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“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.” – Mark Twain.
As with most endeavours, paid search advertising presents opportunities to assume many things, from data quality to data measurement. These assumptions are easy to make, but can be disastrous to both your company’s and your own bottom lines.
Almost every new paid search effort follows upon the heels of someone else’s effort, which applies to both consultants as well as full-time-employees who are new to the position. An easy assumption to make in these cases is that legacy data is accurate, complete, and can be used as a baseline to measure future improvements against. In reality, there is usually a good reason why the newly responsible party is taking over the effort from someone else, perhaps due to underperformance of the paid search effort. In my experience, underperformance is more often due to inaccurate data quality or measurement rather than a lack of skill or efficiency of the predecessor.
In the old days (i.e. 6 years ago), you had to tag each website page individually with your Google Analytics tracking code. Then, you would have to tag individual conversion pages with separate GA conversion code. If your marketing efforts were more advanced, you would then need to create more code to fire events and virtual page views.As you can imagine, this is a lot to keep track of, and on growing websites, can lead to gaps in tracking or inconsistent tracking if new pages are not properly tagged. Google Tag manager ensures that all pages are tagged properly and can be used to create new event triggers or virtual pageviews without having to touch a single line of website code (read: no need to involve IT). Most CMS system themes ensure that the Google Tag Manager is placed on all current and new pages. The Google Tag Manager code itself can usually be added in a single place in the theme settings.
Companies like Google and Microsoft make a lot of revenue and profit from paid search and it is in their best interest that the traffic generated from paying advertisers is properly tracked. However, even companies generating billions of dollars of advertising revenue have employees who are as fallible as anyone else who generates code [if debugging is the art of removing bugs from software, then programming must be the art of creating bugs]. A recent client’s Adwords account was improperly tagging about 20% of Adwords traffic as “Organic.” This particular issue was quickly resolved by the Adwords Support team, which involved a fix within the Adwords system itself.
The only constant in life is change. Whether it be the landing pages, the paid search keyword set, the ads, or the placements, never assume that what worked yesterday works today. Be sure to monitor your paid search campaigns on a daily basis to ensure that the ads are serving properly (i.e. the credit card associated with the account was able to be charged properly yesterday) and that the success metrics (Return of Ad Spend, Cost per Lead, etc.) are stable or continuing to improve. Also keep an eye on any content / ad / placement experiments that you have running to make sure that they’re still running as expected.
Best practices are a set of guidelines that represent the most efficient or prudent courses of action and they serve as a general framework for the most efficient way to complete a task.
In Google AdWords management, following best practices could be the difference between generating positive return on investment versus negative, between doing a great job versus a good job, or between growing the business or burning advertising dollars.
Open your account every day, look at the metrics and make a change – it doesn’t have to be a big change, it can be as simple as adding a couple of negative keywords, adding a couple of long-tail keywords, or pausing an under-performing keyword. The important thing is to make a habit of being proactive when it comes to managing the account to minimize any surprises down the road.
The optimal AdWords account structure is roughly 5 tightly related keywords per ad group and only closely related ad groups within campaigns, all of which are created to support the overall marketing objectives of the account. Each ad group should contain at least 3 different ad variations so that you’re constantly testing the effectiveness of your ad content.
If adding keyword phrases that you want to advertise for is step 1 in creating an effective advertising campaign, step 1b is adding the negative keyword phrases that you DON’T want to advertise for. For example, if you’re advertising on the keyword phrase +blue +shoes, some negative phrases you may want to use are “toy” (to prevent matching for “toy blue shoes”), “boots” (to prevent matching for “blue boots” or just “boots”), or “brown” (to prevent matching for “brown shoes”).
When looking at your Google Analytics data with demographics and interest reports enabled, you will have access to your users’ Affinity Categories and In-Market segments. These categories and segments can then be used in your AdWords display campaigns to restrict your ads to only those users who are in categories and segments that show above average conversion rates, whether that be e-commerce conversion rates or lead generation conversion rates.
On desktop computers there are either 3 or 4 ad positions at the top of the search results page, and on mobile devices there are usually 2 ad positions at the top of the page. In general, the higher the ad position the higher the click-thru-rate and cost-per-click. Given a constant after-click conversion rate, the more expensive the click and the lower the return on investment. As a result, it’s not always more profitable to be in the first position and you will have to test which position is most profitable given your product/service, industry, and keyword set.
Measurement and subsequent modification to the advertising strategy is key to constantly improving your return on investment. If you’re not comfortable looking at raw Google Analytics reports, take the time to view a few YouTube tutorial videos until you can easily navigate to and use the reports that will show you which keywords / ad groups / campaigns are generating acceptable return on investment and which are not.
There are three categories of keyword phrases, from least specific to most specific – head, shoulder, and long-tail. In general, the more specific and more verbose the keyword phrase is, the higher the potential conversion rate of the phrase. For example, someone who searches for “heavy duty truck” is higher in the conversion funnel and will convert at a lower rate than someone who searches for “Silverado 2500.”
Google AdWords provides mechanisms for automating account maintenance so that you can create programs to add negative display network placements, modify keyword bid amounts, or pause / enable keywords among other tasks. Creating programs is a more advanced technique and can be risky if you don’t have someone who has programming experience, so make sure that you’re comfortable with the risk and test on smaller campaigns before you turn your automation on for your entire account.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Be sure that you have a plan to measure your entire conversion funnel in place along with having the associated Google Analytics goals, funnels, events, and / or virtual pageviews BEFORE you begin advertising. While you could wait until after advertising begins to get these measurement tools in place, doing so means that you’ll be advertising without knowing if your new ad campaigns are contributing to increased revenue / leads or not.
The only constant in life is change. Seasonality, changes in industry competition, product evolution, bad weather, natural disasters, as well as a host of other non-trivial events will all affect the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns over time. The only way to keep ahead of the competition is to be flexible enough to change budgets, keywords, strategies or any other aspect of your advertising campaign as the need arises.
An Adwords Specialist is perhaps one of the least defined specialties in advertising and is often used to describe anyone from a first-job-out-of-college person to a jack-of-all-online-advertising-trades person to someone who uses Adwords as a tool to grow revenues and profit.
So what makes a good Adwords specialist?
Google is constantly adding new features and functionality to the AdWords system, while competing advertising networks like Bing, Amazon, and others are constantly working hard to chip away at Google’s market leading position. By keeping up with the latest developments across the online advertising market, a good AdWords specialist has more knowledge and is more likely to maximize your return on investment.
Keeping in mind that Google is a for-profit company, a good AdWords specialist can objectively develop a test plan to determine whether a new AdWords feature is a beneficial or detrimental to your bottom line. As always, it’s better to test than to assume.
There are so many different ways to advertise on the Google AdWords platform outside of the standard Google Search ads, including Gmail ads, highly targeted display advertising, and call-only ads, video ads, etc. If your account is solely focused on standard search, you’re likely missing out on highly profitable advertising opportunities.
In a system as complicated as AdWords, it is easy for an inexperienced AdWords Specialist to make mistakes that could cause you to burn advertising dollars with no hope of a return on investment. If you’re interested, here are the Top 10 Google AdWords Management Pitfalls.
There are any number of AdWords focused advertising software packages that are available to agencies and companies alike, and a good AdWords specialist will use the software that either enhances the overall advertising return on investment or maximizes the utility and ability for the AdWords Specialist to manage and maintain the account. In fact, Google publishes desktop software called “Google AdWords Editor” that is an excellent tool for building, expanding and maintaining your AdWords account and it’s absolutely free.
An AdWords specialist with experience or education outside of paid search will be able to see the bigger picture, which gives them the ability to ask the right questions prior to developing new advertising campaigns. By understanding the company’s overall marketing strategy, the AdWords campaigns can be designed to support and supplement other marketing initiatives, such as offline or online promotions or other product placements.
Impressions and clicks are certainly important, but the goal is to get the right impressions and clicks — those that will generate online revenue, sales leads, webinar registrations, etc. By focusing on the goals and constantly improving the advertising plan, an AdWords specialist can certainly add value above and beyond their expense.
The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” holds true in the arena of online advertising, especially when building out a new advertising account for a startup company or a company that is diving into AdWords advertising for the first time. A good AdWords specialist will take a few months to hone a new advertising account by testing various ad types, ad texts, display ads, and landing pages. A great AdWords Specialist will tell you that it will take months to accomplish this task up front, properly setting expectations of everyone involved.
“Good things do not come easy. The road is lined with pitfalls.” – Desi Arnaz
In AdWords, pitfalls can often derail the best laid advertising strategy. Spend some time going through the following list to make sure that you’re not burning hard-earned advertising dollars.
Negative keywords are the difference between a profitable ad strategy and one that literally burns advertising dollars. The rule of thumb that I’ve read over and over is that you should have at least 10x as many negative keywords as you have positive keywords. The reality is that the product / market / location that you’re advertising has more to do with how many negative keywords that you need, so don’t worry if you don’t have 10x negative keywords, just make sure that you are constantly adding to your negative keyword list during your regular AdWords maintenance.
Using broad match keywords is the second best way to burn advertising dollars. Broad match keywords are a type of regressive profitability mechanism, like lottery tickets are state’s regressive tax system. If you’re using broad match keywords, you’re telling Google that you’re ok with matching synonyms of a single word in your keyword phrase. For example, if you advertised on the broad match phrase — red baseball hats — you could match for the following search phrases: red toys, sombreros, baseball gloves, collectible baseballs, construction helmets, etc. Put a small part of your advertising budget into modified broad match keywords instead so that you can build out your long-tail keyword phrases over time.
Google’s advertising terms allow them to “flex” your daily advertising budget by up to 180%. Coupled with the fact that almost every advertising campaign will be affected by seasonality (demand varies month-to-month), severe weather events (could negative OR positively affect), or AdWords system changes, your daily spend can vary greatly throughout the month. If you’re in steady-state, you should be checking your spend at least weekly, and daily if you’re starting new campaigns.
Simple is not always in your best interest — if you use a single budget across all of your campaigns, you’re allowing Google to allocate your advertising spend as the AdWords algorithm sees fit. Keeping in mind that Google is a for-profit company, they have devised their algorithm to maximize their profit, which is driven by high CPC keywords. As an example, most companies’ branded keywords are the cheapest CPCs across the entire account, but are absolutely essential in helping the prospective customer find exactly what they’re looking for via ad extensions (physical address, product category, support pages, etc.). A single budget across all campaigns could easily starve your branded keywords and negatively affect top-line revenue and bottom-line profit.
This situation is similar to using a single budget across multiple campaigns — you definitely don’t want to have your advertising dollars all spent on the more expensive markets and starve the least expensive markets (which, let’s face it, can’t afford to lose any advertising since those locations are usually under the most scrutiny from C-level execs).
If your display campaign bounce rate is hovering between 90% and 95%, you’re probably using vanilla display campaigns. Vanilla in this case are display campaigns that do not use affinity categories nor in-market segments to restrict the campaigns to only those potential customers who are likely to convert at better than your overall website average conversion rate. This strategy works for B-to-C, B-to-B, online retail and lead generation campaigns.
A standard ad is 3 lines long. Using ad extensions such as reviews, location, sitelinks, callouts, price, structured snippet, call, promotion, etc, your ad can expand to up to 10 lines. A much larger ad that costs you exactly the same amount as the standard 3-line ad is far more effective in attracting clicks over your competition, which could ultimately raise your quality scores, lower your CPCs and increase your Return on Ad Spend.
In today’s retail environment, the presence of reviews absolutely affects the conversion rate of your product pages. This situation extends to your advertising as well — if you have the Google Review ad extension showing on your ad and your competitors do not, which ad do you think will be clicked on more often? The presence of the Google Review extension also adds legitimacy to your company and product, ultimately raising your purchase conversion rate after the click as well.
Advertising dollars are the result of the business reinvesting profit or of the business spending investment capital. In either scenario, you want to maximize your Return on Ad Spend in order to either grow the business or to keep it viable. If you’re spending advertising dollars and not measuring what happens after the click, you have no idea if the ads / keywords / placements that you’re using are effective or not. Effective analytics are key to answering the inevitable questions from executives wanting to know if they’re spending their advertising dollars on the channel / platform that will grow the business in the shortest amount of time.
Have you ever seen a Summer or Winter Olympics event that didn’t have a goal? Whether it’s skiing, running track, or swimming, every athlete knows exactly what the goal is and what they have to do to achieve that goal. The same applies to advertising — if you don’t know the goal, then you have no way of knowing how to achieve that goal. In advertising, there are often multiple goals that align with the marketing funnel, from the initial click (top-of-funnel) to lead form submission to product trial period to product purchase (bottom-of-funnel). If you don’t have these goals in Google Analytics, you’re not measuring how your prospective customers are interacting with your website and how the advertising is driving them into and through that funnel, from long-tail prospecting campaigns to branded, close-the-sale campaigns.