Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don’t Blow Off Your PPC Agency’s Strategy Meetings

As you probably know, I’ve done PPC in both an in-house and agency setting. One of the things that puzzles me about agency life is the number of clients who seem to put their agency on “ignore” after hiring them.

When you’re an in-house SEM, you can’t delete the emails from your boss asking for a meeting, nor can you let all their calls go to voice mail. Chances are you’re heavily involved in marketing planning and strategy sessions, too. So why do clients blow off their agency’s requests for meetings?

There are a couple of reasons I can think of. First off, I think some clients have the mentality that they hired an agency so they won’t have to think about SEM. The last thing they want is yet another meeting to talk about stuff that they don’t want to be bothered with (i.e. SEM).

Another reason could be that the client’s afraid the agency will try to upsell them in the meeting. This is a valid concern – and for all you agency folks out there who use every conversation with a client to try to sell them on more services or a bigger budget, please stop. Now. You’re doing the rest of us a disservice.

As a client, why should you take time out of your busy day to talk to your agency? Well, I’ll tell you why.

Your agency needs to be in the loop.

Certainly your agency doesn’t need to know every little thing that goes on in your company every day. If that were the case, you’d be better off hiring someone in-house. But when it comes to some things, your agency absolutely does need to know in order to continue to provide services that are of value to your business. Here are just a few things that your agency needs to be aware of:

• Website changes, especially pages that get moved , deleted, or added
• Shifts in marketing strategy and messaging
• New product launches
• Pricing changes
• Other marketing campaigns you may be doing, even if they’re not SEM campaigns

There are many more, but you get the picture. In my experience, agency strategy meetings are a great forum for these conversations to take place. Of course, you can use the phone or email, too – but if you’re holding regular strategy meetings with your agency, they can help you manage the marketing process and make recommendations for improvement that you may not have thought of.

You need to be in the loop.

The PPC world is constantly changing and evolving sometimes faster than even us PPC pros can keep up with. As a client, you don’t need to study up on every last detail of new PPC launches. However, you do need to be aware of some things that could impact your business either positively or negatively – which is where your agency comes in.

In addition, your PPC agency probably has ideas for new things to try in PPC. They also have their finger on the pulse of your customers by way of the queries people are using to find your business. It behooves you to listen to this information, because it can inform not only your PPC campaigns, but other marketing as well.

Your agency has valuable insight that you should look at.

I’ve written about PPC reporting and what should be included in your agency’s reports. While at a minimum you need to take the time to read the reports, it’s even better if you schedule a meeting or call to go over the reports with your agency contact. After all, they’re the professional, and they likely have insight beyond what’s written on the page that they can share with you. I’ve found that report meetings with clients are often the best way to keep each other in the loop and to brainstorm new ideas for taking campaigns to the next level. The meetings don’t have to be long, and it’s really worth your time.

A good PPC manager won’t waste your time. They’ll handle the day to day business of running your campaigns effectively, and will only contact you when they have good information to share, questions, or insight for you. Do me a favor: don’t screen their calls, and don’t send their emails to your spam box. Take the meetings. You’ll be glad you did.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Google’s SSL Change: A Bad Deal for PPC

Earlier this week, Google announced a sweeping change to the way they pass referrer data to analytics. In a very brief nutshell, users who are logged in to Google will be routed to an https version of the Google search engine, and search queries from these users will not be passed in the referrer string to analytics packages for organic traffic.

This decision has rocked the search community more than anything I can remember in recent years, and the reaction is almost universally negative. Anyone who’s successfully done search for any length of time will tell you that one of the great things about search marketing (and I’m talking PPC and SEO here) is the amount of data you get. And Google just removed a big chunk of that data. (Google claims it’s not a big chunk, but that’s debatable.

The kicker is, this change only affects organic traffic. PPC referrals will still contain the referring query data. And this is what has SEOs really upset and crying “conspiracy:” the implication is that Google is trying to encourage websites to use Adwords, so they can get all their referrer info instead of only part of it.

Why should PPC’ers care about this? After all, we’ll still get our data. So who cares if the SEOs of the world are out of luck?

I care. And here’s why.

PPC and SEO work hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that no marketing channel should operate in a vacuum – especially search channels. For best results, PPC and SEO should work hand in hand. I often talk about PPC informing SEO, and Google’s change won’t affect that aspect of your integrated marketing strategy.

However, the information flows both ways. SEO can and should inform your PPC efforts, too. Search pros often recommend mining your organic data for new PPC keyphrases. With this change, your organic data is going to be less complete.

Transparency is key.

From day one, search pros have been asking for more transparency from the search engines. We want as much data as possible to inform our decision making process. We want to know what sites are driving traffic to our site, and whether those sites are converting. We want to know what search queries people are using to find us, and whether those queries are converting. We want to know where those searchers are located, what browser they’re using, and anything else we can learn about them.

This is not to say that we want this data down to the individual level, which is the basis for Google’s change. Google is claiming privacy concerns as the driving force behind their decision.

That’s a bunch of BS. Google has never shared individual user data in referrer strings. And even if they did, who cares? Looking at user data on an individual basis is a waste of time – it’s not statistically significant, and isn’t useful. Data is only useful in aggregate. I don’t care if one guy searched on “what is the best ever ppc blog written by some chick in Michigan” to find my site – but I do care if 100 people who were logged in to Google searched on that term to find me.

With this move, Google has decreased transparency, not increased it – thus going backwards in terms of providing useful and informative data.

PPC’ers should be very concerned about this move. I for one am wondering what they’ll take away from us next. How does this change affect you? Share in the comments!

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Friday, October 14, 2011

How to Successfully Bid on Competitor Brands (and How to Fail)

Should you bid on your competitor’s brand terms in PPC, or shouldn’t you? This question comes up frequently in PPC circles and on Twitter and is frequently written about in PPC blogs. You’ll find arguments both for and against this practice in the PPC universe.

I’m here to tell you that you can successfully bid on competitor brands, and actually see decent conversions from them. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

The Wrong Way

As with many things in life, the easy way is the wrong way when it comes to competitor bidding. Here are a few worst practices for competitor bidding.

• Don’t just throw you competitor’s brand into an existing ad group and call it good. PPC engines have a little thing called Quality Score, and you’ll kill yours if you dump competitor brand terms into your existing ad groups, because those keywords won’t be relevant.
• Don’t create a separate ad group in an existing campaign for competitor terms. See above. This won’t help your quality score either.
• Don’t use your usual PPC landing pages for competitor brands. Again, your quality score is going to suffer – in fact, just last week, Google announced that landing page relevance is now playing a bigger part in QS than it had in the past. Using landing pages with no mention of your competition will negatively impact your quality score.

At this point you’re probably saying, “Whoa! Are you telling me I need to create landing pages that mention my competition? Are you nuts?”

Believe it or not, no, I’m not nuts. Let me explain.

The Right Way

• I don’t recommend a landing page that merely contains a random list of your competitors. That would be stupid. Instead, create a comparison landing page with a chart or grid that lists you and your competition, and shows why you are better. This way, you’ll get a better quality score, and you’ll also have a sales tool that will help increase your conversion rate. Check out these examples to see what I mean.
• Consider including competitor brands in your ad copy. I know, this feels uncomfortable – but it just may work. I do recommend testing it – test an ad with a competitor’s brand against an ad without it, and measure the results. You could also use DKI in the ad title to automatically include a competitor’s brand; this often works well.
• Test, test, test; and measure, measure, measure. We’ve had clients for whom bidding on competitor brands worked very well, and clients for whom it absolutely did not. As with anything in the PPC world, it depends on your industry and your individual business.

Bottom line, it is possible to successfully bid on your competition’s brand terms. And I’m sure there are other ways to do it that I haven’t listed. Have you been successful with this? How?


Friday, October 07, 2011

How to Avoid PPC Campaign Strikeouts

Just as even the best home run hitters in baseball strikeout on occasion, you too could be three pitches away from being the victim of a PPC campaign strikeout. Good decision-making is the key to avoiding and preventing some common PPC pitfalls. Here are three curve balls to watch out for.

Strike 1, High and Outside: Bidding on Overly Broad Terms

Baseball pitchers love to throw a fastball that’s high and outside (outside being outside the strike zone). A good pitcher can fool a batter into swinging at this pitch, when really it’s too far out of reach.

Novice PPC advertisers often swing at this fastball too, by bidding on overly broad terms that are out of reach when it comes to getting good ROI.

For instance, an office furniture store might try to bid on terms like “desk chairs” or “computer desks.” At first glance, it makes sense: that’s what they’re selling, after all.

What they don’t realize, though, is that broad terms like this aren't only too broad, they’re too competitive. They’re just too difficult to hit, like a high outside fastball.

In PPC, you’re much better off looking for targeted terms such as “Aeron desk chairs” (including a brand name as part of the search) or “clear glass computer desks” (more specific). More detailed phrases give you a better chance of getting on base and getting good conversion rates.

Strike 2, Always Swinging on the First Pitch: Not Testing Ad Copy

When I learned to play softball as an 8-year-old, one of the first things my little league coach taught me is never to swing at the first pitch. As a batter, it’s important to get the feel of a pitcher’s style: pitching motion, ball speed, and other tendencies.

Beginning pitchers don’t have a lot in their technical arsenal: their motion & speed tends to be consistent, so it’s a good idea to get a little information first, and see what you have coming to you before you swing away. On the second pitch, you’ll know what to expect.

PPC is no different. At the beginning of a campaign, you don’t really know what type of ad message is going to resonate with your search audience. Yet I see so many beginning advertisers using only one ad variation – in essence, hoping and assuming that first pitch will be a good one and swinging for the bleachers.

One of the biggest benefits of PPC is the ability to test multiple variations of ad copy. Each ad group, especially a new ad group, should include a minimum of two ad variations.

Let both ads run for a while, and measure the results. This way, you’ll get a handle on which ad message might turn out to be a home run, and you’ll know what you’re swinging at.

Strike 3, Switch-Hitting for the Heck of It: Using Advanced Settings Without Data

A switch hitter is someone who bats both left and right handed. Switch-hitting throws off both the pitcher and the fielders: a batter who batted right-handed in their first time at bat, but steps up to the plate as a lefty the second time, requires quick adjustments by the defense.

Thing is, it’s really hard to hit effectively from both sides of the plate. Therefore, it’s not a good idea for a right-handed batter to step up and bat left-handed unless he or she is pretty confident about their ability to hit the ball.

Advanced PPC options like dayparting, the Display Network, Enhanced CPC, and other features are a lot like switch-hitting. When used correctly and in the right situation, these tools can absolutely hit a home run for your PPC campaign. Unfortunately, a lot of advertisers don’t use them correctly, or they make assumptions instead of informed decisions based on data.

Let’s look at an example. I’ve spoken with more than one B to B advertiser who uses dayparting to restrict their PPC ads to weekdays only. When I ask if they did so because they were getting poor results on the weekends, they’d say no, they never tried weekends – they just dayparted right out the gate, assuming performance would be poor.

While there is a good chance weekend advertising won’t perform for a B2B advertiser, this isn’t always the case. We’ve had B2B clients who get great conversion rates on the weekends, simply because their competitors have all dayparted on weekdays only, leaving our client as the only weekend advertiser!

If your data tells you that weekends are no good, then by all means daypart. But just stepping up to the plate left-handed because you’re facing a right-handed pitcher doesn’t make sense unless you know you can hit the ball left-handed! Try it first, measure the results, and then make decisions from there.

Final Score

By making smart decisions in setting up and managing your PPC campaigns, you’ll give yourself a good chance of avoiding that strikeout.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Search Engine Watch on May 17, 2011.