Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, May 27, 2011

PPC Costs Less than SEO

I know, you probably think I’ve lost it. How can PPC cost less than SEO? SEO traffic is free, but PPC costs money for every visitor! You’re right. But if your SEO isn’t informed by PPC, it can cost you a lot in terms of lost opportunity.

In order to get all that free SEO traffic, your website needs decent search engine rankings. If you’re not ranking for anything, you might be tempted to spend your time and money on SEO first, to improve rankings and thereby traffic.

You’d be right that you need to optimize your site if you really want to get the most out of search engine traffic. But how do you know what terms to optimize for?

By now you may think I’ve really lost it – you’re thinking, “Of course I know what terms to optimize for – the ones that describe what I’m selling! They’re the same terms I’d be bidding on for PPC! Just pick the keywords with the most search volume and get on with it!”

On the surface, you’re right: you definitely want to focus on keywords that describe what you’re selling, and they may well be the same terms you’ll bid on in PPC. (And I probably have lost it, but that’s another post.)

Here’s the thing, though. The number of keywords you can bid on in PPC, at least theoretically, is nearly unlimited. It’s not unheard of for large advertisers to be bidding on hundreds of thousands of keywords. SEO is different: each page on your site can only be realistically optimized for about 5 keywords. So it’s critical to make sure you pick the right 5! How do you do this?

Use PPC to test them first. A well-crafted PPC campaign will start generating traffic, and ideally conversions, on the very first day. After a week (or two or three, depending on your business), you’ll have a treasure trove of great data – not only data on what keywords are driving the most traffic, but also the most conversions. And conversions are the name of the game.

SEO is time-consuming: it takes a significant amount of time to review the website pages, meta tags, navigation elements, anchor text, alt text, and other critical SEO elements. It takes additional time to prepare optimization recommendations, and even more time to actually optimize the pages. And once you launch the optimized page, it usually takes 3 weeks just to see if your rankings changed, much less determine whether traffic & conversions improved. Furthermore, if you’ve optimized for the wrong terms – terms that don’t convert well – you’ve spent all that time and effort (and money, if you hired an SEO consultant) obtaining rankings for keywords that don’t increase your sales.

Let me illustrate. Let’s say you sell low-priced widgets. Your keyword research unearths the following keywords:

Wholesale widgets, 50,000 searches per day
Cheap widgets, 25,000 searches per day
Discount widgets, 10,000 searches per day
Clearance widgets, 500 searches per day

You could do one of two things: You could optimize your main pages for “wholesale widgets” and call it a day. Or you could set up a PPC campaign with all 4 keywords (and many more, ideally), and get real data on (1) which term drives the most traffic to your website and (2) which term gets the most conversions.

Your PPC test may reveal that after a month of testing, “wholesale widgets” was the right term after all. Or, you may find that it had 1,000 clicks and one conversion; and “discount widgets” got 900 clicks and 50 conversions. Which term would you choose now?

An oft-quoted statistic is that 70% of clicks on a search engine results page come from organic listings. If you had chosen to have your SEO expert optimize for “wholesale widgets,” all the SEO rankings in the world likely wouldn’t net you many sales (like, maybe 10 per month). But having your SEO expert optimize for “discount widgets” would, by the formula, net you 250 conversions in that month.

Tell me again which was cheaper?

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Friday, May 13, 2011

A 5-Point Checklist for Successful PPC Campaign Settings

I love checklists. I use them for everything, even things I do every day. Not only do I get the satisfaction of checking things off as I complete them, but I make sure I don’t forget something important. It may seem silly to use a checklist for things you do every day, but when you’re as busy as I am, it’s easy to forget even the most mundane tasks.

Checklists are great for PPC too – even for us old pros who’ve been doing this for a long time. Checklists help you make sure you’ve set up your campaigns for success right away, which is the name of the game – and campaign settings can make or break your PPC success.

Point 1: Change ad rotation from Optimize to Rotate.

Google recently added an option to the ad rotation arsenal: optimize for conversions. While this is cool, I don’t use it – especially for brand new campaigns. The very first thing I always do after posting a new campaign to Adwords is to set everything to Rotate. It’s the fastest way to get good ad testing data to build on for future optimization.

Point 2: Change Ad Delivery from Standard to Accelerated.

This may seem like the opposite of what you should do; after all, you might run out of budget by noon and your campaign will shut off until midnight. In the past, I advised against accelerated delivery for this very reason. However, lately I’ve found that standard delivery, which spreads impressions out across the entire day, sometimes leads to low total impressions & clicks, especially for a new campaign.

I’ve had better luck starting out with Accelerated to get traffic going and establish a baseline, and then switching to Standard if the campaign is reaching the daily budget too early in the day.

Point 3: Set the right daily budget.

The only way I can accept the risk of using Accelerated delivery is by setting a campaign daily budget I’m comfortable with. It’s critical not to set the budget too low, but at the same time you should never set the daily budget at an amount you’re not comfortable spending. If you only have $1,000 per month to spend on PPC, don’t set your daily budget to $500, or you run the risk of blowing through the whole month in 2 days!

Point 4: Turn off the Display Network.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying don’t use the Display Network. In fact, I’m a big fan of Display. However, search and display campaigns should never be lumped into one campaign. If you want to use Display, do it – but set up a separate campaign just for Display so you can optimize accordingly.

Point 5: Install conversion tracking.

Whether you use Adwords & adCenter’s free conversion tracking tools, Google Analytics, Omniture, or something else, the point is to use something! If you’re not tracking conversions in your PPC campaigns, you’re better off buying a lottery ticket. Don’t spend a dime of your company’s money (or your client’s, if you’re an agency PPC’er) until you know you can track the results. Sometimes people (aka bosses) hear about how great PPC is and they get anxious to launch a campaign first, and track things later. Don’t give in to this temptation! Get your tracking codes in order first, and then go ahead and launch your campaign.

So the next time you set up a PPC campaign, run through this checklist – you’ll set yourself up for success! For more tips on campaign setup, check out this article I wrote on campaign setup for Web Marketing Today.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Preparing for the Adwords Fundamentals Exam

Many professional careers have certification programs, and PPC is no exception. Both Google Adwords and Microsoft adCenter offer certification programs for PPC professionals. In this post, I’m going to talk about preparing for the Google Adwords Fundamentals exam, which is the first step to becoming a Certified Professional.

First of all, if you’ve been actively managing PPC accounts for at least a year or two, you should have a good chance of passing the Fundamentals exam without even studying. But if this is your first time taking one of the Adwords exams, or if it’s been a couple years since you’ve taken it, there are a few things you should be aware of:

• The test costs $50, non-refundable. So if you’re not feeling confident about your Adwords knowledge, don’t take the test.
• You have 90 minutes to complete the exam – and once you start, you have to finish in one sitting. Make sure you have that big a block of time available to take the exam uninterrupted.
• Once you start the exam, the testing interface locks out your computer so you can’t access browsers or other programs. It wasn’t always this way with the Adwords exam – you used to take the exam in one browser, and could have another one open to search for the answers! (Of course I didn’t do this, wink wink!)
• You can mark questions for review later, so if you don’t know an answer or aren’t sure, mark it and go on – you can come back to it later.

If you’re relatively new to PPC, though, you’ll want to study a bit before you take the exam. The best way to study is to review the training materials in the Google Learning Center.

The Learning Center is your home base for preparing for the exam. It contains detailed written documentation on all the topics that will be tested.

That said, there are a LOT of topics. If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll want to take the time to go through all of the lessons; you can do this while you’re actively managing a PPC account or shadowing someone else during training.

However, if you have some Adwords experience, read through the lesson description first. If it covers something you feel pretty confident about, skip it. Focus on the lessons on topics that are new to you. If the lesson includes any case studies or examples, pay particular attention, as a lot of exam questions are in the form of case study-type examples that you’ll need to analyze and answer correctly.

Remember that all the rules for taking standardized tests apply to the Adwords exam, too:

• Skip questions you’re not sure of and come back to them
• Your first impression is usually correct
• On true/false questions, you have a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right
And so on

With careful preparation, you’ll be able to pass the exam and become a Certified Professional!