Welcome to Beyond the Paid!

Welcome to Beyond the Paid, the official website for Melissa Mackey.

I’ve been in the search engine marketing space since the dawn of Google Ads (formerly AdWords) in 2002.

While I haven’t blogged on this site much recently, here are links to my recent articles in industry publications:

You can find my latest writings on Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal, and up-to-date commentary on #ppcchat on Twitter.

Find me on LinkedIn too.

I’ve spoken at search conferences since 2010. Sign up to watch my session on PPC account health from SMX Next 2023, or read a summary of the session.

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As We Go Along

This post isn’t about search. It’s about me.

Six months ago, just before I left for SMX Advanced, I was diagnosed with bronchitis. No big deal – I’ve had it countless times throughout my life. I’ve dealt with asthma for 20 years. I’ve had a nagging cough for at least 5 years. I was a little tired before I left for Seattle, but I picked up my prescription for antibiotics and went on my way.

By the time I left Seattle, I felt awful. Those of you with whom I had dinner the last night of the show may have noticed that I was exhausted, and I wore my jacket throughout the dinner because I was so cold.

When I got home, I went to the doctor, who said I had pneumonia. Long story short, I spent most of July sick. After countless tests, CT scans, and x-rays, I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis.

Needless to say, it was pretty sobering. “Can’t be cured.”

After trying multiple therapies, I now have a percussive vest to help clear my lungs – yes, the same thing they use for cystic fibrosis patients, and the old people in the photos on that website. I’ve got a super heavy medical device that I have to use for 30 minutes, twice a day. I’m halfway through my morning session right now, shaking as I type this.

But this post isn’t a pity party. It’s to say how thankful I am for the blessings in my life. My husband and children, and my extended family, who have all been super supportive. My job, in which I’m blessed to work from home, where I didn’t have to take more than a half day off work during my worst days, because I could sit at my desk at home and rest when I needed to. This industry, which keeps me inspired and engaged, even on days when I’m too tired to do anything but work.

I can still walk and go to the gym. My half marathon days are behind me, but I can still do 5Ks, if at a slower pace than before. I can still play the clarinet and saxophone – in fact, my doctors believe that playing a wind instrument has saved me from being much sicker, due to the expanded lung capacity and the vibrating of the instrument while I play, which mimics the vest and other therapies. I can still travel to conferences, although I may sometimes decline the evening networking to save my energy.

And this came at a good time in my life. I’m established in my career. This would have been a lot harder if I were new to my job. My kids are in their second year of college, living on campus, so I’m not running after little ones, which gives me more time to rest. And I already know how to play the clarinet. 🙂

I’m grateful for my friends in this industry, who have cheered me on and commiserated with me over the years. I love that although we’re spread out all over the world, we’re just a tweet away and can chat with one another about PPC challenges.

So if I miss a week of blogging here and there, now you know why. I’ll leave you with a favorite song by the Monkees, As We Go Along. There’s still so much to do in the sunlight.

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PPC Advice For My 18 Year Old Self

I’ve seen a lot of posts out there recently with people giving advice to their 18-year-old selves. One I liked featured some of the top college basketball seniors, including one of my favorites, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine.

Tomorrow, my twins will turn 19. I don’t expect either of them to go into PPC – they’re not interested in it – but nonetheless, I was inspired to share PPC advice for my 18 year old self.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

I was an 18 year old hotshot. I did well in school and was good at a lot of things: sports, music, writing, and more. I thought I’d be a huge success right out the gate.

Not even close.

The very next year, when I was 19, I took accounting. It was the hardest class I had ever and would ever take – including grad school, and that’s saying something. I studied for hours every night just to get a 2.5 in the class.

A couple years later, my first job was a disaster. It wasn’t a good fit for me. I failed at it.

But failing is learning. I learn far more from failing than I do from succeeding. At 18, I was afraid to fail. I can’t say I love it now, but I’m not afraid to fail. 18 year olds, don’t be afraid to fail. It’ll teach you a great lesson.

Technology will evolve into something you can’t imagine right now.

Let’s face it – I’ll be 50 next month. I was 18 in 1984. Google wasn’t even a gleam in Larry and Sergey’s eyes – in fact, Larry Page was an 11 year old student right here in East Lansing. The internet itself didn’t exist, at least not publicly. Computers existed, but were not commonly used. We had a Commodore 64 at home, but I didn’t have one at college. No one did. We hand-wrote term papers and then typed them on a typewriter. DVDs and iPods didn’t exist either – we rented VHS tapes and listened to music on Walkmans.

Just the other day I was talking to my daughter about VHS tapes – she had watched the movie “Be Kind, Rewind”  in her film class at MSU and thought it was funny. Even at 18, she remembers using a portable CD player and watching kids shows like Veggie Tales on VHS. A ton has changed in her lifetime, not to mention mine.

My point is, the career you end up with may not even exist right now. Mine sure didn’t. Go with the flow. Learn skills that translate across jobs: writing, thinking, and analyzing will get you a long way in whatever career you choose.

Be curious and ask why.

PPC is like CSI – performance fluctuations are often a mystery begging to be solved. The answers are not going to be fed to you – you’ll need to dig them out. Learn how to research and ask questions. You should always be asking “why” – why isn’t this keyword performing? Why did that ad perform better? Why didn’t this feature work the way I thought it would?

Critical thinking is a crucial PPC skill as well. Don’t believe the hype and hyperbole in the blogosphere – read, understand, test, and think for yourself. Don’t fall for gimmicks like “great PPC hacks” and “this feature is a unicorn” and other hyperbole. Some things you read or hear might work great; others will be a disaster for the accounts you’re managing. Learn to spot the BS.

Find mentors and sponsors.

This advice goes whether you decide on a career in PPC or anything else. Find a mentor or teacher who will take you under their wing and show you the ropes. In every job I’ve ever held, I’ve tried to find someone to emulate. Sometimes it’s been a manager or boss. Sometimes it’s been a more senior coworker. In PPC, it’s often been colleagues I’ve met at conferences or online. The point is, find someone who is willing to answer your questions and give advice. Find someone whose actions you respect, and emulate them.

Also be on the lookout for what I call “reverse role models” – those who show you what not to do. We’ve all had bad bosses and coworkers over the years. Take note of the things that upset you and make sure you don’t do them!

My husband and I have always tried to teach our kids that there are good and bad people out there. You will not always get along with everyone. You’ll have bad teachers, bad classmates, bad sports coaches, and bad neighbors. Learn how to deal with these people in a mature and professional manner. We’ve never allowed our kids to quit or switch just because of a bad teacher or classmate. We’ve helped them learn to deal.

(Let me caveat this by saying we haven’t forced them to tolerate abuse of any kind. There is a time for parents to step in, too – and part of being a parent is knowing when to draw the line.)

Do what you love.

This is perhaps the most important advice I can give. When I was 18, I wanted to be the next Jane Pauley. I loved television and everything about it. I was a telecommunications major at Michigan State and was convinced I had the smarts and the skills. I’d wanted to do this for as long as I could remember.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. I’m not the anchor of NBC Nightly News. By the middle of my junior year of college, I realized I needed to be more realistic. But I didn’t give up on what I loved. My first job was in broadcast – selling advertising for a local radio station.

I learned that I hated selling, but I loved advertising. I eventually got into marketing for a local company. It was there that I got into search when Adwords launched their CPC program in 2002. I’m doing what I love, even though my job now is something I couldn’t even have dreamed of at 18 in 1984.

The moral of the story is, don’t give up on your dreams – but find something practical to pay the bills in the meantime. And be open to new directions.

The Final Word

So much has changed since I was 18 – it’s literally a different world. What was once the stuff of Star Trek fantasy is now a reality. It’s amazing. So to all the 18 year olds out there, enjoy the ride.

What would you tell your 18 year old self? Share in the comments!

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I was going to write a post today about ad extensions and their importance, especially now that right hand side ads are gone from Google. But I just wasn’t feeling it. Ad extensions are important, now more than ever. Here’s Google’s take on the issue. Read that. Activate ad extensions if you haven’t already.


Instead, I’d like to talk about teachers. Later today, I’m having dinner with one of my former clarinet teachers. I took lessons from him briefly while he was a grad student at the University of Michigan. Now he’s an internationally renowned performer. I’m super excited to catch up with him.

As I thought about all the great teachers I’ve had over the years, I got to thinking about PPC teachers. Who has taught me PPC skills over the years?

As with many of us who started in the early days of PPC (I started in 2002), I was mostly self-taught in the beginning. SES was a fledgling conference, and SMX wouldn’t exist for another 5 years. Blogs were a new thing, and there weren’t many out there. Twitter didn’t exist either. I got most of my info from either trial and error, or from reading forums: I Help You, Jill Whelan’s High Rankings forum, and later, the forums at Search Engine Watch. Of the three, only High Rankings remains – and Jill’s been out of the search business for a few years now.

There are several individuals to whom I’m indebted for imparting their search knowledge to me in the early days. Andrew Goodman was infinitely patient with the zillions of questions I asked him during a brief consulting engagement in 2002 or 2003, and his e-book on Adwords was dog-eared on my desk as a reference.

Brad Geddes was a regular on the forums back in the day. He answered lots of questions, and I made sure to attend his sessions at SES when I started going in 2003. I also learned a ton from Frank Watson aka AussieWebmaster on the forums.

Matt Van Wagner is one of the nicest guys in search, and he has always encouraged me. I still remember when he came up to me at an early conference in probably 2005 or 2006 and complimented me for asking a good question in a session.

I’m still learning about PPC, even as an old-timer. I learn from the great folks in PPCChat every day. I learn from clients, bosses, and coworkers. If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating and, dare I say, dying.

Who has helped you learn PPC? Give them kudos in the comments!

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The Importance Of The PPC Brain

On Sunday, February 23, I was in the midst of a mundane task: putting away laundry. A loose piece of blanket binding on the bed had gotten looped around my leg without my realizing it. As I started to walk toward my dresser, the loop basically pulled the rug out from under me. I took a header into the dresser.

My first thought was, “That’s the hardest I’ve ever hit my head.” And then the pain kicked in.

To make a long story short, my husband took me to the ER, where I was diagnosed with a concussion. In a lifetime of playing sports, including risky ones like skiing, I get a concussion in my own bedroom.

The doctor ordered a week of complete brain rest. I was not to watch TV, check email, play video games, or do anything but rest, really. I was dismayed at this news.

As it turned out, though, I really couldn’t do these things anyway. Even forming a complete sentence was challenging those first few days. If someone was talking to me, I had to literally shut my eyes to be able to process what they were saying – any visual stimulus made it impossible to focus on the spoken words.

As the days progressed, things got easier. I was able to read by Friday – thank goodness, as I’d gotten bored with sleeping all the time! By Monday, I was cleared to return to work.

I thought I was in good shape mentally. And yet, I found that doing simple, routine tasks like preparing a report or reviewing Adwords or Google Analytics data was painstakingly slow and difficult. I made a few silly mistakes, too – I caught them before it was too late, but they were mistakes I normally wouldn’t have made.

In short, my brain wasn’t 100%. While I was fine with physical activities like showering and making dinner, I struggled with mental tasks like focusing on PPC.

At that point I realized how dependent we are on brain power in PPC. I knew that my brain was one of my most reliable tools for PPC, and yet I took it for granted.

I know many of you agree. When I polled my Twitter friends about their must-have PPC tools, several of you said “my brain.” (That post is coming, I promise! I’ll update this post with a link when it goes live.) We rely on our ability to think, analyze, reason, and create successful PPC campaigns. And we don’t realize how powerful that brain power is until it’s lost.

Thankfully, after just one day things got better. On Tuesday, my brain worked faster, and I made fewer mistakes. I didn’t get as tired. My brain “muscle” was getting stronger. It came back fast once I was ready. Today, I feel like myself again.

The moral of the story here is that we all need to take a moment and be thankful for our brains. In this profession, they’re our most crucial tool. We don’t use hammers, saws, stethoscopes, or chemistry labs. We rely on our brains. Respect the PPC brain, my friends.

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9/11 memorial
It’s been a tough week. On Monday, April 15, the woes we all feel on Tax Day were set to be tempered by the annual excitement of the Boston Marathon. In a split second, the exhilaration of the day turned to horror when bombs exploded near the finish line.

As a walking distance racer myself, these events stunned me. It was a similar yet different feeling to September 11. While of course 9/11 was horrific beyond belief, it wasn’t as personal to me. I never worked in the World Trade Center. I’d been there, but only as a tourist.

The Boston Marathon is a race like many I’ve participated in myself. As a walker, I’ll never qualify for Boston, but I’ve crossed many a finish line and cooled down in the finish line area – just like the runners and spectators who were hurt and killed on Monday. The images that emerged on Monday and the days to follow were all the more upsetting because I could easily picture myself there.

This morning, I awoke to the news that the manhunt for the perpetrators of this terrible attack has taken on Hollywood-esque proportions. If the attacks themselves were hard to believe, this is nearly impossible for my traumatized brain to process. How does this happen in America?

But we’re a resilient sort. On 9/11, we bent, but didn’t break. A couple of weeks ago I visited the 9/11 memorial. It’s a stunning example of turning tragedy into something beautiful.

And we’ll do it again. On Sunday, I’m participating in the Lansing Marathon Half, along with my husband and son. I’ve been training since January and I’m not about to give up. Giving up lets the bad guys win. And we’re not about to let that happen.

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Learning to Stretch


No, this isn’t me, but I wish it was.

During the last couple months, I’ve been doing a lot of stretching. I’ve been literally stretching my tired muscles as I train to walk my second half marathon. I’ve been stretching mentally at work, too.

I’m a month into a 3-month project where I’m covering for a coworker who’s on maternity leave. It’s been a great experience so far – I’m not one to shy away from new challenges, and this has definitely been a challenge for me.

One of the great things about stretching is you learn how far you can really go. Walking a half marathon teaches you that you can walk farther and faster than you ever thought possible. In my project role, I’ve learned a few things too.

Rushing the job never works.

If you’re doing a 10-mile training walk, you need to allot enough time to complete the distance. I know I can’t cover 10 miles in an hour, so I don’t even try. Sure, you can (and should) push the pace a little, but I know my limits. If I don’t have 2 ½ hours free, I know I can’t do 10 miles.

The same thing goes for work. As with any new project or set of responsibilities, the sheer length of the to-do list tends to create a sense of urgency. It’s easy to fall into the trap of hurrying through a task to pare down the list.

I’ve always known that a rush job is never your best job, but this project has been a big refresher course in slowing down. It’s better to make sure everything is right than it is to race through everything as fast as you can. Luckily, I avoided major stumbles, but I was perilously close a couple times and it wasn’t fun.

Love what you do – or fake it till you make it.

Last year I walked my first half marathon. I had 2 goals: finish the race, and not come in last place. I’m proud to say I accomplished both goals! When I started training for this year’s race, I set some more aggressive goals that required some heavy-duty training. I’m not gonna lie – there were times that I really wanted to slow down or cut the distance short. But I kept going. And eventually, I found that I enjoyed pushing myself!

When it comes to PPC, I’m the luckiest person on earth because I get to do work that I love and get paid for it. It doesn’t feel like work. In this project, though, there’s a lot more client contact than I had before. While I love talking to clients, it can be challenging to be in meetings for 6-7 hours a day.

So, I took the same approach as I did with the marathon: faked it until I made it. It didn’t take long – maybe a week tops – to feel comfortable, but I’m sure if I’d copped a poor attitude, I’d still be struggling.

And really, it’s easy to talk to people. If you treat everyone as though they’re just the person you wanted to talk to, the conversation will be smooth and pleasant. If you take 5 seconds to confirm receipt of an email, you’ll ease worries. Simple things, to be sure, but they work.

The half marathon is a week from Sunday, and I know I’m ready. And I’ve hit my stride on my new project, too. It’s always good to stretch.

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Why I Love PPC Conferences

This week’s PPC Chat topic was PPC Conferences. As usual, it was a great conversation about a fun topic. Take a look at the streamcap if you missed it.

The discussion got me thinking about conferences in general. In fact, I’ve been waxing nostalgic.

In another lifetime, before Google existed, I did traditional marketing.   As part of that job, I had to go to several conferences and trade shows.

I hated it.

Even when I traveled to trade shows with coworkers (which helped somewhat), the whole process was a huge chore.  All the strangers, all the small talk with people, all the “being on” all the time, all the “networking” just plain wore me out.  Believe it or not, I’m an introvert, and that much contact with people I didn’t know literally exhausted me. I dreaded going to these shows.

But once I started doing search, it all changed.

I still vividly remember my first PPC conference, which was SES – in Boston in 2003 (yes, this was before SES moved to the Big Apple).  I had been doing search for about a year, and had been participating in a lot of the forums, which were kind of the predecessor to social media and PPC Chat.  I had gotten to know (online, at least) several key players in the marketplace at that time; in fact, we had hired one or two of them as consultants, and I had read every e-book I could get my hands on in my thirst for knowledge.

Well, I couldn’t wait to go to SES. It was a total 180 from the feeling I had before the other conferences I had gone to in my career.  I knew that the movers and shakers were speaking, and I was hoping to meet some of them. I was nearly giddy with excitement.

Needless to say, after that conference, I was hooked.  Back then there was no SMX or HeroConf; and Pubcon was just a small informal gathering of SEOs.  SES, programmed at that time by Danny Sullivan, was the only game in town.  Following that first show, I started making annual SES pilgrimages.

In the early days when I was still learning, I’d be the first one to raise my hand during the Q&A in each session I attended.  I figured this was the cheapest way to get advice from the biggest experts in the field, and I was right. I always came back with takeaways that ended up boosting our profits substantially.  I also swarmed the podium at the end of each session to try to meet the people I’d chatted with in the forums live and in person.  I would never have done either of these things at any of the conferences I’d attended in the past.  I probably annoyed the heck out of the other attendees (and some of the speakers too!), but I didn’t care.

Little did I know that one day, the roles would be reversed and I’d be the one on the speaker podium.  I’ve found that I actually love speaking about search – it’s become a passion of mine. People always ask how I get past my nerves, and my honest answer is that I really don’t get nervous.  I’m just so excited to talk about the career that I love so much.

So how did I go from someone who dreaded conferences to one who can’t wait for the next one?

I believe that when you finally find out what you were put on this earth to do, you’ll discover that your job doesn’t feel like work.  That’s how it’s been for me.  It was really my passion for the craft and the industry that spurred me to ask all those questions and stalk all those speakers back in the day.  My thirst for knowledge far outweighed any shyness or nerves.

Do I still get exhausted with all that meeting and greeting?  I do, but not until I get back home.  While I’m actually at a conference, I’m loving every minute of it, even meeting all the strangers!

And do you know what the best part is?  It’s the fact that it’s come full circle.  I’m now able to help others learn about search, just like I learned from some of the best when I was new.  There is nothing more rewarding than the look on someone’s face when they “get it” for the first time.  There’s nothing like getting emails or tweets from people who enjoyed one of my sessions.  And there’s nothing like going to a conference like HeroConf and feeling like I’ve gone to a class reunion, even though I haven’t met most of the attendees in real life.  We all know each other already.

Can you name a single industry that’s this cool?  I can’t!

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The New and Improved Beyond the Paid

I know I haven’t blogged much lately. The end of summer always gets crazy for me. Every year, I say “Next year, I’m taking the whole month of August off,” but of course that’s not likely.

This year, though, I did something fun over my summer vacation – redid my blog! You’re probably saying “Duh – we can SEE that…”

Back in 2006 when I started this blog, I didn’t know if I was going to keep up with it. It was really just a fun experiment at the time. There weren’t many free options for blogs back then – really, Blogger was the only one. So that’s who I used.

Fast-forward to 2012, and I’m finally ready to take the plunge into WordPress. I’d used WordPress for client blogs & sites, so I was familiar with it; and I’d had my own domain for a long time, so I was ready.

I couldn’t have done this without the help of my good friend Meg Geddes, aka Netmeg. Not only is she a fellow Michigander, she’s a self-described WordPress mofo. She hooked me up with a great new host, a theme, and all the plugins and widgets I needed to make everything look cool – and she did it over a weekend. I can’t say enough about how awesome she is – even if she is a Michigan fan. (wink)

So, make yourself at home and explore! And let me know what you think!

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Better Blogging in Less Time

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, or if you follow me on Twitter, you’re probably aware that I saw Van Halen in concert in Detroit on Monday – in the front row! I’ve been a fan of theirs since the early days, and this was my first front row experience. It was amazing. My husband took this picture, along with about 100 other awesome photos, at the show.

The big deal about this tour is that it’s following the band’s first album with David Lee Roth in over 28 years. As part of their new foray into social media, the previously closed-mouthed band has published several video tidbits that are really cool and fun for the fans.

Some of my favorite tidbits are the interviews with the 3 founding band members. In one, the guys discuss how the process of making an album has changed over the years.

(What does this have to do with blogging? I’m getting there – stay with me!)

One thing that’s different now is that instead of cutting the vocal track by singing the entire song all the way through, the vocalist will sing one phrase at a time, over and over. Then the producer chooses the best take from the 20 or so takes of that phrase.

In the video clip, the guys make the observation that the first 3 takes are almost always the best. David Lee Roth says these takes are the most spontaneous, “before you think yourself past genius.”

That quote spoke to me. It’s the same with blogging. I’ve had a lot of people over the years say to me, “I don’t have time to blog. I can’t think of anything to write, and then it takes too long to write it.”

I tell them to sit down at their computer, think of a topic (any topic), set a timer for 15 minutes, and write. If you can’t get at least a draft of a post in that time, it’s not blog-worthy. Beyond 15 minutes, you’ve thought yourself past genius.

This goes for anything creative: blogging, photography, music, speaking at conferences, ad copy writing…. The list goes on. The first take is probably going to be your best one. So if you’ve always wanted to blog but thought you didn’t have time, start writing now – before you think yourself past genius.

And if you’re interested, here’s the whole VH interview clip; the genius quote is almost at the end, around 12:00.

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