Wall Street economists, stock watchers, and the Federal Reserve System seem convinced we’re headed for a recession. With an impending Yahoo layoff reported this week, even the Internet advertising industry is getting concerned. Doomsday predictors may or may not be right, and you might be tempted, given the economic climate, to focus on PPC (define) campaign efficiency. But if you focus purely on efficiency (perhaps because the campaign algorithms used by your technology provider are all about efficiency), you miss a huge opportunity in search, regardless of whether the economy recovers after a mere blip or slides into a major slowdown.
In PPC search, many people see efficiency as the process of maximizing the yield of a paid-placement campaign by adjusting all the variables the engine provides, either through the API (define) or through a Web-based interface. Don’t get me wrong, efficiency is good. But to thrive in any economic climate, one must combine efficiency with strategic testing to obtain effectiveness. Efficiency-focused tactics eliminate waste in a campaign based on the data and analytics available. However, it’s impossible to find new opportunities given only historical data. The PPC market is dynamic, with price elasticity and keyword volatility. Throw in algorithmic changes (or, in the case of Google’s minimum price for top position, simple meddling with the bid landscape), and you can’t win by focusing purely on efficiency.
Unfortunately, many initiatives and strategies that take your campaign beyond efficiency to increased effectiveness (as measured by sales, profit, lead volume, or whatever your success metric) require a combination of tactics and strategy that’s human-resources-intensive. This is one reason using technology alone often results in a stagnant campaign. Analysts need to make recommendations based on prior experience with respect to breaking out of the performance plateau.
Moving Toward Effectiveness
- Retest ad creative. Perhaps you have a particular creative in place now that has won the CTR (define) and conversion rate shootout against other ad creative. That was then; this is now. The seasons have changed, your competition is using new ad creative now, and perhaps what worked before is no longer the optimal creative.
I’ve seen many cases (particularly involving power keywords) in which advertisers gravitate toward a dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) style creative where the search keyword itself occupies most or all of the title and is repeated in a boilerplate manner in the description as well. It’s not unusual to search and find all three top paid listings with nearly identical creative. How can one expect to stand out?
Play around with enough variation to break out of the pattern yet maintain high relevance, CTR, and Quality Score. Are you including your URL in your creative tests? URLs are boldfaced by some of the engines when a portion of the URL matches the search. Consider using subdirectories and subdomains (prefixes) in your display URL. A lift of a few tenths of a percent in CTR can make a difference in both position and your billed CPC (define), due to the influence of hybrid auctions and Google’s Quality Score.
- Use both singulars and plurals. Hypothetically, most engines will broad match to and from plurals, but I’ve seen many times when this wasn’t the case. Even if it were, there’s a compelling reason to have both variants in your campaign, especially in Google. All the engines display the searched keyword in titles and descriptions. Google, however, doesn’t consistently boldface the plural when you search on the singular (although it often does). Live (MSN) doesn’t boldface either direction with singular or plural. So if you’ve used one option in your ad and the search is on the other option, you won’t show up boldfaced. I’ve also seen instances where the Quality Score of ads goes up when they’re separated and individually placed in a campaign.
One can also argue that for many products, the user intent for singulars and plurals is actually different. Thus, a different user experience on the landing page may be appropriate to maximize conversion.
- Test landing pages and personalization. We’ve all been testing landing pages for many years, but, like ad creative, the optimal pages change over time. Plus, it isn’t clear that the same landing page is appropriate for all engines using the same keyword. One can even do more sophisticated landing-page personalization using a variety of methods, technologies, and tools. A small lift in overall conversion rate on the landing page generates a huge lift in the allowable CPC you can pay while maintaining an optimal ROI (define).
There are many more things to test and change to improve a campaign and leverage into higher potential bids. To maximize the opportunity in search and auction media, take your mindset beyond campaign efficiency within the status quo. Change the rules of the game by manipulating other variables under your control and never stop testing.
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