Pay per click advertising: You’re doing it wrong

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“Too many digital agencies are focused wholly on driving traffic to their clients’ sites without providing any insight into what to do with it,” says Michèle Macnab, head of the Pay Per Click team at digital marketing agency World Wide Creative. We chatted a bit and she gave me five tips for managers wanting to oversee a profitable PPC campaign.

Macnab has widespread experience, both in the United Kingdom and in South Africa, working on a large variety of Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns with clients across sectors including tourism, legal, retail, IT, e-commerce and online gambling.

“Nowadays,” says Macnab, “An increasing number of companies are adopting PPC as a must-have staple in their online marketing mix. This means more competition and higher costs per click. It’s therefore crucial to convert as many of those clicks into customers as possible.”

Pay-per-click in its purest form is the process of placing text adverts that relate to what customers are searching for in a search engine like Google. So, if you’re a plumber, you can place an advert that appears when someone types in ‘Plumbers South Africa’ in Google. The beauty of these little ads (they appear on the right and the top of Google’s search results) is that you only pay Google when someone clicks on them, not simply to appear, and unlike traditional display advertising, the results are directly measurable.

Here are Michèle’s five tips for managers who run PPC campaigns:

Tip 1: Try to cover the whole buying cycle
“Users typically make more than one search before they commit to buying anything,” says Macnab. The types of searches they make can be divided into three categories: interest, research and purchase.

At each phase, the amount of traffic decreases, but the chance for that traffic to convert and produce a sale increases. For example, say you own a sock store. Someone may decide they might want some socks and search for “socks”, in the Interest phase. They may then decide on something more specific, and search for “wool socks”, “bamboo socks”, “secret socks” etc in the Research phase. Finally they may decide they’re ready to buy, and search for “buy bamboo socks” or “sock store Johannesburg” in the Purchase phase.

Though users may make a purchase at any stage in the cycle, it’s in the last phase they’re most likely to convert. However, not appearing in the earlier stages means you may not be top of mind, so if budget allows, it’s best to appear at earlier phases too.

Otherwise, if budget is tight, play it safe and aim further down the buying cycle with longer tail keywords.

Too many campaigns adopt strategies that target the wrong parts of the buying cycle for their budget, such as going for head terms only because their budget is small. Too many people only target searches in the interest phase, where those in the purchase phase might produce more direct sales or leads.

Tip 2: Don’t spread your budget too thinly
Macnab advises: “If your budget is small, choose which areas to target carefully rather than going for all at once. Once you’ve tested a group properly, try another to find other possible winners as quickly as possible.”

Decide if you are going to go for search and/or display networks. If you run 10 campaigns at once that hit their daily spend limits by lunch time with five clicks each, you’re unlikely to learn as much as if you start with smaller number and allocate more budget to each one and let them run hot enough to see their full potential.

And you don’t need to try everything right out the starting gates, especially if your budget doesn’t support it. It’s like racing 20 Shetland ponies against a thoroughbred racehorse.

Tip 3: Be creative, but stay relevant
“Creativity is an important component of PPC!” exclaims Macnab. If you want to find your niche audiences, some creative thinking is important in PPC. The display network especially allows access to a variety of specialist traffic sources you can try to attract through interesting banner and text ads.

For example, says Macnab, “say you have a sock store with no customer reviews feature. You might not get much luck converting visitors that typed “sock comparison” or “sock reviews” into Google and clicked your ad, because you don’t provide that content. However, if you then place an ad on a review site within the Adwords display network, potential customers on that site have already found their information and may now be ready to buy — which means your ad is ideally positioned.”

“However, make sure you’re completely familiar with the client’s offering and try to keep it relevant or else you might confuse visitors. For example, if you sell socks, targeting your ads to content about wind socks or a rock band called The Dirty Socks is unlikely to bring you quality visits. Or, if you only sell socks, don’t appear in position one in the search results for “sock repairs” or “knitting socks” or again, you’ll receive a lot of clicks from visitors who didn’t read the ad properly and simply clicked on your ad because it appeared at the top.”

Macnab continues, “You’d be amazed at how many campaigns I’ve had to take over from other poor PPC managers where large portions of the client’s budget has been spent on keywords regarding services they don’t provide, or are just completely irrelevant.”

Tip 4: Make sure your landing pages are decent
A well-structured PPC campaign is not enough.

“No matter how brilliantly researched, designed and implemented your campaigns,” says Macnab, “if you send visitors to a site they don’t like, or can’t achieve their goals when they get there, you’re pouring that money straight down the drain.”

Before going ahead with PPC, check to make sure there are suitable, conversion-focused landing pages available on your site, or else, have them designed.

PPC traffic is highly targeted, and if you’ve targeted right, is of high quality in terms of the kind of visitor you want on your site. You should check your PPC conversion results regularly and see where conversion for different types of visitor can be improved through site changes.

Macnab points out: “You hear about search agencies that ‘don’t do landing pages’ — they simply take the client’s money and report at the end of the month on how it was spent, and will use whatever landing pages they’re told. No one is learning anything by doing it this way.”

Tip 5: Look beyond PPC and integrate with above-the-line
Macnab’s last point is about the bigger picture. “Ok, so you have a brilliant landing page and are running iterative tests on it from using results from the high quality traffic brought in through your PPC ads. You’re then driving home and hear a radio ad for your client, punting an offer you’ve never been told about, or you see a print ad in a magazine for a product you hadn’t been told was being released on their site.”

“The problem with this scenario,” explains Macnab, “is that visitors may search for the product or company mentioned in the advert, and then visit the site by clicking on one of your PPC ads. The danger is that they then end up on a landing page containing no supporting messaging relating to the radio advert — and so won’t find what they’re looking for.”

To stop this happening, it’s very important to educate clients that all marketing channels need to work together with the web team if the best is to be gotten out of any marketing spend and for users to have the best experience interacting with the site as possible.

No department is an island — they all need to communicate and collaborate as much as possible to provide as a seamless user journey.

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