Andrew Goodman shares five typical PPC tactics you can't afford to ignore and suggestions on how you'll have to iterate once you get them running.
Monty Python dropped a cookie in 1979, so unfortunately, I have to give them 100% credit for the all-important nugget of wisdom, "Blessed are the cheesemakers."
A trade publication has no hope of matching that, but here's our prosaic rule of thumb: "Wealthy are the iterators."
Now I don't want to tell you how to do your job... but, as always, the benign-seeming outer veneer of a range of alluring PPC features weighs heavily on my mind. For the novice, "just set that up" is an enticing siren song. But it ultimately proves elusive. Unless...
It used to be that all I had to worry about was the simple ad group and what it could do to your profits if not watched, tended, and relentlessly refined. There is nothing worse you can do than to think you can set up a number of reasonably targeted ad groups, and forget them. Even the single rookie mistake of going with all broad match types can knock your ROI down by 80% or more.
There are many new opportunities in PPC platforms today. Along with creating multiple avenues for success, the current landscape also multiplies the risk of landing in the poorhouse due to (perhaps unwitting) laxity.
Whenever you set something up, you always, always need to go back and check to see how it's working. Perhaps less obviously, skilled account managers must always be coming up with original new ideas to refine the garden-variety approaches that seem to prevail, by default, in our industry.
In a way, this amounts to a productive (as opposed to accusatory) form of second-guessing; not so different from chess, or drawing up football plays against a smart opponent. "If I set it up this way, what could go wrong? What is the modified version of the garden-variety play, one that avoids the drawbacks of the play while retaining its advantages?"
Here are five typical PPC tactics and some suggestions on how you'll have to iterate once you get them running.
1. Basic Ad Group Setup
As accounts grow, so does the number of ad groups. This is probably one of the most basic iterations in the PPC world, but in about half the accounts I've audited over the years, a lack of follow-up after ad group creation is a chronic problem. Sure, you can partially cover this off by automating to catch the worst-performing segments, such as low-return keywords. But that doesn't mean all is well inside the ad groups. Lower-volume keywords could be creating a low-level drain on funds across many such ad groups, and that adds up. (In a previous column, I referred to such ad groups as ticking time bombs. Eventually, they'll show up on your radar, but why waste money unnecessarily in the meantime?)
In following up and looking what is going on inside the ad group, consumer behavior patterns may become evident to someone familiar with that environment. While you're scanning the keywords, why not have a look at the ads? Two percent of advertisers may use pure automation for such tasks. The rest will be curious enough to look at the tests to gain a sense of - at the very least - the most ludicrous ad creative ideas (as measured by anemic response out of the gate) so that they can be killed sooner.
2. Display Network Adventures
Fewer and fewer advertisers today allow themselves to lurch into the default campaign setting that spends 90% of the budget on automatic placements in the display network, when they assumed they were merely setting up a search campaign. Yet some of us - in industries where automatic placements are actually working well, given the right keyword inputs - would be well-advised to keep an open mind about the Google Display Network (GDN). We might even be willing to relax our CPA targets if we can demonstrate a lift on secondary metrics, and if the price is right. Assuming that positive mindset, it's as easy today as it was in 2006 to just let Google pick your pocket with sudden intrusions by inappropriate publisher partners (or odd Google-owned placements you wouldn't have chosen).
It's not always all-or-nothing. Don't fear display to the extent of avoiding it entirely. Exclude the placements you don't want, and keep on advertising. Whether or not you use automation to detect unusual volume spikes, or prefer a manual approach, keep on checking the stats broken down by placement.
3. SiteLinks Extension
SiteLinks can be helpful for a variety of reasons. They might indirectly boost Quality Score, they can send signals of trust, and they can help you crowd out competitors and organic SERP's by taking up more screen real estate. So you've got a number of SiteLinks set up at the campaign level, but lately your performance seems to be dropping off. What's up? It could be that competitors are taking advantage of the more granular opportunity provided by ad group level SiteLinks. You could be showing SiteLinks that look too generic, when you should be displaying multiple sub-listings in a product category. Look into it.
Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) remains a little-known tactic. There should be limited downside risk to showing your ads against certain search keywords - in Google Search - restricted to a narrow audience (one of your Remarketing lists or Custom Combinations). Instead of a very large reach of millions of potential searchers, you're typically reaching only thousands or tens of thousands of your previous site visitors, who must then subsequently come back to Google and search for a keyword you're bidding on in the RLSA campaign. It could be low volume, but otherwise, great, right?
Not if you get the bid "method" wrong during setup. It seems that there are two settings - Bid Only and Target and Bid. Could it be any fuzzier which setting will do what? Anyway, Bid Only doesn't appear to restrict your audience to the chosen remarketing lists. We get conflicting input from Google reps as to whether this is a bug or a feature. Anyway, check back often once you set up your RLSA ad groups. If you get a flood of traffic, unless your name is Wikipedia and your "audience" is 400 million people, it's safe to say that's too much. Something around a trickle or just above that is to be expected, with (good luck here) strong conversion rates, usually.
5. Dynamic Search Ads
This is an exotic Google technology that scans your site and account and tries to round out your keyword strategy by focusing on the elusive long tail of queries that would be too cumbersome for you to discover on your own.
It's an odd bird in a number of ways. A black box, when it comes to what keywords are being targeted (though you can look at the Search Query Report to understand query volume and performance). With no information on keywords, one is tempted to ask whether this is a strange Quality-Score-exempt zone despite being part of AdWords, much as Gibraltar has a special tax system. Certainly, you'd find yourself in hot water if you ran a similar "nebulous intent, broad brush, machine-learning mission" keyword campaign on your own. But that's neither here nor there.
There are two key points to keep in mind if you set up - or allow a Google rep to set up - Dynamic Search Ads. First, if you enable this with Conversion Optimizer (automated black box CPA bidding) or a particularly high bid in line with other bids in the account, you'll likely be cannibalizing other parts of the account. Instead, bid conventionally, and low.
Second, you need to keep checking the Search Query Report to ensure that the technology isn't sending you lots of traffic on queries that - while plausible on the surface - simply aren't appropriate for your business. It's a judgment call, and my experience suggests that Google's claims that the technology will adjust to weed out nonconverters are somewhat valid. Don't overtighten, but do negative out the most glaring mistakes. Depending on the size of the account, you may eventually have hundreds or even thousands of negative keywords keeping that campaign in check.
Go Forward with Confidence... Just Not Too Much Of It
You're confident, and you're good. Sure. But don't forget: behind the scenes, the great ones are building their superior track records on a regime of nervously second-guessing their own initial buildouts.
Of course, there is such a thing as dysfunctional second-guessing. You should be confident in the overall direction you've set, firm in your strategy and in your understanding of how the PPC auction works. But at the same time, as soon as you start anything new, it's time to be mindful of that inevitable little wrinkle that can hamper the effort. Think twice, tweak, and prosper.
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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.
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