Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is the quintessential double-edged sword in digital marketing. While it can deliver instantaneous targeted traffic, it can indiscriminately burn precious marketing dollars if poorly managed. At the C level, understanding how paid search marketing dollars are being spent is typically put in the context of revenue or leads earned. However, there are several techniques that can be immediately utilized to “tighten up” paid search marketing dollars to improve ROI.
Understand, Identify, and Leverage Keyword Match Types
While using keyword match types is fundamental to effective PPC marketing, misuse of broad match keywords can have a disastrous impact on an account’s performance. Broad match keywords are typically “exploratory” phrases that should be utilized in a campaign to discover long tail keyword variations or to identify where search volume exists. If ad groups are littered with broad match keywords, it’s likely that money is being wasted on irrelevant traffic.
Using modified broad match keywords in place of broad match keywords is a far more effective tactic for controlling the terms that actually trigger ad rotation on a search engine results page (SERP). Modified broad match was introduced as a keyword matching option when marketers increasingly demanded the performance of broad match without ads being triggered by superfluous and irrelevant keywords.
Build Meticulous Negative Keyword Lists
Negative keyword lists must be in place at the campaign and ad group levels. This is a missed area of opportunity for many PPC marketers who aren’t diligent about mining these phrases from keyword detail reports. In Google Adwords, it’s possible to see a list of terms that actually triggered ads on a SERP—these are available within the Keyword Details report at the ad group and campaign levels. Having the opportunity to look at “all” keyword details or “selected” keyword details makes it possible to examine terms that were triggered by the entire keyword list—or just specific terms.
Negative keywords help to eliminate the occurrence of terms that can trigger ads. If broad match or modified broad match terms are in use, an extensive negative keyword list should be mandatory. Adding phrases in the exact and phrase match type to a negative keyword list is a surefire way to control PPC spend—and to ensure that the money spent is going toward phrases that are highly relevant.
Use Flexible Bid Strategies
Although it’s a more advanced feature of Google Adwords, flexible bid strategies can help to more efficiently achieve specific goals within a campaign. These are available within the “shared library” component of Adwords and can be applied at the campaign, ad group, or even keyword level.
The “top of page” flexible bid strategy can be helpful when it comes to incrementally increasing bids to achieve prominent visibility on a SERP. While effective at attaining a specific ad position on the page, it can also drive up CPCs, which means top-of-page bidding should be applied only for keywords or ad groups that convert efficiently with an ad position of one or two.
The “target return on ad spend” (ROAS) is a more progressive bid strategy that’s still earning its stripes, but is quite effective. This strategy requires proper implementation of goal reporting with associated revenue statistics (e-commerce or assigned lead value). Essentially, ROAS works by adapting bids to position ads that will deliver a specific ROI figure (i.e., 200%, 250%, or whatever you set in the configuration). While not a foolproof way to maximize revenue, it can deliver an automated bidding solution to achieve a surprisingly strong return on ad spend.
Analyze & Understand Where Display Ads are Being Served
This can be a budget killer and is typically the cause of poor performance in an Adwords account utilizing the Google Display Network (GDN). When display campaigns are configured, the opportunity to restrict where ads are being served is provided through “topics & interests,” “keywords,” and “managed placements.” Within these three categories is the perfect formula to serve ads to a specific audience, but that formula is difficult to identify. It’s critical that some sort of limiting factor is utilized in coordinating a display campaign—otherwise, ads will be served across the entire display network, which can deliver painfully poor results. While impressions may be sacrificed by not serving ads across the entire GDN, targeted traffic should be the goal of a display campaign.
Another important aspect of display advertising is the distinction between text ads and image ads. Rotating text ads on the display network can be risky business—text ads are served prolifically across the GDN and often appear contextual (a good thing). Consequently, text ads find their way into just about anything, which means an advertiser can wind up serving ads on completely unrelated websites. It’s common for people to click text ads thinking its a link to another article within the website they’re viewing, which significantly diminishes the quality of the traffic.
One of the most tried-and-true tactics for controlling PPC dollars spent on display advertising is to use “managed placements” to choose where you’d like to show your ads. Know where your ads are going, when they’re being served, and how they’re being received by your audience. Never let display campaigns run wild.
Ensure That Conversion Tracking is Working Properly
There’s no excuse for not using conversion tracking with PPC. Whether it’s an e-commerce retailer or a website that captures leads, there’s a way to apply a defined conversion tracking component to paid search dollars. While quantifying return on paid search spend for e-commerce is inherently easier than quantifying return on paid search spend for lead-based businesses, assigning value to conversion is critical. It’s impossible to determine ROI if a conversion metric is not in place.
Assign goal value and create multiple conversions within PPC to ensure that some measure of performance can be applied to paid search spend. If PPC is being leveraged as a marketing channel, it’s for a reason—which means there’s a way to quantify what you’re getting out of it.
Synchronize Paid Search Data with Web Analytics
This is a fundamental mistake that too many CEOs are unaware of. Attribution is everything when it comes to paid search, in the context of quantifying ROI. If paid search data is not properly synchronized with analytics, paid search often obfuscates organic search, which means that any reporting on search traffic is a mélange of information rather than a clearly segmented report.
Work with an Experienced Paid-Search Marketing Company
Yes, it’s expensive to hire qualified help. Yes, you’ll do more harm than good if you have an inexperienced or under-qualified team managing paid search. While PPC is more straightforward than SEO, there’s still plenty of opportunity for poor account management to take place. PPC is a technical marketing discipline that requires education and experience to make the most of the technology. The decision to outsource or hire internally to manage paid search must be weighed carefully, as there are benefits and risks to both.
There are far more under-qualified paid-search marketing companies out there than there are pros. When selecting a firm to manage your company’s paid search, make sure to learn about its previous experience before providing access to accounts. Money is literally on the line and even the smallest mistakes can ultimately become very costly.
While it may be more expensive in the short term to work with an experienced paid-search marketing firm, the goal of PPC is to deliver substantial ROI. If money is being spent and ROI is not positive, something is very wrong. While the goal of a PPC campaign may, in fact, be branding (i.e., display), when it comes to marketing on the search network, PPC should be delivering value.
There’s More to PPC Than Just PPC
Many CEOs consider PPC to be “pay for ROI.” That’s not the case. PPC is a brokerage system to acquire traffic—not leads, sales, phone calls, etc. PPC can deliver targeted traffic almost immediately, but if the destination is weak from a user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) perspective, no conversion can ever take place.
If ROI from paid search traffic is poor, consider evaluating where those paid search visitors are going and what they’re doing once they arrive. Is it easy for a paid search visitor to buy something? Is it easy for them to contact the company? Does the website function properly on mobile devices? There is always more than meets the eye when it comes to converting paid search traffic effectively. The bottom line is that it’s not always the traffic being acquired from PPC that can be blamed for poor conversion.
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