Do You #ppcchat? Tell Us About Yourself!

As communities grow, it often becomes harder to keep track of who’s new, who’s returning after a hiatus, and the backgrounds of people that you are interacting with. The #ppcchat community is no different. Not only has the audience grown considerably over the past year, but the content and format has become increasingly useful as the “wisdom of the crowds” kicks in. There’s still room for n00bs but it feels like we have reached a critical mass of active contributors.

Since it helps to know who you are talking to, we put together a very brief, informal (read: not scientific) survey of #ppcchat users. We asked a few basic demographic questions and received 30 responses. None of the data below are statistically significant, but there are some interesting nuggets of data that would be interesting to extrapolate to the entire PPC community (whether or not they participate in #ppcchat).

Here’s what we learned…

Geographic Distribution of #ppcchat Contributors

Folks tune in from all over the world! It’s great to see so many countries and continents represented. PPC is different by country, time zone, and across cultural divides. Personally, I’d like to hear from more non U.S. participants, but it seems that there is no easy way to pick a time slot that works for people across time zones.

ppcchat User Locations

#ppcchat User Locations


#ppcchat Job Titles

Job titles are nearly impossible to compare across companies, so we didn’t even try. A Director at one company could be a Specialist or Manager at another. The best we could do is a simple word cloud showing the most prominent titles from our survey respondents.

PPC seems to be slightly more prominent than Search, Online, or Digital, and we even have one Anarchist in our midst!


ppcchat Job Titles

#ppcchat Job Titles


Company Type & Company Size

Perhaps a little more telling about #ppcchat folks are the types and sizes of companies that we come from. Again, this data set is not large enough to draw any significant conclusions, but it does seem pretty clear that most of us are in some sort of PPC or digital marketing agency, with healthy representation from in-house marketers and independent PPC pros.

My hypothesis is that agency folks have a little more leeway in our schedules and incentive to contribute to (and learn from) #ppcchat so we might be over-represented as a percentage of the actual PPC universe.

ppcchat Company Type

#ppcchat Company Type


Company size ranges dramatically, but most of us are in small-to-midsize companies (1-100) with a pretty healthy group of large/enterprise PPC’ers. Definitely some different challenges and opportunities in the enterprise space, but the day-to-day PPC tactics are often the same.

ppcchat Company Size

#ppcchat Company Size


So, What Did We Learn?

It’s hard to draw a lot of insights from a small sample size, but the #ppcchat contributors are as diverse as any group of data geeks can be. We come from companies large and small, countries far and near, but we all speak the same language.

I am constantly amazed at how helpful and sincere the PPC community is. In a world where we focus so much on competition and out-performing our (or our clients’) competitors, we certainly do share a lot of information. This, in my opinion, is what has helped the #ppcchat community survive and thrive.

Thanks to all who submitted their survey responses, and especially thanks to Matt and James for organizing and MC’ing each week. It has certainly helped our team feel more connected to the PPC world!

Pimp Your Ads: Guide to AdWords Ad Customizers

Pimp My Ads

Remember the sheer TV genius that was MTV’s Pimp My Ride? When it came to customizing cars, there was not a paint job too outlandish or shag carpet too tacky for Xzibit and his crew at West Coast Customs. Well, move over Xzibit – Google’s new Ad Customizers are giving you a run for your money! As exciting as Ad Customizers are, they can be a bit scary. That’s why we put together this rundown on what exactly they are, how they work and a few examples of how you can put them to use. Think of this as an Ad Customizer FAQ.

Kevin O'LearyIf at any point you feel your inner Kevin O’Leary from Shark Tank coming out, feel free to say “Stop the madness!” and scroll down to the examples (with images) provided below. Seeing these bad boys in action can really make it all come together.

What Are Ad Customizers?

Think Dynamic Keyword Insertion on steroids: Using a series of parameters, Google automatically updates your ad, in real-time, by inserting a keyword, countdown timer, or any other information that you want. That means you upload one ad and get nearly unlimited variations, automatically. Pretty cool right?

Where Can I Use Ad Customizers?

You can use Ad Customizers in any text ad on the Google Search or Display Networks. They can be used in any part of the ad except for the display URL.

How Do They Work?

Ad Customizers work using parameters that sit within brackets {like this}. These parameters get replaced in real-time by information that you have previously designated using Ad Customizer Data, COUNTDOWN functions, or both.

How Are The Parameters Structured?

Parameters are made up of two parts; a data sheet reference and a column reference.

Ad Customizer Parameters

If you’re using a Countdown, refer to the section “How Do Countdowns Work?

What Is Ad Customizer Data?

Ad Customizer Data is a spreadsheet that you upload into the Business Data section of your Shared Library within your Adwords account. (You can download Google’s CSV template here). The spreadsheet must be uploaded as a .csv, .tsv, .xls, or .xlsx file.

What Goes In The Data Sheet?

The Data Sheet is made up of columns containing information like price, models or any other relevant data. You tell Google how to format the data by listing one of four attributes in parentheses next to your column headers: text, number, price, or date.

What Kinds Of Things Can I Use As Customizers?

Here are the Ad Customizer standard attributes. Of course, you can add any type of data you want, but these are the essentials.

Ad Customizer Standard Attributes

How Do I Target My Ad Customizers?

Google locates the appropriate Ad Customizers by referencing specific keywords, ad groups, campaigns or your entire account. You set this in advance by including targeting columns like “Target Keyword” in your Data Sheet. If you want your customizers to apply to your entire account simply leave out the targeting columns.

How Do Countdowns Work?

Countdowns work two ways depending on whether you are counting down to one event or multiple. If you are counting down to a single event, simply use the COUNTDOWN function:

{=COUNTDOWN("YYYY/MM/DD 09:00:00")}

If you are counting down to multiple events, you’ll need to upload a data sheet with all of the dates and then use the countdown parameter like this:


How Long Do Countdowns Run?

Countdowns run 5 days in advance of the end date by default and stop afterwards. Start dates can be changed by adding the desired number of days after the function. In the example below, I changed a countdown function to start 3 days in advance of the end date:

Ad Customizer Countdown

How Do Countdowns Interact With Timezones?

Countdowns can either adjust to the user’s timezone (using the COUNTDOWN function) or they can end at a universal point in time (using the GLOBAL_COUNTDOWN function)

  • COUNTDOWN example – If you’re running a sale that ends at 11pm Eastern and someone in Atlanta sees your ad at at 9pm, they’ll see “Sale Ends In 2 Hours” while someone in LA would see “Sale Ends In 5 hours”.
  • GLOBAL_COUNTDOWN example – In the example above, the user in Atlanta and LA would both see “Sale Ends In 2 Hours”.

What Happens If A Customizer Breaks or a Countdown Ends?

Google requires you to have one text ad without customizers enabled in any ad group with ad customizers. This serves as a backup in case something goes wrong, a countdown ends or has not started yet.

How Do I Set Up Ad Customizers?

  1. Open the Ad Customizer Data CSV Template.
  2. Define your custom attributes – make sure you include an attribute type (text, number, price or date).
    1. Google recommends not using spaces in the attribute names.
  3. Define your targeting (if you’re targeting by keyword, ad group and/or campaign or entire account).
  4. Enter your data & upload to AdWords – Shared Library – Business Data (.csv, .tsv, .xls, or .xlsx).
  5. Write your ad using appropriate parameters (character limits still apply to the final ad).
  6. Upload a standard text ad in the same ad group that has no ad customizers.
Ric Flair


How Do I Celebrate The Launch Of My Ad Customizers?

Oh you just uploaded your first Ad Customizers? Celebrate like Ric Flair!

Examples & Use Cases

Example 1: Keyword-Targeted Sale Countdown

Problem: You have a large inventory and want to show specific product details based on keywords. You also want to countdown to the end of a sale.

Solution: Upload a data sheet with details about each product then create one ad with a countdown and customizers that reference specific columns of the sheet.

Ad Customizer Example 1

Example 2: Campaign & Ad Group-Targeted Ad

Problem: Your account is structured with category specific campaigns and brand specific ad groups. You want to highlight your selection of products.

Solution: Customize your ads by ad group by using the “Target Campaign” & “Target Ad Group” columns.

Ad Customizer Example 2

Example 3: Countdown to Multiple Events

Problem: You host a wrestling match featuring a pro wrestler at your sketchy, run-down warehouse several times a month and want to run countdowns for each one.

Solution: Upload a data sheet (in this case we’ll call it “Matches”) with all scheduled dates and any text you want to replace.

Ad Customizer Example 3

Example 4: Countdown to a One-Time Event

If there is a one-time event that you’d like to run a countdown for, there’s no need to upload customizer data. Simply include this function in your text ad:

{=COUNTDOWN("YEAR/MO/DY 09:00:00”)}

Ad Customizer Example 4


The YSA Team Celebrates National Boss’ Day


We are afraid of how much we love Andrew.

We are afraid of how much we love Andrew.

What happens to a company if somebody takes a boss away? I will answer your question with a question. It’s like, what happens to a chicken when you take its head away? It dies.” – Michael Scott

Today, on the most sacred of United States secular corporate holidays, the YSA team would like to take a moment to recognize the head of our chicken, Andrew Miller.

It’s an unenviable task trying to keep a team of four Millenials happy, focused, and motivated, but Andrew does just that every day. He encourages us to take ownership of our work, and to explore new and better ways to get things done. Despite YSA being such a small company, Andrew has created a culture where the opportunities are as endless as we want them to be.

One day, as we’re sipping bourbon in our corner offices, interns eagerly gathered around to soak up our vast knowledge, we’ll speak fondly of our time under Andrew’s tutelage. We can already imagine how several of our stories will start:

“I had this one boss who used to let his 4-year-old shoot us with Nerf guns while we were trying to work.”

“This one time, my boss brought a Crock-Pot full of chicken and onions into our relatively small office, and cooked his family’s dinner during the workday. The office smelled like onions for days.”

But most importantly…

“You know Andrew Miller, the CEO of Google? Yeah, I used to work for that guy… Great darts player.”

So, Happy National Boss’ Day, Andrew, and thanks for all you do!

The First 6 Things We Load in Google Tag Manager…Every Time

Google Tag Manager

Rarely does a software tool come along that fundamentally changes how we do things across all of our clients at one time. Google Tag Manager is one of those tools, and for good reason. We can quickly and easily update analytics tags, call tracking code snippets, conversion tracking pixels, remarketing audience tags, and A/B testing code without having to cross-train the team as coders or IT specialists.

Rather than re-hash the tutorials on how to implement GTM, I thought it would be more helpful to share the ways we use it as a PPC team.

Here are the 6 things we implement first in Google Tag Manager, each and every time we set it up. Helpful links to tutorials are included, but don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and try them out!

1. Outbound link clicks & PDF downloads as Google Analytics Events

Many interactions on a website don’t generate a pageview in Google Analytics, such as a click on a link to another site, a PDF download, or a form submission. These types of events are usually ignored, but are extremely valuable for marketers, IT, and sales teams. Google Tag Manager makes it relatively easy to detect and track these occurrences with Google Analytics Event Tracking. It’s a bit complicated at first but well worth the time to learn!

2. Custom Audience  & Remarketing Pixels

Need to paste a remarketing or audience pixel on your site but don’t have sway with the IT guy or gal? We use Custom HTML tags to dynamically build remarketing audiences based on visitors’ interactions on the site. For example, want to create a custom AdWords remarketing segment for your best customers? Create a remarketing pixel in AdWords that only tracks high-value transactions based on a set of rules in GTM.

3. Conversion Tracking Pixels

This is a no-brainer, and possibly the most widely used feature in GTM. Tracking e-commerce transactions, sales leads, or content engagement is hard if you have to hack on code yourself or get stuck between release cycles. We let Tag Manager do its thing so we can do ours. When we need to track Facebook, AdWords, or Google Analytics conversions, we configure tags and rules to make sure we are tracking only the goals we want to track for each advertising platform.

4. Call Tracking Scripts

If you’re familiar with phone call tracking, you know it can be a pain to paste call tracking code on each page. A few months ago (the stone age, in Internet years), dynamic number replacement scripts need to be wrapped around each instance of a phone number.  Ifbyphone has updated their platform to play nice with GTM so we can save time and eliminate the headaches simply by including their script in a container.

5. A/B Testing Snippets

This is a tricky one, but well worth the time to learn and get it right. If you use Optimizely or other A/B testing tools, you’ll be happy to know that it is possible to deploy the JavaScript snippets through GTM with some custom configuration. Basically, you’ll want to make sure your snippet fires before the rest of the page loads to minimize the impact on your visitors’ experience and page load times.

6. 404 Error Pages

Is your site bleeding visitors and squandering sales from error pages? These are typically referred to as “404” errors and result in a less-than-gratifying “page not found” message. Talk about a conversion killer! LunaMetrics has a wonderful tip on how to create Google Analytics events for 404 errors so you can identify these holes in your funnel. Taking it a step further, you could apply the same logic to track pages on your site with “out of stock” inventory or missing images.

Bonus! Show Your Work

We need to verify the contents of our GTM containers every time we make an update. Get the Google Tag Assistant extension for Chrome to check your pages in realtime to ensure that your tags are firing properly. Need to preview and debug your tags? Yeah, there’s a tool for that too!

We’ve implemented dozens of other combinations of tags, rules, and macros for outlier scenarios but these are the most common and deserve a spot in your default GTM setup.


[Video]: Unbounce & YSA, BFF’s Forever!

Unbounce Shirt

We’ve even been known to wear their shirts on casual days…

It’s no secret that we love the Unbounce landing page testing platform. We’ve been a customer for over 3 years, hosted a user meetup at our office and partnered with them on a case study for a new Dynamic Text Replacement feature.

Without getting too mushy, we have really enjoyed getting to know their team and alpha testing new features (*cough* responsive design).

They really took the relationship to the next level when they asked if they could feature us in a video case study about how a PPC agency uses landing pages to improve our clients’ businesses and our bottom line.

Of course, we said yes!

Dating metaphors aside, we are extremely honored to be featured and help tell the Unbounce story. A huge thanks to Gary and the Unbounce team for making us the stars of their show.

Richmond Unbounce Meetup at YSA

Landing Page Optimization

Get Notified of Future Events
Unbounce LogoAre you using landing pages in your business? Want to show off your best landing page testing skills and learn from other experts in Richmond?

We’re partnering with our friends at Unbounce to host a meetup at our office on Thursday, June 26th at 6:00pm.

Join us! Even the beer is free…

This meetup will be a fun, intimate gathering, complete with tasty treats & casual beverages, where you’ll learn how Unbounce customers & online marketers are marketing online, using landing pages & optimizing their campaigns.

Get Notified of Future Events

Update, With Pics!

The Unbouce meetup was a great success, and definitely worth doing again. We had a great time and met a lot of cool people.

It’s very encouraging to know that there are many other users in #RVA and from as far away as Farmville (Note: for non-Virginians, Farmville is an actual, cool, historic location in Richmond and not a crappy Facebook game).

Want to get on the list for the next meetup? Contact us and we’ll make sure you are the first to know.

We Just Don’t Click Anymore: When PPC Relationships Fall Apart

PPC BreakupBreaking up sucks. We’ve all been there. It hurts, even if you’re the one initiating it. The nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that something just isn’t right. You’re not clicking. The relationship isn’t going anywhere. It has to end.

Just like relationships between people, relationships between PPC agencies and their clients can fall apart. The initial honeymoon period after a new client win can take you to the highest highs while the dreaded, “It’s just not working out” phone call can ruin your week.

If a client doesn’t get what they need from the relationship (i.e. sales, leads, or ROI), they’re going to break up with you.

After 7 years in PPC, I’ve experienced all of this and it is still hard to acknowledge that all good things must come to an end. After a lot of soul searching (and a few cartons of ice cream), I realized there are 3 primary reasons that agencies and clients split up.

Agency Meets Client, Client Meets New Agency

PPC is hard and we don’t always achieve the results we expect for our clients in a reasonable timeframe. I’m not going to lie and pretend like every campaign is a home run. We suffer the occasional strikeout. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually unsatisfied clients will find a hotter agency that can fulfill all of their KPI needs.

I Need My Space

Some of our most disappointing client breakups weren’t over another agency at all. Our clients liked the results and potential so much that they decided to bring PPC in house. We call this, “The Kidney Punch” because things seemed to be going well…until they’re not. We were clicking, you know? Then they decided they didn’t need us after all.

A little bonus – these often turn into “Boomerang” clients that leave briefly then come back when they realize how hard PPC is and how much they need you. We have several former clients that continue to refer high-quality prospects to us. Don’t burn any bridges, ever.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

There’s an often-overlooked (and under-utilized) reverse breakup scenario: agency fires client. Most likely this is due to one of three scenarios:

  1. The scope has exceeded the fee with no room for re-negotiation
  2. Client places unrealistic demands on the PPC agency
  3. Agencies shift course and some clients no longer fit in the roster

I’ve talked with many, many other agency leaders that would fire a few clients if they could. I say you should! There’s no reason to waste time, overload your staff, or sacrifice quality for your other clients. Just like learning to say “No” to new business that might not be a good fit, it’s even harder to walk away from paying clients. Sometimes it has to happen, and I have ended up happier and better off every time we’ve had to exercise our right to terminate a contract.

But it doesn’t have to end on a bad note. Coming soon, check out our next post on How To Gracefully Part Ways With A PPC Client (A Checklist).

CC Photo Credit

eBay Takes Swing At PPC; Misses.

Sensationalist journalism has once again found its way into the PPC world. Published on The Guardian earlier today, this article cites a research study conducted by eBay, and leads with the headline, “eBay study warns search ads have ‘no measurable benefit.’”

Come again? You are talking about the same “search ads” that allow you to track ROI down to the penny, right? As egregious of a statement as that headline may be, it is just one of many misleading points made in the article, as well as the study itself. Tim_Meme The study’s main point is essentially that bidding on your own brand name — in this case, eBay — is a waste of money, as people looking for you by name will find you anyway. They boldly hypothesize that “users searching for ‘eBay’ are in fact using search as a navigational tool with the intent to go to” Keanu_MindBlown In addition to eBay, the researchers used five other well-known brands as examples: AT&T, Macy’s, Ford, Safeway, and Amazon. Once again, their point is that paid ads on those brand names are unnecessary, and that any money spent on those clicks is wasteful.

What they fail to recognize, however, is that eBay and Amazon — and to some extent, the other brands — are the exception, not the rule. For those of us who don’t work for eBay or Amazon, there are plenty of reasons why bidding on your own brand name can be a good idea.

Let’s say, for instance, your air conditioning breaks down on a hot summer day. You’ve used Company X before, so you search for them by name to find their phone number.

Heeding eBay’s advice, Company X doesn’t bid on their own brand name, and instead relies on its strong SEO presence to greet customers. That should be sufficient, right?

Unfortunately, Company X’s competitor is running a huge air conditioning repair special right now, and bids on Company X’s name to see if it can cherry pick any customers. Before your eyes make it down to the organic results, you’re distracted by the competitor’s $50 off coupon, and click on their ad. By simply being willing to spend a few cents on their own brand name, Company X could have have kept you from seeing that offer altogether. Mutombo There’s no question, some brands don’t need to bid on their own names. The point is, though, protecting your own search engine real estate can be vitally important for some companies. You can also use ads to promote your own special offers, make it easy for customers to call you, and even cross-sell different services with Sitelinks Extensions.

To be fair, the cited study does acknowledge PPC’s value in acquiring new customers, as non-branded searches undoubtedly play a major role in the acquisition process. Unfortunately for all of us, the average reader will see the misleading headline and draw the wrong conclusions.

Reading the article’s comments further proves the wide misconceptions around paid search advertising. Unfortunately (for advertisers AND consumers), it seems many people still don’t fully trust paid search ads.

“Nobody clicks on online ads.”

“I don’t know anyone who clicks on online ads.”

“I hate change and refuse to acknowledge this might be helpful.” (Okay, that one was made up).

Yeah, most people don’t know this, but Google’s billions in annual revenue actually come entirely from the movie, The Internship. (I assume this is clear, but just to be sure… ← that statement is in fact false. Google makes oodles of money off of ads). Internship_Movie So have no fear, marketers and business owners; paid search advertising is alive and well, bringing new customers to businesses like yours on a daily basis. Stay the course, and soon you’ll be celebrating like my good friend Pete Weber.

(Unless you’re a competitor of one of our clients, in which case you should disregard this post and stop advertising IMMEDIATELY).

Getting The Most Out Of Your PPC Tools

Ron Swanson

Ron Swanson doesn’t blame his tools; he uses them.

There’s a popular saying, which you’ve likely heard from either your grandfather or Ron Swanson, that states, “a bad workman always blames his tools.” Shooting a triple bogey, for instance, is less about the club, and more about the guy swinging it.

While the right tools will never turn a bad workman into a master craftsman, they can be the competitive advantage that pushes you from good to great.  This is especially true in PPC Advertising, as the savviest marketers are the ones who know how to leverage the best industry tools to their clients’ advantage.

In our case, we’ve established close working relationships with our landing page testing provider, as well as our phone call tracking provider. We were fortunate enough to partner with each of them on some really cool projects over the last few weeks.

ifbyphone Mobile Search Webinar

We use ifbyphone for our phone call tracking services, and love the data they provide on our clients’ incoming calls. On April 9th & 10th, Andrew Miller teamed up with ifbyphone for a webinar titled “The 7 Ifbyphone WebinarCommandments of Mobile Search.”

I’d encourage you to watch the webinar, as mobile search is an increasingly important part of the marketing mix. We’re partnered with ifbyphone on similar projects in the past, and are excited to do so again in the future.

Unbounce Landing Page Case Study

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 2.30.52 PMUnbounce, our primary Landing Page Optimization partner, recently included us in a beta test of their new feature, dynamic text replacement. This new feature allowed us to dynamically re-write the text on a landing page based on a visitor’s specific search.

We tested dynamic text replacement on a few of our clients’ landing pages, and saw outstanding results.  When Unbounce made the feature available to the public, they featured Your Search Advisor as their primary case study.

(Hint: to see dynamic text replacement in action, follow the above link, and paste ?fname= to the end of the URL. Then, add your name after the = and press Enter. Pretty cool, huh?)

Again, there’s no substitute for a smart, hardworking PPC team; however, unless you’re taking full advantage of the latest industry tools, you may be missing out on opportunities for your clients, and potentially great partnerships.

4 AdWords Tools For DIY AdWords Managers

Even seasoned SEM managers need help organizing, updating, and analyzing the high volume of data created by their campaigns. It’s simply too much for to handle with spreadsheets alone. Luckily, there are several tools available to help with the mundane tasks and detailed analysis.

AdWords Editor

AdWords Editor

AdWords Editor

AdWords Editor is a free, downloadable Google application for managing large AdWords accounts efficiently on Windows or Mac computers. Download your campaigns, make bulk changes with powerful editing tools, then upload the changes to AdWords.

Filters & Automated Rules

AdWords Automated Rules

AdWords Automated Rules

Filter your account statistics to search for the data that interests you the most, such as keyword text, average cost-per-click (CPC), or impressions. Once you’ve created a filter, you can save it for easy access in the future. Automated Rules allow you to take action based on your filter results. For example, you can raise your CPC bids every Tuesday for keywords with an average Cost Per Lead below your target range. Similarly, you can pause and flag keywords with an unacceptable Cost Per Lead to manually review them before allowing them to run again.

Bulk Edits

AdWords Bulk Edits

AdWords Bulk Edits

A relatively new feature in the AdWords web interface that mimics some of the bulk editing capabilities in AdWords Editor (AE). Need to do a quick “Find and Replace” or “Append Text” function for some keywords or ad copy? Bulk edits make it easy. We still find AE to be more useful for large-scale updates, but Bulk Edits can speed up the monotony of making several minor changes to campaigns, ads, or keywords.

Automated Reporting

AdWords Automated Reports

AdWords Automated Reports

Customize your AdWords reports and have them emailed to you on a regular basis. With automated reporting, you can keep an eye on your most important campaigns, keywords, and ads without the trouble of logging in and re-creating your reports every few days.

Of course, machines can’t completely replace humans (yet), but they can help reduce the monotony and let us focus on the high-level strategies and insights that improve performance and yield more leads.