Making the Best of PPC Basics

I wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that virtually all PPC marketers have been through a stage with one account or another where, no matter what you try, the account just would not perform. You typically notice that the conversion numbers have dropped significantly over the past couple of months, and you perform some standard steps to correct what has gone wrong with your account:

  • Keyword Performance: Do a thorough analysis of the top-performing keywords on your account to find out if there has been any drop in the traffic they are sending you.
  • Keyword Diagnosis: Diagnose your keywords to find out if any of the negative keywords added by you have been blocking your ads from showing up for the most relevant keywords.
  • Seasonality: Check seasonality trends to figure out if the drop in conversions has actually taken place due to seasonal variations.
  • Competitor Behavior: Is there a new competitor in your market who has been very aggressive online, or have any of your existing competitors adopted new strategies that are working wonders for them? Conduct a competitor analysis to find out if changes in their advertising strategies have caused you harm.

Apart from the above common steps to solve the problems facing the account, many PPC marketers also implement a few additional techniques to, hopefully, increase the number of conversions received on an account. Some of these techniques are:

  • Display Network: Try out the display network, preferably for the theme that generates the maximum number of conversions on the search network.
  • Image Ads: Use image ads for existing display network campaigns due to the fact that users surfing on the display network will be more enticed towards clicking on image ads.
  • Conversion Optimizer: Use the Conversion Optimizer with a view to getting a high number of conversions at your target CPA value.
  • Remarketing: Retarget users who have been on your website but may not have converted.
  • Google Analytics: Make use of Google Analytics data like Bounce Rate to find out the performance of the standalone landing pages. View the Top Content report to find out which pages on the website work best, and then create specific standalone landing pages based on this report.
  • Ad Extensions: Implement ad extensions like site link extensions or call extensions to engage people in a more efficient manner with your standard text ads, etc.

While any of the strategies mentioned above may have worked for you at times, there is still a chance that none of the above have worked for your account and have only led to a high spend with no conversions, which resulted in a high account CPA. For example, if remarketing and image ads did not work for you, they might have resulted in high account spending and caused you more damage instead of repairing the problem.

So are there any options left for you in such a scenario? Oh, yes, there is certainly a ray of hope left, and the chance of your account getting back on track still exists. So what if the above so-called “advanced” strategies didn’t work for you? Let’s look at some basic concepts that are generally overlooked by many in favor of the “foolproof” strategies, but these things can also make your account perform.

Budget Optimization

Have you been spending too much on campaigns that aren’t working for you, or have you reduced budgets on campaigns that previously worked but have recently dropped off? I suggest aggressively increasing budgets for the historically best-performing campaigns and see what wonders it can do for you. Beyond historically best-performing campaigns, increase the budget for a campaign that hasn’t performed well in a while but that used to perform well, and there is a good chance that campaign might get leads again once it starts getting a little bit of your attention.

As an example, one of my clients who ran a home remodeling service had a “Bathroom Remodeling” campaign that had stopped converting at all for a few months between January 2012 to April 2012 (as seen in the screenshot below). I was running the campaign at the lowest minimum budget and didn’t give it the desired level of attention because the account had been performing well before then. However, when the account performance recently went down, and I couldn’t figure out what else was wrong with it, I raised the budget for the bathroom-related campaign to see if that would do any good. Would you believe it if I tell you that the campaign got two conversions that month? Well, see for yourself in the screenshot provided below. That campaign got 33% of the total conversions that are usually recorded for that account every month.

To conclude the point, budget optimization, if used intelligently and correctly, can do a lot more good for your account than just simply keeping the monthly spend under control.

Keywords Bids

Along with budget optimization, bid optimization plays a great role in helping an account perform well, even a dead account, for that matter. If you’ve been running your keywords in the same average positions for a long time, and you are happy with their conversion results, I suggest picking out a few average performing keywords and trying new positions for them to see if this can increase conversion performance and make you even happier than you already were with the account performance. If you are a risk taker, go ahead and try different average positions for your top-performing keywords, as I believe this is totally worth the risk.

Broad Match Modifier Match Type

The importance of broad match modifier match type has been emphasized repeatedly since the time Google launched it. Even in my personal experience, I believe it can be of immense assistance, and I ensure that every theme of mine has keywords in the BMM match type. To make the utmost use of this match type when you need your account to perform, pick out your top-performing keywords for every theme and add them all in to the BMM match type. This will help you improve the traffic coming to your website in terms of both quality and quantity (better quality than broad and better quantity than phrase), and, as we all know, quality traffic is always a key contributor to earning conversions for an account.

Ad Copy

Human nature is such that we get bored with things very easily. I want you to think of your target audience in the same way. They may get bored seeing your same old ads with the same old USPs. Thus, you should keep revising your ads to create new, attractive ads that will increase the odds of users clicking on them. New ads also help you stand out from your competition.

Basic things like using exclamation points, capitalizing the first letter of every word, using trademark symbols to establish brand credibility, and using prices in ad text can make a big difference and should be remembered when creating new ads for your account. Check to see if your existing ads are lacking any of these basic components, and if they are, make some of these basic changes to compel users to click on your new ads.

Keyword Variations

When optimizing your account in the past, you might have paused certain, broad keywords that could have received conversions for you, but at a poor ROAS or CPA value. Now may be the time to add these broad match keywords in restrictive match types like exact or phrase, as these new variations have a high probability of earning conversions for you, preferably at a tolerable CPA or ROAS value.

Ad Scheduling

Did you entirely forget about the ad scheduling you performed on your account? Too bad that it took time to realize that the same ad scheduling has been restricting your visibility, and it should be turned off now to let the ads run through the day. This will give the account a fair chance to show its potential because it will receive the maximum possible traffic. Needless to say, negative keywords should be added frequently to help refine the traffic received in terms of quality, which will improve your odds of receiving conversions from exceedingly relevant traffic.


Although the points mentioned above are very basic, PPC marketers tend to ignore or forget them quite often due to the lure of improving their accounts’ performances by implementing all the “foolproof” strategies. I suggest making the most of the basics before giving up hope, and you are bound to see some good results that will make your clients happy once again.

In the next post, we will discuss the various strategies that we implement in order to improve account performance and a few places where marketers generally tend to go wrong while executing them. Until then, I hope the above points help you see some good results. 🙂



Creating an “Opportunity Report” – PPC

Creating an “Opportunity Report” to Show How to Get More Out of Your Accounts

A lot of marketing managers and C-level executives I run across really aren’t sure how good their AdWords account is. That’s certainly to be expected because, in general, the people expected to evaluate the performance aren’t really experienced in PPC enough to know the ins and outs. Paid search is pretty complex nowadays, and it’s simply unfair to expect anyone outside of the Account Manager to be knowledgeable enough to evaluate performance accurately. So, how does the Account Manager show they’re best of breed during evaluations? Do they depend on Google’s overly simplified and vague ‘analyze competition’ tab? Can they trust Google account reps whose focus is spread across dozens of accounts, and, in all likelihood, have been in PPC only a year or two? Do they bring in a third party for an account audit that knows nothing about your business? What about using something like Compete or Hitwise?

Working at an agency, we’ve learned (the hard way) that none of these are ideal options. So, as in most things related to PPC, I prefer a less passive approach. Here’s how you can construct your own “Opportunity Report” that gives an accurate, detailed view of your account performance – and highlights the quickest ways to improve it.

Step One:

Structure your account in a way that results in the most reliable performance metrics – including ad group impression share.

Google is really doing a bang-up job of giving marketers more data. The biggest leap forward in this area, in my opinion, has been ad group-level impression share data. This information will be a vital component of the account’s opportunity report. In order to leverage ad group level impressions share data, however, you need to make sure you’re working with a valid metric that can be applied all the way down to the query level. Hence, the following must be true:

  • The ad group must contain only one keyword
  • The keyword in the ad group must be in exact match (i.e. the keyword is also required to be the query)
  • Keyword-to-query mappings must be forced by utilizing negative match (i.e. when a user searches a given query, that query can only be sent to the keyword in your account)

Because of all of these requirements, you should limit yourself to structuring things in this manner for only the high-volume queries/exact match keywords (PPC Associates calls these ‘Alphas’). I tend to use some sort of conversion-based cut-off to determine where to draw the line on high-volume queries (for instance, the query must have 10+ all-time conversions in the Search Query Report). For most accounts, you can set up at least 70% of your traffic to go through this keywords setup without the structure becoming too large to work with.

One result of this setup is that you now have query level impression share data.

Step Two:

Translate the ‘Impression Share’ report into a ‘Lost Impressions Report” for the keywords in the campaigns described in the first step.  

I was a high school math teacher in a former life, and I used to say ‘fractions are your friends’ to my students all the time (this tended to make them rather annoyed, which was a nice bonus). But, as it relates to creating an opportunity report however, fractions aren’t your friend! To quantify and sort by opportunity, you need to know how many impressions were lost, not what percent of impressions were lost (volume matters!). To do this, take your ad group-level impression share (which, if you’ve set up as described in step one, is query-level impression share at this point), and apply some math.

Here’s how:

  • Google tells you how many impressions you have, your impression share, and your lost impression share
  • So, say you have 80% impression share and 1,000 impressions. This means ‘80% of the total number of impressions is 1,000.’
  • In an expression, that is 0.80X=1000, where X is the total number of impressions
  • X = 1000/0.80 = 1250. This means there were 1,250 impressions available (i.e. there 1250 searches performed over your report’s given time period)
  • The number of lost impressions was your lost impression share, times the number of total impressions. In this case 0.20(1250)= 250
  • Last, divide the number of lost impressions by the number of days in your date range to create a new metric of ‘lost impressions per day.’

There are a several other equivalent ways to calculate the number of lost impressions as well, but however you choose to do it, you should end up with a nice ‘lost search query impressions report’ that will look something like this for the keywords in campaigns that follow the described structure in step 1. I just used data here (an available segment) and sorted by ‘lost impressions per day on

From there, it’s pretty easy to determine why the impressions were lost. If your PPC account is on par, it’ll always be because you weren’t able to bid high enough, because it would have resulted in a CPA (or ROAS, ROI, etc.) that was higher than allowable based on the account’s goals.

Step Three:

Create an ‘Other Impressions Report” for the keywords in the campaigns described in the first step.  

The lost-impressions-per-day report is pretty neat, but it’s only half of the ‘opportunity report.’ The rest can be formed by leveraging ‘top vs. other’ data (if you need a reminder, here’s why getting the top spots is so important).

Here’s how to do this:

  1. Export a keyword (or ad group) report with a ‘top vs. other’ segmentation for campaigns structure in the manner described in step 1.
  2. Only use ‘’ data. Partner search data is, unfortunately, going to skew the results in a massive way! (Many partner sites don’t have ‘top’ impressions available.) At the very least, create a different report for ‘’ and ‘Google search partner’ data.
  3. Divide the number of ‘ other impressions’ by the number of days in your date range

The result should look this (after a bit of Excel formatting).

Again, at this point you should be able to create a rather clear narrative at the query level as to why you’ve had the given number of ‘other’ impressions. Hopefully the reasons for an ad not appearing on the ‘top’ is due the inability to raise bids based on the account’s current goal set.

Step Four:

Create the finished ‘opportunity report’

If you’d like to merge these reports, you’ll need to modify your ‘lost impressions report’ to a ‘lost impressions report on,’ like I had (so you’re not mixing some data that has partner data, and other data that doesn’t). If you choose to do this, you’ll end up with a lot of really great data that you can trust! Since along the way you’ve created a narrative as to why each keyword is under the circumstance it’s in, the merged results represent opportunities that could be captured if either:

  1. The goals of the account changed, allowing higher bidding
  2. The conversion rate improved, allowing higher bidding
  3. Your CTR changed by improved ad copy, which leads to higher ad rank.

Of these, only the CTR component is directly controlled by the account manager – meaning the variables for which you’re responsible have been limited to one.

Here’s an example of how you can merge the data and create a hypothetical output. In this hypothetical, I wanted to know what would happen if we had 100% query-level impression share for high-volume queries, and all these impressions were on the ‘top.’

If you plan on creating a merged report like this, make sure you’re a VLOOKUP master! You need at least an intermediate knowledge of Excel to keep the ‘opportunity report’ from turning into a long project. Additionally, make sure you keep using query-specific metrics, since you’ve got conversion rate and CTR information for each query from the original exported reports.

What’s great about a report like this the ability to quantify the value in something like improving the conversion rate (this could also help you determine how much to invest in things like funnel optimization). I’ve run this exercise with one of my clients and concluded that if the client could improve conversion rate by 100%, we could get 300% more conversions at the same margin per sale. The client held up their end of the bargain, and I came back with 310% more conversions! So, while fractions might not be our friends, more data certainly is.

Happy ‘opportunity report’ creating!


Pay-per-call: From Search Engines to Phone Calls

While online marketers are drawn to mobile advertising, many still make use of the pay-per-click concept. What most of them didn’t know is that there’s another search advertising method that can make their phones ring –—literally. Introducing, the “pay-per-call”!

What is Pay-per-call?

Pay-par-call is an advertising method that works similarly as pay-per-click. The only difference is that the ad copies designed for this marketing strategy is made to encourage people to pick up their phone instead of clicking it. Thus, the billable event here is the phone call and not the click.

According to FindWhat’s Senior Vice President Michael Kerans, pay-per-call is the “sweet spot between online and offline advertising.”

“We are marrying the power of the Internet with the power of human voice to close business over the telephone.”

How Pay-per-call Works?

Comparison shopping site FindWhat and technology provider Ingenio worked together to create the first search engine ad provider that offers pay-per-call services. There are various ways how this type of search advertising works with regards to ad targeting, structure, cost and bidding.

Creating Ad Copy and Content

Just like any other search advertisement, FindWhat posts their ads with a link to “Business Page Details.” It lists a business’ name, address, phone number and brief description of its products and services.

A pay-per-call ad displays a toll-free phone number instead of a URL. Ingenio dynamically generates this number, which will be redirected to the advertisers’ actual contact number. The advertiser will know if an incoming call is from a pay-per-call because of its brief introductory message.

Targeting Ads

Instead of using individual keywords, advertisers can select relevant categories for their ads. It will then be displayed on FindWhat’s pay-per-call distribution network, and it can be directed on different location through its geo-targeting option.

Bidding for Ads

Bidding for pay-per-call ads is simple. Advertisers will bid for an ad position, and they will only pay when someone calls. The rates will vary depending on the ad position, and it will be charged for the first 10 minutes of call.


Of course, people cannot call pay-per-call ads as PPC, since the acronym was already used for pay-per-click. However, online marketers are referring to it nowadays as PPCall. Moreover, the distribution network for this type of search advertisement is not that broad. But Ingenio has included InfoSpace, Miva, AOL, AOL Mobile and to its arsenal. Despite the marketing challenges, PPCall provides another way for businesses to generate leads and increase revenue.


Google’s Definition of Relevance in PPC? Clicks.


Relevance in search means a lot of things to a lot of people. Information retrieval scientists right down to the average user of a search engine might think there is quite a lot to determining what is “relevant” to any given user on any given query. There is. Although by no means scientific, SEOmoz’s annual reviewof what experts think are factors determining search ranking

So when organic search principles seemed to be seeping into paid search programs, many observers read a lot more into the terminology than really should be read, it seems.

Remembering back to the launch of AdWords Select in 2002, Google explicitly defined the AdRank formula as your Max Bid on a keyword multiplied by CTR. They referred to this as rewarding more relevant ads. Indeed, at times they displayed a green bar denoting “user interest.” What was relevance, or “user interest”? It was synonymous with “clicks.” More clicks, higher ad rank.

Enter Quality Score, circa 2005, and several updates of it since. A whole industry has arisen trying to deciphering it.

Some Google documentation refers to “relevance,” “the quality of the landing page,” “other relevance factors,” and so on.

But for years, key architects and managers of the AdWords product have quietly counseled people not to go overboard in interpreting these definitions.

Nick Fox, one of the leading pioneers in the AdWords program, used to remind us that the various other “relevance factors” were mostly “different cuts at” either predicting or reflecting the same measure of relevance… that being clicks, or CTR.

At SMX East last week, in our session on AdWords best practices, Fred Vallaeys flatly stated that by so-called “relevance,” Google basically means clicks.

It might sound really cool to try to divine how Google assesses information and scent, and user satisfaction all the purchase cycle, from ad impression, to click, to landing page, to further activity on site. It might be neat to guess at the semantics and other technology involved in “other relevance factors.” But in terms of the overall weighting in the vast majority of cases, as Vallaeys implied, these things might as well not exist. Google counts clicks. They may count them relative to the situation, normalize them for match type, etc. etc., but that’s what we mean by “relevance” here.

Another thing Vallaeys said (agreed on by many of us over the years) is that you shouldn’t be slavishly pursuing this click goal at all costs. You pick the ad, the segment, the bid, the match type, etc., that ultimately returns the best ROI for you. So in other words, Google rewards x, and you should be generally mindful of it, but ultimately pursue y.

“So why, then, do we devote so much time in these sessions to Quality Score, when so many other things are so much more important?,” asked an attendee.

“Because people want us to,” replied a panelist.

The truth about how to outperform the competition in the AdWords auction is not simple. But it’s also true that the “Quality Score industry” benefits from overcomplicating things and in many cases, misleading people about how Quality Score works. Also, like too many SEO’s, Quality Score pundits offer too much speculation about components of the formula, instead of sticking to what is known to be true.

Displayed Quality Score, like toolbar PageRank, has a seemingly endless capacity to bamboozle. It’s time to give it a rest, at least in the general marketing industry dialogue.

Knowing the ins and outs of the formula helps me quite a bit in my job, but I don’t think these lengthy dissections of it in public forums are as helpful as many speakers hope. I vow to pare back my treatment of QS in the future, and to focus on the most helpful tips and heuristic uses.

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