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Mastering PPC Management

by Nick Guastella, November 30, 2007

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "PPC management"? Do your thoughts drift toward managing budgets or tools like bid management programs? Budgets and tools are essential to managing PPC, but they are only a part of the overall campaign. PPC management software is useful for handling simple, repetitive tasks, but much like the scarecrow, it has no brain. It can help run bids, but it is not going to make suggestions on ad copy or make sure your account is set up properly.

Automated PPC software also invites an advertiser to flood their account with keywords-many of which barely get traffic or overlap existing keywords. Excessive keyword lists are often unwieldy and difficult to group into keyword-themed silos. Creating themed lists is an important part of improving your quality score in both Google's and Yahoo's pay per click systems.

One of the first steps in optimizing a PPC management campaign is to look at the account's all-time history and identify the terms that receive no traffic or that have generated spend without conversions. Once you have narrowed down a campaign's keywords, it's time to break them into themed silos. This means grouping similar terms together by product type, brand name, or any other distinguishing characteristics your products might have. Dramatic improvements can be achieved from simply rearranging a campaign's keyword groups.

A common issue that PPC software won't fix is incorrect settings in an account. While A/B testing is a key search marketing strategy, many PPC accounts fail to set their ads for equal rotation. Instead, the account is set to show the ad with the most clicks-which is not always going to be the ad that generates the most conversions. Google's system automatically defaults to settings that generate the highest number of clicks (i.e. the most revenue for Google). It is up to you to optimize your account settings in a way that generates the highest return on your investment (i.e. the lowest cost-per-conversion).

Whether you are starting a new PPC campaign, or taking over an existing one, there are certain account settings you should check. It is important to select the "rotate ads" feature in the campaign settings. This will allow you to use A/B testing and figure out which of your ads are performing the best.

For the budgeting feature, select the option to run Standard Ads, which allows ads to show evenly over time. The alternative is Accelerated, which basically spends your budget as quickly as possible. An accelerated setting will not result in increased returns.

Once an account has run for a while, use the analytics data to identify the specific times during the day or week that resulted in the most conversions. You can set your account to only display ads during those times. For some businesses, such as shopping sites, you may want to display your ads all day if the conversion ratio is consistently providing value.

One feature that should be used with caution is Position Preference, which enables you to request a range of positions where you want your ads to show up (e.g. 1-3 or 5-7). Despite the fact that many people suffer from "position envy", the truth is that position preference higher may result in more spend, but not always more conversions. With properly constructed ad groups and quality ads, an advertiser will receive a higher click-through rate, without having to spend more.

Another important account setting is Network Targeting. Do you choose Google Search, Search Network, or Content? If you opt for a campaign that uses content-targeting (in addition to Search), run it as a mirror campaign. If you run them together, the lower click-through rate of the Content ads could negatively affect your entire campaign's quality score. By running a Content campaign separately from Search, you can still target both markets without negatively impacting either campaign. You can segment your campaign even further by separating Google Search from Search Network. This would allow you to identify which market offers the highest conversions at the best prices.

Google provides a helpful alert that informs you when your budget is not high enough for full exposure. This could prevent your ads from showing and result in missed conversions. If you see this alert, do another review of your campaign to see if there are any keywords spending too much, without adding conversions. Before you increase your budget, perhaps an adjustment can be made to your ads that would improve click-through and conversion rates. In some cases, an advertiser can regularly reach or exceed their budget without this alert appearing. One way to check your campaign for necessary budget increases (independent of the Google alert), is to run a Campaign Performance report by day, and analyze the daily spend to determine where adjustments may be needed.

One of the best tools for PPC management is Google Analytics. Besides just being free (which is always a bonus), it provides a wealth of information you can use to optimize your Web site. You can monitor traffic generated by organic listings or paid listings, as well as their respective conversions. Google Analytics can also help you identify additional keywords that searchers are using to find your site-keywords you may not have previously considered including in your PPC campaign. Additionally, you can review the bounce rate for certain keywords to identify words that may be relevant but aren't attracting the right kind of customers. Also, take advantage of the Traffic Funnel feature for important areas of your site. Pay particular attention to conversion pages, such as the shopping cart or signup forms, to identify any areas where potential customers may be having problems that cause them to abandon the process.

It is important to bring in an in-house PPC expert to help run and manage your campaign. Someone that is fully versed in all the various interfaces the different engines offer.

If you choose to manage your own PPC campaign, Google, Yahoo, and MSN all offer certification programs that you may want to look into. Also, be sure to check your campaign regularly, to verify that everything is running smoothly. Automated systems can sometimes raise bids on keywords that did well during the previous month. However, often once the bid is increased, you'll find that your spend goes up more than the conversions. A simple spot-check will minimize this risk.

While PPC management software can be a time saver, it still cannot factor in the creative human element, which will always be an integral part of a well run PPC campaign.

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