Today I thought I'd do something different: an interview with a colleague of mine who specializes in setting up and managing paid search campaigns. I spoke with Mike Ott, a senior SEM specialist at Klick, about his experience in the industry and what advice he could offer companies or individuals on how to best maximize their paid search efforts.
Mike offers some great tips for how to get up to speed in the industry, and how to execute the most successful campaign possible.
JB: You have been successfully working as a search engine marketer for going on 10 years now. What do you think it takes to be really good in this line of work?
MO: There's no course for search marketing in any college or university as far as I know and because of that you'll find that every search marketer you talk to comes from a different background. I personally came from a business-marketing background and that's helped me a lot in understanding my audiences, what stages they're at in the buying cycle, and how to reach out to and talk to them at each different stage. That said, however, a marketing background certainly is not a prerequisite because there's so many different elements to search marketing and therefore different backgrounds can offer expertise that is highly suitable to the task.
There's a lot of information available on how to do search marketing and how to become better at it, so anyone with that drive to succeed will surely find those resources and capitalize on them. I really don't think there's any place for someone who's complacent or can't adjust well to change in this industry. That's what search is all about, evolving a campaign, rolling with the times, and constantly setting goals, achieving them, and then setting newer, harder goals. The best search marketers will have a personality and work ethic that's in line with that.
JB: I agree, you have to have a strong level of persistence and dedication to SEM to truly be successful. So if indeed someone feels they are adequately dedicated, how do they go about getting educated in this area or making a career out of it? For someone looking to "learn the ropes" of SEM, what are some strategies, tactics, or courses that you would recommend they consider?
MO: The first place I start trainees at is with Google and in a couple of different ways. First I recommend them to try their help center because it's full of information about anything to do with AdWords. I also recommend signing up to Google Professional and taking the lessons available there. Once you have a firm grasp of how AdWords works, all the other engines you work with will be fairly similar and thus straightforward to figure out.
JB: Agreed, once you know Google inside and out, the other engines are just gravy. I personally find the best way to learn search is simply to do it. So I always suggest setting up a small test campaign with a nominal budget to start getting a feel for how it all works. On that note, what are some recommended tools that you use to develop SEM campaigns?
MO: I feel like I should be getting paid by Google for plugging them so much, but again I have to recommend some of their tools. First and foremost if you don't have AdWords Editor (Google's proprietary campaign editing tool), this one is a must have for me. I rely on this heavily to sort my ad groups and keywords as I'm developing a new account. In case you were wondering, I also use Google's Keyword Tool to help me generate keywords. I should give some credit to WordStream, though, as it's a very good keyword tool that's free, but be forewarned that they often generate extremely large keyword lists which means lots of refinement and weeding out irrelevant search terms.
JB: What about tools for SEM competitive analysis and market research?
MO: I typically use comScore, Compete, Quantcast, Google Trends and Insights for Search, as well as the search engine results pages. There are some free spy tools out there too like SpyFu and Keyword Spy which are ok for getting a general idea of what keywords and ad copies my competitors are using.
JB: Great suggestions. So, it's clear the right tools obviously play a role, but aside from that, what would you say is the most important aspect of a successful campaign?
MO: There are a lot of things that go into making a campaign successful, but I think having clearly defined objectives right from the moment you begin developing the account is possibly the most important. I think it would be pretty wasteful if you were to start dumping time and money into SEM without knowing what you wanted to get out of it and how you're going to measure it.
Objectives can be anything from a performance-based model with a target CPA to a branding-based model where you're trying to get your name in front of as many users in your target audience with whatever budget you have. Whatever the case may be, these influence the networks you invest in, the keywords you use, the ad copies you write, and the way you optimize.
JB: Absolutely, always start with objectives as that will set the tone for your campaign. Related to that, I think everyone agrees that ongoing conversion optimization is one of the most important aspects of a successful campaign. Are there any "tricks of the trade" that you can share to help meet your objectives? Or any "must-dos" when undertaking SEM?
MO: Over my years working in SEM, I've become more and more efficient with Microsoft Excel. Learning all the caveats and different algorithms you can utilize with that program allows me to shuffle through data, write performance evaluating formulas, and organize campaigns rather quickly.
One thing I urge all SEMers to do is experiment and test, but make sure you do so conservatively. I recommend making few changes at once and in small doses so you can effectively gauge what kind of impact the change you made has on the account and how it will perform on a larger scale.
JB: Let's talk about budgets for a minute. How does an advertiser go about figuring out what kind of budget they should invest in an SEM initiative?
MO: I typically start by looking at the marketplace and assessing how much inventory there is for that category. I rely on traffic estimator tools to predict an estimate of what I could potentially spend with my keyword list. Keep in mind, however, that these tools will only evaluate what you might spend on the search network.
JB: Right, so instead of focusing solely on those numbers, I think you also have to take into account what's happening in the marketplace (e.g., what is your competition investing?) and go from there. That's where some of the tools you suggested earlier come in handy!
Well on that note, I think we're about out of time. Thanks Mike for your great insights!
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Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.
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