Three Questions That Drive PPC Success

You’re an SEO or Marketing Manager who’s been put in charge of online advertising – how do you make sure your program is on the right track? Below are some of the most important questions to ask.

First, a little back story:

As an agency-side PPC manager and consultant, I usually arrive on scene during organizational transitions or when digital advertising has reached the stage of serious consideration as part of the marketing mix. Oftentimes the first questions I address are actually about what kinds of questions should be asked to judge or build campaigns.

This is as it should be – finding and asking the right questions is essential to success. If you're an SEO expert who's been asked to take charge of paid search, a marketing manager tasked with overseeing a multi-platform online advertising program, or even an executive taking stock of how and why dollars are being spent, you need to know how to take charge and evaluate strategy and performance quickly without getting lost in the technical weeds.

It's easy enough to get a handle on what the myriad acronyms refer to and the basics of campaign structure, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer for how to integrate tools like paid search, social ads, and remarketing into a serious marketing strategy.

Here are some key questions you need to ask to get on the track to success from the start, whether you’re launching your business’s first Facebook Ads or taking ownership of a long standing paid search program.

1) How are we measuring success?

PPC lends itself to rigorous measurement more than most marketing media, and establishing an effective feedback loop between performance data and campaign management is critical to getting good results. Recognizing that fact is the easy part, though – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked what the ‘right’ metrics are to focus on for PPC. The battery of data platforms like AdWords offer makes it easy to assume there’s a simple answer sitting in that pile of numbers, but the fact is that none of them are meaningful if you haven’t defined what kinds of results are important for your business.

To answer this question effectively, there are a few points that must be addressed:

  • What business objectives and goals are we trying to achieve through our advertising?

  • What actions can we measure to show progress towards this end?

  • What value do we assign these actions?

  • What is the target that defines success?

The answers to these questions are different for every business but, in practice, often come down to aiming for an appropriate balance between cost per conversion and volume of conversions. For example, I might aim to generate 25 leads per month, spending an average of $50 or less to acquire each. It’s important to be aware that volume and profitability do not always play nicely together as goals in PPC – a low conversion rate will severely limit how much you can profitably bid on a given keyword, and thus hinder your visibility and volume while staying in the black.

I strongly recommend checking out Avinash Kaushik’s writing on measurement in marketing for a much more detailed treatment of this all-important subject.

2) Are we ready to handle the right traffic when we get it?

You know the old joke – dog finally catches garbage truck, shows garbage truck his website, garbage truck drives off abruptly, frustrated by the dog’s disorganized and non-garbage related website. I’m probably remembering that wrong, but the point is that successful PPC depends as much on well-suited and developed landing pages and site experience as keywords and ad copy. No matter how good those ads are or how targeted, you’re still relying on your site to close the deal.

The key considerations to dig into here are:

  • Are we sending users to pages with solutions directly relevant to the interest that brought them there and what was promised in the ad they clicked?

  • Is the value proposition and ‘next step’ they need to take clear and present?

  • Can they take that step quickly and easily?

Conversion rate and user experience optimization is a discipline in its own right and worthy of far more attention than I’m giving it here, but at a high level we’re really just confirming that we can close the deal when PPC delivers the traffic asked for.

When using options like click-to-call only or app install ads, you do dodge the landing page issue, but the fundamental question remains – you’re just going to be worrying about call center experience and app store listings instead.

3) What are we doing to get better?

Online advertising is a game of continuous improvement in a dynamic market. The tools and data are at hand to receive rapid performance feedback on virtually all facets of your campaigns, and you’re leaving a lot on the table if you don’t build your process around making the best possible use of it. Doing it right means having a well conceptualized plan for what’s being tested and why at all times. In short, if your PPC program was a person, “Always Be Testing” would be tattooed on his/her forehead.

Always be testing

Image credits: Pixabay

There are a few core areas to drill into for experimentation around ads alone. Plan to test and optimize…

  • Headlines

  • Value propositions

  • Calls-to-action

  • Punctuation/capitalization

...and don’t forget to consider how the results might vary for different keywords/intents, different geographical targets, and even different days of the week. What works in an ad served on searches for “PPC consultants” delivered during peak work hours may be vastly different from what works for “PPC help” searched on a Friday evening. Different types of people are likely searching these with different needs in mind, despite the surface level similarity. Make sure you’re set up to uncover and nail these distinctions.

However, it’s important to remember that optimization goes well beyond the ads themselves. Some other key areas to watch are:

  • User devices

    • Advertising on mobile and tablet devices is an entirely different beast from your traditional desktop campaigns. Context and intent play a huge role in what works on all three, so be conscious of why and where you’re serving your ads.

    • Be careful to separate devices when analyzing performance – they’re often radically different and aggregating them can mask large gaps and opportunities.

  • Bidding/cost per click

    • PPC is quite literally defined by the control over spending common to many search, social, and content advertising platforms. You should be continually striving to keep your spend in line with the value it produces.

  • Targeting criteria

    • In paid search, you’re typically looking at keywords and geotargeting; on Facebook you might be building audiences off demographic and interest information. Whatever platform you’re using, your targets should be continually evolving as data is collected on performance and new ideas and opportunities emerge.

Remember, just because something sounds like a good target doesn’t mean that it will prove to be the case. Always take the scientific perspective – test your hypothesis rigorously and judge it objectively based on the results.

And that's a wrap

Of course, getting to the right answers and putting all of these into practice effectively for your business is easier said than done, but keep asking the hard questions and you’ll keep your advertising a cut above the rest.

Suffering from chronically unanswered questions about your PPC strategy or have some ideas of your own on the subject? Let us know in the comments, or find me on Twitter at @anthonycoraggio!

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