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 ebay.com.” 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).

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.

WSJ: Online Advertising Fraud? The PPC Marketer’s Advantage

PPC experts can help combat online fraud.

PPC experts can help combat online fraud.

This past Sunday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article referencing a “crisis” in online advertising. The crisis centers on the increasing prevalence of fraudulent Web traffic, and the price marketers are paying for it.

Without question, fraudulent traffic is a major issue facing digital marketers in 2014. Still, there are several ways to limit the negative impact of fraudulent Web traffic on your online marketing performance.

 1.    “Invalid Click” reports on Google AdWords & Bing Ads

Google and Bing have very sophisticated measures in place to protect advertisers against “click fraud” or “invalid clicks.” When their system determines that an individual click on your ad was fraudulent, they log it in an invalid click report, and you are not charged for the click. If a certain campaign is regularly receiving invalid clicks, you should consider refining your targeting to exclude offending IP addresses, ad placements, and risky ad networks.

2.    Use Cost Per Click (CPC), not Cost Per Impression (CPM) Bidding

As the name suggests, Pay Per Click advertising is inherently less susceptible to fraud, due to the fact that we only pay for clicks, not impressions. By opting for a CPC model, rather than a CPM (Cost Per 1,000 Impressions) model, you remove some of the incentive for inflated and fraudulent impression counts. Because of the systems mentioned above, it’s much tougher for bad actors to fake a click than an impression.

3.    Factor some waste or fraud into your estimates

Unfortunately, we’ll never be successful in completely ridding the Internet of fraud. As the WSJ article says, there are far too many real customers online to be scared away by the fake ones. Rather, as marketers, we at times have to factor in a certain amount of “waste” or fraud into our plans. If we’re making our clients $5 or every $1 in ad spend, a small amount of fraud can be tolerated, because the overall spend is profitable.

Perhaps the best point in the article is where the author states that marketers are becoming “more aggressive in monitoring how their money is spent.”  It can’t be understated how important it is to closely monitor your online marketing activity. Whether you have the resources to handle it in-house, or need to enlist an agency’s expertise, this should be a priority for 2014.

So, is this really a “crisis,” as suggested? Maybe. But, by taking a few simple steps, you can regain control of your digital marketing presence, and take a stand against fraudulent Web activity.

CC Photo Credit

3 Ways to Get Free Clicks on AdWords

We’re all trying to get the biggest bang for our buck on Adwords. What better way to do that than to get free clicks? C’mon, everyone loves a freebie! But before you can take advantage of said Adwords freebies, you’ll need to understand Ad Extensions.

What are Ad Extensions?

Ad extensions are just that: Extensions on your ads that show extra information about your business. This could be a call extension, an app download, directions, previous visits, or links to other pages on your site. If a customer clicks on any of these extensions, you will be charged as usual (up to 2 clicks per impression). However, there are 3 extensions that Google does not charge you for: Review Extensions, Social Annotations, and Seller Rating Annotations.

Review Extensions

Review Extensions allow you to share positive third-party reviews or other accolades with an additional line of text under your ad. If a customer engages with your ad by clicking on these reviews, you will not be charged.  If they click on the ad itself, you will be charged as usual. These puppies can boost CTR by up to 10%.

Seller Rating Annotations

Seller Rating Annotations let customers see a combination of reviews and ratings that represent an aggregate of customer experiences with your company.  These ratings come from both Google and independent review sites. Customers can click through to verify your ratings without costing you a bid.  These typically draw less clicks, but usually increase CTR on the ad itself.

Social Annotations

When you link your Google+ page and your ads, Google can automatically show endorsements from your page’s followers. These will be shown when the system predicts that social proof will improve Campaign performance. You can get freebies 2 ways with these: Customers can click +1 on your ad or can click through to your Google+ page and you won’t be charged for either.

And there you have it. 3 ways to use Ad Extensions to your favor and get free clicks. These may not directly result in conversions, (and we certainly don’t recommend building your entire strategy around them) but in the end, every click counts.

5 Reasons Growing Companies Need PPC Specialists

If you haven’t yet made the leap, it’s likely that 2014 will be the year your business begins investing in Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising. With advertisements currently making up about 30% of the clicks on search engines, businesses are benefiting more than ever from maintaining a strong paid search presence.

When it comes time to add PPC into the marketing mix, most companies are faced with the same dilemma: hire an in-house PPC employee, or partner with a specialized Search Engine Marketing (SEM) agency. While there are clearly benefits to adding a full-time employee, here are five reasons you should explore a partnership with a PPC specialist in 2014.

1. Hiring an agency is cheaper

Assuming your internal hire would be someone with a little bit of experience, partnering with an agency is almost certainly the more cost-effective alternative. Unless you’re being egregiously over-charged, 12 months of an agency’s management fee won’t come close to an experienced employee’s salary. This means more money to spend on the clicks themselves!

2. More heads are better than one.

Even the most talented PPC minds run out of new ideas eventually — it’s simply human nature. By working with an agency, you’re removing the pressure from a single person’s shoulders, while ensuring your account will be managed by a full team of experts. More minds means more ideas, fewer missed opportunities, and better results!

3. Access to Google & Bing reps and beta tests

As an established agency, we have ongoing relationships with representatives at Google and Bing. These representatives are tremendous resources for new campaign ideas, as well as resolving technical issues when they arise. Our status as an agency also allows us to be part of beta tests for exciting new features and programs. Utilizing these features to the fullest is key to gaining a leg up on your competition.

4. Access to industry-leading tools

Whether it’s advanced call-tracking software, a shiny new data reporting system, or a highly-technical bid management system, the PPC world is full of incredible — and expensive — tools. These tools are available to anyone, of course, but buying them can take a big chunk out of your marketing budget. Fortunately, we need these to do our job, so we already have them in house.

5. We live and breathe PPC

Last, and most importantly, we really love PPC. When we’re not digging into our clients’ accounts to maximize their ROI, we’re scouring the internet for new ideas. PPC agencies don’t divide their time between a dozen different marketing channels; no, we stick to what we know and love, and we give it our undivided effort.

CC photo credit: flickr

AdWords Express vs. AdWords Comparison

Is your business toying with the idea of testing Google AdWords to promote your products and services online? Even though nearly every keyword category is already crawling with competitors, there are millions of businesses that have not yet ventured into the Pay Per Click world to increase their visibility online.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start researching AdWords is a choice: Google AdWords Express vs. AdWords. Since most marketers or business owners are not aware of the differences, we put together this quick comparison.

Google AdWords Express

AdWords Express is a fully automated advertising program for marketers that want a convenient way to get ads online quickly. In that sense, AdWords Express works well. In just a few minutes, a business owner can add a few keywords that describe her services or products then write a brief description to serve as an ad. She enters her credit card and her business is online in minutes.

Easy, right? Technically, yes. But with every time-saving feature comes a compromise in control. Here are a few of the pros and cons we have found with AdWords Express.

Pros

  • Fast, easy set up for new users
  • Even the high-level reporting can be useful for marketers that are not used to measuring performance

Cons

  • Can only promote one product/service in one geographic area
  • Potentially irrelevant targeting & wasted spend
  • Limited control over audience targeting

Google AdWords (Full Version)

Like to get your hands dirty and dig into data? The full version of AdWords is for you. Advertisers get more features, more control, better targeting options, and more robust reporting than AdWords Express users.

Pros

  • Fully customizable & absolute control
  • Very granular controls over keywords, ads, and audience targeting
  • Can promote more than one product/service in multiple geographic areas
  • Detailed reporting & analysis capabilities

Cons

  • Greater time commitment to climb the steep learning curve
  • More complex interface
  • Potential information overload for beginners

Our Perspective

Both platforms will drive new traffic to your website.  And, both can work well if you set them up and optimize them properly with a goal of improving results over time.

No matter which version of AdWords you choose, pay close attention to your outcomes and results. Take the time to update your keywords, test new ads, and adjust bids for better results. It is entirely too easy to lose control of a neglected account and waste money on unqualified traffic that will never buy from you.

Given a choice, we always choose the full version of AdWords for our clients. We have experimented with the various iterations of AdWords Express (read our review of the former Google Boost service) over the years and helped transition several clients to the fully-featured version of AdWords for 3 reasons:

  1. AdWords Express only allows for one set of keywords and ads, so you can only effectively promote one product or service.
  2. Most Express features are built for local businesses, so online retailers or larger businesses will miss out on geographic-targeting capabilities.
  3. Very little data is provided for each keyword. This makes it nearly impossible to analyze the results and improve over time.

The bottom line: if you are don’t want to give up control over the details that matter for your AdWords campaigns, stick with the full version. If you just need a quick, convenient way to get your ads online without a lot of hand-holding, you might try AdWords Express.

10 Idiot-Proof Steps To Win Your First PPC Client

So, you’ve decided to start managing Pay Per Click (PPC) accounts to build your own business or make a little money on the side. Great move! Most people jump straight into setting up a website and hoping the phone will start ringing. I’ve spent the last 7 years proving that it doesn’t work that way.

If you hang around the industry long enough, you’ll find a lot of great resources for setting up, managing, and optimizing various components of a PPC account. But in my 7th year of running a Search Engine Marketing agency, I have yet to come across many great resources for the aspiring PPC manager that helps land that crucial first PPC client.

Why You Need A Plan To Win Your First New PPC Client

First off, it’s important to establish a game plan. You may luck into a client or two but sooner or later you’ll need a replicable, scalable plan for bringing in new business if you hope to grow. Once you start managing your new PPC clients’ accounts, you’ll need a plan to help keep you out of the weeds so you can spend part of your time marketing and growing your own business.

The following steps can be re-ordered and you may have already checked off some of these boxes, but at some point you’ll need to address each one to earn your prospect’s trust and protect your business as it grows.

Step 1: Earn Your AdWords & Bing Ads Certifications

Google PartnerAnnoying and (arguably) arbitrarily administered? Yes, but certifications from the two major PPC platforms is a credibility booster with new potential clients. While it doesn’t necessarily test for the skills that make a good PPC manager, it does show that you are willing to put in the time and effort to study and pass an exam that is considered an industry standard.

Step 2: Define Your Services

Are you going to offer PPC and SEO? How about web design or social media marketing? Are these new offerings or add-ons to other services you provide? Decide if you want to offer a full-service approach or specialize in one or two fields. It seems counter-intuitive, after all, new business is new business. Right? Not in our experience. Trying to focus on too many disciplines usually ends up with finding yourself spread too thin across multiple services. Selling multiple services simultaneously can also dissuade some new prospects that really only need a specialist in one or two areas.

Step 3: Set Up A Legal Business Structure (do it)

I can’t stress this enough. Many people skip this step and find themselves in serious trouble if the money starts to roll in. If you’re in the U.S., consider an LLC or S-corp to protect your personal assets and make it easier to file taxes. Consult an attorney or use a reputable online service to help with the paperwork. Any time and money spent on this step will be repaid when you don’t have to re-state earnings or pay an attorney to get you out of a legal challenge down the road.

Step 4: Draft An Airtight Contract

Nothing is more frustrating as a business owner thatn letting a good relationship go bad. I’m not saying that anybody intentionally sets out to disrupt your business, but it does happen for a variety of reasons. Invest in a good lawyer to draw up a contract template that clearly defines each of these items:

  • Project scope (define what is explicitly included, all else is excluded)
  • Timing and milestones
  • Fees and payment schedule
  • Deliverables
  • How to resolve disagreements
  • Indemnity (not being held liable for stuff that’s not your fault)
  • Intellectual property, non-disclosure, and a lot of other legalese

The point is, you need to look out for #1. Somebody, somewhere will try to take advantage of your “handshake deal” if you let them.

Step 5: Develop A List Of Prospects

Most new entrepreneurs jump straight to this step because it actually feels like you are doing something. Plus, it’s where starting a business starts to get fun. Your best prospects may be existing/previous clients, former employers, local businesses, or companies in an industry where you already have some experience. It’s up to you to start qualifying these prospects based on their need for your services, ability to pay, and willingness to recognize & reward good results. Here’s some motivation that only vintage Alec Baldwin can dish out (warning: language NSFW).

Step 6: Create Your Sales Pitch

I’m not talking about Billy Mays or telemarketing sales pitches, I’m talking about David Sandler-style sales that positions your services as the solution to a prospect’s pain points. If you don’t have case studies of your own, use some of the research and examples provided by AdWords and Bing Ads to demonstrate the effectiveness of SEM.

Full disclosure: Sandler Sales Training is a client of ours. Having gone through their training at my own expense, I can honestly say their system is brilliant and works well for selling services like PPC.

Step 7: Schedule Meetings To Qualify Your Prospects

Wait. Isn’t a sales meeting supposed to be about sales? NO! It’s about qualifying the prospect before you even spend time putting together a proposal. Before the meeting, get to know their business inside and out. Learn who their current and ideal customers are. During the meeting, ask about their business and marketing objectives, pain points, budgets, and decision-making processes before you even ask to submit a proposal. You want to qualify them as much as possible. If their pain points are so apparent and you can help solve them, then it’s time to spend time on a proposal.

Step 8: Write A Customized Proposal

Write a proposal customized to your prospect’s business with specific strategies and tactics that will help them accomplish their business objectives. Include the services, timing, investment, and any assumptions/dependencies. This will form the meat of your contract, so be specific to avoid confusion, delay, and missed expectations.

Step 9: Negotiate Fees and Scope

If your initial proposal is not accepted on the first pass, negotiate your rates and/or scope only if absolutely necessary. Don’t let the client push you around too much if you will resent the job later. Think about how far you are willing to flex and don’t be afraid to walk away from a bad deal. Hopefully after step 7, you have an idea of how much your prospect will gain by using your services. Don’t be afraid to ask them to pay a fair amount to solve their pain points!

Step 10: Schedule A Kickoff Meeting

Whether it’s your first new PPC client or your 100th, never skip the kickoff meeting. It’s the best time to set your client’s expectations about the scope, deliverables, success metrics, plan for execution, iteration/testing, and reporting phases of your account management. Agree before the meeting that you will be ready to launch the campaigns with the agreed-upon details.

Bask In The Glory, Then Get Back To Work!

carltonCongratulations, you have landed your first PPC client! Now you have to deliver the goods so you can create a case study of your success and a glowing client testimonial.

CC photo credit

How To Measure Success With Data

I spent some quality time at TechHatch last week with a very talented and smart group of high school students that are taking a summer-long crash course in concepting, building, launching, and marketing a technology startup.

We are strong believers that web analytics are essential for any organization, regardless of how long it’s been since they were a “startup.” It’s never too late for audience segmentation, conversion rate optimization, and A/B testing.

The TechHatch teams are well on their way to becoming Richmond’s next generation of entrepreneurs. Hopefully now they have a  few extra tools in their utility belts to help take their concepts from good to great.

AdWords CPC Rising With Enhanced Campaigns. Or Are They?

As an agency that manages Google AdWords accounts day in and day out, we have a front-row seat to the upheaval of the Google AdWords platform known as “Enhanced Campaigns.” Enhanced Campaigns are a new campaign type that Google says advertisers can use to target the right ads to the right customers at the right times, on the right devices.

It sounds like a gift from above for advertisers, right?

But even Google’s new tools can be misinterpreted or (more likely) implemented poorly, leading many to believe they are just designed to extract more money from advertisers. Many in our industry instantly went into a defensive position and claimed that Google is just out to screw everybody over in the name of profits, but lately more reasonable opinions have prevailed. In fact, we have even published a case study showing the EC changes can be positive for clients & agencies that are willing to take the time to learn and use all the new features.

Adobe vs. Google

Adobe is the latest to publish statistics that seem to indicate a rise in AdWords CPCs since the introduction of Enhanced Campaigns this spring. However, after Forbes.com and others picked up the story, Google has issued statements claiming, “There have been many speculative reports, but it’s far too early for any of them to be reliable. Advertisers will choose their bids and adjust their spend based on the value they see in their campaigns.”

Who to Believe?

As an agency, we are siding with Google (and PPC software providers Marin and iProspect) that all claim that it is too early to know the full impact and whether or not CPCs are actually rising as a direct result of Enhanced Campaigns. The mandatory upgrade deadline is July 22nd, after which ALL AdWords advertisers will be automatically upgraded. At that point, we’ll have the complete picture, but I think it’s far too soon to know.

Higher CPCs, So What?

This is the intractable problem with PPC. Even if CPCs do rise (and they will, eventually),  savvy advertisers have to prepare for a future with higher traffic acquisition costs. There are a few ways to soften the blow and maintain or improve the profitability of a campaign:

  1. Improve conversion rates on a site to lower the total Cost Per Acquisition
  2. Manually lower CPC bids and/or use some sort of automated bidding rules to keep CPCs in check
  3. Re-allocate some AdWords ad spend to other ad platforms with lower CPCs
  4. Diversify the keyword set to include more “long tail” keywords that tend to be cheaper

The list goes on, but my point is that nobody is forcing advertisers to pay higher CPCs.