PPC: In or Out? Part 2

PPC (define) advertising campaigns and SEO (define) strategies are built on a common foundation of solid keyword research. Once the foundation’s poured, however, few similarities can be built into successful designs.

Why the home-based metaphor?

We’re picking up where we left off in our discussion: is your online business best built by hiring an in-house SEM (define) professional, third-party SEM agency, or both?

I don’t fear repetition. The answer primarily lies in your online marketing goals, marketing budget, and risk-management mindset.

Of Isolative Risk

If you can afford to hire an in-house SEM wannabe-professional and plan to train your own expert, you risk having more tenured individuals pilfered from your fold, usually at the apex of their efficiency and knowledge.

If you hire an agency, you effectively outsource much of the research that could have helped build an SEM knowledge base. You do so at a premium that can only be applied to ROI (define), affecting your bottom line.

If you hire an in-house auditor of sorts, someone well adapted to monitoring SLAs (define) or performance guarantees, your PPC campaigns will likely be as efficient as an audit. Anticipate a temporary, sometimes tentative relationship with the SEM agency.

If you do it yourself, you probably have too much time on your hands or you’re likely a cheap, stubborn sort of individual who must be prepared to learn lessons the hard way. The first lesson will be that running a PPC campaign isn’t a “set it and forget it” proposition.

Now that I’ve insulted just about everyone reading this, it may be a good time to mention I’d classify myself as a versatile stubborn fool. I’m a search marketer who has worked in-house far too long, having been coerced into building PPC campaigns at a CEO’s pleasure, which eventually proved successful and profitable despite corporate politics. Then again, I’m a bit of a risk taker, too, particularly with other people’s money.

The PPC Process

If you can’t beat your competitors in natural search results, one of the best ways to tap into increasing search-referred traffic is to buy your way into the top rankings. There are seven fundamental elements of any PPC campaign, whether prepared in-house or by a third party:

  1. Determine the PPC campaign’s primary objective. Is your goal to build brand awareness, drive traffic, generate leads, or convert direct sales? In-house or out, it’s your responsibility to clearly define your online business goals.

  2. Define your market. Are there geographic boundaries to your business or specific demographic sweet spots to target? The answers affect keyword research as well as campaign reach and creative formats.
  3. Estimate your PPC budget.
  4. Balance your marketing mix. What medium best matches your goals and target market? It could be a diverse mix of Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, MSN, Ask, and a myriad second-tier PPC networks. Determining your PPC media mix helps you set a budget and fill in the ROI blanks.
  5. Build campaign landing pages.
  6. Track the campaign landing pages. It’s at this point working with an agency is a major benefit to most PPC advertisers.
  7. Fine-tuning. If your online business is affected by seasonal shifts, fine-turning becomes a forward-thinking process about how your PPC campaigns will have to change over time. Fine-turning can include pruning ineffective, non-producing keywords from a campaign, tweaking ad copy, and A/B testing different landing pages.

In Summary

If you have an experienced marketing staff in-house, complete with copywriters and Web designers, as well as IT time allocated for readying the campaign launch and metrics reporting, you’re nearly good to go. All you need now is someone on staff who knows how to use a bid-management tool. Ideally, that same someone will monitor and report on campaign performance.

If at any point in the PPC process you hit a roadblock — something that stops you in your tracks, like a technological barrier that won’t allow for near-real-time metrics, or if creative constraints abound — then your best bet is to turn to an SEM agency that can overcome these pain points.

Ultimately, your PPC campaign’s success depends on whether it can attract self-targeted prospects and entice them into taking desired actions at a rate of return that makes money. In-house or out, successful PPC strategies are built on creativity and accountability.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies in San Jose, August 7-10, 2006, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

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