Manage Your PPC Search the Steve Jobs Way

Over the last several weeks, with the passing of Steve Jobs and the subsequent release of Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson, we’ve learned a lot about Steve Jobs and his philosophies, work style, and personality traits. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fascinating piece for The New Yorker magazine called “The Tweaker: The real genius of Steve Jobs.” Gladwell makes the point that like other so-called inventors, there are those in the areas of science and technology that are truly just obsessed and obsessive tweakers. Gladwell includes Thomas Edison in that group.

The “tweaker” in Jobs resulted in many unhappy personal experiences and yet it delivered results. Gladwell writes: “The tweaker inherits things as they are, and has to push and pull them toward some more nearly perfect solution. That is not a lesser task.”

Whether you started your own PPC search campaigns or you inherited someone else’s, it’s your responsibility to relentlessly tweak everything about the campaign until you are satisfied that any additional work required to improve it isn’t worth the effort. Steve Jobs might say that when it comes to product design there’s no point in time when additional tweaking isn’t worth the effort, however, your resources and time constraints may require you to move on from tweaking one element of a campaign to the lower hanging fruit in another part of the campaign.

What can you “tweak”? The list of things you can “tweak” in a paid search campaign is almost endless. However, some good places to start are:

  • Keyword lists and match types. There is a point of diminishing marginal returns on adding completely new keywords. Make sure you determine if you’ve reached that point. Critical to this process is determining when your broad and phrase match listings are sufficiently covering the landscape or when a new keyword phrase should be entered in on an exact match basis. This is due to differentiated user intent requiring either a different ad copy, different landing page, or both.
  • Landing pages. Speaking of landing pages, you can tweak them in several ways. First, consider whether your existing site structure and navigation even belong on your landing pages. If not, consider a completely different look and feel for landing pages for PPC. The best PPC landing pages are generally not the same content you put up on your site to rank well for SEO, should different visitor types see different landing pages based on geography, ISP, and new vs. returning customer (based on cookie). Perhaps returning visitors should be greeted or simply shown a different set of options.
  • Ad copy. Two or three ad copy versions should always be fighting for top-dog position in your PPC accounts. Consider seasonal changes to messaging and test those seasonal changes on huge impression and high position listings to learn quickly which ad creative “wins.” If you’re running contextually heavy campaigns, you’ll need even more ads and frequent changes to ad copy to fight burnout. Don’t forget to maximize ad copy not just for CTR and quality score but also for back-end conversion. There is sometimes a tradeoff between the two.
  • Geographies. Many national marketers treat all of the U.S. exactly the same from a bidding perspective (which is crazy if the conversion rates or value of leads, orders, or customers are different). In addition, for many businesses the messages in ads and the messages on landing pages should differ based on geography if one wants to maximize CTR (and therefore quality score) and conversion (and therefore profit).
  • Media mix with retargeted display. Clicks on power keywords can get expensive. Sometimes one can justify the high cost of the initial visit more easily when retargeting impressions are working to bring visitors back to your site at a low cost both through banner clicks and view-through impressions. All of your blended cost per click may look great, but is there more? By finding the best retargeted media mix with search, your holistic ROI improves. Display media may also be great at stimulating demand, not just helping you harvest it.
  • Devices and syndication networks. The iPad and smartphones may be important to your campaign. In particular, if iPad users have similar needs and desires as laptop/desktop users, then you may need to evaluate your landing pages to make sure they look and work great on an iPad. Flash in particular can be a problem because iPad devices don’t handle Flash content. Similarly with smartphones, one needs to be assured that the site is easy to navigate on a small screen if one is going to run clicks from them.

There are lots of other things you can tweak. The best advice with regards to continuous improvement of your search campaigns is to start with the types of tweaks that can make the biggest difference in your campaign performance. Within my teams, I find that one of the best indicators of a seasoned campaign manager or strategist is being able to use a combination of analysis and experience to correctly identify the areas for testing and improvement that will in fact yield the greatest lift in results.

Happy Tweaking.

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