Zen and the Art of PPC A Five Step Holistic Approach
Over the past few years I’ve modified my approach to Pay Per Click (PPC) Marketing in response to the popularity of PPC and all of the great technological advances in Overture and Google AdWords.
Despite these changes, there still remain some basic core principals that I always focus on for a successful PPC campaign. By following these five simple steps, you can achieve a well balanced PPC campaign that will hum along for you in no time. The key is to balance all five principles equally, hence the Zen of PPC.
Measurements of Success – What are you aiming for?
At our company, a measurement of success is one of the most important questions we ask our clients. So before you begin a PPC campaign ask yourself (or your client) what are the goals for this campaign? How do you want to measure your success? In 99.99% of the time, this boils down to conversions. A conversion can be in the form of sales, a phone call, registrations, downloads, etc. Unless you are doing a pure branding campaign, conversions really should be your end goal. Note that a conversion is much different than a click.
PPC Life Cycle
Let’s take a quick look at how this works and analyze what is going on in PPC Advertising.
1) Your potential web visitor/client goes to Google, Yahoo, Msn or an affiliate site and types in a keyword phrase, for example “web marketing”.
2) Your ad appears alongside the results.
3) They read your ad and click.
4) They visit your site.
5) They find what they want and pick up the phone, fax, order something online, email you, etc = Conversion!
So if conversions are your end goal, how do you increase the number of conversions in PPC? The five principles for a successful PPC campaign are the same as those described in the PPC lifecycle above. It can be very simple and easy. The trick is to balance all five principles.
Step 1: Keywords
Picking the right keywords is critical to any search engine marketing project whether this is an organic SEO project or PPC. You need to pick out the words that directly apply to your product or service. How do you find these words? To start, use the Google keyword tool and the Overture tool. These tools will tell you what words are popular and what words people are bidding on. There are plenty of keyword resources available on the internet. Among my favorites is wordtracker.com as it will do a lateral search for you and then rank the words by popularity. Try various combinations of adjectives and verb stems i.e. Skateboard supplies, Skateboarding parts, etc. If you are in a specific locale, use your city name or location such as Southern California surf boards or La Jolla oceanfront real estate, etc.
Marketability / Buying Cycle Words
If you are a B2C type of company, you may want to think about categorizing your keywords into different parts of the buying cycle. For example there are purely research oriented words such as “mp3 player review” vs. specific buying words for those ready to purchase such as “ipod mini”. On the most part, research words are less expensive in PPC than buying words, but research words may not convert as quickly to a sale. Depending on your marketing budget you will need to find the optimal ratio to get you the sales as well as the traffic.
Pre-Qualify your visitors.
Keywords are also a great place to limit and pre-qualify your visitors and prevent people from accidentally clicking on your ad. For example if you sell wholesale detergent by the gallons, you’ll want to use words such as “bulk detergent”, “commercial detergent supplier”. The last thing you want is to have to pay for a 1000 people to click on your ad for a single box of Tide.
Straight out of Andrew Goodman’s Google AdWords Handbook: 21 Ways to Maximize Results. When you first start a PPC campaign, don’t be afraid to bid extremely high for the first few days. Bidding equates to ranking and you need to be on the top of the first page to get the exposure and the impressions for your ads. This is extremely important for step 3 – Ad Copy, because there really is no way to test your ad copy unless you have adequate exposure and impressions. The key is to bid high for at least 3 or 4 days, then bring the bids down to a more comfortable level in tune with your marketing budget. A nice trick to try out after you’ve optimized your ad copy is to bid for spot #2 only. There are a lot of theories out there that click happy visitors always click on spot #1 but not spot #2. You could save yourself a lot of money by getting the exposure at position #2.
If you are in a highly competitive keyword space such as real estate or B2C, you may want to look at bidding software such as Go Toast, Bid Rank, or PPC Pro to help you adjust your bids throughout the day. In most cases however, you don’t really need these bidding tools. But you should monitor your PPC at least 3-4 times a day for the first month to tweak and optimize your campaign. Day-parting is also something you should look as a bidding strategy depending on your audience demographics. For example, for high school students, you’ll probably want to crank up the bids during the evenings, weekends, and summers when they are out of the classroom.
Step 3: Ad Copy = Click Through Rate
Ok, so you’ve picked the keywords and you have the right bidding to achieve your high levels of impressions. Now you need to write effective ad copy to entice your visitor to click on your ad. You’ll want to write at least 3 or 4 versions of your ad with different titles and ad copy. It has been proven in studies that you will increase your conversions if you include your keyword in the title of the ad and within your ad copy. This is especially important in Google since it automatically bolds the key word text in your ad copy and makes your ad stand out. Use Google AdWords to test your various ads since they have a built in optimizer that will rotate your ads and serve the highest performing ad. (Overture requires a 3 day editorial period so you will not get your results as quickly).
Take a look at Net Words:Creating High-Impact Online Copy by Nick Usborne . This is a great reference that goes over writing effective ad copy specifically for the web.
Differentiate your self.
The key to writing PPC ad copy is to write something that will stick out from your competition. For example, if you are a full service travel agency bidding on the words “Las Vegas hotels” and everyone is writing ads that have the title “Cheap Vegas Hotels” why not try something different like “Vegas Hotel/Air Packages”? Or retype your title as a question such as “Planning a Vegas Bachelor Party?” vs. “Las Vegas Bachelor Party”.
Pre-Qualify your visitors
Just like your keywords, your ad copy is also a great place to pre-qualify your visitor. For example, if you require registration for a free white paper or a web event, mention this in your ad copy. Otherwise a lot of people will click for the white paper and then exit when they are surprised to see the sign up form. If you sell industrial rolls of tape, mention this in your ad copy otherwise someone may click for office supplies of scotch tape. This pre-qualification ad copy may lower your click through rate, but you will be getting higher quality visitors which will help you on the next step for conversions on your landing pages.
Step 4: Landing Page = Conversions
This is an extremely critical step that a lot of PPC users neglect and fail. Think about it, you can have the most successful PPC Campaign at a 99% click-through rate at a cheap bid price of $.05/click, but if your landing page is not designed effectively, looks amateurish, and is difficult to navigate and read, your entire PPC budget is going to be wasted. For the landing page, ask yourself is this what the visitor expects when they click on the ad? Is it easy to recognize what your business does? Would I buy something from this website?
You essentially have 3 seconds to convince your visitor that your website and business is the solution to their problem. Spend some time to have someone review your site for usability. Check out http://www.useit.com/ http://www.sitepoint.com, or http://www.alistapart.com as references or contact website usability companies such as http://www.experient.biz/ for a personal consultation. You don’t need flash and animation to coax your visitor into buying your product, instead focus on simple clean navigation that will allow your visitor to find what they want in the shortest time available.
As with your ad copy, be sure to have at least 3 or 4 versions of your landing page and test them to see which one produces the highest conversions. You’ll be amazed how small changes can make a large difference. Just changing colors on the page, font sizes, links and navigation, simplifying your sign up form are all things you can experiment with to achieve an optimized landing page for conversions.
Step 5 – Overall website appearance & website tracking
As part of the overall marketing strategy you’ll want to have a nice looking website in addition to an attractive and effective landing page. By having an easy to navigate website you can up-sell your customers on your other products and services.
According to a recent report by IMedia Connection.com the overall average for conversions across the web is 2 percent. Are you getting these types of conversions? Website tracking is obviously very important to your testing and optimization of your PPC campaign. Begin with the free Google and Overture tracking tools which allow you to track from the click to the conversion. For a more in-depth analysis, I recommend taking a look at a client side tracking tool such as Webside Story’s Hitbox Professional or Hitbox Enterprise. With Hitbox, you can accurately track all of your marketing campaigns with one system – PPC, SEO organic, email campaigns, affiliate marketing campaigns, banner ad media buys, direct mail, etc.
Paths to Success
PPC is a whole new type of advertising and to be successful at it you’ll want to be sure to maintain a well-balanced strategy to optimize your campaigns. Remember that each of the five principles affects each of the others. If you choose the right keyword, but don’t bid at the right price or do not have adequately converting ad copy or your landing page doesn’t convert, then your end goal of conversions will not be met. Continue to balance and optimize all five principles and you will be on your way to a well maintained PPC campaign. Please write me directly if you have any questions. I plan to submit follow-up articles that describe in more detail each of the five principles above.
Simon Dang is a Director of PPC Search Marketing at Business Online www.BusinessOL.com. Business Online provides customized website solutions to help plan, build and grow your business online. Our solutions include Website design, Search Engine Marketing, PPC Marketing, Website Usability and more.