It’s going to be a tough year for many pay-per-click (PPC) search marketers, a class of which you may be a member. Google and Bing have added additional functionality in both ad formats and targeting, and these new capabilities are likely to make your life more complex by making it more difficult to optimally prioritize your tactics and experiments. Mobile traffic (across both smartphones and tablets) is exploding and the emerging set of hybrid tablet/laptop/notebook machines is further confusing the marketplace.
In addition, every indication is that cost-per-clicks (CPCs) across the desktop/laptop segment, as well as the mobile segment of users, are starting to rise. The last couple of years saw a stabilization of laptop and desktop CPCs. This stabilization was driven to a great extent by new ad formats in Google AdWords that asymmetrically raised Quality Scores among the more aggressive advertisers, thus reducing their billed CPC or enabling them to achieve top position at a lower bid. PPC sitelinks and other extensions were the primary drivers of the increased click-through rate (CTR) (all other things being equal) and, therefore, the drops in CPCs.
Many of you benefited from this and experienced similar or better conversion rates, thus contributing extra profit to the bottom line, or – if the keywords you were bidding on were elastic (bid price increases resulted in position change) – an increase in position with an accompanying surge in profitable volume.
Most retailers running product listing ads (PLAs) advertising had a happy holiday despite the challenges associated with managing a separate PLA management system in tandem with AdWords. Advertisers who managed PLA effectively reaped the rewards and those who didn’t handed customers to their competition.
As CPCs rise, as the traffic mix becomes more “mobile,” and as new Ad Extensions are rolled out across Bing and Google AdWords, you may find it helpful to heed some 2013 PPC search advertising resolutions.
- Quality Score, Quality Score, Quality Score! (These only count as one resolution.) I can’t overstate the importance of high Quality Score on the success of a campaign, as well as its positive impact on the staying power for your campaign as the CPCs start to rise again. Top positions are easier to attain if your Quality Score is high, because the bids required to obtain the positions are lower.
- Consider using different KPIs for mobile campaigns. Mobile searchers, particularly those on smartphones, have different needs from desktop and laptop users. As a business, you should consider whether or not the same success metrics you use in your main campaign apply to mobile.
- Separate mobile campaigns. Regardless of whether you use separate campaign objectives for mobile vs. desktop, you still may want to separate out campaigns because:
- The winning ad copy may differ.
- If you don’t have dynamic landing page creation capability, you may want to specify different mobile landing pages.
- Conversion rates and values will differ, necessitating different bidding strategies.
- Separate mobile landing pages. Tablets sometimes render your website fine and are navigable even for users with fat fingers. However, as the percentage of tablet traffic grows, a tablet-specific landing page may make sense, starting with those serving as landing pages for high-volume keywords. The smartphone user experience suffers even more from sites not optimized for their form factor and resolution. Also, consider the differing needs of mobile searchers.
- Know when to use separate targeting. Should you use hyper-geo-targeting to refine audiences, target by device, operating system, and carrier? Depending on the size of your campaign and the materiality of some of these segments, it may make sense to either clone an entire campaign or take specific high-value, high-opportunity portions of the campaign and use separate targeting.
- Know your ad extensions. Ad extensions are great for driving CTR and volume, but they aren’t always warranted for every ad. Match your campaign objectives against the things that each ad extension delivers best.
- Thou shalt not have bad ad copy. The first thing the searcher sees in a regular PPC ad is your ad copy. Even in PLA ads, one has a bit of control over how your products are merchandized and you should use this control to provide the best messaging you can.
- Weed those ad groups; tune match types. Most ad groups have too many keywords in them. Take a look at the similarity of those keywords and decide whether or not to treat match type traffic differently for exact vs. broader match types.
- Wean yourself off DKI. Dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) can still be useful. However, Google recently announced some policy changes that make it clear that overuse of DKI is discouraged. Automated tools can augment, but never substitute for genuine human intelligence.
- Take a fresh look at landing pages. You’ve seen them in someone else’s campaign as you surf around. Don’t let your campaign suffer as well. Take a fresh look at landing pages. Start from your most popular landing pages (sometimes shared by more than one keyword) and work your way down.
- Look for volume first. Search your campaign analytics for opportunities to gain volume. Sometimes a high-opportunity keyword in a low position can afford a higher position with better ad copy or a better landing page.
- Consider adaptive design and personalization. If 2013 is a year in which a new website is being planned, consider adaptive design. Not only will adaptive design work well to tune user experience based on device, but it can also be effectively based on personalization.
Start the year off right but also be vigilant. Campaigns need TLC all year ’round. Search engine marketing (SEM) is not a “set-and-forget” advertising medium even if your campaign management software is killer.
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