Searching Beyond the Paid

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Effective PPC Landing Pages

This week, search marketers are voting on the best SEM articles of 2009 in the annual SEMMY Award competition. If you're involved in SEM at all, I highly recommend you read every single finalist's article. They're authored by a Who's Who of SEM, and are a great "continuing education" resource for the industry.

If you're doing PPC, I suggest you go to the Design & Usability category and read every article. "Why not the PPC category," you may ask? Well, of course the PPC category is important, as well. However, I've found, especially lately, that many PPC advertisers need serious help with their landing pages.

Apparently Steve Baldwin from Did-It agrees with me. His MediaPost column from earlier this week covers 6 common landing page errors he found recently while he was searching for a particular item he wanted to buy. I don't often side with Steve - it seems that frequently, his articles are intentionally contentious and take the "devil's advocate" point of view. But this time, he's spot on.

I wrote about good PPC landing pages for the Fluency Media blog a while back. You'll find many of my recommendations are the same ones that are in Steve's article. (Hey, maybe he copied me! Ha ha!)

Getting back to the SEMMYs, my favorite Design & Usability article is 25 Point Website Usability Checklist by Dr. Peter J. Meyers. It's a comprehensive list of design & usability elements that every website owner should review before launching a new site or a site redesign. He covers accessibility, navigation, content, and other important website and landing page elements. Bookmark this article, and look at it the next time you're designing a landing page.

There is one PPC SEMMY nominee covering landing pages, from my Twitter friend Saad Kamal. (BTW, even though it's not quite Friday, he definitely gets one of my Follow Friday recommendations!) Saad's article, entitled 9 Effective Tips for a Better Landing Page, gives very specific and detailed instructions on how to craft a landing page especially for PPC. Of course, his tips are great for web pages in general, but are especially helpful when it comes to PPC-specific landing pages. If you follow his suggestions, I guarantee you'll get good conversion rates.

What are your best PPC landing page secrets? Share them in the comments!

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

PPC Happenings Around The Web

If you're not currently participating in online SEM forums and/or reading SEM blogs, I strongly suggest you start doing so! Here are a few hot topics around the web this week.

Google Account Issues: There are a couple of threads on the Adwords Help forum dealing with some pretty serious issues with advertiser accounts. First is a thread about people having trouble canceling their accounts and getting refunds. Theoretically, one can cancel an Adwords account at any time, but apparently it's not that simple

In another thread, an advertiser acting in an agency capacity got into a dispute with their client, and to make a long story short, Google handed their account over to the client - leaving the agency guy in the lurch with a lot of unpaid client work. It seems as though whoever pays the Adwords bill is considered the account owner, but it's still unclear. I'm hoping Google clarifies their policy soon.

PPC Budget Strategy: The Search Engine Watch Forum is one of my favorite SEM forums. It's been around for a long time, and I met a lot of my best friends in the industry there. There's a thought-provoking thread going on now that started out as a discussion of budget strategy, but is morphing into more granular territory. Discussion continues on how to get the best ROI, match type bidding strategies, and other gems.

Changes To The Adwords Certification Exam: Google is apparently changing the Adwords Professional certification exam, turning it into four exams instead of one. Coverage is at Search Engine Roundtable.

Make a point to read up on these news items, and add your thoughts!

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Effective PPC Ad Copy Testing Techniques

All PPC advertisers, no matter how small, should be testing ad copy on a regular basis. Much has been written on this topic, yet I continue to see a surprising number of advertisers who aren't doing any testing at all. Here are the steps I take when setting up a testing matrix for our clients.

Step 1: Turn off auto-optimization. Auto-optimization is based on click-through rate, which may or may not be the best success measure for your PPC ads. Additionally, auto-optimization skews the number of impressions for each ad variation, so you could have one ad generating 90% of the total impressions. That's not the best way to conduct a statistically valid test.

In Google, go to Campaign Settings and find Ad Delivery Options. Expand that section of Settings, where you will see the option to Optimize or Rotate. Choose Rotate. Even though Google warns you that this is not a "recommended" setting, do it. Google doesn't recommend it because it may not make them as much money if you rotate ads evenly. Selecting Rotate will ensure that each ad variation gets approximately the same number of impressions.

In Yahoo, you'll also need to go to Campaign Settings, under Optimize Ad Delivery. Turn this off, and you'll get a message saying "Ads will display in turn." This is what you want.

Unfortunately, MSN/Bing doesn't offer the option to turn off ad optimization. So, what I usually do is to test ad copy in Google and Yahoo, and then roll out the winner to MSN. Not optimal, but necessary.

Step 2: Create at least 2 different ads for each ad group. If you have a high-traffic campaign, you may want to test 3 or more ads, but 2 is the bare minimum.

Step 3: Let the test run until you have a statistically significant number of clicks and conversions. There are lots of statistical programs and applications out there that will quickly tell you whether you have enough data for statistical significance. I like Super SplitTester, a free tool from Perry Marshall. Super SplitTester tells you which ad variation gives you the best cost per impression - in other words, which ad will make you the most money - by factoring in both click-through and conversion rate. It takes seconds to key in your data and get the answer. Bookmark it and use it!

Step 4: Start a new test. Many advertisers make the mistake of taking the winning ad and pitting a new ad against it. Mistake, you ask? Indeed. It's a huge risk to expose 50% of your PPC traffic to a brand new, untested ad that may or may not convert. Instead, I use the method outlined by Dan Thies in his SEMMY award winning post, Split Testing Adwords: You're Doing It Wrong. The method is spelled out step by step in that article, so I won't repeat it here. But do it - your bottom line will thank you.

Step 5: Rinse and repeat. There's a good chance you'll hit on a "strong hero" ad that's hard to beat. Keep testing. Create an ad that you think will never work, and test it (just make sure to use Dan Thies's method above to minimize your risk!). You may be surprised - I know I have been on more occasions than I'd like to admit.

Follow these steps, and you'll be well on your way to improved PPC performance!

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Top 3 PPC Innovations of 2009

Well, the New Year is here and believe it or not, it's 2010. I know, everybody makes "top" lists around this time of year, but there were some great PPC innovations in 2009 that I can't let go by without mentioning.

#1 - The New Adwords Interface. Around mid-year, Google released a beta version of a very different Adwords user interface. Early on, it was much maligned for issues such as horizontal scrolling and instability. Google, in its usual fashion, took the criticism in stride and gradually made improvements (I guess that's the point of a beta, right?). At the end of July, the interface came out of beta and everyone was ported over whether they liked it or not.

I was one of the early detractors of the new interface, but I have to say that now that I'm used to it, it's one of the greatest PPC innovations not only of 2009, but of the past 5 years. I love the graphs that show trends in impressions, clicks, conversion rate, and/or a number of other metrics - enabling users to spot issues instantly. And many functions that once required running and poring over multiple reports now can be performed right in the interface. Placement performance reports are nearly a thing of the past - I can see how individual content sites are performing right in the interface. Search query reports also can be run in-line. You can even segment by day of week, network, or device - right in the interface. I sound like a broken record, but it's really cool and a huge time saver.

#2 -Bing. While Microsoft's rollout of their new "decision engine" isn't strictly a PPC move, it's definitely had a ripple effect on PPC. While market share for Bing is still paltry compared to Google, it's growing - and PPC advertisers are seeing increased traffic as a result. While some of our Fluency Media advertisers haven't seen a lift, others have - especially those in the travel vertical. Bing is really a pretty good search engine, and I expect big things from them in 2010.

#3 - Yahoo's so-called auto-optimization debacle. Way back in January 2009, Yahoo changed their Terms and Conditions, allowing them to "auto-optimize" PPC accounts. The PPC engines have offered optimization recommendations for years. Our Google reps regularly provide optimization suggestions for our clients' accounts. The difference with Yahoo is that they (1) created new campaigns without input from the account manager, and (2) implemented the campaigns live without permission, or even knowledge, of the account manager.

This caused a huge stir in the SEM industry, with recognized experts denouncing the practice. While Yahoo tried to defend themselves, no one was buying it.

Personally, I was able to get our rep to opt us out of auto-optimization, but it was a terrible experience all around.

Well, those are my top 3 of 2009 - what were yours? Share them in the comments!

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