Not many years ago, successful pay per click campaigns could basically run on auto-pilot. As this marketing medium has matured, good ROI has become increasingly difficult to achieve. This post will focus on some tactics to keep your campaigns afloat in these competitive and changing times.
- SEO Your PPC Landing Pages: Recent changes to Google’s quality score now look at on-page text and load time to determine relevancy, and therefore your final click price and ad position. By applying basic on-page SEO tactics and web usability best practices to your landing pages, you can save a bundle and improve your ad position.
- Turn Off Auto-Matching: Apparently, Google doesn’t think PPC marketers are good enough at picking keywords, so they want to do it for us. They’ve done quite a good job at spinning this one, but don’t fall for it. With auto-matching, Google will automatically show your ads for queries that they think are related to words you already bid on.
- Set Cost Per Conversion Goals by Product Category: How much are you willing to pay a customer? Looking at your gross and net operating margins, set a goal on how much you are willing to pay to acquire a customer through Pay per click. Then stick with it, and adjust or cut your ad groups in order to meet this goal. Taking this a step further, determine how much you can afford to pay for each product category. For example, you can obviously pay more to acquire a PPC sale for a 70% margin product vs. a 30% one.
- Calculate Your Lifetime Customer Value: In addition to understanding your customer acquisition cost, it’s crucial to know the long term value of customers you acquire through PPC. For example, on average how many times will your typical customer buy per year? Sometimes marketers are willing to take a hit on the first sale if they know the customer will generate many future sales. Recently, I analyzed an Adwords campaign, and broke it down by LTV for each adgroup. The results were surprising. I discovered that many groups were performing well up-front (low cost per conversion), but weren’t ever generating future orders. In contrast, some groups were generating poor up-front results, but great LTV.
- Recognize Cross-Channel & Untrackable Conversions: Because ROI tracking is so easy, we sometimes think its infallible. Realize that customers who click on your ads will often convert through other channels such as through your call-center, store, or catalog. In addition, its nearly impossible to track sales from customers who use multiple PCs (home, office, laptop). For example, a customer may find your website from work, but make their first purchase at home after typing in your URL directly.
- Dis-Allow Trademark Bidding for Affiliates: If you utilize affiliate marketing, take a close look at your pay per click bidding policy for affiliates. If you’re not careful, affiliates will bid on your brand name terms, (keywords that you likely already rank organically for). This type of affiliate theft adds unnecessary marketing costs, since you’re now paying affiliates for a sale you would have likely received without them.
- Use Appropriate Data Samples for Decisions: One mistake I see frequently is making decisions to cut or increase PPC spending based on an inadequate amount of data. Before making a drastic decision, make sure you view several months worth click and conversion activity. I frequently come across ad groups that perform well one month, and terrible the next.
- Turn Off the Content Network: In my experience, the content network is extremely difficult to generate acceptable ROI with. Even if you’ve had success with the content network, be sure to separate it from your keyword campaigns, as mixing them will blur the ROI between the two.
- Test Your Ad Copy, But Not Too Much: A/B testing your ads is so easy, there’s no reason not to do it. However, don’t stress about changes that are too small to track. Changing insignificant words in your ad copy may show slight changes in click-through rates, but the results are likely random.
- Test Landing Pages: More importantly, test which landing pages result in better conversion. You can accomplish this by creating an identical ad, yet linking to a different destination.
- Make Your Ads Less Appealing: Yes, you read that right. If your goal is good ROI, then you actually don’t want everyone to click on your ad, only qualified customers. This might mean adding the price of your product to your ad, with the intention of filtering out discount shoppers. The key is to qualify your clicks, not to cast a wide net. This is especially important with high volume, broad keywords.
- Build Custom, Focused Landing Pages: One of the major advantages to PPC vs. organic SEO is the ability to send visitors exactly where you want to. Make sure your landing pages feature the same keywords you bid on in order to reinforce relevance. In addition, ensure that the next step is impossible to miss, featuring a strong call to action.
- Use Negative Keywords Exhaustively: Not bidding on keywords can be as important as bidding on them. Use Google’s ad preview tool to help determine whether your ads are showing up for irrelevant queries. Here’s some great tools to help find negative keywords.
- Avoid Bidding Wars: Focus on ROI, not your ego. The number one spot doesn’t always convert best. In fact, some think spots #2, and #3 outperform #1, since it tends to get clicked automatically.
- Use Phrase Match & Exact Match: More and more, I’m finding it difficult to achieve good results using broad match keywords. Instead of a shot-gun approach, use phrase match or exact match to focus in on specifc phrases.
- Don’t Compete with Your Organic Listings: If you rank in the top 3 organic positions for a keyword, you’re probably better off bidding for the 4 or 5 spot with PPC rather than competing with your natural listing.
- Don’t Worry about Click Fraud: Yes, click fraud happens. It happens in some industries more than others. However, its best just to consider it a cost of doing business with paid search. If you focus too much of your time trying to catch it, or you know its happening and you can’t do anything about it, maybe you shouldn’t be using PPC in the first place.
- Use PPC for Organic SEO Research: Let your paid and natural search campaigns feed off each other. As you analyze your top performing PPC keywords, consider optimizing for them organically. PPC makes great testing ground for SEO, since you can roughly gauge the success of keywords before going into all the trouble of optimizing for them.
- Use Keyword Management Software: Campaign management software such as Google’s adwords editor simplifies repetitive tasks that are mundane in the web-based Adwords admin. Microsoft adCenter is now allowing beta pilot signups for a similar future product.
- Track Secondary Conversions: It goes without saying that sales conversions should be tracked. However, what about that other 97% percent of visitors that don’t buy on the first visit? The next best thing to a purchase is often an opt-in, since a certain percentage of your opt-in list will eventually buy. Consider tracking “mini-conversions” such as email or RSS signups.
- Double Check your Ads and Landing Pages: Over time, links get broken, copy gets out-dated, and products go out of stock. For these reasons, its important to test your ads on a regular basis, removing ads that should not longer be showing.
- Watch your Traffic from Parked Domains: Take a look at your clicks and conversions from parked domains. While there is some debate about this, many marketers find this traffic is lower quality, and converts poorly. See this Adwords help page for how to turn this off.
- Track Branded vs. Non-Branded Keywords: Make sure you separate your branded keyword campaigns from your non-branded ones. Realize that while branded keywords usually boast a much lower cost per conversion, they are often the result of other marketing campaigns.
- Use Your Time Wisely: Whether your paid search program is managed in-house, or by a third party, your time resources are limited. Make sure you spend that time effectively, doing the things that will make the most difference. The Rimm-Kaufman Group suggests a break-down of how to allocate your time between term list management, bid management, landing page/site layout, and ad copy tweaks.
- Make Big Promises; Overdeliver: Seth Godin recently wrote brilliant post on these four words that applies well to PPC. Your ads need to make big promises in order to get clicks. Your landing pages need over deliver on the promise of your ads, then make more big promises to keep visitors engaged. Your product pages need to fulfill the expectations from your landing pages, and so on. Top this off with a product that actually exceeds expectations supported by great service, and you’ve got yourself a winning formula for any type of marketing.
What PPC tactics have worked for you lately? I’d love to see another 25 tips in the comment section
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Justin Palmer is a Google Adwords consultant, who specializes in helping small businesses improve the ROI of their Pay per click campaigns.