The Ideal Number Of Keywords Per Ad Group

A while back, one of our new hires asked a great question over IM about the number of keywords in an ad group. Here’s a paraphrased version of how the conversation went down:

New Hire: I’ve been told an ideal number of keywords in an ad group is around 15. If you have much more than 15, what are the chances all the words are relevant? Are smaller ad groups better, like in the 5 word range? Does it just make it more tedious to manage having a lot of small ad groups?

Melissa Mackey: Yeah, there comes a point of diminishing returns when you go below 10-15 keywords. That said, I’ve had 1-keyword ad groups for a very high volume term. It just depends – like a lot of things in PPC.

NH: Ok, so you look at diminishing returns and term popularity.

MM: Right, as a rule that works. Also, you might want to isolate smaller groups of keywords to improve quality score. So for example, if you have a few keywords with decent volume and poor quality score, you’d move them to try to improve it.

NH: What if you have a small ad group where one term gets impressions/clicks and the other one is extremely light?

MM: That’s usually ok as long as quality score is relatively similar.

Was I right about that? I’ll get to that in a second.

The “right” number of keywords in an ad group is a subject of much debate. I found a Quora thread that had as many different “right answers” as there were commenters in the thread.

Brad Geddes weighed in on the magic number of keywords in an ad group on the Certified Knowledge blog. Short answer? There is no magic number of keywords – it depends.

A poster on the Adwords Community forum does a good job of illustrating the concept, but then says 5-15 keywords is the right number.

I agree with him, to a point. I usually strive for no more than 15 keywords per ad group. But I also have ad groups with 50 keywords or more, and that’s fine too. It just depends.

The difference comes in whether the ad group is large because there is a large number of related terms out there, or whether the ad group is large simply due to laziness or lack of time. I recently did some keyword research around healthcare marketing, and there are a LOT of variations of “healthcare marketing” that are all closely related.

So how do you decide if you should split up a large ad group into smaller ones?

Look for similarities.

The first thing I do is look for similarities: in keyword theme, performance, or quality score. In fact, while I often say you shouldn’t optimize based on quality score alone, you can use it as a guide here in ad group development. Often the quality score will tell you what Google thinks is similar about the terms.

Quality score also helps you think about ad copy and landing page needs. If you have a bunch of relevant keywords with a low quality score and you’re not in an industry with traditionally low quality scores, then maybe your landing page isn’t relevant. Or maybe your ad copy needs to be tightened up. Creating new ad groups can be a way to deal with both issues.

Consider grouping by match type.

Sometimes it makes sense to group keywords by match type, to aid in keyword research and control cost per click by match type. I’ve found this especially effective for smaller accounts in niche markets where it’s hard to mine for new keywords simply by using search query reports. In larger accounts, grouping by match type just makes for unnecessary management time.

In fact, too many ad groups often become cumbersome to manage. Even a couple hundred ad groups can be super time consuming – I speak from experience on this. Single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) do make sense, but your entire account shouldn’t be full of them. You don’t want to end up in a situation like this:

twitter convo

This example is less about too many ad groups and more about an unreal number of negatives, but you get the point.

To me, the ideal number of keywords in an ad group is…. It depends. Surprise!

What’s your rule of thumb on number of keywords per ad group? Do you have a rule of thumb, or do you decide on the fly? Share in the comments!

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The Importance of Focus for Your PPC Strategy

Note From Melissa: I’m thrilled to have Julie Friedman Bacchini of Neptune Moon as my guest blogger today, covering a topic near and dear to my heart: PPC strategy.

Anyone who works in marketing has certainly heard the advice to “know your audience.” It is such a well-known adage, that honestly it seems like it is often taken for granted when it comes to a lot of marketing strategy. This can be particularly true when it comes to PPC.

Does this scenario sound at all familiar to you?

PPC Pro to Client: Who is the target audience you are trying to reach with this campaign?

Client: We don’t really have a target audience. Anyone could be our client/customer.

PPC Pro: Well, for the sake of this strategy, if you had to narrow your focus to your ideal customer/client, who would that be?

Client: It’s really hard to say, since anyone could be our customer/client.

And around and around it goes…

After suppressing your eye roll, what do you do next?

Any marketer knows, at a bare minimum, there needs to be a target audience that is smaller than “everyone on earth” for any marketing effort. For companies without the resources of a huge brand, proper focus on reaching people who might actually buy what they are selling is even more important. Reaching people who are reasonably likely to buy what they are selling is even better!

When I have a client who is particularly resistant to letting go of the “but everyone is our audience” mentality, I will try asking them a simple question – how much are you willing to spend on clicks that have a zero to very slim chance of converting? $10? $100? $1,000? $10,000? Most clients will answer that question by saying they don’t want to spend any money on this type of click.  They want to pay for clicks for people who will actually buy stuff from them.

OK! We are almost there when it comes to really helping them realize the wisdom in not viewing PPC as a shotgun approach type of marketing. Obviously every click does not result in a sale, but with proper focus on targeting we will greatly increase the likelihood of clicks resulting in the desired conversion action.

Here is an example of a situation where a client moved from “everyone” to “targeted” in their approach to PPC:

WHO: A regional company who serves states east of the Mississippi

ORIGINAL PARAMETERS: Wanted to run their PPC nationally.

WHY DID THEY WANT THIS: Well, someone might be searching outside of the actual states that we serve but want our product in a state where we do sell it.

MY RESPONSE: OK, I get what you’re saying. But, are you willing to spend thousands of dollars in PPC advertising reaching people who you literally cannot sell to just to be sure you don’t maybe, possibly miss a tiny sliver of people who don’t fit what we’ve defined as your target audience for PPC?

END RESULT: Only running campaigns in their actual geographic region.

But let’s say that your client does have an idea of the types of people that make up their target audience. Is that entire set the right match for their PPC initiatives? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Here is an example of a client who further refined their keyword focus for PPC versus their SEO efforts:

WHO: A local home services company

ORIGINAL PARAMETERS: Wanted to target every possible type of term that related to their service, regardless of user intent for their paid search.

WHY DID THEY WANT THIS: All of these keywords are relevant to what we do.

MY RESPONSE: Yes, all of these keywords are relevant to your business. But, your industry is highly competitive and CPCs are high. Do you really want to spend upwards of $40 per click for people who are looking for information about how to do the repair work themselves or do you want to spend that money on someone who wants to have a service provider come to their house right now?

END RESULT: Campaigns focus on terms indicating immediate or emergency needs.

It all comes down to this when defining a target audience for your PPC efforts – who, exactly, are you willing to pay for this directly? I’m not saying that a larger pool of potential audience should be completely ignored, at all. But, reaching those who are not nearly as likely to convert is probably better executed through marketing channels other than PPC. For example, SEO or branding ads through display can be a much better method to try to capture some of the potential customers that don’t completely match your PPC target audience.

So, next time you’re meeting with a client and starting to talk about the target audience for a PPC campaign, remember that the answer can be different from the general “who is your target audience” question, and is for most clients.

Julie Friedman Bacchini is an expert in search marketing with over 15 years of experience in the digital space. She brings a strategic marketing perspective to all her projects, helping her clients boost their revenue and gain coveted market share. You can find her speaking at search and trade group conferences, blogging at, and on Twitter @NeptuneMoon.

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What’s In a Good PPC Report?

Whether you’re an in-house or agency PPC professional, chances are you’ll need to provide regular reports on campaign performance.

There is usually a lot of talk on SEM news sites and forums about the type of data available from the PPC engines; the metrics seem nearly endless. Stats are available on CTR, CPC, conversion rate, conversion rate by position, data by network (display vs. search vs. retargeting vs. social PPC, etc.), Google Analytics or other web analytics data… The list goes on.

But few people seem to discuss how and what data should be presented.

Numbers Need Context

Unfortunately, too many PPC reports just regurgitate a bunch of numbers from AdWords, adCenter, and web analytics. Clients and upper managers receive spreadsheet upon spreadsheet with impressions, clicks, CTR, conversions, conversion rate, and cost per conversion – and no context whatsoever. They look kind of like this:

report example
While PPC pros know what those numbers represent, even a seasoned professional will have a hard time deciding whether the numbers are “good” or “bad” without context – so imagine how your client, or chief marketing officer, feels when he or she gets this spreadsheet in their inbox. They’re probably full of more questions than answers:

•    What happened before this time frame?
•    What’s typical for this time of year?
•    What is the goal of this PPC campaign?
•    Are the numbers up, down, or sideways?
•    Why are the numbers up, down, or sideways?
•    What the heck does this mean, anyway?

A good PPC report relies less on the numbers themselves, and more on why the numbers are meaningful. One way to remember this is to ask yourself the question “So what?” when looking at data:

•    What insight can be drawn from this data?
•    Are key metrics following normal seasonal trends, or is something off the mark?
•    If something’s off the mark, why?
•    Did you run a particularly successful ad copy test?
•    Was there something in the news that spiked click-throughs, but didn’t drive conversions?
•    What’s going on, and what does it mean to the advertiser?

In fact, at gyro, all of our reports and most of our presentations include a What, So What, Now What section. This format helps us to focus on what’s important to the client, rather than charts and graphs.

If you must include charts with total impressions, clicks, and conversions, put them in an appendix at the end of the report. Some clients and bosses really do like to pore through raw data, so let them – but only after you’ve told the key story.

Or, show the data in a meaningful way, like this:
sample summary slideThis one slide in a report often tells business decision makers everything they need to know about their PPC campaign, in one easy-to-grasp view.

The new report function in Adwords is another way to quickly create meaningful charts and graphs.

Numbers Should Align with Goals

A surprising number of PPC campaigns are launched every day before campaign goals are defined. When I see a campaign with a mish-mash of keywords, the home page as the landing page, and no conversion tracking, I can be pretty confident the campaign has no goal.

A PPC campaign without goals is like grocery shopping without a list. You may come home with a cart full of groceries, and you may have gotten some deals – but did you buy what you really needed? Smart grocery shoppers never set foot in a store without a list, and smart PPC advertisers never log in to AdWords without a goal in mind.

To that end, a good PPC report should include a statement defining the campaign goals, and whether they were achieved.

•    Is there a target cost per conversion you’re trying to reach?
•    Are there certain products on which you were trying to increase sales this month?
•    Did you launch a campaign with new and different goals?

Every chart, graph, and narrative should be created with the following in mind: how does this information illustrate whether the goals were achieved?

PPC generates so much data that it’s easy to get lost in the weeds looking at “interesting” statistics. But just because something’s interesting doesn’t mean that it’s important. If it doesn’t relate to goals, leave it out!

Numbers Should Point to Recommendations

In many ways, PPC reports are kind of like looking in the rear-view mirror, reviewing what’s already happened. But that doesn’t mean the report should only reflect history.

A good PPC report should include recommendations and plans forward, so the client or boss knows what will happen next. In fact, the recommendations should form the basis of any conversations that come out of the report: the dialogue should be centered on next steps in the optimization process. This is the “Now What” portion of the report.

The next time you prepare a PPC report, keep these tips in mind. Your client, or your boss, will thank you.

What about you? What elements are must-haves in your PPC reports? Share in the comments!

Editor’s Note: Portions of this article appeared at Search Engine Watch on August 9, 2011.

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The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy

So often, PPC strategy seems to be an afterthought. In their haste to start looking for keywords and setting bids, advertisers overlook strategy development.

Don’t let this happen to you! Take the time to develop your PPC strategy before jumping into anything else.

In my experience, PPC strategy development falls into 4 categories:

•    Goals identification
•    Campaign setup
•    Conversion rate optimization
•    Content marketing

I include content marketing here, even though some may argue it’s a separate discipline. To me, content marketing is a crucial part of many PPC campaigns, and assembling the content into a PPC strategy isn’t trivial. So I’m including resources to help with that.

Goals Identification

I’ve said many times that identifying the goal of your PPC campaign is the first step. What business goal will your PPC campaign help you achieve? The answer will drive your entire strategy. Be sure to separate ideas from strategy, anticipate client questions, consider marketing basics, and determine conversion actions as part of your goal identification process.

Campaign Setup

It may seem like campaign setup isn’t really a strategy, but you must think strategically to properly set up your PPC campaigns. You’ll want to incorporate best practices, establish setup milestones, and establish a reporting cadence.  All of these activities will ensure that goals are being met, and they help make clients happy too.

Conversion Rate Optimization

A poorly-optimized website will render all the great PPC strategy in the world useless. Build in conversion rate optimization (CRO) activities to ensure your strategy will actually achieve the goal. Assign primary responsibility for CRO to make sure it actually gets done and someone is accountable for it. Periodically review landing page optimization best practices to ensure your CRO efforts will be successful.

Content Marketing

This is such a complex process that I wrote an entire series on content marketing and PPC. Knowing how content fits into your marketing mix, and taking the time to craft your PPC content marketing campaign, will help ensure that you meet your goals.

The Cheat Sheet

I’ve summarized the strategy elements into the ultimate cheat sheet for PPC strategy. Bookmark this post, and refer to it when you’re setting up a new campaign! Get the Ultimate Cheat Sheet for PPC Strategy.

Strategy Ultimate Cheat Sheet

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Bid Management: Is It Even Still A Thing?

When Google launched Adwords Select back in 2002, the self-serve pay per click model was new. Although GoTo existed before Adwords, it wasn’t as widely adopted. People flocked to this great new way of advertising that allowed them to pay only when someone clicked, rather than when impressions were served. It was a paradigm shift that changed online advertising forever.

One element of early PPC programs that managers quickly had to master was bid management. Bidding for the top of the page, which was actually possible in GoTo/Overture back then, didn’t make much sense to savvy advertisers. Instead, we wanted to pay only what the click was actually worth to us. High-converting terms, we reasoned, should have higher bids than low-converting terms.

I remember spending all day on bid management back in 2002-2003. I was doing in-house ecommerce, and we had hundreds of products, all with different profit margins. I had a fancy spreadsheet that calculated exactly what each click was worth, based on our profit margin and PPC conversion rates. Looking back, it was crazy – but it worked. PPC quickly became our biggest acquisition channel, and we made money on every sale.

Fast forward to today. Few PPC managers are manually managing bids, at least on any kind of scale. It’s time-consuming. It’s complicated. Done properly, it requires math and thinking. Lately I’ve been wondering, is manual bid management even a thing anymore?

I’m not sure it should be a thing, given today’s technology. Even back in the day, I used GoToast (which later became Atlas bid management and then eventually went away) to manage bids. I soon realized that we couldn’t come close to putting our entire product catalog online and still be able to manually keep up with the bidding wars that were happening in the old Overture system at that time. Now, we have both free and paid options for automating bids.

Adwords Scripts

Adwords Scripts launched in 2012 and revolutionized the way PPC is managed. Scripts can automate countless tasks, and one of them is bid management. And they’re free! If you know a little programming, you can even create a custom script that will manage bids exactly the way you want. If Scripts had been around in 2002, I wouldn’t have needed that complicated spreadsheet to calculate my bids – I would have just created a script.

Automated Bidding

Automated bidding was one of the features that actually launched following the much-vaunted April 22, 2014 announcement call. Automated bidding, like most things Google, is also free. Automated bidding is even easier to use than Scripts, and really leaves no excuse for doing manual bid management.

Just this week, Bing Ads matched Google by launching automated bidding. I expect this might actually get more people to start using Bing Ads, now that they won’t have to manually manage bids.

Bid Management Software

And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: bid management software. Providers such as Acquisio, Kenshoo, Marin, and many others have been around for several years now. Most bid management platforms have an algorithm that will manage bids for you. All you need to do is set a budget, and the software takes it from there.

Acquisio, which we use at gyro, has their Bid and Budget Management tool, which optimizes bids in near-real time. Marin just launched Budget Optimizer, which tells advertisers what their monthly budgets should be.

Wow. Technology is amazing – albeit bid management software comes at a price – and yet, I can’t help but marvel at how far we’ve come. My days of manually calculating bids in a spreadsheet seem far away. If you’re not automating bids in some way, you’re losing ground to competitors who are.

Do we even need to train new PPC managers on bid management, what with all this fancy software and automation?

I think the answer is yes. In order to properly use technology, you need to understand how it works. Letting a software package or, heaven forbid, Google, tell you what to bid is a scary proposition.

Now, I already admitted that we use bid management software. It saves me untold hours of manual work. But I still monitor bids and ROI on a daily basis. If you don’t understand the bid landscape, how can you make corrections or spot issues? Software and scripts can only go so far – the PPC manager still needs to pay attention to what’s happening.

What do you think? Is active bid management a thing of the past, or is it still a key skill for PPC managers? Share in the comments!

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Dynamic Keyword Insertion: Use It, Or Lose It?

Earlier this week, a few of us on the PPC Chat hashtag on Twitter were discussing dynamic keyword insertion. The different opinions were interesting.

Some people were not fans of using DKI at all:

no dki
Others, like me, use it a lot. The conversation then twisted and turned to a discussion of whether it’s ok to use DKI for competitor ads or not.

It was so interesting that I decided to expand beyond Twitter’s 140 characters here.

DKI must be used correctly.

There’s a huge misconception out there that DKI inserts the user query into the ad. It doesn’t – it inserts the keyword you’re bidding on. So one key is to make sure you’re bidding on keywords that you’re ok having in your ad copy.

Misspellings, for example, can be great keywords but terrible for DKI. If I’m going to use DKI, I put misspelled keywords in their own ad group and don’t use DKI there.

You’ll also want tightly-themed ad groups. Otherwise it’s nearly impossible to write ad copy that makes sense for 50 different keywords.

Tread with caution when using DKI for competitor names.

Part of the Twitter conversation centered around using DKI for competitors. I have done this successfully on more than one account, without repercussions. In my experience, the engines usually end up using your default text anyway, not the competitor terms.

But others had different experiences:
competitor dki
These are all valid considerations. Discuss the strategy with your client or boss before trying DKI with competitor keywords. When I worked in-house, my boss loved the fact that we were doing this. I’ve had clients who love it too. But I’ve had other clients who said no way – they didn’t want ill will with their competition.

Test, test, test.

As with most things PPC, DKI is worth testing. We inherited a client who was using DKI across the board. We immediately decided to test ads without it. What a mistake. Click-through rate plummeted like a cement block – I mean, CTRs were 1/10 what they were with DKI. That test didn’t last long.

Test DKI in different parts of the ad, too. I see it most commonly used in headlines, but you can use it anywhere. Try it in the middle of the ad, or even in the display URL. The results may surprise you.

Of course, there are other pros and cons to using DKI, as this Wordstream article points out.

What’s your take on DKI? Love it, hate it, don’t care? Share in the comments?

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Fail Fast, Learn Fast

Last week, I read a fascinating article on MediaPost about Google’s “planned failures.” The great gift of the internet and digital world, according to the Googlers quoted in the article, is the ability to fail fast. “The price of failing slow is high,” it says.

Google has had tons of failures. Some, like Froogle, morphed into something else over time. Some, like Google Reader, became outdated. Some, like Knol, just died. Many would say that other projects should die, such as self-driving cars or Google+.

Probably Google’s biggest, or at least most well-known, recent failure is Glass. I wrote about why it failed in MediaPost a while back.

Coming up with crazy projects is in Google’s DNA. Some of them work, some don’t – but most failed quickly. Fail fast, learn fast is their motto.

I like to apply the same principle to PPC. Not that I plan to fail, but we all know that not everything we try in PPC is going to work. Some keywords will drive hundreds of clicks without a single conversion. An ad copy variation isn’t going to convert. Some landing pages are less than ideal. Or you forgot to exclude mobile apps in a display campaign (don’t ask).

With even the most egregious PPC failures, though, we should always learn something – just like Google does. Google learned that people aren’t ready to wear weird glasses to take pictures and search for stuff. But you can bet they’ll take the best aspects of that technology and roll out with something else.

That’s what you need to do in PPC. Find the losers and pause them – but then study them to figure out why they were losers.

Found an ad that performed terribly? Why? Was the headline weak? Did it include ambiguous phrases? Was there an unfortunate instance of DKI in there somewhere? Did it lead to the wrong landing page? Use these learnings to fix what’s broken.

I always tell new PPC hires that almost nothing is permanent in PPC. That bad ad, keyword, or display placement can almost always be spotted very quickly – within a day or two if you’re doing your job well – and paused with (usually) minimal ill effects.

I’ll even report on bad stuff – clients need to know why things didn’t work. I don’t generally call attention to outright mistakes, but I do point out keywords that didn’t work or ad copy that didn’t resonate. One such conversation with a client recently led to the decision to create a new landing page that’s more relevant for a subset of client keywords. That’s a good thing! We failed fast and learned fast.

It’s also good to start strong to learn fast. We’ve all had clients who launch in the middle of the month, even though they may have assigned a full month’s budget. I almost never pro-rate the spend. For instance, if the budget is $10,000 and we launch on the 15th, I don’t aim to spend $5,000. I aim to spend $10,000. Fail fast, learn fast. That way, month 2 hits the ground with a fine-tuned campaign, instead of waiting 2 more weeks to learn stuff.

What about you? Do you fail fast and learn fast? Or are you more conservative? Share in the comments!

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Supercharge Your PPC Workflow

There are a never-ending number of tasks needed for successful PPC workflow. Sometimes it feels like there is too much to do and too little time to do it. Establishing a routine for PPC optimization helps calm the chaos. Supercharge your PPC workflow with these daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks.


Daily tasks should be done even on your busiest days. If you have meetings most of the day, do these items first.

    • Check performance on all accounts, first thing, and put out fires. Don’t let anomalies go by more than a day without investigating them.
    • Budget pacing. We’ve all heard stories about a monthly budget being blown in a day. Don’t let this happen to you. And be sure to check for any budget-limited campaigns where you might be able to increase your budget, if possible, for more conversions.
    • Social PPC performance check. Update promoted posts, and pause underperforming posts or ads. Also pause posts that are old or outdated. A current social PPC campaign is a successful one.


Set aside time each week for digging into deeper optimization tactics. If you’re managing high-volume campaigns, you may need to do some of these tasks 2-3 times per week or even daily.

  • Search query reports and keyword research. Keeping your keywords, both positive and negative, up to date is crucial for optimum performance. Also take a look at your match types to make sure they make sense.
  • Ad test review (for high volume accounts or campaigns). Look at the ads in any campaigns with thousands of clicks and hundreds of conversions per week. Pause losers and start new tests.
  • Quality score review. Take a hard look at keywords with quality scores of 3 or worse. If they’re not generating conversions at a good cost, pause them. If the keywords are performing ok, look for ways to improve your quality score.
  • Week over week performance comparison. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of PPC. Come up to a higher level by reviewing overall week-over-week performance. Set up an automated report in either your bid management platform, or from the search engines, to see how things are trending.
  • Display network placement review. If you’re running display network ads, chances are you have new and low-performing placements serving your ads. Exclude them. (For high-volume display campaigns, you may need to do this daily.)
  • Device performance review. Segment your results by device to see if any bid modifiers need to be adjusted.
  • Read PPC blogs and/or listen to PPC podcasts. Search is an ever-changing field. Step away for even a month or two and you’re already behind the curve. Reading blogs and news sites will help you stay up to date on the latest news. I also like to listen to PPC podcasts such as PPC Rockstars and Marketing Nirvana to hear tips and thought leadership from industry experts.


Agency PPC managers are no doubt familiar with creating monthly reports for clients. But reporting isn’t the only task you should be doing on a monthly basis. Each month, do a deep dive on key PPC metrics.

  • Strategy and goals check. We include a statement of goals & strategy in every monthly report we provide to clients. This not only reminds the client of campaign goals, but helps refocus the PPC manager on what’s important.
  • Overall performance review. This sounds like a monthly report, and in many ways, it is. Step back and review account and campaign performance, comparing it with previous months. This will give you a roadmap for optimization in the upcoming months.
  • Ad test analysis. Review ad copy tests, pause losers and start new tests. Take note of tests that don’t have enough data for statistical significance, so you can look at them next month.
  • Remarketing audience performance review. Are your remarketing audiences performing the way you expected? Do you need to create new audiences or refine existing audiences?
  • Social PPC audience performance review. How are your social PPC audiences performing? Do you need to refine them based on results?
  • Check ad extensions. Do you have outdated sitelinks running, or campaigns without sitelinks that should have them? What about call extensions, location extensions, review extensions, callout extensions?
  • Geotargeting review. Are all your geographic bid modifiers and settings correct? Are there geographies you should bid up or exclude based on performance?
  • Dayparting review. If you’re using dayparting, review the settings to ensure you’re meeting goals. If you’re not using dayparting, review performance by day of week and by hour to see if dayparting can boost your performance.


Every quarter, set aside time to look at long-term goals and analysis for your PPC campaigns.

  • Overall business review. Are your PPC efforts meeting overall goals? Has anything changed in your (or your client’s) business that warrants a shift in PPC strategy? Are there new initiatives, such as remarketing, RLSAs, or social PPC you’d like to test? Look at what’s coming up over the next several months and plan for it.
  • Projections. Some clients want projections weekly or monthly; others don’t need them at all. Even if no one is asking for projections, it’s a good idea to do this exercise quarterly to help establish performance goals.
  • Ad test deep dive. Take a look at your ad tests in detail. Are there headlines or elements that seem to be performing best? Are there low-traffic ad groups that may reach critical mass if you look at a quarter’s worth of data? Any new concepts you want to test?
  • Landing page review & creation. Make sure all of your landing pages are still applicable (and still work!). Navigate through the pages, including testing any conversion forms or actions to make sure the flow works properly. Does it make sense to create new landing pages based on PPC results? Anything new you’d like to test? For very high traffic accounts, you may need to do this monthly rather than quarterly.


Every year, take time to review your personal goals as a PPC manager. What new skills do you want to learn? What did you do well this year? What search conferences do you want to attend in the upcoming year? Spending time thinking about individual goals will not only prepare you for your annual performance review, but also help you become a better PPC manager.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Search Engine Watch on November 18, 2014.

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5 Challenges for PPC Lead Generation

One of the great things about PPC is it can be used for nearly every business: those selling products online via ecommerce, and those trying to drive leads. Each type of marketing has its own challenges. Here are 5 challenges for lead generation PPC.

Nothing is sold.

When people talk about PPC, they often talk about shopping carts, shopping feeds, revenue per sale, and other aspects of ecommerce PPC. These facets are crucial for ecommerce PPC advertisers to understand – and none of them apply to lead generation.

When you’re driving leads, there is no shopping cart. Sure, there are lead forms, but it’s a one-step process. Cart abandons just don’t happen. (You can have form abandons, but that’s not the same thing.) Revenue per sale doesn’t exist either, because you’re not driving sales online.

Of course, lead generation PPC advertisers can and should still focus on metrics like conversion rate and cost per conversion, and back-end metrics like lead-to-close (more on that in a minute). But sometimes it feels as though we’re speaking a different language than that of ecommerce.

Lead generation advertisers can’t use Shopping feeds.

When you’re not selling anything online, you can’t use Google Shopping and all the cool features it offers, like shopping ads, seller ratings, dynamic search ads, and countdowns in ad copy. There are a lot of features, especially in Google, that lead gen advertisers just can’t use. (More on that in a minute too.)

Landing pages can be a challenge.

Successful online stores have tons of landing pages that are already optimized for conversion. When an ecommerce site is ready to start PPC, they usually have many pages that can be used, as is, as landing pages.

Not so for lead generation PPC. Sure, some sites have well-designed landing pages and contact forms, but a surprising number do not. Often, a lead generation PPC launch is delayed while the advertiser creates a landing page that can actually generate a lead. And that’s just one page. Creating multiple landing pages can be a mammoth undertaking for lead gen advertisers.

Only initial responses are visible in the PPC accounts.

Most sophisticated lead generation advertisers have a good back-end system that tracks leads all the way through to the sale. Systems like Salesforce and Bizible help immensely with this. (Salesforce has a great lead-gen optimized landing page, by the way!)

But even the most complex lead tracking system won’t display data in your Adwords or Bing Ads account. You’ll only see the initial form fills (and possibly calls) in your account. You might have a PPC campaign that’s generating lots of initial leads, but few sales – in which case, you should de-prioritize it, not bid it higher as you’d be tempted to do by looking at the initial lead data.

That means that tools like Conversion Optimizer and other bid algorithms are potentially optimizing for the wrong thing. Even if you do get data from your client or boss on what keywords or campaigns ultimately drove sales, it’s usually a manual process to tie that back to the original data and calculate your lead-to-close percentage and cost. It’s not impossible – and it’s important to do – but it’s a challenge for nearly every PPC lead generation advertiser.

PPC tools and features are often at odds with lead generation.

Recently, I wrote a post titled 3 Signs That Google Hates B2B Advertisers. The gist of the post is that, as I alluded to earlier, many of Google’s features are geared toward ecommerce rather than lead generation. The same is true for Bing, and even Facebook and Twitter, although the social engines have quite a few features for lead generation.

So how do you overcome these challenges? Certainly it doesn’t make sense to abandon PPC, as it can be the largest source of qualified leads for advertisers. Really, you just need to understand all the features and functions, and use them appropriately. There are some features you won’t be able to take advantage of, but that’s ok.

All the best practices of PPC still apply: understand your goals, test, test, and test again; create good campaign structure, and understand your buyer journey. Try to get data from your client on how leads are progressing through the cycle. Optimize your landing pages. And ignore the new stuff that Google introduces for ecommerce advertisers.

I actually enjoy the challenge of generating leads in PPC. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a client’s lead volume increase so much that they tell you to pause PPC while they catch up!

What about you? Have you run into challenges with lead generation PPC? How have you overcome them? Share in the comments!

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Ideas Are Not Strategy

I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of advertisers, and even advertising professionals, don’t know what strategy is. So often “strategy” is defined as a list of tactics, like this:

•    Increase our Facebook followers
•    Start using PPC
•    Run ads with “X” creative message

Folks, these aren’t strategies. At best, they’re tactics. Lee Odden wrote a great essay on strategies vs. tactics. He says, “I think part of the problem is that a lot of marketers are spread thin because of chasing shiny objects. They’re distracted from core marketing.  They’re tourists in the digital and social world without taking the time to understand what the locals do and care about.”

So true. I’ve worked in marketing departments that loved to follow shiny objects: “PPC is the next best thing – let’s do it!” or “We’re going to focus on social media because everyone’s talking about it!”

As I tell my kids, just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. And it’s definitely not a strategy.

I work at a traditional agency, so we do a lot of creative work for clients. We PPC pros often don’t have much insight into the creative development process, so it’s been interesting to me to learn how it works. But the trap I’ve seen clients fall into is to become enamored with a particular creative theme, or even an individual print or video ad. All of a sudden, that becomes their “strategy.”

As marketers, it’s our job to remind clients (and bosses) that ideas aren’t strategy. Avis’s marketing strategy back in the ‘60s and ‘70s wasn’t “We try harder.” Avis’s strategy was to beat Hertz.

Nowhere is the folly behind turning creative ideas into strategy more apparent than in PPC. In PPC, we don’t have a full-page print ad to tell our story, nor do we have a 60-second radio or TV spot. We have 95 characters in which to get the searcher’s attention. And yet, so often I have clients who want to put their catchy tagline into a PPC ad.

Can you imagine putting this Coke tagline in a PPC ad?

iconic coke ad

It’d look like this:

coke ad

Not terrible, but not very convincing, is it? It looks like a crummy eBay ad.

Or what about this fine tagline?

iconic lucky ad

Translated to PPC, it’s:

lucky ad

You wouldn’t even be sure what Luckys were from this ad! I’d think it was some kind of diet food.

Now, I know these are vintage ads – you can’t really run cigarette ads in PPC as they’re against the TOS. (And cigarettes are not a great way to get slender, folks.) But they’re not just vintage ads – they’re iconic. These are brands that are well-known, and yet their taglines don’t make good PPC ad copy. And they’re certainly not a strategy. “Get people to buy cigarettes by telling them they’ll make them skinny” might have been a strategy, but the taglines themselves aren’t.

Ideas are not strategy. Taglines are not strategy. Creative concepts are not strategy. They’re all tools in the arsenal of a good marketing strategy, which might be “sell more Coca-Cola” or “drive leads via our website.” Don’t confuse the two – and don’t let your clients confuse them either.

Have you ever run into this kind of “creative wagging the strategy dog” scenario? What did you do to convince your client or boss that their creative ideas aren’t strategy? How do you explain PPC strategy vs. tactics to clients? Share in the comments!

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