5 PPC Takeaways That Will Make You a Better Marketer

One of the joys (and challenges) of a career in paid search is the constant state of learning and change. It’s a theme that runs through many of my articles.

But in the busy-ness of our day-to-day PPC activities, it’s easy to simply move from one thing to the next without pausing to learn from what’s in front of us.

What lessons can we draw from our experiences? How can we apply these lessons more broadly?

In that spirit, I will recount some of my team’s top PPC takeaways from the past few months:

PPC takeaways

1. Explain the Implications of Abrupt Strategy Changes

One of our B2B clients has had good, steady growth with us over the past five years. But a few months ago, they called and said, “We need to be in the number one spot for Keyword XYZ all the time. Make it happen.”

We were a bit surprised by this request! What was behind it?

We later learned there were strong feelings between our client and a competitor. And my client was determined to not let the competitor “win” on this particular keyword.

Our average position for the keyword in question was strong but not necessarily in the top spot for every single search.

At the same time, we were running about 200 campaigns for the client, with most focused on lead generation and a few on brand awareness.

We made it clear to the client that consistently getting the number one position for this keyword was going to come at a cost. We’d need more budget, which they gave us.

As predicted, costs did go up. For example, our cost per acquisition (CPA) increased significantly in the second half of 2017:

PPC takeaways - CPA

Unsurprisingly given the rising CPA, our ad spend went up as well, especially from July to October:

PPC takeaways - spend

In fact, our spend went from about $17,000 to $44,000 (August to December, YOY) as we adjusted our average bid amounts up from $8 to $12.

Once the first round of budget was used up, we went back to the client for more funding … and things quickly became complicated.

Our contact, the marketing director, wanted to keep this program going because we had pretty much quadrupled the number of leads. From his perspective, the higher CPA was worth the cost.

But at the same time, he was getting budget pressure from higher up. He simply couldn’t sustain our current rate of ad spend.

So now, he had some hard choices to make. If he wanted to maintain the number one position for that keyword, but bring our budget back in line, we would have to cut or pause some of the other campaigns we were running. (In fact, we estimated that we would have to pause about 185 of our 200 campaigns to make up for the budget shortfall!)

Needless to say, other aspects of our client’s business would suffer as a result, such as the brand awareness we’d been steadily building.

Eventually, the marketing director agreed to settle on holding the number one position for that keyword about half the time.

After about four months, we had pretty much reverted to the strategy we had in place before the allure of “top position” took over.

What can we learn from this wild scenario?

As a PPC pro, you have to accept the fact that your clients won’t always bow to your wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes they have their own ideas — and those ideas may contradict your own.

And that’s OK. After all, it’s their accounts and ultimately their decision. They’re paying the bills, after all!

However, it’s your responsibility to explain the implications of those decisions. You need to look to the future, even if the client isn’t able to (or doesn’t want to).

2. Keep Testing

One of our B2B clients recently updated their video library. The client has hundreds of videos that expertly showcase their services.

With this great resource available to us, we decided to put some of these videos on landing pages to see what would happen.

We were a bit hesitant to try this at first because we’d done the same experiment five years ago. At that time, we found that landing pages without videos performed better.

But five years is an eternity in this business, so we decided to give it another try. And this time the landing pages with the videos performed better!

The lesson here? Keep on testing. Strategies and tactics that didn’t work before might work now.

3. Question Your Clients

We started working with a university client a few years ago. At the time, the client was running display ads with images of their campus buildings and grounds.

The campus is truly beautiful, so I could understand why. But we recommended switching to images of people in classrooms instead. We’d found that this approach of showing the “product in motion” worked well for some campaigns.

As it turned out, the ads with images of people performed much better. And we thought the client was on board with this direction.

But recently the client sent a new batch of display ads that didn’t have any images at all! And they also employed wording that was new.

Instead of just accepting the change, we asked the client for permission to test and compare the old and new ads. The client agreed.

As we suspected, the display ads with images performed better than the display ads without images.

In fact, the CTR for the “with image” ads was .12 percent. The CTR for the “without image” ads was only 0.11 percent.

It doesn’t seem grand but what’s also very interesting is that the ads with images are being shown double the amount of time than non-images even though we have an even rotation set.

This finding is in line with Google’s best practices for display ads. As Google writes,

“The three critical elements of a display ad are the image, message and design…. Ads with clear and crisp images are more likely to stand out.”

The takeaway from this scenario is to question clients when they want to make changes that could negatively impact campaign performance.

Rather than refusing outright (not recommended!), ask for permission to test. When you have data that supports (or refutes) your position, you’ll know how to proceed.

4. Don’t Apply All Findings Universally

In many (if not most) of our client accounts, responsive ads aren’t performing well. As a result, we’ve taken to isolating responsive ads into their own ad groups.

We then set the bid lower than our display ad groups as a way to encourage our display ads to impression.

But at the same time, we have an account where responsive ads are performing just as well as the display ads — and sometimes better!

I honestly can’t tell you why this is the case. It remains a mystery for now.

But this situation is a good reminder that not all of your findings will apply universally. What works well in one account may not do the same in another account and vice versa. You can’t make any assumptions.

5. Keep Pushing for Better Results

Like many of you, we’ve seen mobile performance increase steadily — and in some cases, skyrocket!

To further capitalize on these increases, we’ve started isolating top performing campaigns into mobile-only groups. We then set up special offers on the mobile site for some clients.

As a result of this tactic, we’ve seen even bigger increases!

The takeaway here? Don’t rest on your laurels. Performance increases that are driven by industry-wide changes and trends are always welcome — but you don’t have to be satisfied with those increases.

Sometimes your best opportunities to shoot for the moon stem from changes and trends that are already moving in that direction. Don’t limit your results!

What Are Your Recent Top PPC Takeaways?

For those of us who are knee deep in managing paid search accounts, learning is a welcome and unavoidable side effect.

But sometimes, we need to take a moment to reflect on what we’ve learned and share them with others.

What are your most recent PPC takeaways?

This article was originally published in Search Engine Journal