Using Competitive PPC Intelligence Effectively

Earlier this week, an interesting discussion started on the PPCChat hashtag on Twitter regarding the use of competitive PPC intelligence obtained from tools such as SEMrush, SpyFu, and iSpionage, as well as visiting competitor websites. I commented that I was doing competitor research, and wondered how many remarketing ads I’d see as a result.

A few PPCChat’ers suggested some ways to avoid being retargeted. Shashikant Kore recommended using the incognito window of Chrome. Dan Nicholson said he uses a separate Google account or user in Chrome to avoid that problem. These are great suggestions if you don’t want to be followed around by irrelevant remarketing ads.

The discussion then turned to competitor landing page reviews. Julie Bacchini asked:  “Is it one of your standard practices to visit competitor sites too to see their remarketing?” John Ellis replied, “Yes, not only visit the site, but explore different pages to get the most variety possible.”

I do this as well – at a minimum, I’ll visit competitor landing pages and take screen shots to share with our clients. Often, we get ideas from competitor landing pages – or at least we learn what not to do!

But what if you want to see what competitors are doing with remarketing? There are definitely instances where this would be helpful, especially if your clients are asking for this information.

Julie Bacchini said she subscribes to email lists of competitors and follows them on social media. I’ve done this before, or I’ll set up Google Alerts for the competitor name to see what shows up.

Steve Seeley took it a step further: “I do the same, then target Gmail users with their domain and advertise better offers.” Great idea (and very sneaky!)

We then got into a lengthy and detailed conversation about the accuracy of competitor PPC intelligence on traffic volume and spend. Timothy Jensen put the following out there:

General PSA: don’t ever rely on a competitor tool for competitor spend estimates that are anywhere close to accurate.

I agreed, saying we use the data directionally, rather than as the exact amount. For example, if the tool says your client is spending $10,000 per month and Competitor A is spending $50,000 per month, you can assume that Competitor A is outspending your client by a factor of 5 to 1.

But Kirk Williams argued that even directional data can be off the mark: “When I analyzed my clients it ranged from like -200% to +500% in accuracy.” Jason Channell countered by saying he’d tested several of the tools against campaigns where he knew the spend, and the tool was accurate within plus or minus 20%. That’s been my experience as well. I can live with a margin of +/- 20%.

So why is Kirk seeing estimates that are that far off? It could be that some competitors (or his clients) are using dayparting, geotargeting, or even device targeting that’s throwing off the tools. Remember, competitive PPC intelligence tools scrape the SERPs and estimate – they don’t actually KNOW what everyone is spending. They scrape and guess. So things like geotargeting can throw off the accuracy, or even cause the tools to report no spend at all.

If tools are really so inaccurate, should we even use them? The consensus seemed to be that yes, competitor intelligence tools still have value, especially those that show the ads and keywords competitors are using (most tools do this). As far as spend goes, Kirk Williams had a great idea: just say “tool estimates aren’t exact, but it does look like you’re on the low end of spend.” I always include a caveat in any competitor report saying the numbers are estimates only.

Finally, I loved the suggestion from Kevin Cronin: “I try to shift conversation from competitor spend to ‘is this the right channel/targeting for you? If yes, take advantage.’” I’ve written many a post on this blog about PPC strategy, and that’s what Kevin’s point gets to – what is your ultimate goal anyway? Focus on that and not your competitors. One of the great aspects of PPC is that the “little guys” can compete with advertisers with deeper pockets, simply by sticking to their own goals and finding their niche.

How do you use competitive PPC intelligence data? Do you find it to be wildly inaccurate, or is it good enough? Share in the comments!

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Channels Are Not Strategy

Earlier this week, TechCrunch published an article by Samuel Scott called How Google Analytics ruined marketing. It’s a lengthy but important article saying that’s because Google Analytics (and all web analytics packages, for that matter) force marketers into looking at performance by channel, instead of focusing on strategy and objectives.

In the years before web analytics, the article says, no one talked about “television marketing;” yet people today constantly talk about “Facebook marketing,” “content marketing,” and even “social media marketing.” These, the author states, are not strategies.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve written about strategy so many times that I created an entire section on this blog for it. And yet, on what feels like a daily basis, I hear marketers talking about “Facebook marketing” and the like as a strategy.

Here’s the thing: a strategy is a means for achieving a business goal. According to Wikipedia, “marketing strategy has the fundamental goal of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.” If you read the rest of that Wikipedia page, it reads like a college textbook on marketing. It takes me back to my undergrad and master’s degree days.

The point is, we’ve forgotten what we learned in school. Channels aren’t strategy.

Lots of marketers mistake tactics or tools for strategy. Sometimes they get stuck on a particular creative idea, and want that idea to become their “strategy.” But ideas aren’t strategy. They’re ideas, and creative is an important part of any marketing mix. But the strategy should help a business achieve goals – not be an end in itself.

The same thing goes for calling “Facebook marketing” a strategy. It’s not.

That’s not the worst of it. Even the TechCrunch author got it wrong! Here’s his example:

techcrunch strategy
This isn’t strategy either! SEO is a channel, not a strategy. Take a step back: why did the person create informational material in the first place? No one creates information material for the fun of it. They’re doing it to sell stuff! That’s the strategy, not SEO.

When decision-makers think about marketing strategy (and spending their money on any type of marketing efforts), they have questions in their mind. Back in 2014, I wrote about 7 Things About PPC Strategy Your Clients Want to Know. In the post, the first thing mentioned is campaign goals. What are we trying to accomplish? And “be on Facebook” or “get to the top of Google” aren’t goals. You can spend a bunch of money marketing on Facebook or bidding high on Google, only to find it didn’t generate a single sale. This is why channels aren’t strategy. They don’t achieve goals.

Another question in the client’s mind is “how do we know if we’ve succeeded?” Well, if your strategy is “Facebook marketing,” you’ve succeeded the second you put a post on Facebook. And if that’s true, then every crappy company who’s posting to a Facebook page is succeeding. We all know that’s absurd.

Remember, a strategy includes goals and objectives. Sure, your strategy may be to “use Facebook to reach our target audience and generate sales of blue widgets” or “engage in SEO to improve visibility of key product pages to increase sales.” But the strategy isn’t “Facebook marketing” or “SEO.” Those are tactics – means to an end.

To make sure your strategy stands up, check out my Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy.

What do you think? Do you find that marketers understand strategy, or are clients coming to you saying “we want to be on Facebook”? Share in the comments!

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8 Reasons Why PPC Campaigns Fail

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a PPC pro – someone who does PPC for a living. At a minimum, you have some kind of interest in PPC: if you’re not doing it for a living, maybe you’re trying to learn, or maybe you do SEO or some other kind of internet marketing and want to understand PPC as part of the marketing mix.

Every PPC professional has had at least one campaign that failed in some way. It didn’t meet the expectations of your client or boss. In the agency world, it’s common nowadays to inherit existing PPC accounts that were poorly managed in one way or another and failed to meet client expectations.

So what are the reasons why PPC campaigns fail? Is it just incompetence on the part of the PPC manager.

Not always.

Sure, there’s some incompetence out there, as there is in any field. We’ve all seen accounts with a single campaign that’s full of broad match keywords driving to the homepage. But that’s not common. Here are some of the common reasons I’ve seen PPC campaigns fail.

Lack of goals.

As the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Setting goals is a basic tenet of any marketing plan, and yet it’s common to see advertisers whose stated goal is “we need to get ads on Google.” Sorry, but “getting ads on Google” is not a marketing strategy or goal.

Lack of conversion tracking.

What good is setting a destination if you don’t know when you’ve arrived there? Without proper conversion tracking, you’re flying blind. You’ll never know if you achieved your goal or not. It always surprises me when we see accounts with no conversion tracking whatsoever. It shocks me when clients resist putting tracking codes on their website – and yet it happens more often than I’d like to admit.

Refusing to put conversion tracking on your website is like refusing to use a cash register at your store checkout. Sure, you could just have employees stuff all the cash in a drawer – but at the end of the day, how would you know how many units you sold? How can you tell if employees are skimming from the till? Without a tracking system, you won’t. Same thing goes for PPC.

Poor campaign structure.

I alluded to this earlier – the horror story of a single campaign full of broad match. But PPC campaign structure problems go beyond the obvious. We inherited an account that looked great on the surface: its campaigns were set up by geo location and by brand or non-brand keywords. Problem was, the brand campaigns had non-brand keywords in them, and vice versa.

Campaign structure is only as good as the person managing it. You must follow it.

Poor landing pages.

So many PPC advertisers have great campaigns, with great structure, keywords, and ad copy – and then they fall down on landing pages. Having poor landing pages while spending money on PPC ads is the equivalent of buying a Super Bowl ad for a dirty, disorganized store with mean sales clerks. It doesn’t make sense.

Use landing page best practices to ensure that your online store is clean, well-organized, and ready to convert.

Bad ad copy.

Good campaign structure and landing pages are critical to success, but so is good ad copy. In just a few characters, your ad copy must convey what it is you’re offering, what you want users to do, and why they should do it. It’s a tough challenge, and many advertisers fail.

Ensure your ad copy is as good as it can be by using this cheat sheet.

Campaigns aren’t managed actively, or aren’t managed well.

PPC is not a “set it and forget it” medium. Setting up good campaigns is only the beginning. Successful PPC managers spend most of their time optimizing keywords, ad copy, bids, and many other elements of PPC.

A lot of businesses wrongly assume that a junior-level marketing staffer can manage their PPC campaigns on a part-time basis. Unless that person has PPC experience, this is almost always a failing proposition. Hiring an experienced PPC manager, whether to work in house or in an agency, is the best option for most advertisers.

You’ve done all this, and the campaign is still failing.

What now? Sometimes, despite our best efforts, campaigns continue to underperform. What can be done? Check out this post on how to solve the biggest problems in PPC.

PPC isn’t for every business.

It’s rare, but every once in a while there is a business or campaign that just doesn’t work. At this point, you may have to face the reality that PPC isn’t right for this business. Just make sure you’ve tried all options before conceding defeat.

What are some of the reasons you’ve seen PPC campaigns fail? Share in the comments!

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How to Solve the 3 Biggest PPC Problems

Even the best PPC managers run into problems from time to time. But PPC problems aren’t really problems if you know how to solve them.

High Traffic, Low Conversions

Novice PPC managers and new advertisers will inevitably have a campaign or ad group that drives a lot of traffic, but few to no conversions. Remember, rarely will generating clicks be your goal – the goal is to drive conversion actions on your website.

But novice PPC managers will often fall into the trap of believing the search engines: focusing on high CTR and traffic. The default setting for search campaigns in both Google and Bing is “optimize for clicks,” rewarding the ads with the highest CTR.

Forget all that. Focus on your goal, which is driving conversions. If you have a campaign or ad group with high traffic and low conversions, first look at traffic by keyword. Is one keyword driving the bulk of non-converting clicks? If so, pause it right away. Did you accidentally use broad match when you meant to use exact match, or mistakenly add a keyword like “keyword”? (Don’t ask how I know this.)

Maybe you have an ad that isn’t performing – likely because it’s making a promise that’s not delivered on the landing page. Pause that ad.

Or maybe your landing page isn’t performing well. This is probably the most common reason I see for high traffic and low conversion rates – terrible landing pages. Take a long hard look at your landing pages and your website. You may even want to pause your PPC campaigns until you can fix the issues on your website.

Don’t forget to check and make sure your ads are driving to the right page, and that the page and any associated conversion tracking is working. It’s not unusual to find broken landing pages or tracking codes.

Low Quality Scores

Quality score is one of the most misunderstood metrics in terms of its importance. While I don’t believe you should optimize for quality score as one of your key KPIs, you shouldn’t ignore it either.

If you have a lot of low quality score keywords in your account, you have a problem. The problem may be as simple as being in an industry that has traditionally low quality scores  – a lot of B2B advertisers fall into this category. But if you’re an ecommerce advertiser, or you’re seeing low quality scores on brand terms, you have a problem.

Use the ad diagnostic tool to see where the problem lies. Is it your landing pages, CTR, relevance, or a combination of all three? The ad diagnostic tool will give you a starting point.

Then set about fixing the issues. If you have low quality score keywords that aren’t generating much traffic, or aren’t converting, just pause them. If they’re super relevant, or if they’re converting, consider moving them to their own ad group. Write very specific ad copy that includes the keyword. Use the very best landing page. Often these steps will boost quality score.

If your landing page is the problem, you can use Bing Ads Intelligence to help diagnose the issue.

Poor Landing Pages

This relates to the first two PPC problems – can you sense a theme here? Landing pages are often a huge issue, and yet are the last thing PPC pros focus on sometimes.

If your landing pages are poor, you’ll have trouble getting good ROI. Fixing your landing pages is a must. As mentioned earlier, you may have to pause your PPC campaigns temporarily while you fix your landing pages and website.

Look critically at all elements of the page. Does the page try to do too much? Is it cluttered, with no area of focus? Does it lack a headline and clear call to action? Try putting something in the cart and checking out. Are all the steps logical? Are there any barriers to conversion? Features like email signup interstitials and other popups are popular, and yet can distract a user from actually buying from you. Remove these from your landing pages, or wait to serve them until after the person has checked out.

With a little sleuthing, you can solve the biggest PPC problems. How do you solve tricky PPC problems? Share in the comments!

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Why SMB Retailers Don’t Do Search

Retail, or online shopping, is an integral part of Google and Bing’s success in PPC. Amazon and eBay are probably the best-known and most ever-present retailers in PPC, but countless others are selling millions of dollars of products via PPC every day. I got my start in search doing in-house PPC for an ecommerce site.

Despite all the activity by huge online retailers, a study released by BIA Kelsey shows that SMB retailers “only spend about $700 annually on paid search.”

$700 annually is nothing in the search world. Why aren’t these SMBs taking advantage of PPC, one of the most effective direct marketing channels out there?

Retail search is hard.

A few years ago, PPC was less complicated. You picked keywords, wrote ad copy, set your bids, and you were off and running. Nowadays, there is more competition in paid search, and limited inventory. There are only so many impressions for “Nike running shoes,” and hundreds of retailers selling them. It takes time, attention, and know-how to be successful in retail PPC.

Website optimization has gone to the next level, too. Tools like Unbounce and Optimizely have made it easy and inexpensive for even novice website owners to run multivariate tests. Ecommerce tools like Magento and Shopify have streamlined the back end of ecommerce, including shopping cart software. While these tools have made some tasks easier, they’ve also leveled the playing field – making small businesses that don’t use these tools look unprofessional.

And anyone who’s ever tried to set up a Google Shopping feed can tell you that feed setup alone is enough to make even seasoned PPC pros give up. Google Shopping is a powerful tool for ecommerce vendors, but it requires different skills and optimization tactics than traditional keyword PPC. It’s nearly impossible for a small mom-and-pop store owner to master both Shopping and keyword search, and SMBs can’t afford to hire agencies to do this for them.

Retail search is time-consuming to manage.

Let’s take 2 examples. If you’re a small hair salon with a website, chances are you have one conversion: booking an appointment. You might bid on keywords that describe the various services you offer in the salon, but those will stay relatively static over time, and the goal is to drive appointments. PPC for this type of small business is straightforward.

Now, let’s say you’re a small women’s clothing retailer. Even though you only sell to women, you probably have multiple items available for sale. And each item comes in different sizes, styles, and colors. You don’t just have women’s sweaters: you have women’s cotton cardigans in sizes 2-16 and a variety of colors; women’s crewneck wool sweaters in sizes 2-18 in navy, gray, and green; women’s cashmere sleeveless sweaters in sizes 2-16 in 5 colors, etc. You probably also sell pants, skirts, blouses, blazers, shoes, and accessories – each in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. It’s easy to see how running PPC for even a focused small business like this would quickly become a full-time job.

So what do small retailers do for marketing? According to the study, most SMBs in the retail space spend their money on social media.

Social Seems Easier

If you’re a small retailer, you may have an hour a day to spend on marketing (and that’s if you’re lucky). What are you going to do with that hour? Are you going to do keyword research, write ad copy, review bids, set up a shopping feed, look at search query reports, and create reporting dashboards? Or are you going to write a few Facebook posts and schedule them for publication?

Social media, especially Facebook, feels familiar to most people these days. Even our grandparents are on Facebook. For retailers, it’s easy to talk about a product or promotion, add a link, and call it a day – after all, you’re probably in Facebook anyway checking your personal feed. What better way to tell people about your business than by posting photos and links on Facebook?

Even Facebook Ads seem easier than search PPC – and SMB retailers spend 11.2% of their budget on Facebook ads, compared to 2.7% on paid search.

Facebook ads can be targeted locally. While search ads can, too, search ads feel more complicated. And Facebook ads can be targeted by interest. The small women’s clothing retailer in our earlier example can easily run Facebook ads targeting women ages 25-45, within a 20 mile radius of their store, who like fashion, are professionals, etc. For Facebook ads, you just describe your target customer and set that as targeting. No keywords, bids, or other “hard” stuff to worry about.

Still, less than 30% of SMB retailers are using Facebook ads. Most of them are just doing organic Facebook posts. And who sees those? Current customers and a few of their friends, maybe?

SMB Retailers Focused on Current Customers

According to the study, “retail SMBs are more invested in customer lists than SMBs in other verticals”. Marketing to current customers, especially in retail consumable goods, is smart. It’s easier to woo a returning customer than to acquire a new one. SMB retailers are also using mobile marketing such as mobile coupons and text messages.

It’s great to see that SMBs are taking advantage of mobile marketing, and paying attention to current customers. Many larger businesses could learn from them.

But there needs to be a balance between marketing to current customers and acquiring the customers in the first place. Search is probably one of the most efficient ways to attract new customers – but only if you know what you’re doing. The knowledge gap is why most retailers don’t use search.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on The SEM Post on July 16, 2015.

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Does PPC Work For All Businesses?

Matt Umbro started an interesting discussion last week with his post titled Why SMBs Should Not Run AdWords Accounts. He defines SMBs as advertisers with a budget of $500 per month or less, and says that’s not enough budget to compete and be successful.

Mark Kennedy wrote a detailed counterpoint on the topic called Paid Search Can Work for SMBs – Even the Little Guys! Both Matt and Mark’s posts were well thought out and made good arguments.

Believe it or not, I’ve been mulling this topic for some time, after I saw this question on Quora: Does Google AdWords work for all businesses? The answers to the question range from the ridiculous to the sublime, but one poster sums it up well:

“(Adwords) also only really works if you know what the hell you’re doing… It’s so easy to burn through budgets very quickly and pay for clicks from people who never had any intention of becoming a lead or purchasing anything from you.

All the clients I’ve had have attempted some form of PPC themselves, realised they thought it was simple but they’ve spent a whole load of money on something they don’t understand. I’ve then gone into the account, showed them the type of keywords people have entered which they have paid for – this tends to shock them because they thought they were bidding on exact match keywords. They also tend to lack conversion tracking (if there is no measure of what is success, how can you be successful?).”

I’ve written before about why inexperienced people should not attempt to DIY PPC. It’s too expensive and there are too many pitfalls, as the Quora poster says above. No matter what your budget, if you haven’t outlined clear goals and set up conversion tracking, Adwords or any other PPC program will not work for you.

But what about the small business question? Should small businesses use Adwords?

I’ve run small PPC campaigns a few times in my career. Some were agency clients, and some were side jobs I took on. I have to be honest: I haven’t found $500/month clients to be very profitable, for me or for them. In his post, Mark Kennedy offers several examples of small clients who used geotargeting and other tactics to their advantage.

That’s great, and it makes sense – but I’ve found that Facebook works much better in most of these instances. Clicks on Facebook are significantly cheaper than clicks on Adwords or even Bing, so your money goes a lot further. Even direct ecommerce or lead generation is more efficient on Facebook at small budgets, in my opinion. Matt Umbro also mentioned Facebook as a good alternative for small advertisers.

Mark Kennedy also talks about how to charge for small clients. This is where the problem lies, in my opinion. Mark says he charges about $75 per month for $500 clients. Even if you only charge $75 per hour for your time (which is low for this industry), that only gives you an hour per month to work on that client’s account. In his post, Mark says “Phone calls that are just a quick question turn into hour-long conversations. An email with one question turns into a trail of follow-ups.”

That’s been my experience as well – small clients are less sophisticated, and need more hand-holding. They often don’t understand basic marketing principles, much less the nuances of Adwords. They frequently have issues on their website that need troubleshooting – and lack an in-house developer to fix them, leaving me to answer web dev questions (which, trust me, is not a good use of their time based on my limited dev knowledge!).

So if you spend an hour on the phone answering quick questions, you’re done for the month – or you start losing money on a client that’s already paying you at the low end of the rate scale. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now if you’re running a small PPC campaign part time as an in-house marketer, and you have some PPC knowledge, a $500 budget might work. But in my opinion, there are better uses of your $500.

It’s been interesting to watch the conversation on PPCChat on this topic. What’s your take? Share in the comments!

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PPC: Anything But Routine

Robert Brady wrote a great post this week over at the Clix Marketing blog called How Valuable Are PPC Skills Anyway? I love the perspective he shared on PPC skills and commoditization – something that’s been talked about a lot in the search blogosphere of late.

Some people have wondered whether automation will eventually put PPC professionals out of a job. It’s a fair point. Look at the manufacturing industry, where many jobs have been taken over by machines and robots, and others have been shipped overseas, where labor is cheap. Could the same thing happen in PPC?

In his article, Robert postulates that routine PPC tasks can be done via automation. If you’re just doing routine tasks, your job may be in jeopardy. There are tools out there that can do bid management, budget management, keyword research, ad testing, and many other routine tasks.

But if you’re actually working on strategy, and overseeing the work that the tools do, then your job should be secure. Check out this graph that Robert referenced in his post:

graph
Back in 1983, when I graduated high school, the same number of people were employed in routine cognitive and non-routine cognitive jobs. Over the past 30 years, the number of routine cognitive jobs hasn’t grown – the line is nearly flat. But non-routine cognitive jobs have grown – and at a faster rate than the other 3 job types.

Strategic PPC is non-routine cognitive work. I can’t tell you the last time I did the same thing 2 days in a row. It doesn’t happen. Are there routine tasks I perform? Sure. Do I do the exact same thing every day for every account? Absolutely not!

There is a place for routine work in every job out there. But if you’re spending every day doing routine tasks, your job may be taken over by automation someday soon.

It’s my hope that all PPC professionals end up doing non-routine cognitive work. It’s what makes this industry so much fun. It’s also my hope that search marketing conferences start focusing less on how-to tactics and more on strategy. It’s in PPC strategy that our value lies.

Do yourself a favor and check out Robert’s post if you haven’t already. And if you’re practicing or teaching assembly line PPC, you might want to start thinking about PPC strategy a little more. Check out the “pay per click strategy” section on this blog. Read blogs by others. Focus on objectives. Ask “why” every day. In short, make sure you’re doing non-routine cognitive work.

Did you read Robert’s article? How do you balance routine PPC tasks with non-routine PPC strategy? Share in the comments!

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PPC Professionals: The Mechanics of Digital

Earlier this week, I took my car to the shop for an oil change and tire rotation. 30 minutes and $30 later, it was done. Easy.

When I was a kid, it was common for people to change their own oil. Cars were simpler then. My first car was a 1972 Ford Gran Torino. Yes, I’m dating myself. But I loved that car. It looked just like this one except it was powder blue. It was awesome. I wish I still had it.

Anyway, back then cars were simple. You could easily change the oil, the filter, the air filter (which I did myself many times, it was a 5 minute job), the spark plugs (which I also changed), and many other parts to keep it running. The mechanics of it were simple.

Fast forward to cars now. I now drive a 2011 GMC Acadia Denali. I love this car too. It’s big and bossy and has lots of fun toys, including satellite radio, OnStar, and a fancy nav display.

I can’t fix a single thing in this car.

The engine is crammed into a third of the space of the engine in my Gran Torino. Everything’s hooked up to computers. I’m afraid to even open the hood, much less try to tinker with anything under there.

Keeping PPC running well is a lot like keeping a car running well. When I started doing PPC in 2002, it was simple: keywords and ad copy. No Google Display network. No remarketing. No social PPC. No multi-device fancy stuff. Just keywords and ad copy. PPC was easy for a novice to do, and do well. I fell into it as a special project, and we made money the first day, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. I was, in essence, changing my own oil.

Nowadays, PPC is complicated, just like my Acadia. It’s easy to mess up royally and cost yourself thousands of dollars. There’s way more competition than there was in 2002, so CPCs are higher. There’s Bing and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and Instagram…. the head spins just thinking about it.

PPC is not DIY. It hasn’t been for a long time. I know that if I try to mess around with anything under the hood of my Acadia, I’ll screw it up and it’ll be an expensive mistake. The same thing goes for amateur PPC managers. It’s cheaper and better in the long run to hire PPC professionals.

What do you think? Can PPC still be done DIY? Or do you need a pro to succeed? Share in the comments!

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Assembly-Line PPC Is Not PPC Strategy

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Salt Lake City Search Engine Marketer’s conference (SLCSEM). I talked about the 7 Things Your Clients Want To Know About PPC Strategy. And then we had a fun “live PPCChat” with myself and Susan Wenograd, with Bryant Garvin moderating. For a recap of the event, check out the writeup on the SLCSEM blog.

We covered a ton of different topics in the live discussion, including our thoughts on Bing Ads (they had a rep on our panel, which was super cool), remarketing, and of course, PPC strategy.

Long-time readers of my blog know that this is a hot topic for me. Blog posts on PPC tactics abound – if you want to read about keyword research, setting up social PPC audiences, and campaign structure, you’ll have no trouble finding articles on all of these topics. I’ve written a post or two on them myself.

We all need to know these tools of the trade. But we also need to know the right time to use the tools. That’s where PPC strategy comes in.

I’ve found a surprising number of PPC practitioners who practice what I dubbed at SLCSEM to be “assembly-line PPC.” They have a list of PPC tactics – keyword research, ad copy writing, search query mining, bid adjustments, etc. – and they work their way through these as though they were boxes on a to-do list to be checked off. They’re doing the equivalent of “turning the screwdriver” on an assembly line – performing the same task for every client, no matter what, without really thinking about the final product or the goal it’s supposed to achieve.

Now, there’s no doubt that all of these things need to be done. A PPC manager who never looks at search query reports or writes new ad copy isn’t doing his or her job. But none of these tasks are a PPC strategy. If a client (or your boss) comes to you and says “I want to be the first ad on Google,” you should have a serious conversation with them about WHY they want to be there and what they hope to accomplish with that. “Being first on Google” is not a strategy.

“It’s about the experience, not the Adwords.”

In a conversation with my boss this week, he said, “It’s about the experience, not the Adwords.” I guess he used this in a client pitch, but it’s right-on when it comes to ongoing PPC strategy too. Some clients don’t belong on Adwords. We have more than one client using strictly social PPC, because it achieves their goals way better than Adwords or any search engine could. Other clients spend more on Bing than Adwords, because it reaches their audience better (and usually at a much lower cost).

The point is, PPC campaigns and the optimization performed on them should be based on achieving client goals, not checking a box. PPC isn’t a series of tasks. It’s a means to an end. It’s much closer to practicing medicine (looking at symptoms to solve a problem) than it is building a machine on an assembly line.

And yet, posts on PPC strategy are hard to find. When I uploaded my SLCSEM presentation to Slideshare, I was saddened to realize that the tag suggestions when I typed in “ppc” showed “ppc tactics” but not “ppc strategy.” So I added it.

slideshare tags

Speaking of the Slideshare, here is my deck. Let me know what you think!

 

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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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