Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, July 29, 2011

SEO Never Stops

As most of you know, I consider myself primarily a PPC professional. That said, I’m also responsible for the SEO efforts at Fluency Media, and I firmly believe that SEO and PPC should go hand in hand.

If you’ve worked with websites at all, you know that the time will come when a site needs a redesign. Whether it’s a minor refresh of a few pages or an all-out scrap-and-redo, redesigns are part of any website’s life cycle. One of the issues I’ve run into from time to time is clients wanting to put SEO on hold during the redesign process.

Don’t fall into this trap!

Don’t get me wrong: I do understand the thought behind holding off on SEO during a site redesign. Why put time, effort, and money into site updates that in all likelihood will go away when the redesign launches?

Well, there are a few reasons why it makes sense to keep up at least a basic SEO effort during a redesign.

Redesigns take time.

How many site owners do you know that were able to complete even a small refresh in less than a month? Yeah, I don’t know many either. The fact of the matter is that these things take time – sometimes as long as a year – to complete. Web design teams are frequently understaffed and over-committed, and Murphy’s Law usually applies to a redesign as well.

In the meantime, the existing site is still live, crawled by search engine spiders every day. Theoretically, the site’s purpose still exists during a redesign: whether it be generating sales, leads, or whatever. The world doesn’t stop during a redesign – and neither should SEO efforts.

Optimized content is design-neutral.

Unless you’re changing your entire business model, it’s a good bet that the actual content of your website will remain relatively unchanged. While things might look different on the page, and locations of some information may change, the content itself likely will stay the same. And it’s likely that the keywords people use to find your business won’t change much either.

That’s another reason why it’s a good idea to continue SEO efforts during a redesign. Really astute clients will even provide new site access, or at least content, to their SEO professional to optimize before the site launches. This way, it’ll take the spiders less time to find your new content and realize that you haven’t gone away. A good SEO can also help you set up the proper redirects for any pages that may be moving on the new site, which also helps the spiders find their way on your new site’s roadmap.

SEO is a long-term investment.

Anybody with a 401K or retirement account has probably been advised to keep investing no matter what is happening in the market. Even if your account is losing money in the short term, you need to keep putting money in! And even if you’ve fallen on hard economic times, it’s really best to put even a small amount of money away for the future.

SEO is no different. Even if your website is as volatile as the market, you need to keep investing in optimization. Like a retirement account, SEO is a long-term investment – and you need to invest in it continually for best results.

And like a retirement account, a small investment is better than no investment at all. It’s not a horrible thing to temporarily reduce your SEO investment while you’re in the middle of a redesign, so you can focus your time and resources on the redesign itself. Keeping a minimum level of SEO going, though, will make things much smoother when the new site launches and prevent ranking & traffic setbacks.

In short, putting SEO on hold not only loses visitors while the redesign is happening, it makes it take longer for you to get found once the new site launches. Smart site owners will keep investing in SEO, because they know it pays off in the long run.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Not To Use Your Agency’s PPC Reports

People hire PPC agencies for a number of reasons: they want to use PPC, but don’t know how; or they’ve tried it but found it too complicated and time consuming. I’ve worked on both sides of the desk, in-house and agency, so I definitely see the advantages of each approach – and there are times where it just makes sense to hire an agency rather than try to do PPC yourself.

Any PPC agency worth its salt will provide some type of reporting on a regular basis. Some reports are more useful than others, but that’s a topic for another post. No matter what type of report you’re getting, there are ways to make use of the information, and ways not to. Here are some ways you should NOT use your agency reports.

Nitpicking over small details.

Ideally, your agency reports will include not only detailed data, but high-level insight and analysis. Even if the analysis is lacking, though, don’t obsess over minutiae. Focusing on one keyword’s stats, or one day’s data, is not a good use of your time – nor of your agency’s time responding to the inevitable questions you’ll have. You’re paying your agency to obsess over these details, precisely so you don’t have to. Don’t waste your time worrying about minor details that really don’t factor in to the big picture.

Ignoring the reports entirely.

Believe it or not, this is more common than you may think. A surprising number of clients receive their weekly or monthly report email and file it away without even opening it. On the one hand, maybe these clients trust their agency so completely that they aren’t worried about their account’s performance at all – sort of like the thousands of people who file away their 401K statements without ever looking at them. But just like a 401K, PPC performance can vary – and a good client will want to be aware of these variations.

Furthermore, a good report will contain not only data, but recommendations for future improvements such as landing page or website changes, shopping cart suggestions, and other information. (If only our 401K statements came with this info!) A good PPC manager can do a lot of great things without client involvement, but website changes often not are on that list. As the client, this is the stuff you’ll need to do – so ignore it at your own peril.

Taking the information and then trying to do things yourself.

I think some clients consciously try to use their agency as a training school, learning as much as they can so they can take everything in-house. Let me be clear – I’m not saying that no one should ever take things in-house. There are many instances where this makes a lot of sense: when the account has grown to the point that it warrants a full-time person managing it, for instance.

I’m also not saying that taking PPC training courses from qualified teachers such as Brad Geddes from Certified Knowledge is bad. Far from it! I’m a huge fan of continuous learning and training, and everyone, from agency managers to in-house PPC’ers, should take advantage of as much training as they can.

What I am saying is that it’s unfair to hire an agency under the guise of a vendor-client relationship, and use them to set up and optimize your account and make a bunch of recommendations – and then take the whole thing in-house in 3 months.

If you need help with initial start-up and optimization, that’s perfectly fine – but be honest about it! Tell the agency that you’re looking for a short-term commitment and you need help getting things off the ground. Some agencies will be fine with this, and some won’t – but in any agency-client relationship, a good fit is key to getting optimal results. Pretending you’re going to be a long-term partner, and then dumping the agency 3 months in, is not the best use of your money or the agency’s time. As the old adage goes, honesty is the best policy – and the best way to get what you really want out of the relationship.

If you’re thinking about hiring an agency, or if you’re already using one, I highly recommend my friend and fellow PPC Chatter Robert Brady’s post on agency reports, It’s Client Reporting, Not Training. It’s a great read, and it helped inspire this post. Thanks, Robert!

Labels: ,

Friday, July 01, 2011

PPC Ad Testing: "Can" vs. "Should"

I love PPC for a number of reasons. It’s fast and effective, it doesn’t require a ton of money to use, and there are few other marketing channels that make ad testing so easy and effective.

But as much as I love PPC ad testing, I feel the need for caution. Like a kid in a candy store, PPC managers often have trouble choosing what to test. Just because you CAN test 20 things at once doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

One of the best things about PPC is the fact that you can run an almost unlimited number of tests. You can test 10 different ad variations if you want to. If you’re using display, you can even test text ads vs. image ads. Within the image ads bucket, you can test rich media, animation, several different sizes….. You get the picture.

I’ve found that new PPC advertisers (and clients) see this buffet of choices and try to pile one of each on their small appetizer plate. They set up a multitude of ad tests right away, before they’ve launched a single campaign or gathered one iota of data. The thinking is, “we’re not sure what will work, so let’s try them all!”

To an extent, they’re right. With a brand new advertiser and a brand new campaign, you really don’t know what will work. Because PPC generates a lot of data so quickly, in some ways it’s logical to test every option so you can get that data as fast as you can.

But let’s think about this for a second. Way back in business school, we learned about a little thing called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost takes into account a few key factors.


The mere task of setting up 10 or more ad tests can be daunting, even to an experienced PPC manager. What copy will we use in each variation? What exactly are we testing? Even with a tool like Adwords Editor, it takes time to set up each variation – and it’s compounded by the number of ad groups you’re working with.

There’s also the issue of the amount of time it takes to get results. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you need 100 clicks on each ad for statistical significance, and you estimate it’ll take a week to get that many clicks in each cell. If you’re running 2 ads, that’s 200 clicks – but if you’re running 10 ads, that’s 1,000 clicks. You’ve just turned a 1-week test into a 5-week test. And in the meantime, you may be running an ad that’s losing money – which you won’t find out for 5 weeks. Yikes.

Margin of error.

The more information you’re working with, whether it be text or data, the higher the chance of making a mistake. How many of us have copied and pasted the wrong ad copy into an ad group? How many of us have made a crucial typo in ad copy? (Side story: Years ago when I worked in newspaper classifieds, we ran a real estate display ad for an open house at a $300,000 home, complete with a lovely photo of the sprawling manse – and put $30,000 in the ad copy. Needless to say, the open house was mobbed with unqualified buyers. We got a pleasant call from the REALTOR the next morning that I can’t repeat here. And no, this wasn’t my error. But it sure was memorable.)

The margin for error is even greater when it comes to analyzing test data. Running statistical significance on all the permutations in a huge multivariate test is not a ton of fun – and a math mistake can cost thousands of dollars.


By now it’s pretty clear how a complicated test can cost you actual dollars and cents. If a test takes too long, you might be paying for losing ads for weeks or even months. And if you make a mistake in ad copy or in analysis, that’ll cost you, too.

The moral of the story is, just because you CAN test all kinds of fancy things in PPC doesn’t mean you SHOULD test them. Using a systematic approach is much better (and easier) in the long run.

Labels: ,