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Top 10 Campaign Optimization Checklist

  |  December 11, 2009   |  Comments

Here is a checklist of best practices that all search marketers should go through to make sure they aren't wasting money or missing an opportunity.

At SES Chicago, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel about the state of search today. After the presentation, many questions revolved around search retargeting, new forms of search advertising, and the intersection of search and social media.

I mentioned that one common theme I've seen when looking at campaigns of hundreds of marketers was that many foundational elements of the campaign were lacking, resulting in a large missed opportunity. My fellow panelist, David Pann (VP of U.S. search advertising business, Yahoo), echoed these thoughts. He was surprised at how much failure to properly do the basics was costing advertisers both in excessive keyword bid prices (in a quality score world) and missed opportunities.

Too often, PPC (define) search advertising campaigns suffer from neglect as marketers chase the hot new forms of online marketing or new PPC enhancements.

Following up on the need for basics, an audience member asked for a prioritized checklist of best practices that all search marketers should go through to make sure they aren't wasting money or missing an opportunity. Of course, the priority of the following list may vary slightly by advertiser -- but it covers most of the big mistakes that end up in campaigns that have been around for a while, as well as in new campaigns.

So without further ado, the top 10 common oversights in basic search best practices:

  1. Failure to track; track the right things; or track at the right level: You would think that I wouldn't even have to mention tracking, but sometimes marketers don't measure and track what matters, or measure and track at all. And remember: the closer you can get to tracking immediate and long-term profit, the better. (ROAS -- return on advertising spending -- is a good proxy if your margin is consistent and none of your customers have different lifetime value profiles, but the real world isn't always quite so predictable.)

  2. Leaving the content network on, without testing: Just because the default is to leave content on, that doesn't mean it's the right decision for you. Contextual advertising can be valuable, but it can also mean running your ads in front of searchers who are less interested in what you have to sell. (Often, it works best in segregated campaigns.)

  3. Poor foundational keyword research and expansion: Keyword research never stops. While there's a point of diminishing marginal returns to adding additional exact match keywords to a campaign, most businesses change over time, requiring a review of keyword opportunities. Seasonal businesses require even more vigilance. Don't lose business opportunities by missing keyword opportunities.

  4. Wrong mix of match types, including negative match: Exact match is great for getting quality scores high, and therefore being able to afford high positions less expensively. However, you still need some phrase and broad match listings to catch the searches that the exact match listings will miss. Be sure you've got the correct balance of exact and broad match -- of reach and precision -- in your campaign.

  5. Poor account structure: Revisit your campaign to make sure you haven't taken shortcuts -- like cramming too many keywords into an ad group. This problem exacerbates when keyword phrases look similar in meaning -- and you're left with ad copy that doesn't include the optimal phrases that were searched on. Remember: searchers look for ads that are an obvious match, so be sure you've structured your keyword lists in ways that will truly let you take advantage of searchers' queries.

  6. Bids managed at the wrong level: Each keyword phrase is in its own auction, and therefore bidding decisions should be made granularly (except in the cases of extremely low-volume keywords).

  7. Landing pages selected too broadly: If user intent is different between two keywords, make sure the keywords get different landing pages (particularly if you have unique landing pages available on your site already). And remember: the best landing page may not be the one that has the exact thing the searcher was looking for -- sometimes users want relevant, but related options listed as well.

  8. Failure to test ad creative within important or high opportunity ad groups: You don't have to test every ad. But the larger the current volume and potential volume, the more important it is to test ad creative.

  9. Forgetting to test the marginal value of bidding for your own name and brands: People continue to ask me if they should bid on their name when they already have top organic position. Do a pulse test. Generally, the answer is yes.

  10. Using the engine's budgeting tools: Only you know the true value of a click. Don't let the search engines send you less valuable clicks (with lower profit) due to a budget setting.

  11. Bonus -- failure to test geo targeting and dayparting: It's not that hard to figure out. Should you bid more by time of day and geography? Absolutely.

There are far more common mistakes than the 11 listed above. Perhaps I'll revisit the other mistakes in a future column.

Got all the fundamentals done and optimized? Then you can start considering the cool stuff like search retargeting and ad enhancements.

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Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee, Didit cofounder and executive chairman, has been an acknowledged search engine marketing expert since 1995. His years of SEM expertise provide the foundation for Didit's proprietary Maestro search campaign technology. The company's unparalleled results, custom strategies, and client growth have earned it recognition not only among marketers but also as part of the 2007 Inc 500 (No. 137) as well as three-time Deloitte's Fast 500 placement. Kevin's latest book, "Search Engine Advertising" has been widely praised.

Industry leadership includes being a founding board member of SEMPO and its first elected chairman. "The Wall St. Journal," "BusinessWeek," "The New York Times," Bloomberg, CNET, "USA Today," "San Jose Mercury News," and other press quote Kevin regularly. Kevin lectures at leading industry conferences, plus New York, Columbia, Fordham, and Pace universities. Kevin earned his MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1992 and lives in Manhattan with his wife, a New York psychologist and children.

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