I first learnt what PPC was back in 2004, when I took my first job out of University at a little agency called Corporem Global in Warrington. As a PPC Executive running Paid Search campaigns for financial clients it was our job to navigate the world of Yahoo, Espotting, Google and Mirago (in that order) to drive leads into our clients businesses.
Coming from a marketing degree I was thrown into the world of digital advertising and using numbers to drive campaigns forward. I am not sure you would say there was any strategy to what we did, other than deliver leads for an agreed cost. We spent all of our time in clunky systems and excel, but we achieved the clients goals more often than not.
The world of PPC has changed a lot since then, but the more I have been drawn back into the nuts and bolts of delivering campaigns, the more I have realised there are some fundamental truths that still exist. I was trained in these basics then, and they are still as valuable now, 16 years on.
1. Tight control over keywords is critical
Keyword matching has always been part of search engine marketing. Even though match types have evolved over the years, there has always been the realisation that your ads will be appearing against keywords not in your account.
Back in the day we spent a lot of time pouring over keyword lists which were driving traffic, and in the days of Corporem Global we even created a USP out of our ability to identify long tail keywords of value. But the same is true of keywords which are irrelevant and wasting money. Some that stick in my mind from the days of working on lending accounts remain “Britney Spears Loan” and “Bhukake Loan” (don’t google it!)
Tight control over the keywords your ads appear against has not diminished as a determining success factor in paid search, regardless of what Google might tell you. That is not to say don’t use the match types at your disposal, but do not relinquish control over where your ads are appearing.
2. Relevant ads to the keyword drive click through and performance
The ad formats and options within paid search have advance a lot from the days of uploading excel sheets to Yahoo and Mirago. When we had more text to work with, but nothing more. No call outs. No extensions. Just a title and a couple of sentences of text.
But one fundamental truth maintains. Write your ads so they are relevant to the search phrase, and you will be rewarded. Whether that is in the form of a higher click through rate, stronger quality metrics, or greater conversion rate, relevant counts.
3. Landing pages are crucial to conversion
The tactic back in 2005 was to build closed off landing pages, limited navigation, strong calls to action and content relevant to the keyword. Not too much has changed here aside from closing off landing pages to the rest of the site. These days people are more likely to want to look around and find out more before completing an action.
Delivering an onsite experience that matches the expectation and intent of the searcher, providing what they need whilst making it easy to convert. These fundamentals have not changed.
4. Poor execution is costly
The easiest way to win new PPC business back in the early 2000s was to show them how they were bidding poorly and costing themselves money. The auction back then was completely transparent and less quality metrics affecting the price you paid. You could see or estimate exactly what an advertiser was paying for a click, and how much you could save them doing it better.
Executing poorly cost advertisers a lot of money when they jumped on the opportunity of paid search back then, and it remains the same today. And it can happen quickly. The wrong match type, setting, a slip of the finger on a bid and you can spend a lot of money very quickly. Attention to detail and attention to execution prevents mishaps and delivers performance.
5. The best set up is a mix of technology and manual oversight
There have been a lot of points in the history of PPC when automation has fundamentally changed the management of campaigns. And more than once I have been reliably informed that the role of a PPC Manager will be redundant and fully automated within 12-24 months (a lot longer ago than 24 months!)
As is true with any technology driven advertising, the best setup is, and always has been a blend of people and technology. There is a story that came from the technology led agency Efficient Frontier, where a slip of the finger led to a zero being added to a bid on a large advertiser and £1M being spent over a weekend. This was an agency which had built itself on its technology driving optimal performance, and yet an individual managed to prove that technology alone is not enough.
6. Putting your campaigns in the hands of the search engines is a mistake
The search engines have always employed teams and had services to onboard or grow advertisers. It helps people understand pay per click, gets them started, and reduces churn through misunderstanding. But rearely have I seen a success story for an advertiser who has put themselves in the hands of the search engine.
Even now, with Google Ads suggested changes, most cause more harm than good when it comes to return on investment. The issue isn’t that the people or the technology is wrong, it purely comes down to incentives.
The people that at the search engines are experts in their advertising platform. They spend all day working with it and see hundreds of campaigns across all categories. But the fact is their incentives are different. They are incentivised to have you utilise their full product suite and spend more money with them, this changes their decision making.
Where you look at sales, they look at advertising spend. Where you view a CPS and see it is over your target, they look at where you can spend more for the same return. Their interest is on what you spend, not whether it is working as effectively as profitable for your business. Its not their fault, its not done with malice, it is what they are paid to do.
In summary, the world of digital moves fast, and it is often tempting to think that the industry we operate in is unrecognisable from just a few years ago. In some senses this can be true, in others really not too much has changed when you think about it.