from Sussan.)

16. Uber Suggest

Use Uber Suggest for keyword research. I’ve even used Uber Suggest for blog topic idea generation. (Another great recommendation from Levy.)

17. Keyword Wrapper

Use this easy-to-use tool to quickly create keyword sets in all match types. Build out your keyword list in minutes with this tool. (Recommended by Mark Kennedy of SEOM.)

18. Phrase Builder

Enter a few words, and Phrase Builder will mash them up into keywords. (Another tool recommended by Kennedy.)

19. Soovle

Soovle serves up common searches on a multitude of sites, including YouTube, Answers.com, and Amazon, in addition to the usual search engine subjects. (Yet another keyword tool from Levy.)

20. Convertable

Convertable is a free lead generation tracking service (in beta). If you aren’t ready to give Salesforce a try, check out Convertable.

21. SplitTester

SplitTester is my favorite free online statistical significance tester. Just plug in clicks and CTR (or conversion rate) for 2 ad variations to see which one is the winner, and at what level of significance.

A Few More PPC Tools

Several experts suggested tools that are fixtures in any office, and yet are essential for PPC. Microsoft Outlook and Spotify were two that Lisa Sanner from PointIt finds necessary. I have to agree.

Finally, no list would be complete without the tools that each and every PPC expert uses every day:

  •     Experience (Sanner)
  •     People (e.g., sales teams, live chats) (Sanner)
  •     My brain (Michael Madew) and Matt Vaillancourt)

Special thanks to Aaron Levy, Andrew Bethel, Arianne Donoghue, Ben Nusekabel, David Szetela, Larry Kim, Leo Sussan, Lisa Sanner, Mark Kennedy, Martin Roettgerding, Matt Umbro, Matt Vaillancourt, and Michael Madew for contributing your suggestions.

In addition to these free tools, here are 18 Must-Have Paid Tools for PPC Success.

Hopefully you’ve learned of a few new helpful free PPC tools from this list! What are your must-have PPC tools?

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on March 11, 2014. It was so popular there that I had to share it with my readers! Enjoy!

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When Bad PPC Advice Is Good Advice

A couple months ago, I wrote a post called 6 Ways to Spot Bad PPC Advice, on the heels of a couple of PPC posts that I felt were misguided.

I stand by what I said, but have come to realize that I might have been a bit harsh in my delivery. As with all things PPC, what works for one advertiser (or campaign, even) may not work for another. In fact, what works one week might not work the next in the same campaign!

Sometimes, what is generally considered to be bad PPC advice might be good advice, in the right situation. Here are 6 instances where bad PPC advice might turn out to be good advice.

Sometimes you should spend more on PPC.

I railed against the suggestion to spend more on PPC because it’s usually Google’s first “optimization” suggestion, and all it optimizes is Google’s bottom line. But there are times when it makes a lot of sense to spend more on PPC. Have you ever had a campaign that was converting like crazy, but the client (or your boss) wouldn’t increase the budget? Frustrating, isn’t it?

While increasing the budget isn’t the first thing you should do to optimize a campaign, spending more is good advice for high-performing campaigns that are budget-limited.

Sometimes you should expand your geotargeting.

We had a client whose product appealed mainly to government organizations. They wanted to limit targeting to Washington, DC to reach federal employees. So we tried it for a while.

We found that volume, and conversions, were very low with this approach. When we expanded the campaign to other locations that also had high concentrations of federal workers, performance (and conversions) increased dramatically.

While I stand by my recommendation against targeting the whole world, getting too granular with geotargeting isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes expanding geotargeting is the right thing to do.

Sometimes broad match is necessary.

Ever tried running PPC for an esoteric brand that’s not well-known? Ever tried bidding on keywords that are relevant but low-volume? Ever gotten too long-tail and had that “Low search volume” warning in Google?

In these instances, broad match is a good idea. I’m still a fan of starting out with phrase or exact match and expanding from there, but if you run your entire keyword list through a keyword tool and the volume for every term is 0, you’ll want to try broad match.

Of course, you’ll want to carefully monitor your search query reports and aggressively add negatives. And modified broad match is a safer strategy than expanded broad match. But sometimes broad match is necessary.

Sometimes high-volume keywords will boost conversions.

I actually laid out how to go about adding high-volume terms in my post. It can and often should be done. Using my previous example of “low search volume” keywords, sometimes you have to go a few steps up the funnel to higher-volume terms. With careful monitoring, bidding, and budgeting, along with extensive negative keywords, high-volume terms can boost conversions. We’ve even seen instances where a single-word keyword, usually a no-no in PPC, converts like crazy at a good cost. It’s possible.

Sometimes you need short-tail keywords.

See above. It actually seems as though Google is discouraging very long-tail keywords with the “low search volume” penalty, in fact. I’ve had highly relevant, 5 and 6 word phrases not only get slapped with “low search volume,” but get hit with low quality scores as well. We could debate whether Google is right or wrong here, but the fact is that at this point, it’s their sandbox and we have to play in it or leave.

You should definitely test including appealing promotions.

I actually acknowledged this as a good tactic in my original post, with a caution: Don’t rely too heavily on deep discounts and “all promotions, all the time.” But if you have a deal or special, it’s definitely good advice to promote it via PPC.

What do you think? Are there times when you need to turn PPC best practices on their head and do things you wouldn’t normally do? Do you ever use any of the tactics in this post? Share in the comments!

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PPC and Content Marketing: The 4-Step Content Audit

In an earlier post, I talked about content marketing and its rise to popularity. PPC can be a highly effective way to amplify your content marketing efforts. But first, you need to identify what content is available. Here are 4 steps to a successful content audit.

Step 1: Identify your content marketing goals

Long-time readers of this blog know that I always start with goals. If you don’t know what you want to do, how will you go about doing it? And “performing a content audit” isn’t a goal. Neither is “get started with content marketing.” Those are both tactics used to achieve a strategy, not the strategy itself.

The most common goals for content marketing are lead generation and awareness creation. Do you have a new product that needs awareness? Trying to establish thought leadership in your field? Need to drive your lead generation machine? Identifying your primary goal for content marketing drives the entire process, from what content you’ll use to the channels you’ll use to distribute content.

Step 2: Create a list of all available content.

It’s always easier to repurpose existing content than it is to create it from scratch. Create a list of all online assets, including white papers, press releases, online demos, articles on other platforms, and even photos and videos. Every piece of content your organization has created is fair game.

If possible, also look at how the content has performed, and the audience it has reached. This will help you determine what PPC channel to use, and how to craft ad copy and PPC audiences. Also, why not put your best foot forward and launch with the best content?

Step 3: Note whether the content is evergreen or time-sensitive.

Some content, such as overview videos, product brochures, and how-to blog posts never get old. This is content you can promote again and again. Other content is time-sensitive: promotions, licenses, and other factors can affect how long your content can stay in market. Note these limitations in your content list. Nothing is worse than paying to send traffic to your site to read an outdated brochure or view a promotion that’s expired.

Step 4: Include the format in your content list.

Content format is more important than you may think, for a couple of reasons. The first is obvious: it determines where the content can be advertised in PPC. If you want to use Google for keyword search, you won’t be able to use a video as your ad (although of course you can drive traffic from text ads to a landing page that includes your video).

Maybe more importantly, noting the content type will help you learn which types of content perform best on each channel. For instance, you may determine that videos perform best in Facebook promoted posts, but white papers perform best in Google Adwords.  Performance by content type is a key measurement for PPC and content marketing.

By following these 4 steps, your content audit is now a marketing tool that use can use to craft your content marketing campaigns.

What about you? What techniques have you used for a content audit? Share in the comments!

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