Most online marketers spend the year quietly preparing for this make-or-break time of year, when searches, conversion rates, and sales surge. Some companies (for example, selling expensive equipment or complex enterprise software business to business) actually see leads decline in December. For the rest of you, it's vital to be firing on all cylinders.
The majority of the groundwork for a successful holiday marketing campaign should have been laid months (even years!) ago. But there is still a bit of time left to adapt to some of the major upheavals that have rocked the PPC world in the past year or two.
Far from turning complacent and routine, the paid search world has undergone one of its busiest years ever when it comes to new developments that require shifting strategies and new tactics. Here are three important ones to take action on - yesterday.
Mobile: stop guessing. It's become "best practice" to break out any campaign segment imaginable, which can turn into a degree of overkill that I'll have to save for a separate rant. By now, though, we're way past the time when it's acceptable to leave your campaign setting showing to all devices without even viewing the performance by device type (easily viewed in an AdWords account today). Most advertisers shouldn't get too opinionated about the relative merits of specific carrier, OS, and smartphone types - if your advertising performance is that finicky, you have larger problems - but as a bucket, it's important to segregate mobile phones with full browsers. Advertisers should either break that out as a separate campaign with a separate bid strategy, or shut it off entirely, depending on strategy and what the data are telling you. Tablets perform similarly enough to computers that it might be more convenient to leave them bundled with your main campaign.
What's really changed this space is the incredible speed and functionality of Android and iOS devices in particular, with BB10 not slated to impress until Q1 of next year and Microsoft making enough over-the-top promises to drive even more hardware sales in this segment. The widespread consumer adoption of these devices with large screens and improving functionality of many websites in a mobile environment means that search volumes and conversion behavior are improving every week. It's also very common to research and share on mobile devices, later completing important purchases on a desktop. And don't forget little details: some of your "buy words" won't be as golden in a mobile environment if you're a pure online play, as consumer queries will imply a search for a local brick-and-mortar experience and your conversion rates on many "buy words" could be worse than you anticipate. As a marketer, are you ready?
Settings have changed! Stop letting Google tell you how to optimize your ads, please. After a lot of advertiser feedback, Google has restored the "Rotate Ads Indefinitely and Do Not Optimize" setting. (Yep, that's what they're calling it now. Hilarious.) For many of you, the setting probably remains on the "Rotate for 90 Days, And Then Optimize" setting. So what may have happened is your tests are giving you confusing data. Over the years, Google has constantly urged us both to think of "optimization" as picking the ad with the highest CTR and to manage an account's relevance to improve Quality Scores. But for highly granular accounts, neither its "Optimize (for CTR)" setting nor its "Optimize (for CPA)" setting are adequate to the purpose. Many advertisers want to test a batch of eight or more ads, scientifically, which requires hands-on testing over a significant period of time. And many advertisers manage to ROAS, so variations in average order size need to be taken into account. Anyway, regain control of your ad tests with the "Please Never Optimize" settings in your campaigns, if you haven't already, and choose ads that satisfy your particular criteria based on total revenue and profit driven by winning ads.
More visual distractions. While your prospective customers search for leather wallets, American Express is grabbing their attention away by showing an ad for a prepaid card that acts like a digital wallet, complete with an email sign-up box right in the Google ad unit. Is that losing you sales? Can you fight back? Are you so caught up in assuming people are reading and worrying about specific wordings in your ads that you forget how the ads now look on the page? Have you gotten so conservative in bidding that you're basically throwing in the towel with ad positions sinking to five, six, seven, or worse?
As I've argued here previously, the format and placement of ads can convey a "meta-message" of size, importance, trust, etc. If your competitors have social extensions, email sign-up "lead gen format" extensions, seller ratings extensions, Sitelinks, and any number of other enhancements to their ad units (to say nothing of Product Listing Ads with photos and prices), that could increasingly drive business for them while you continue to mull over minor wording differences in the ad copy itself. If you can, leverage your existing reputation and trust assets by enabling more eye-catching elements to see if these help you perform better than plain vanilla ad copy.
That only scratches the surface, of course. We're going to be busy.
Upcoming Webinar: PPC Pause and Reflections for 2013 Thursday, December 12 - 2013 was a major turning point in search advertising. With Google's Enhanced Campaigns and Bing's innovative Smart Search capabilities in Windows 8.1, now is a great time to pause, reflect, and plan for the new year. Webinar attendance is free. Sign up today!
Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.