I am a marketing consultant. I have worked in some form of ecommerce since 2003. I have been deeply entrenched in the digital marketing world since 2007. I have sold everything from bicycles to wind turbines, books to television shows – I have a good handle on what works online, offline and in between. My digital marketing philosophy is very simple with regard to PPC:
- Go where your customers already are.
- Test all marketing to an ROI. (Start small and grow what works, disregard what doesn’t, learn from it and move on.)
- Measure everything that can be measured but go beyond the data. (There are an endless array of tools that help quantify marketing these days. Using the right tool toward the right goal can save you money and months of struggle.)
- Limit human error in the measuring and analysis phases. (Your IT person should not be in charge of your digital marketing because it’s a “computer thing.” While we’re at it, a YellowPages.com listing does not constitute a digital marketing campaign any more than a Facebook page constitutes a social media campaign.)
- Maximize relate-ability in the messaging, copy, images, et cetera. (Your goal is not to be crowned “most creative”; your goal is to grow revenue. Relate-ability and creativity will get you there faster.)
- Leverage your PPC findings in other marketing channels. (This is where the magic happens.)
More than anything, marketing has become an exercise in empathy. Empathy in marketing means: Do I understand my target audience to the point that I can deliver the right message at the right time to a carefully targeted prospect? If yes, I win. If not, I lose. The most fertile testing ground is Pay Per Click advertising (PPC).
The New Role of PPC
PPC is an invaluable tool but it is still just one tool in the digital marketing toolbox. There are many other tools in that box: SEO, PR, UI/UX, copy and design to name some of the others. They are all important in different ways. PPC is the best testing platform because you can control your costs down to the penny and you get real market data (unlike a focus group – personal note: focus groups can be good for product development, not so much for predicting the success of a marketing campaign).
The trick is to start by casting a wide net and then start digging deeper in the spots that show promise. Dig carefully and dig often. Hint: Digging means testing in this inelegant metaphor. Digging is the means by which the PPC tool earns its keep in the toolbox. Do customers respond better to “Free Shipping” or “$10 off your first order”? Do they want “Free 24hr customer service” or “Exciting New Feature!”? Maybe “Free Shipping” gets me a higher click-thru rate but a lower sales conversion rate, meaning I would be paying more for advertising but converting less sales – we test and measure to eradicate such flaws.
I can sit down with the person who currently manages your PPC campaigns and stealthily determine if that person has a sophisticated understanding of PPC advertising or not. It doesn’t take long. If you’re accurately measuring ROI, you’re off to a good start. If you can tell what traffic is responding to what offers, you’re doing pretty good. If not… there is work to be done.
The new role of PPC as a multi-platform testing ground makes PPC one of the most valuable tools in the box. Failure to utilize this tool means lost sales and less profit earned per ad dollar spent.
Why I Outsource PPC
Outsourcing paid advertising does not have to be expensive. But it does require a dedicated professional. The most common cause of PPC failure that I find at surprisingly high levels of the marketing world: Marketers do not know what they do not know.
Common knowledge gaps: Either the practitioner does not know what’s possible with regard to measuring, testing, and where to find quality traffic, or they do not know how to use the tools to maximum effect. Poking holes in PPC campaigns is not difficult, but patching them up or rebuilding them correctly can be a difficult process. But it can pay dividends.
Rest assured, there is a better way. I can help you and your staff correct most PPC missteps but building a sophisticated marketing funnel with PPC often requires outsourcing, outsourcing with diligence and vigilance of course. Outsourcing PPC is a minefield. Outsourcing PPC correctly is a minefield that warrants the risk. PPC used to be easy, then it was difficult, now it is nearly impossible to win over any competitive market without a full-time, dedicated PPC expert. Here is a quick list of questions to ask your in-house team or outsourced agency:
- Average monthly ad spend? Percentage spent in the content network?
- What are the top performing keywords with regard to sales? What are the top performing keywords with regard to data capture?
- What are the top performing traffic sources?
- CPA? CPC? ROI?
- What emotional “hot buttons” are we testing in our ads? Are we split testing ad content? Text? Images?
- What messages are we testing on our landing pages? Are we split testing landing pages?
The End Game
Done correctly, all of this performance data adds up to some highly targeted and tested marketing knowledge. Hopefully, this is the kernel of a profitable internet marketing funnel.
As hinted at above (see “6. Leverage your PPC findings in other marketing channels.”), the biggest benefit of PPC often comes from leveraging your PPC findings in other marketing channels. Perhaps the best case study to date comes from Vitruvian Way’s The Hidden Power of PPC white paper that explains Joel McDonald’s work with candy giant Mars, Inc:
“In 2009 Vitruvian’s Joel McDonald was hired to manage a $1000/month AdWords account for a division of Mars, Incorporated that sells health supplements. Keep in mind that Mars’ advertising budget for 2009 was estimated by Advertising Age at $1.6 billion dollars. Using AdWords to boost sales was like having Google co-founder Larry Page make a few extra bucks by tutoring math on the side. But the investment paid off handsomely once Joel harvested their AdWords data and had them apply it to their advertising in “unmeasurable” media.
Joel ran keyword tests to discover the most searched-for ingredients in this product line. He also tested various offers they were considering. Among other discoveries, Joel found through simple testing that, for example, the words “free shipping” generated nearly twice the sales of the original “30% off” offer (we’ve changed the specifics to protect the client’s confidentiality, but you get the idea.)
Within about a month of reporting his AdWords tests, Joel saw a virtually identical product description, price, and offer on Mars’ national TV commercials. Now a miniscule AdWords investment was paying huge dividends in other media. Mars no longer had to roll the dice on the creative impulses of expensive Madison Avenue ad writers. They just applied common sense to AdWords data and cloned tiny successes on a massive scale.“
It used to be considered insider knowledge that many entrepreneurs were using PPC advertising to test the viability of new products before those products had been developed, produced, prototyped, or even named. This was done to gauge market demand. Now, the smartest marketers are using PPC to measure aspects of marketing campaigns that were previously unmeasurable. For the price of a few thousand clicks we can gain invaluable insight into pricing, positioning, and identify which emotional levers really move the needle.
PPC is officially the best market research tool known to man, and it’s still a pretty good sales tool too, depending on the market. As with any tool, the benefit comes from knowing how and when to use it. Outsourcing the technical piece of the equation gets you up and running in a matter of days, the right way. Don’t waste months trying to maybe get it right. Directing the creative content that makes up those ads and understanding the data that comes back in the form of traffic figures and conversion rates is where you’ll find the most fertile ground. The magic is in the human element behind the tool.
If you are interested in preparing to leverage PPC in this way, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.