10 Key PPC Best Practices
This column is written by Kyle Grant, who is the Senior Sponsored Search Marketing Strategist for Enquiro. He has a wealth of experience designing and managing behaviorally-targeted PPC campaigns. Enquiro is a leading B2B PPC firm that manages PPC campaigns for very substantial clients, including Alienware, Habeas, Contiki and Spectrus Real Estate Group. LC
1. Stop Thinking PPC, Start Thinking Consumer-Initiated Marketing
Over the past year and with seemingly increasing frequency, new options have been made available for online advertisers to create a more sophisticated (and complex) online marketing campaign. During this period we have seen the implementation of display advertising through Pay Per Click (PPC) providers as well as a significant movement towards local and mobile advertising. This movement in the market represents a paradigm shift from simply a PPC-focused strategy to thinking about all the channels associated with consumer-initiated marketing conversations.
Several of these options include display advertisements, paid inclusion, local listings and Pay Per Action (PPA). With each of these options there are several different revenue models (and by revenue I mean for the search engines). Therefore, it is important to ensure you have effectively allocated your budget to maintain your ROI (Return On Investment). PPC and PPA models are the most effective for the advertiser based on the business objectives of driving users to the site and gaining conversions, whereas a CPM-based model is more effective from a branding perspective.
With each of these models it is extremely important to know what your end goal is and how to reverse-calculate to estimate what each conversion is worth, and through your conversion rate what each visitor is worth to you and consequently how much you should be paying per thousand impressions.
2. Start with the End in Mind
This seems too common-sense to be worthy of putting into a PPC best practices article, but sadly enough too many advertisers initiate PPC campaigns without knowing what the end goal is. A word of caution: Traffic is not an end goal!
Plan with clear goals and objectives in mind: What is it that your PPC campaign needs to do for the business objectives? What Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) do you have in place for the measurement of the plan? There are many metrics to measure the effectiveness of a PPC campaign versus the effectiveness of your optimization. What's the difference? Thinking about your PPC campaign effectiveness, imagine your CFO or accountant asking you: "How does this affect the bottom line of the company and what kind of return am I seeing from my PPC campaign?" With measuring your campaign optimization ask: "How did the campaign changes increase CTR and improve quality score?"
The goals of your PPC campaign should be those conversions that speak directly to the business objectives and business model of the company. When you begin to optimize your campaigns, it will become clear how measuring the effect of the PPC campaign on the business objectives, not performance metrics, is critical to improving ROI.
3. Plan to Measure; then Measure the Plan
As you move forward with your campaign, ensure you are able to effectively measure your KPIs through your analytics tracking. With several of our clients, we are using keyword-level ROI to ensure we can accurately spend the budget where we are making the highest returns. This measurement includes being able to merge data from several sources in order to accurately measure the effect of each keyword on the business.
B2B sales in the online environment are really no different than in the offline environment: The sales process is much longer than in B2C, and relationship development is a primary concern. Knowing this fact, it is important to ensure your analytics are set to measure the multitude of conversions that may occur and assign ROI values to each conversion.
Tip: Ensure your cookie duration is enabled to match the average sales cycle timeline at a minimum.
4. K.I.S.S Rule Applied to Conversion Path Optimization
Once you have a set of clearly defined goals and are able to effectively measure the necessary KPIs, it's time to turn to the conversion path. The traditional thought is that the path to conversion starts on the landing page, when, in fact, it starts with the moment the user interacts with your ad on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
All of the tactics you use (including ad copy, targeting, landing page messaging and the subsequent site conversion path) must be dictated by the end goal. Every interaction or step in the conversion process should take the user in one continuous motion towards the intended conversion. Messaging and offers should maintain a consistent theme to gain the conversion and nurture the lead into a prospect for the sales department. The conversion path should provide all of the information the user needs along the way to make the decision whether to purchase or not.
Enquiro's own research on B2B purchase decision behavior provides valuable insight as to what content to place on your site and in your conversion path. Ensure that traffic, once on the site, can convert on landing pages quickly and easily. Ask yourself several questions:
5. Don't Guess... Test
With a PPC campaign, testing is the campaign manager's best friend. Testing is a constant, iterative process that much be followed to refine the effectiveness of your Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns. Multivariate testing can be as complex as developing a multitude of landing pages and testing multiple aspects (such as images, titles and page copy, to name a few) or as simple as using versions of a landing page or ads in A/B tests and constantly refining the best performing versions.
The key with a testing strategy is to balance the size of the test with the size of the account. The larger the test, the longer the testing process needed to gain statistically-relevant data. No matter what the size of the test, budgeting the necessary time is as important as budgeting the media spend.
6. Don't Get Punished for Bad Behavior
Behavioral targeting has become one of the more popular buzzwords in the industry and rightly so; after all, the better we can target our market the more effective our campaigns. Several options are available to better target our online market, including geo-targeting, day-parting and demographic targeting.
For example, geo-targeting can be used to communicate more efficiently with users in a particular region and better allocate your product offering. After all, selling snow shovels in Florida wouldn't be particularly advantageous, whereas selling air conditioners would be.
Finally, it is possible to target based on demographics. This targeting is most effective when using a content network and using site targeting based on the demographics of the audience for a particular site. However, although the information is available through such tools as MSN's Ad Intelligence, I would stay away from disqualifying keywords because they are not in line with your target market's demographics.
For example, according to the US Census data, most HR managers tend to be female, yet in targeting this audience I would not disqualify the keyword "Human Resources Management" because the demographics are skewed towards men.
7. Get Vertical
Vertical search engines are an effective method of lowering CPC and improving the overall quality of traffic. The quality of the searches with a vertical search engine also tends to be better due to the increased propensity for buyers to use vertical search engines later in the purchase decision process. This presents an opportunity for those with more limited budgets (and those with the budget, too) to more effectively spend online and generate higher ROI.
8. Speak Their Language
There has been constant debate as to what to use for keyword analysis with regards to long-tail versus head phrases and which yields the better results. Head phrases are the very generic and broad search queries where there is enormous search volume, but costs associated with the keywords are quite high. Torso keywords are the more-specific keywords; the 2- to 4-word search queries that still have lower search volume compared to the head phrases, but also tend to be cheaper. Long-tail keywords are the keyword phrases over 4 words where the costs tend to be minimal, but search volume is also sparse.
When doing keyword development, first look at the torso phrases and develop your keyword strategy using 2- to 4-word search queries to develop the keyword basket. Once you have the torso phrases, run the account and closely monitor the performance of the individual keywords down to your most granular KPI (ideally ROI or cost per conversion on the keyword level).
Once you know which keywords are driving highly-qualified traffic in the torso, it is then possible to look at the longer-tail keywords associated with the high converting torso phrases. Accounts with literally millions of keywords are not necessary when only a small percentage are actually working; spend where the ROI is made.
When developing your keyword basket make sure you step into the mind of the searcher. Which keywords are your target market most likely to be using when searching for your product/service? Ensure you are not simply bidding on the marketing language you use internally, but also the language with which your market is most likely to initiate a search. (Hint: Talk to your sales department. They know the language your customers will be using.)
We recently took over a PPC campaign from a client doing it in-house and our first step was to look at the keywords. By refining the keywords based on user intention we decreased the Cost Per Click (CPC) by 23% and doubled the Click Through Rate (CTR). The conversion rate also increased substantially.
It is also possible to break out keywords by the Purchase Decision Process (PDP). By paying close attention to the keyword refinement process, it is possible to determine which keywords are being used at the beginning of the research phase, in the consideration and comparison phase and in the purchase intent phase of the PDP. By allocating these keywords into appropriate campaigns, you can then control the budgets associated with those keywords and effectively increase ROI, awareness, brand reach or what ever your PPC goals are.
9. Quality Score Is an Indicator, Not a Destination
There has been lots of debate around quality score and what it means to PPC advertisers. The long and short of a quality score is that it is designed to assist the customer. Google and Yahoo (with MSN just coming on board) have been using quality scoring to increase the quality of ads to improve the user experience. That being said, quality score should not be managed.
If you, as the advertiser, are looking to provide the consumer with the best experience possible (a good idea if you're looking for conversions), then your quality score should naturally be good. A colleague of mine, Chris Davies, gave the perfect analogy for quality score: "It's the 'check engine' light." If you have a poor quality score it serves as indication that it's time to look under the hood and see what's causing the issue. Look to your ad copy, landing pages and keywords, or reassign ad groups to adjust your quality score.
Ultimately, if you have a poor quality score and conversion rate is good and cost per conversion is good, then the few cents difference a better quality score can make is irrelevant.
10. Stop Measuring Cost Per Click; Start Measuring Cost Per Conversion
Ultimately, every change made to a PPC campaign should be to lower the cost per conversion. Therefore, don't be afraid to bid aggressively on high-converting, high-quality, traffic-generating keywords – and to bid low on the other 90% in your campaign -- if at the end of the day you are achieving the end goal.