Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, You Can Do SEM From Home!

Everyone knows that telecommuting has become more commonplace lately – even more so with gas upwards of $4 per gallon. And yet, a surprising number of companies here in the US have not yet embraced the work-from-home concept.

For me, working from home most of the time is a must. In addition to being a PPC pro and working on a lot of great clients, I’m a busy wife and mom with a full life outside of work. I live about 80 miles from our company headquarters, so rather than make the 3-hour daily commute, most of the time I work from home. This way, I’m more productive (and I stay sane).

More productive, you may ask? What with all the distractions calling my name: house work, the TV, the stereo, the Wii, my children…..

First off let me say that I hate house work, so that is not a distraction at all. I watch almost no TV. My kids are at school 8 hours a day, and I save RockBand for the weekends. But still, it can be challenging to stay productive without the watchful eye of a boss or coworker staring me down.

So what does it take to be successful working from home? Here are the keys for me.

Act like you’re going to an office, even if you’re not.

Believe it or not, I get up at 5:30 in the morning, even though I have no commute. Partly that’s because my kids are out the door by 7:20 am, and I want to see them off – but mostly it’s because I still get ready for work, even though “work” is at home.

Get up at the same time every day (it doesn’t have to be 5:30 – that’s just what works for me) and get dressed in decent clothes. Eat a good breakfast. Fix your hair and put on makeup (OK, that’s just for the gals out there - right?). Put shoes on your feet. Yes, shoes. You wouldn’t go to the office in flip flops or bunny slippers – so don’t wear them at home.

All of this preparation puts you in the right mindset to approach your work day in a professional manner.

Establish a set workspace.

I know people who can work an entire 8 hour day sitting on their couch with their laptop in their lap, or hunkered down in a coffee shop. And in many ways, that’s one of the biggest benefits of working from home – you can pick a spot that’s comfortable, and it can be a different place each day.

For me, though, I need a real desk, with a real desk chair and a real keyboard. Yes, my work computer is a laptop, but I use a port replicator to enable me to use a full-size monitor and ergonomic keyboard and mouse. Working with a laptop in my lap at search conferences is fine, but doing that day in and day out, for me, is a recipe for unbearable back and neck pain.

But I digress. The point is, have a regular space to work, even if it is your living room. Again, you’ll be in the right frame of mind, not discombobulated from working in a different space every day.

Establish set working hours.

Another great benefit of working from home is the fact that your work is always there, so you can do it whenever you have a chance. This is a boon for busy moms like me who might have to cut off early for a school event, or take someone to the dentist in the middle of the day – it’s easy to catch up early in the morning or after the kids go to bed.

But this can backfire on both ends: it can be tempting to short-change your work for all the other stuff in your life; and it can also be tempting to work every spare minute of the day (and night), just because it’s there.

Don’t fall into either of these traps. Establishing regular work hours not only helps you maintain a work-life balance, but it lets your coworkers and clients know when they can get a hold of you. That’s not to say you can’t ever stray from your normal hours – work life and home life both demand this at times – but having a set schedule will keep you from getting that 10pm call from your boss wanting to chat about an idea, or an 8am call from a client while you’re trying to get your kids onto the school bus.

By establishing a few simple routines, you can be even more productive at home than in an office. And for me, that’s the key to being wealthy. (By the way, if you value the work/life balance at all, Sugarrae’s recent article on taking her life back should be on your daily reading list.)

For tons of great articles on working remotely, check out Web Worker Daily. Their blog is another daily must-read for me.


Friday, April 22, 2011

AdWords Campaign Experiments: Details and Pitfalls

Back in September, I wrote a brief overview of AdWords Campaign Experiments (ACE), and Joe Kerschbaum wrote an excellent post on ways to use the feature.

ACE is a great enhancement that can really take your PPC campaigns to the next level. That said, there are a few important details you need to know before using it, as well as some pitfalls to watch out for. Let's look at an example to illustrate.

ACE Details

One of the highly touted ways to use Experiments is to try new keywords, and with good reason. Maybe there's a broad match keyword you're not sure will generate the results you want, or maybe there's a keyword that is marginally relevant to your campaign, but you'd still like to test it out.

Pre-Experiments, your only option was to add the keyword and watch it like a hawk while hoping for the best. Now, you can use Experiments to display the keyword on as little as 5 percent of your total traffic. Great news, right?

Yes and no. First of all, using Experiments requires at least a rudimentary understanding of testing principles. If you haven't conducted controlled tests before, even the terminology in the Experiments documentation will be confusing.

It's also a little tricky getting your head around the "control," "experiment," and "control + experiment" categories. Basically, the "experiment" will only run on the percent of traffic you specify.

So if you only want your test keyword to run 10 percent of the time, you'll need to set it to "experiment only." Conversely, if you don't want a particular keyword or set of keywords included in the experiment, you'll need to set it to "control only."

Remember, Experiments run at the campaign level, so if you're only testing keywords within one ad group, be sure to set the other non-experiment ad groups to "control," as well.

It gets confusing, to be sure.

ACE Pitfalls

One big shortfall of Experiments is that it can't be applied to campaign settings. For example, it would be great to test dayparting, networks, devices, daily budgets, and other campaign-level settings, and Experiments would be ideal for this. Unfortunately, it isn't an option at this time. I'm hoping it will be, eventually.

There are also some pretty big pitfalls to watch out for when using Experiments. The biggest one I've discovered has to do with launching changes fully.

So, you've run your experiment, and it works great and you get great results. The logical next step would be to roll out the changes to all traffic, right? Yes, but rolling it out involves more than just clicking that button in your campaign settings.

I ran into this unfortunate pitfall in a client campaign recently. I ran an experiment on match types: I wanted to see if modified broad match performed better than regular broad match. But I wasn't testing all the keywords in the ad group -- only some of them.

I added a few modified broad match keywords and set them to "experiment only." I set the broad match variations of these terms to "control plus experiment." I set all the remaining keywords to "control only."

The test worked great: the modified broad match terms, as expected, generated a better cost per conversion with an acceptable loss of traffic (traffic did go down, but not enough to justify the higher cost per conversion). So I clicked "Apply: Launch Changes Fully."

The next day, when I checked on the campaign, traffic and spend had fallen through the floor. It didn't make sense: the experiment showed a nearly negligible difference in traffic, but the rolled-out results were more like an 80 percent decrease in traffic.

When I dug into the campaign, I realized that most of my keywords were paused! What happened? Turns out, all the keywords that were set to "control only" were shut off when I launched the experiment fully.

After thinking it through, it made sense. In hindsight, I should have set all the keywords to "control plus experiment" instead of "control only," and then the test keywords to "experiment only."

Once I realized the issue, I was able to fix it quickly, and luckily the client lost less than a day of traffic. But the result was unexpected and really caught me off guard.

With these caveats in mind, make use of Campaign Experiments, and you'll reap the rewards without stumbling!

This post originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on February 22, 2011.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Ramping Up (or Ramping Down) Your PPC Spend

Anyone who’s been doing PPC for a while has heard this before: “We’re getting great results from PPC – we want more! Get us more traffic!” And chances are you’ve heard this before, too: “We need to cut our PPC budget in half for a while, starting today.”

While I hope you hear the former rather than the latter, both statements are enough to strike fear in the heart of any PPC manager. Well, I’m here to tell you there are ways to accomplish both, and quickly. Let’s talk about the “ramping down” scenario first.

Ramping Spend Down

You’re probably thinking, “Well that’s easy – just cut your campaign daily budget in half.” And you’d be right – if you literally have one minute in which to get the change made. Of course you should reduce your daily budgets in half, if that’s the directive. That’ll keep you from overspending. But if that’s all you do, it’ll likely cut your conversions in half, too – or worse.

If you take a little bit of time to look at your campaigns, you can probably squeeze more than half the original amount of conversions out of half the budget. Here’s how:

1. Start big, and get smaller. Look at your ad groups first: are there one or two ad groups that are really underperforming compared with the average? Pause those right away – especially if they’re not generating any conversions at all. If you have some that are converting, but at a higher cost than you’d like, lower your bids.

2. Then look at your ad copy. When was the last time you reviewed the results of your ad copy tests? Now’s a good time to take another look. Keep the winners and ditch the losers. I still recommend testing, even with a reduced budget; but if you’re really skittish, just keep the winners to get the most conversions for your reduced budget.

3. Then take a look at your keywords, the same way you looked at your ad groups. Pause the keywords that are getting a lot of clicks but no conversions; and lower bids on those that are not converting at a good cost.

4. Add negative keywords. It’s common to discover that you’re getting significant traffic for irrelevant search queries. Run a search query report and mine it like crazy for irrelevant terms. If you have time, you can comb through the entire report; if not, filter for terms with a minimum of 5-10 clicks and check that. Be relentless in adding negatives! When the budget is tight (and even when it’s not), there’s no reason to pay for irrelevant clicks.

5. Consider advanced features like dayparting, Conversion Optimizer, or Experiments – but be forewarned, these take more time to implement and more time to monitor, so if you’re short on time, hold off on these techniques at first.

Ramping Spend Up

Surprisingly, this can be more difficult than ramping down! But it can be done, and here’s how:

1. Increase your campaign daily budgets. If I really want to maximize spend, I’ll set each campaign to a daily budget of $1,000 per day, even if I know it won’t actually spend that much. I’ve found that setting lower budget caps can limit spend to far below what you’d really like, whereas setting it at $1,000 seems to max things out.

2. Adjust Ad Delivery Settings to Accelerated in Google, and remove the daily budget cap in adCenter. It’s surprising how much of a difference the Accelerated setting can make in increasing traffic & conversions.

3. Increase ad group and keyword bids. This is basically the reverse of what you did in the “ramping down” section: find the top performing ads and keywords and crank up the bids.

4. Add new keywords. I like to start with the search query report for this step. Just like you’d comb through it for negatives when you need to reduce spend, dig for high-converting variations that you’re not currently bidding on.

5. Consider the Display network. While this isn’t as easy as clicking the “show on all available sites” campaign setting, the Display Network can be a great source of incremental traffic and conversions. We’ve had clients who get as many conversions from Display as from search, at as good a cost.

By using these quick steps, you’ll be able to make your boss (or your client) happy, and get great results from your campaigns at the same time!


Friday, April 01, 2011

6 Reasons to Love Adwords Editor

From time to time, people on Twitter or in search marketing forums ask: “What’s your number one must-have PPC tool?” While some people answer with bid management tools or the Google keyword tool, I always say Adwords Editor.

If you’re a PPC marketer and are not currently using Adwords Editor, put this article away and go download it. Now. You’ll thank me later.

If you are using Adwords Editor, I hope you’ve discovered the power and ease with which you can create new campaigns and ad groups. Editor is especially useful if you need to append tracking URLs or are building out a large set of keywords in Excel. All you need to do is copy and paste into Editor, click Post, and you’re done.

Here are 6 more features you should be using, but may not be. These are the reasons I love Adwords Editor.

Quick bid adjustment by percentage with rules.

I use this one all the time. Let’s say you have a handful of keywords that are converting, but the cost per conversion is too high, so you’d like to reduce the bids. Let’s say further that the keywords all have different keyword-level bids. Sure, you can edit them one by one in the Adwords interface, but why do that when you have Editor? Just highlight all the keywords and click Advanced Bid Adjustment. From this screen, you can increase or decrease bids by a percentage. So all those high cost-per-conversion keywords I mentioned earlier? You can decrease all those individual keyword bids by 50% with a couple of keystrokes.

Bulk find & replace.

This is a great feature for updating destination URLs, changing prices, and making other edits in your account in bulk. If you’re using keyword-level destination URLs in your ads, you’ll find this to be an invaluable feature.

Finding duplicate keywords.

Anyone who has added a bunch of keywords to an ad group, or moved keywords from one ad group to another, will appreciate this feature. Using the “Find duplicate keywords” feature, Editor will tell you if you have duplicate keywords in the same ad group, campaign, or account. Trust me; you’ll love this when you’re trying to make sure you’re not bidding against yourself!

Moving or Copying campaigns, ad groups, and keywords.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience: you have a campaign with complicated geo-targeting options, and you want to add a second, different campaign to your account with the same geo-targeted settings. You can go into the Adwords interface and re-enter those settings a second time. Or, you can just copy the campaign in Editor – and retain the complicated settings with a couple keystrokes. Then you can make edits from there.

It’s also common to move keywords from one ad group to another – maybe you’ve created a new, more targeted ad group for a subset of keywords that you just want to move. Just select the keywords in Editor and drag them to the new ad group, and you’re done!

Making changes offline.

As I write this post, I’m at the MSU Community Music School, waiting for my kids to finish their music lessons. Unfortunately, there’s no wifi here. Fortunately, I can still edit my Adwords campaigns and bids offline, using Editor. I do this all the time – make edits offline, and then post them the next time I’m online.

Sharing edits between multiple users.

In an agency setting, and even in-house, it’s common for more than one person to work on a PPC account. We all know that two pairs of eyes are better than one, and it’s always good to have someone else check your new campaigns before they start accruing clicks (and costs). With Editor, I can have new marketing staff, or our marketing assistants, create new campaigns in Editor and upload them as Paused. I can then grab them from Editor and check them – all before they go live. It’s a great way to do campaign quality assurance!

What’s your favorite use of Editor?