Searching Beyond the Paid

Friday, March 30, 2012

Breaking: Sitelink Conversion Data Now Available!

A few of us on PPC Chat noticed today that conversion data is now available in the Adwords interface for sitelinks and ad extensions! Data can be segmented in all the normal ways, including by time, top vs. side, click type, and network.

This is a huge leap forward for Adwords in terms of giving PPCers the data they need to optimize not only ads & keywords, but sitelinks as well.

For more info and up to date findings, follow the #ppcchat hashtag on Twitter.

How Online Marketing Is Like Fine Dining

Online marketing has been all the rage for 15 years now, at least. From the beginning of public adoption of the internet, success measurements have varied. In the early days, it was all about “hits.” Then it was all about site visits (unique visitors). At some point, the more savvy online marketers started worrying about conversions.

And yet, in 2012, I’m often surprised to hear clients coming in saying “we need to do PPC” or “we have to get out there in social media.”

Why is this bad? Because they’ve chosen the tactic before they’ve set goals and mapped out a strategy.

Have you ever been to a really fancy dinner where each place setting has 3 forks, 2 spoons, a couple knives, and a seemingly endless number of plates? And have you sat there at the table wondering which water goblet you should drink from, and worrying about which fork or spoon you should use for the first course?

I’ve been there, too. But what I’ve noticed about these fancy meals is that 9 times out of 10, it becomes plainly obvious which utensil you should use once the first course actually arrives. If it’s soup, you use a soup spoon. If it’s a salad, you grab the outside fork. If it’s seafood in the shell, you’ll pick up the little seafood fork (I don’t eat seafood, so forgive me if I haven’t used the right analogy here!).

The point is, once you know what your goal is (eating soup vs. eating a salad), the right utensil becomes obvious.

Online marketing is the same way. Marketers spend an inordinate amount of time debating which tactic they should start with: PPC, SEO, social media, email, website optimization…. and often they can’t agree on what makes the most sense. In the meantime, their sales are struggling to get past the appetizer course.

A better approach is to think about your goals. Is increasing sales the first order of business? Are you looking for awareness for a new brand or product? Are you selling inexpensive products or services to consumers, or are you an enterprise solution provider selling to CEOs with a 12-month sales cycle? Is your website ready to capture sales or leads, or does it need work?

All of these factors will affect which tactic you choose. Many online marketing tactics work together, and it’s great to integrate as many tactics as you can within an overall strategy. But before you get to that step, it’s critical to establish your goals and determine how those goals will be measured. So even if your goal is clear from the beginning, if you don’t have tracking and analytics in place, how will you know if you’ve achieved it?

So the next time you’re debating a dip in the waters of PPC, SEO, or social media, put down your fork and think about your goals first.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

PPC Is Alive and Well, Thank You

Earlier this week, an article in Social Media Today caused a bit of a stir in the PPC community. The article was titled The Death of Pay Per Click Advertising – a link-bait-y headline if ever I’ve seen one - and it's a doozy.

Putting aside the fact that the article was published on a social media site (seriously??), let’s break down each and every fallacy in the post.

Fallacy #1: Advertisers Don’t Recoup their Investment

The article states that “there are clear signs that it is dying out as a lone marketing resource. For example, recent research has revealed that just 18% of SMEs using Google Adwords actually recoup their investment (Source: YouGov).”

First off, there’s no link to the YouGov “revelation,” so I find myself questioning whether it’s even true, or whether it’s taken out of context. But anyway… let’s assume it’s true.

I actually wouldn’t be surprised if only 18% of SMEs are recouping their investment. That’s because these SMEs don’t know what they’re doing. PPC has evolved into a complicated program that takes training and expertise to get good ROI. It’s not something that Mom or Pop Jones can just run themselves. This is why it’s critical to hire a PPC professional to run your program, whether it’s in-house or agency.

I’d be curious to see how many professionally-managed PPC programs are recouping their investment. I bet it’s way more than 18% or we’d all be out of business.

Fallacy #2: PPC Is A Short-Term Play.

This is the one that really got the goat of a lot of PPC’ers: “PPC can deliver results when it is used for a short-term, highly targeted campaigns (sic), but used in the long-term it often becomes costly.”

I’m choosing to ignore the terrible grammar in that quote, by the way.

At gyro, we have many clients who have used PPC for years. Many of these clients have recently shifted dollars from traditional media to PPC, precisely because it’s been so effective for them compared with other channels. The same was true in my previous position at Fluency Media – we had clients who were approaching the 10-year mark in PPC who were still making money on every sale.

Are these all just flukes? Hardly. And to say that PPC delivers lower returns than content marketing (another claim in the article) is just ridiculous. Yes, SEO often delivers a higher volume of traffic and leads than PPC, but does SEO convert as well? In my experience, the answer is often no.

Fallacy #3: PPC’s Purpose is to Drive Traffic.

“PPC appears to offer a simple solution - paid ads to drive people to your website.” Um, what? So none of the PPC campaigns I’m running are driving conversions – they’re all about traffic. Yeah, right. I’m not even going to gratify this statement with a response.

The article goes on to say that “PPC is focused around gaining high volume results and often comes with confusing data and analytics on visitor numbers.” I honestly have no clue where the author got this idea. Most of the PPC campaigns I’ve run in my 10-year career in the industry have focused on reducing overall traffic volume while increasing overall conversion rate. No one wants to pay for a bunch of unqualified visits.

A well-run PPC campaign will often contribute little in terms of overall website volume, but will contribute a disproportionately high percentage of conversions. I’ve run PPC campaigns that represented only 20% of overall site traffic but 80% of total conversion. Doesn’t sound like “focusing around high volume results” to me.

Fallacy #4: PPC Is Brand Unaware.

“PPC is purely about the ad and about capturing the interest of window shoppers. With no brand awareness or value proposition around it, the PPC campaign tends to attract window shoppers who are focused on cost rather than quality.”

This is just wrong on so many levels. I’ll concede that many PPC campaigns are indeed focused on promoting low-cost offers. It’s called customer acquisition. This happens all the time in traditional media – what do you think coupons, sales, clearance events, and weekly circulars are all about? These, too, promote low-cost deals to attract the customer. So is the author saying that traditional media is also a huge fail?

And if you're running PPC ads without a value proposition, you're doing it wrong.

Furthermore, the author fails to consider impression-heavy PPC advertising such as display and social media ads. If these tactics aren’t brand aware, I don’t know what is. Facebook PPC, in particular, can drive millions of targeted impressions at a very low cost and can nearly create a brand from scratch – all by using PPC.

In the second half of the article, the author talks about how PPC should be used. Many of her points are valid: be strategic, build loyalty, test for the best – this is all good advice. But there is one more misconception worth calling out.

Fallacy #5: Advertisers Should “Increase Cost Per Conversions.”

When I first read this, I thought it was a typo. But then the author says it again a couple paragraphs later: “include a plan to increase your Click Through Rate and Cost Per Conversion for rewards from Google.” (emphasis mine)

Who on earth is trying to increase their cost per conversion? If you find this advertiser, give them my phone number. I have a few words for them.

The Bottom Line

PPC isn’t dead. That is, unless you run your campaigns the way this author tells you to.


Friday, March 09, 2012

A 12-Step Program to Improve Your CTR

It's common to hear veteran search marketers at conferences and in social media talking a lot about PPC conversion rate -- so much so that those new to PPC may think that conversion rate is the end all.

Conversion rate is important, to be sure. I'd even say it's very, very important. But before a PPC ad can generate a conversion, it needs to generate a click. PPC ads are no good if no one clicks on them.

If you're new to PPC, or if you want to improve your click-through rate (CTR), here's a 12-step program to help you.

Step 1: Bid on Relevant Keywords

PPC beginners are often tempted to bid on high-volume keyphrases that are only marginally related to their business. Take, for example, a hotel/casino that wants to bid on "Texas hold-em." While people indeed play this game at a casino, it isn't relevant if the goal is to sell hotel room nights.

Don't fall into this trap. Searchers have gotten sophisticated. If your ad isn't relevant to the search phrase, they just won't click on it and your CTR will suffer.

Step 2: Bid on Specific, Not General, Keywords

This is related to Step 1, yet is slightly different. Taking the hotel/casino example, you might be tempted to bid on "hotels." While this term has significant search volume, it's too general and is unlikely to drive many, if any, clicks.

Step 3: Use 2, 3, or 4 Word Keyphrases

Years ago, one-word searches like "hotels" were common. Nowadays, searchers have become more specific in what they search for, and it's common to see search queries with four or more words.

Jason Tabeling wrote an informative article with research showing that CTR was highest on keywords containing two, three, or four words. Our experience has been similar: one word is not specific enough, but more than five shows diminishing returns.

Step 4: Create Small, Tightly-Themed Ad Groups

Tightly-themed ad groups make it easy to write relevant ad copy that will generate clicks. A common rule of thumb is 10-15 keyword phrases per ad group.

This ensures that your ads will be relevant to the search phrase, and increases the chance of a click. This in turn will help drive a good quality score.

Step 5: Include the Keyphrase in Ad Copy Whenever Possible

If you've set up your ad groups as described in Step 4, this should be relatively easy to do. Search engines bold the search phrase in both organic and paid results, so including the keyphrase or keyphrases in the ad copy ensures they will be bolded, which helps your ad stand out. Ads that stand out get better CTR.

Step 6: Use Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) is a feature that automatically inserts your bidded keyphrase into your ad text. It's a great way to make sure Step 5 above happens.

That said, use DKI with caution: make sure you're not inserting misspellings or other awkward phrases into your ad copy!

Step 7: Include a Price in Your Ad Copy

An old adage in classified advertising says that if you don't include a price in your ad, people will assume you're selling something expensive.

Calm those fears by including the price in your ad upfront. Even better, include the price in the ad headline -- it'll attract attention and clicks.

Step 8: Include Action Words in Your Ad Copy

Including action words (e.g., exclusive, limited time, online only, 1-day sale, etc.) adds a sense of urgency to your offering. Adding urgency encourages click-throughs.

Step 9: Include Symbols in Your Ad Copy

If applicable, include symbols such as ©, ™, ®, and even the plus sign (+) or ellipses (...) can make a significant difference in CTR. Symbols make your ad stand out on the page.

Step 10: Use Ad Extensions

Google offers several different types of ad extensions: Location, Phone, Products, and Sitelinks. Take advantage of them. While these don't display on every search, you'll take up valuable screen real estate when they do show up.

Step 11: Be Creative With Your Ad Copy

Let's face it: There's not a lot of space in PPC ad copy. With only 25 characters for a headline and 70 for a description, it's tempting to put "just the facts" in your ad copy and forget about being creative.

Don't! When I've tested ad copy that I thought was too "wacky" to be effective, I've often been surprised by the results.

Remember, PPC often generates results in a short period of time, so if an ad isn't working, you can always pause it. You might even try an ad like this:

Step 12: Engage in Ad Copy Testing

Ad copy testing is one of the biggest benefits of PPC, yet I'm always surprised by the number of advertisers who don't take advantage of it. The most successful PPC advertisers are continually testing and refining ad copy -- take a page from their book and set up your own tests now!
Go ahead -- give a few of the 12 steps a try!

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Search Engine Watch on March 23, 2011.

Friday, March 02, 2012

PPC Networking - The Fun Begins

Welcome to March! The long, cold winter is nearly over, and we anxiously await the longer days and melted snow…. Oh, wait – we’ve barely had any snow, at least here in Michigan. But who doesn’t get excited about the coming of spring?

I get excited about spring because it means search conference season! Actually, every season is search conference season nowadays, unlike 5-10 years ago when there was really just SES. But in the spring, it’s easier to travel, and it just “feels” more like conference season to me.

As I write this, SMX West is wrapping up. I didn’t attend that show – the west coast is a long trip for me, especially in February when the weather can be iffy (although, as mentioned earlier, it ended up not being so iffy). But a lot of people clearly did, as evidenced by the Twitter fail whale caused by the volume of tweets from the conference. By all accounts, SMX West was full of good content for PPC pros.

On the heels of SMX West, SEMs will head to the East Coast for SES New York, happening March 19-23. Although I won’t be attending this year’s SESNY, the conference has a special place in my heart – it was the first SES I ever attended, way back in 2003 when it was still held in Boston. In a way, that’s where it all began for me. SES is always a good show, and this one promises to be no different.

And then in April, the good folks over at PPC Hero and Hanapin Marketing are holding the inaugural Heroconf on April 16 & 17. I’m super excited about this conference, because it’s the first-ever conference focused solely on PPC. The PPC Hero team has assembled a superstar lineup of PPC speakers, including some of my “idols” like Andrew Goodman and Matt Van Wagner.

I am honored to have been invited to speak at this conference – I’ll be speaking twice on Monday: Account Structure at 10:30 am, and Managing Large Budgets at 2:30 pm. I’ll also be on the Q&A panel at 6:15 pm. Whew! It promises to be a great couple days of PPC networking and knowledge. If you’re a PPC pro and haven’t registered for HeroConf yet, what are you waiting for? Do it now!

Following HeroConf, the summer SEM conference season kicks off with SMX Advanced in Seattle in June. This is one of my favorite conferences – it’s smaller than the big SES and SMX shows, and the content is all advanced – no beginner topics allowed! Seattle is a great city, and the conference is super fun.

I know it can be tough to break away from the daily PPC grind to attend a conference, and they’re not always cheap. But just like any profession, PPC is constantly changing and evolving, and its practitioners need to stay up to date on the latest tools and techniques. I can’t think of a more open and sharing industry to be in, and I have conference networking to thank for my last couple jobs in SEM. It’s really worth it to attend!

What conferences are you excited about in 2012?

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