Paid Search: Resistance is Futile….

OK then… if not futile, then at least not optimal :). Let’s start with a bang with some data: 

  • 64.3% of marketers plan to increase spending on SEM during this year. (B2B Survey)
  • North American SEM spending is now projected to grow by at least 36% to $25.2 in the next 4 years. (SEMPO)
  • In 2007, 87.4% of SEM spend was captured by paid search (contextual and PPC), Google AdWords being the most popular search advertising program. (SEMPO)

There are many statistics citing the great ROI provided by pay per click campaigns and the fact that ad spend on pay per click (PPC) is likely to resist a coming recession due to performance. Many marketers are truly interested in exploring PPC and contextual paid search, and yet many don’t actually take the final leap. It is this hesitancy that has me somewhat baffled.

This post therefore, is going to focus on SEMI’s version of PPC 101.

PPC In A Nutshell
PPC (pay per click) is a content relevancy focused search advertising model that displays ads based on user data entry to the search field of a search engine in order of ad spend and ad quality (depending on the search engine advertising program).

Advertisers select keywords by entering them into their ad-to-display-for keyword list, and then bid an amount they are willing to pay for the ad to display for each of the keywords in their list. The more competitive the keyword or phrase, the more it is likely to cost on a per click basis.

The ads can be displayed in the search engine itself in the ‘sponsored listings’ page area when someone searches for a list-included keyword:


 (I can’t help giggling at the first Google sponsored listing here…heh!), or on the search engines content network which displays the ads primarily on publisher sites (this is called ‘content matching’ – the content of the ad and the keyword which generated its display is also featured on the page of the publisher web site). The advertiser can choose both or either of these display options, and can then choose which sites they want to include in their content match network – to a point.

The three major search engine advertising platforms are Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCentre. All work in a similar manner, though with some fundamental differences. That is for another post. There are also:

  • PPC product based search engines like and Shopzilla,
  • Service PPCs like TripAdvisor and NexTag, and
  • Pay per call engines like Ingenio (who charge advertisers per call generated by the pay per call providers ad).

What is the Objective of the PPC Campaign
It is easy to decide to market online, it is not always that easy to ensure that your objectives are clearly stated to the agency of choice, or even in house. What is this campaign to achieve? What is its purpose? Sounds so silly… no? Dang me if it isn’t one of the biggest hurdles to committing dollars or getting decisions though… SO, is it to:

  • Disseminate information and require no further interaction
  • Disseminate information and engage the user into an action (such as a download)
  • Generate leads (eg, via query form submission)
  • Generate brand awareness
  • Generate sales (ecommerce)
  • Provide customer support
  • Support specific offline marketing campaigns
  • Support specific emarketing campaigns
  • Be a test market for offline marketing campaigns
  • Engage internet users for research purposes
  • Engage users to generate buzz

Setting up Effective PPC Campaigns
The two real options are very basic:

  • to manage it in-house, or
  • to outsource.

Out-source management fees range from 5-15% of monthly spend in general. This section will focus on how to set up a campaign in house, which in turn will provide guidance on what to ask and expect of an external agency.

Know your market
Despite what you might think your target market expects or wants, their search behavior might provide different insights. If you have not already done so for natural search optimization, the first step in setting up an effective PPC campaign is to conduct exhaustive keyword research.

Once you have your keyword phrases, you need to categorize them into specific groupings based on search query intent. The rest of the post is going to refer to Google AdWords.

Keyword Grouping
The objective of effective keyword grouping is to ensure that one or more of the keywords utilized in the search query intent is in both the title of your ad as well as in its body to draw the searchers eye to the ad and to imply immediate relevance to the user.

If you are a hotel (for example), group your keywords into primary search query intent categories including:

  • Weekend getaways
  • Business travel
  • Meetings and Events
  • Sight-seeing
  • Family vacations
  • Group travel
  • Spa breaks
  • Beach Vacations
  • Ski Vacations
  • Adventure Vacations
  • Etc

These primary categories will be your PPC Campaign descriptors.

Then sub-divide your primary categories into sub categories, for example:

  • Weekend Getaways
    • Romantic Weekend Getaways
    • Ski Weekend Getaways
  • Business Travel
    • Business Free Wifi
    • Business Executive Suites
    • Business Travel Specials
  • Meetings And Events
    • Conferences
    • Weddings
    • Conventions
  • Family Vacations
    • Kid Friendly Vacations
    • Child Friendly Vacations
    • Family Friendly Vacations
    • Kids Stay Free Vacations
  • Group Travel
    • Reunion Hotels
    • Best Group Rate Hotels
  • Etc

These sub headings will be the AdGroup headings and will probably provide the initial ad titles. The one caution with hotels is that people looking for accommodation are probably going to be very geo-specific in their search, so the keyword research needs to have provided a a clear understanding of what likely geographic targeting needs to be incorporated in the ad titles and ad copy.

This also depends on the primary objective of the PPC campaign. If the objective is to generate brand awareness, then targeting searches to display the ad for country, provincial (state), and even large metropolitan area searches is worthwhile. If the objective is to generate sales at least cost then targeting the most pre-qualified searchers makes the most sense; so targeting ‘Hotels in Calgary’, ‘Hotels Calgary City Center’, ‘Hotels downtown Calgary’ need to be considered.

Writing AdCopy & A/B Testing
In Google AdWords advertisers are limited to 25 characters including spaces for the title, & 35 characters per line.

The AdCopy needs to reflect the search query language and intent of the searcher as much as possible for usable relevancy association. There should always be at least two ad copy samples for A/B testing, more if possible. Even with extensive research it can be hard to predict what ad language your target market is likely to find the most appealing. The comforting thought is that most (eventually) tend to agree that one ad is more suitable – as seen by their conversion rates.

For example:

  • Campaign
    • Family Vacations
  • Geotarget
    • Canada
  • AdGroup
    • Family Friendly Vacations
  • Search term
    • ‘family friendly skiing vacation’
  • AdCopy Title (A)
    • Family Friendly Vacation
      • AdCopy Text (A)
        Winter family fun! Ski lessons, hot
        pools, great slopes, great food and…
  • AdCopy Title (B)
    • Family Ski Vacation
      • AdCopy Text (B)
        Skiing family fun! Great ski slopes
        Ski lessons, hotpools, service and…

Once you have set up your campaigns and adgroups by keywords, written your AdCopy, and included your preferred display URL (be careful here, the rules are bit sticky), you can verify your final budget settings.

It is usually better to leave keyword and budget setting to the end of a full campaign, prior to going live as you may find while you are subdividing adgroups and campaigns that some keywords or phrases are less or more important than originally thought.

The beauty is that you can set your campaign spend per day, then specify it out according to keywords, display times, automatic optimization and more.

If this sounds like a minefield, it’s not. Once you start working your way through the AdWords screens, it becomes much easier. If you are interested in a walk through, I will have one online within a day or two, but as there are folks out there who know AdWords pretty well, I did not want to jam their blog reading time with screen grabs they have already seen :).

My humble and heartfelt opinion is this; please don’t even bother to setup a PPC campaign if you are not going to get web analytics data from it. It is so nearly a total waste of time as to be almost funny (sadly so) if you do. Google AdWords provide easy analytics code or implementation, with conversion goals and easy view of data. If you are not entirely sure as to why analytics is highly relevant for PPC campaigns, this post might be of interest.

The type of very basic data you might want to check out include both CTR and conversion rates per keyword, per adgroup and per campaign. For example:

  • If CTR is low and conversions are high, reevaluate your AdCopy around the best performing keywords.
  • If CTR is high and conversion is low, reevaluate your AdCopy and landing page.

While post click marketing is not your problem, it is nice to do the best you can to maximize efficacy even if there is nothing you can do outside of your remit. Look at all the data and interpret it carefully over a period of successive weeks and months to glean information on trends, influences, working copy, tactical refinement successes and failures. Always keep a record of the AdCopy you did have as when you edit or delete an ad in AdWords, it’s pretty much gone.

Tricky Fun Stuff
Let’s say you had a hotel in Edmonton. Let’s say your keyword research turned up a lot of searches in Edmonton for the term ‘running club edmonton’. You could play on that by developing a tailored landing page for your hotel spa along the following lines:

  • Ad Title:
    • Running In Edmonton
  • Ad Copy:
    • Get tired? Aching muscles? Massage?
      Great mid-day and evening rates!

The scope of capturing an online market with targeted PPC campaigns is literally infinite. But the campaign must be well conceived, well researched, well managed, and continually refined to generate the highest profit possible.

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